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.