Old Order Mennonites

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Deep in the heart of southern Ontario, and dotted around in isolated pockets of British Columbia, Alberta and Nova Scotia, can be found the interesting communities of Old Order Mennonites: that is, followers of the Mennonite Protestant Church who shun modernity and strive live a simpler life of work and freedom from temptation in order to be closer to God.

The Ontario region of Waterloo hosts the largest population of Old Order Mennonites in Canada, with St Jacobs, Elmira and Breslau home to most of them.

The Old Order Mennonites are not united in any one sect or group: instead, this is a term given to the Mennonite followers who practice a lifestyle without modern technology. There are in fact many different groups of Mennonites, with different rules and councils and leaderships. Most of the Old Order Mennonites in Canada, however, can trace their origins back to the Markham Conference of 1939, which established a Canadian Mennonite Church in Markham, Ontario. Since then this Mennonite Church has splintered into various different Mennonite Churches. Some practice revivalism while others are extremely orthodox.

One thing all the Mennonite churches in Canada share in common is their adherence to the Dordrecht Confession of Faith, which was the foundation of the Mennonite Church in 1632.

These Dutch protestants met to solidify their beliefs and formed a new Christian order during the time of the Protestant Reformation. Facing persecution by Spanish Catholics, German Lutherans and even Dutch Reformed churches, many of the new Mennonite adherents fled to the New World, with most of these settling in Pennsylvania. By the late 18th Century groups of Pennsylvania Dutch Mennonites had migrated north to the rich and isolated farmlands of southwestern Ontario. Today their descendants still live and farm much as their forefathers did three hundred years ago!

The Dordrecht Confession of Faith and the Markham Conference that officially established the Mennonite Church in Canada (and gave the Mennonites official church status) are what binds the Mennonites together today.

The Old Order Mennonites of Canada are most recognizable for their black horse and buggies on the highways, and their presence at southwestern Ontario markets, particularly the large St Jacob’s Farmers Market. Mennonite farms grow a lot of organic produce, without GMO’s or chemical pesticides, and the high quality of their fruits, vegetables, meats and syrups command high prices at market. Mennonite stalls and tables can be seen at nearly every market in the region, especially throughout the summer and autumn.

Mennonites first started arriving in present-day Ontario from Pennsylvania  around 1780. The rich soil and the isolation (at the time) of the area attracted them north.

Mennonites first started arriving in present-day Ontario from Pennsylvania around 1780. The rich soil and the isolation (at the time) of the area attracted them north.

Ontario Mennonite communities began to grow with the 1939 Markham Conference that established Official Church Status for this denomination.

Ontario Mennonite communities began to grow with the 1939 Markham Conference that established Official Church Status for this denomination.

A Mennonite farm near St Jacob's, Ontario.

A Mennonite farm near St Jacob’s, Ontario.

A Mennonite home outside of Fergus, Ontario.

A Mennonite home outside of Fergus, Ontario.

Southwestern Ontario is home to the vast majority of Canadian Mennonites, with 2,500 registered in the last census. The orange circles indicate the largest concentrations of Mennonite homes and farmsteads.

Southwestern Ontario is home to the vast majority of Canadian Mennonites, with 2,500 registered in the last census. The orange circles indicate the largest concentrations of Mennonite homes and farmsteads.

Unlike the Amish, Mennonite men trim their beards and do not grow mustaches. Many Mennonite men don't grow a beard at all!

Unlike the Amish, Mennonite men trim their beards and do not grow mustaches. Many Mennonite men don’t grow a beard at all!

Mennonite women wear simple clothing harking back to 17th-Century Holland.

Mennonite women wear simple clothing harking back to 17th-Century Holland.

Mennonite women begin growing their hair at a young age, and except for taking care of the ends, they never cut it. By the time a Mennonite woman is middle-aged her hair can reach to her knees!

Mennonite women begin growing their hair at a young age, and except for taking care of the ends, they never cut it. By the time a Mennonite woman is middle-aged her hair can reach to her knees!

Mennonite children wear clothing that reflects their community's culture, however, children will still be children.

Mennonite children wear clothing that reflects their community’s culture, however, children will still be children.

 

Mennonite meats and produce are known to be high-quality and free from chemicals and GMOs. Homemade sausages are a popular commodity at farmers markets across Ontario!

Mennonite meats and produce are known to be high-quality and free from chemicals and GMOs. Homemade sausages are a popular commodity at farmers markets across Ontario!

Mennonite stall at St Jacob's Farmers Market. This particular farmers market has become a big tourist draw, with hundreds of vendors spread across several acres of property. People from as far away as Toronto would drive to the market on weekends.  Sadly, in the autumn of 2013 an electrical fire burned the main historic building down.

Mennonite stall at St Jacob’s Farmers Market. This particular farmers market has become a big tourist draw, with hundreds of vendors spread across several acres of property. People from as far away as Toronto would drive to the market on weekends. Sadly, in the autumn of 2013 an electrical fire burned the main historic building down.

Constructed in 1975 out of heavy timber in the traditional Mennonite way, St Jacob's Market was an Ontario landmark and popular tourist stop, In September 2013 an electrical fire started a massive blaze that firefighters couldn't put out and the entire building was destroyed.

Constructed in 1975 out of heavy timber in the traditional Mennonite way, St Jacob’s Market was an Ontario landmark and popular tourist stop, In September 2013 an electrical fire started a massive blaze that firefighters couldn’t put out and the entire building was destroyed.

In a testament to the will and perseverance of the area, and the local Mennonite communities, St Jacob's Market was re-opened in early 2014 under a vinyl dome, with construction on a new building slated for the summer.

In a testament to the will and perseverance of the area, and the local Mennonite communities, St Jacob’s Market was re-opened in early 2014 under a vinyl dome, with construction on a new building slated for the summer.

The main building before the fire.

The main building before the fire.

Mennonite merchants at St Jacob's Farmers Market before the fire.

Mennonite merchants at St Jacob’s Farmers Market before the fire.

Some of the purest maple syrup can be found at Mennonite market stalls.

Some of the purest maple syrup can be found at Mennonite market stalls.

The ubiquitous black horse-drawn buggy of the Mennonites is a common site on southern-Ontario roads.

The ubiquitous black horse-drawn buggy of the Mennonites is a common site on southern-Ontario roads.

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