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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The Mennonites of Alberta Bargen, Peter Frank

Abstract

The only claim that this thesis can make is that it is an introductory account of the Mennonites in Alberta. It has been attempted to give a brief but clear account of the origins of the various Mennonite denominations and their movement in Canada in general and into Alberta in particular. The common religious foundation (fundamentals of faith) enjoyed by most Mennonite bodies today can be traced to the common origins in the Anabaptist movement of the l6th century in Europe. Prom Switzerland and Holland the Mennonites have spread to all parts of the world. There have been four well defined movements of Mennonites into Western Canada ranging in time from 1786 to 1953. These movements are important not only for their separation in time but also for their divergence in outlook which resulted from the different cultural background of the various immigrants. Today Mennonite differences, socially, culturally and religiously, make it clear that no one way of Mennonite life exists. In Alberta the majority of Mennonites belong to two denominations: the Mennonite General Conference and the Mennonite Brethren, both of which can trace their Western Canadian origin back to the immigration from Russia 1923-1930. In addition to these two denominations Alberta contains smaller elements of Old Mennonites, Mennonite Brethren in Christ, Church of God in Christ and Old Colony Mennonites. In Alberta today prosperity and numerical strength have made Coaldale headquarters of Mennonitism in the province. The more liberal outlook of the General Conference Church and the Mennonite Brethren Church have given these two groups economic and cultural dominance in Alberta Mennonite circles. The land settlement policies of the Mennonites have always favoured group settlements; in Western Canada they found ideal conditions for such developments. Although communal beginnings were common the average Mennonite does not take to communism and preferred to seek land on his own. In his search there were only two determining factors: natural factors and the presence of people of his own faith. The settlement of the Mennonites on the land was largely controlled by the Canada Colonization Association under the control of the C.P.R. and the Mennonite Land Settlement Board later amalgamated with the Canadian Mennonite Board of Colonization. A conflict soon developed between advocates of settlement controlled by Mennonite agencies and advocates of free settlement of farmers. This conflict resulted in a confused policy of land settlement. Mennonite economic development in Alberta has been rapid, especially in the areas dominated by the General Conference and Mennonite Brethren denominations; economic co-operation among the Mennonites has been largely confined to these two groups. In Alberta the Vertreterversammluhg (Representative Assembly) is the controlling body of most Mennonite economic endeavours. Organizations have been set up on local and provincial levels and provide services such as insurance in various fields, domestic and foreign relief and producer's co-operatives. A problem that was co-operatively solved by the Russian Mennonites was the Reiseschuld (travelling expenses) to the amount of $1,767,398.68, which had been loaned by the C.P.R. to aid the immigrants of 1923-1930. This debt was jointly liquidated in 1946. The general problems of the Mennonites in relation to the community in which they live reslove themselves into the social, religious and educational fields. The specific problems along these lines have been assimilation, the German language, and pacifism (non-resistance). Most Mennonites, outside of the more conservative elements, will assimilate in all things, except religiously and socially; the German language is only a temporary problem and will disappear in the near future; non-resistance ,is a fundamental part of the Mennonite faith and compromise here is very unlikely. Outside of the latest immigrants the Mennonites in general are well on their way to "canadianization". This fact becomes doubly evident in the light of the differences between the older immigrants and the Mennonite "new Canadian". The Mennonites themselves now are faced with the problem of assimilating the new-comers. The thesis includes an appendix containing the following information; 1. Order-in-Council regarding the Mennonite rights in Canada 1873. 2. An excerpt regarding Mennonite settlement in Canada. 3. A petition of the Mennonite churches regarding military training and alternative services in case of another war, 1952. 4. An article, "Am I a National Socialist?"—by B.B. Janz. 5. A Map of Alberta showing all areas containing Mennonite elements.

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