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Mennonite settlement in the lower Fraser Valley Siemens, Alfred Henry

Abstract

This study attempts to trace the historical geography of Mennonite settlements in the Fraser Valley, to single out for analysis significant changes in their structure and function and to summarize their distinctive characteristics by means of statistics, maps, photos and description. All this is to lift a segment of one ethnic group out of the mosaic of the Canadian population and show what has been its part in the shaping of the landscape of British Columbia densely settled southwestern corner. fo obtain the necessary historical information the relatively few systematic published studies were consulted; but the bulk of the information was pieced together from interviews of pioneers, newspaper clippings, historical accounts by church officials on anniversary celebrations (usually unpublished), personal knowledge of events concerned and other sources. Much of this information was placed into its historical geographical context for the first time. The statistics necessary for outlining distribution and structure of the Mennonite population came from the listings in the Census of Canada under the classification of religious affiliation, from church records of the individual congregations, compilations in Mennonite year books of various kinds, school records as well as from estimates given by responsible people in cases where documented figures were not available. The information so obtained was portrayed cartographically by means of dot maps, an isopleth map, a centrogram and a flow diagram. The centrogram was of particular interest in that it showed shifts in the center of gravity of the Mennonite population of the Fraser Valley which were closely corroborated by economic and social currents within the community. The flow diagram was used to portray graphically the centrality of the settlement of Clearbrook with reference to one criteria - its attraction of young people into the Mennonite high school located there. This was supplemented by a discussion of other criteria of centrality for this community, which now represents the most important concentration of Mennonites in the Fraser Valley and, indeed, in the whole province. The actual settlement forms that have resulted from Mennonite occupance of the land were considered after some aspects of the history of the group had been traced and its present situation in the Fraser Valley outlined. The individual holding, the small nucleatlon, the sizeable Mennonite centers of Yarrow and Clearbrook, as well as the urban community in Vancouver were described and analysed in turn, with a view particularly toward capturing peculiarities, ascertaining the extent of obliteration of former characteristics and finding some definite marks of the degree of acculturation experienced by the people themselves. The principal conclusions of the study are simply a substantiation of what is known more or less accurately about the situation of other ethnic groups in our country and elsewhere. The Mennonites have retained a considerable number of peculiarities up to the present time, and the expression of these in the nature of their settlement has been the main concern of this paper. The cultural and economic changes, however, that are sweeping all segments of the population toward farm rationalization and urbanization, are affecting them as well. In many cases the only peculiarities that persist are theological. Under these circumstances a recurrence of a traditional group response such as mass migration or even traditional individual responses like the preservation of the German language in the home are difficult to envisage for the immediate future.

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