Canadian Mennonite Board of Colonization

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Canadian Mennonite Board of Colonization

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World War One, the ensuing Russian Revolution and famine were particularly difficult for Russian Mennonites. These factors brought Mennonites together in Canada to try to help their relatives and friends. On October 18, 1920 fourteen representatives of various Mennonite denominations and regions met together in Regina, Saskatchewan to organize a relief agency modeled after the newly established Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) in the United States. Five men were elected. They included P.P. Epp, Abram Loewen, C.K. Unruh, P.M. Schmidt and John Thiessen. Epp, Thiessen and Unruh were on the executive. Twenty-five conveners were appointed to organize local relief committees and direct the relief work in the churches.

A delegation was sent to investigate immigration possibilities to Mexico, the United States and to Canada. Only Canada was willing to take in these refugees. To best organize this undertaking a meeting was held in the home of H.H. Ewert in Gretna, Manitoba and the "Canadian Mennonite Board of Colonization" was born on May 21, 1922. A.A. Friesen was appointed secretary and David Toews was chairman. The connections made with various level of government were increased as the new organization began to do its work. Gerhard Ens, who was a member of the Saskatchewan parliament, served as an intermediary between the board and the government. Negotiations also occurred with the Canadian Pacific Railway (C.P.R.) to obtain credit for the transportation of the refugees. Chairman David Toews was given authorization to sign contracts on behalf of the board in these matters. The major cooperating Mennonite bodies were the General Conference, Mennonite Brethren, the Mennonite church, the Church of God in Christ Mennonite, and the Evangelical Mennonite Brethren.

The first group of Mennonite immigrants arrived in Canada in July of 1923. More contracts were made with the C.P.R. until 1930 when the political and economic climate changed and Mennonite immigrants were not allowed into Canada. From 1923-1930 over 21,000 Mennonites came to Canada. The total amount owed to the C.P.R. was $1,767,398.68, which was known as the "Reiseschuld" or travel debt. H.B. Janz and later C.F. Klassen were appointed to collect this debt, as the money became available. The debt was finally fully repaid in 1946.

Once in Canada many established Mennonites took the new immigrants in. Mennonites in the United States contributed through cash and goods donations. Col. J.S. Dennis, who provided guidance to the board, suggested that a Mennonite Land Settlement board be established to separate the land settlement work from the work of the colonization board. This new board was established in 1924. Their aim was to settle the greatest number of Mennonites for the least amount of money.

In 1930 the board was forced to change its focus as the new conservative government no longer allowed Mennonites refugees into Canada despite the desperate need in Russia. Donations were received from Canadian and American Mennonites to help their Brethren in Russia. Food and material aid was shipped to help the needy. David Toews, who had served faithfully, stepped aside in 1946 due to failing heath and was replaced by J.J. Thiessen of Saskatoon. J. Gerbrandt became the secretary-treasurer after the sudden death of D.P. Enns.

After the Second World War, immigration of refugees to Canada was again allowed and the board, under new leadership, worked to bring more people out of Russia and Europe. MCC played a big role as they handled processing work in Europe. Between 1947 and 1961 another 12,052 came to Canada. The board avoided the debt problem by having relatives sponsor the new immigrants through legal agreements assuming the cost of transporting the refugees to Canada. Not all refugees were allowed into Canada due to health reasons and so many were settled in Paraguay. Years later some of these people, with the help of the board and a sponsor, were able to come to Canada. In 1959, the Canadian Mennonite Board of Colonization merged with the Mennonite Central Relief Committee of Western Canada to form the Canadian Mennonite Relief and Immigration Council. This new Council was one of nine inter-Mennonite organizations which formed Mennonite Central Committee Canada (MCCC) in December of 1963.


Rosthern (Saskatchewan)

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Gerbrandt, Jacob. "Canadian Mennonite Board of Colonization." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. September 2011. Web. 26 Apr 2016.

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