This Week in History
The Mennonites: A Life of Work and Simplicity
For the week of Monday July 28, 2003
On July 31, 1874, a Hudson’s Bay Company steamboat docked in Manitoba carrying the first group of Mennonites who had come to settle in the region. The new arrivals did not take long to set up villages according to a unique style and layout.
When Manitoba joined Confederation in 1870, the Canadian government tried to attract agricultural settlers to the region. The Mennonites were ideal candidates. However, the United States was competing with the Canadian government to attract these farmers. The Canadian government, knowing that the Americans were ahead because of the superior quality of their land, offered numerous advantages to attract the Mennonites. Religious freedom, the right to their own schools, and exemption from military service tipped the scale in favour of Canada for approximately 7,000 of the 18,000 Mennonites migrating to North America in the 1870s.
Thus, in the summer of 1874, some 385 Mennonites from Russia arrived in Canada. From Toronto they travelled the United States, then down the Red River via the S.S. International to southern Manitoba where land was reserved for them. They quickly built a series of villages on the traditional Russian Mennonite model. The first years were rather difficult for these newcomers, but the surplus they soon produced as the result of their co-operative work placed it among the most prosperous communities in the region.
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