A brief history of Mennonites in Canada

The first Mennonites came to Canada in 1786 from Pennsylvania. Annual ministers meetings beginning in 1810 led to the formation of the Mennonite Conference of Ontario eventually called the Mennonite Conference of Ontario and Quebec. Congregations of this conference maintained close ties with Mennonite congregations in the United States through church-wide gatherings convened every 2nd year from 1898 to 2001 by the Mennonite Church (MC), commonly known as the “Old” Mennonite Church.

A second wave of European immigrants starting in 1822 established a large Amish settlement which eventually led to the formation of the Ontario Amish Mennonite Conference in 1923. This group dropped the “Amish” in their name and became known as Western Ontario Mennonite Conference after 1963.

A third wave of Mennonite European immigrants to the North American prairies came from Russia and Prussia beginning in the 1870s. Leaders of these groups who settled in Manitoba and Saskatchewan founded the Conference of Mennonites in Central Canada in 1903. From the inception of this conference, there were close ties with Mennonite congregations in the United States through the General Conference Mennonite Church (GC) which was founded in 1860 and met every third year.

With another wave of Russian Mennonite immigrants starting to arrive during the 1920s and settling in small communities from Ontario to British Columbia, the Conference of Mennonites in Central Canada stopped using the term “Central Canada” by 1932 and became known as the General Conference of Mennonites in Canada. The name changed to Conference of Mennonites in Canada in 1959.

Additional provincial conferences were organized after the arrival of this fourth wave of immigrants resulting in the founding of Conference of United Mennonite Churches in Ontario (1945), Conference of Mennonites in Manitoba (1947), Conference of Mennonites in Saskatchewan (1959), Conference of Mennonites in Alberta (1929), and Conference of Mennonites in British Columbia (1935). The 1988 the integration of three Ontario groups (Mennonite Conference of Ontario and Quebec, Western Ontario Mennonite Conference and Conference of United Mennonite Churches in Ontario) forming Mennonite Conference of Eastern Canada became the precursor for Mennonite Church Canada.

The formation of Mennonite Church Canada was the culmination of a process that began in July, 1989 with the decision of two North American church bodies – the Mennonite Church (MC) and General Conference Mennonite Church (GC) – to explore integration. Discussions included the Conference of Mennonites in Canada (CMC), which had congregational and conference ties to both the MC and GC bodies.

A recommendation to proceed with integration was accepted at Wichita in 1995, with the stipulation that the CMC should be consulted at every step. Intensive consultation followed with the Canadian membership, whereupon proposals were brought to joint GC and CMC sessions in Winnipeg in 1997 and then to a meeting of all three delegate groups – CMC, GC and MC – at a joint assembly in St. Louis in 1999. At the St. Louis assembly, delegates adopted recommendations that led to the formation of MC Canada and MC USA with their inaugural sessions held in Lethbridge, Alberta in 2000. Since then, Canadian area conferences have all adopted the naming protocol of Mennonite Church (region). These area conferences – now called Area Churches, inferring that the church exists at many levels – make up Mennonite Church Canada: Mennonite Church Eastern Canada, Mennonite Church Manitoba, Mennonite Church Saskatchewan, Mennonite Church Alberta, and Mennonite Church British Columbia.

In 2008, Mennonite Church Canada's 221 congregations and 32,000 members represented a cross-section of Canadians – brothers and sisters from all parts of the globe and the indigenous people of Canada. In addition to English and German, 45 Canadian congregations worship in 14 additional languages. As Mennonite Church Canada we gather to fulfill our vision and our mission together.