The Peter Toews fonds consists of a variety of materials, both published and unpublished. Among the published materials are a number of items of rare Mennonitica. Most notable among these are such works as:
-Johannes Decknatel, ed. Auszug aus den merkwuerdigsten Abhandlungen aus den Werken Menno Simons. Koenigsberg: D.E. Kanter, 1765.
-Confession oder kurze und einfaeltige Glaubens Bekaentnisse derer Mennoniten in Preussen (Confessio aut Breves ao Simplices Fidei Articuli illorum Mennonistarum in Borusia). Lublin, Poland: n.p., 1683.
-Peter Toews, ed. Das wachsame Auge Gottes: Aus den hinterlassenen Schriften des Johann Toews. Elkhart, IN: Mennonite Publishing Co., 1908.
Most of the other published items are less noteworthy than these three and seem to have been added to the collection by Peter's son Isaac Toews at a later date. The latter have some interest regarding subjects such as anti-Semitism, popular American theology, and historical theology of the Mennonites.
The fonds contains considerable diary/memoir material. The "Erfahrungen und Beobachtungen" are essentially letter-books compiled by Peter Toews. This material was largely written and collected in the mid 1890s. He deals with the period ca.1860-1890 in these booklets. The greatest amount of space is given to church issues. The diary material covers the years 1871-1878 and 1910-1914. The earlier diary also focuses heavily on church affairs. The later one is more like a scrapbook, with appended statements of his expenditures. It contains some comments regarding church affairs, copies of letters and documents written in this period, and poems he wrote (as well as some copied from other sources) during these years.
Another significant item in the Peter Toews fonds is the first Manitoba church membership register of the Kleine Gemeinde group. The register lists some people who stayed in Russia. For numerous families, the register lists both their Russian and Manitoba places of residence. Frequently, additional comments have been made about a given family, either pertaining to migration to Kansas, Nebraska, or Alberta, or about the circumstances surrounding the death of some family member. The register has not been consistently updated after 1879, which leads one to believe that a new register was begun at that time. For some families Toews made entries until the 1890s.
The fonds contains a handwritten volume on the history of the Kleine Gemeinde from its inception to the mid-1870s. (This manuscript has been translated and published in Plett's History and Events.) Much of the material pertains to elections of church officers (and in some cases removal of them), questions of faith and practice dealt with by the church, and discussions on non-resistance and emigration in the face of the threat of universal military service in Russia.
Peter Toews has also maintained collections of correspondence material. One group of letters dates from the period 1866-1872. The people with whom he corresponded were largely Kleine Gemeinde church members from the Molotschna and Crimean Mennonite settlements. Most of the letters pertain to the church affairs of the community.
In addition to this, he has correspondence which he copied out by hand into a small 17 x 11 cm booklet. These letters deal with a wide variety of subjects, some personal, and some church-related (e.g. discussions of church discipline). There are also a few letters from other time periods. It should be noted that this fonds does not contain all of Toews' original correspondence. At least some correspondence is deposited at the Mennonite Library and Archives in North Newton, Kansas.
Another significant category of material in this collection includes the manuscripts of a great number of the poems which Toews wrote. His poetry is almost exclusively religious and devotional in nature. One particularly interesting poem, his "Nachklang zum Empire Tag," is a reaction to the exaggerated patriotism which he observed in the Empire Day celebrations. The collection also contains a manuscript copy of Das wachsame Auge Gottes.
A small amount of material relates to World War I. The documents deal with the question of exemption from military service and with the 'Holdeman' people's refusal to contribute the National Patriotic Fund.
Finally there is an assortment of other material including a bologna recipe, an arithmetic notebook, a meditation on Psalm 90, a sermon on the reasons for leaving Russia, and several copies of his will (including an addendum regarding his literary estate).
This collection has a substantial number of potential research possibilities. In the first instance it provides much information on the faith and, to a lesser extent, the daily life of Mennonites in Prussia and Russia.
More noteworthy for Canadian studies is the fact that in this fonds one can examine the records of a leader involved in the emigration from Russia to Canada. It allows one to examine what motivated him to leave Russia - was it the "push" factor of new laws in Russia or was it the lure of economic opportunity in Canada.
The collection provides considerable scope for a study on the theology of the Kleine Gemeinde and 'Holdeman' churches, as well as Toews' personal theology. The large volume of poetry written by Toews allows one to study theological and other questions from a literary angle.
Peter Toews collected information on the history of the Kleine Gemeinde. These materials all predate the group's arrival in Canada, but they do provide a good insight into the historical evolution (both socially and intellectually) of this Mennonite group. The records further provide some useful materials for studying the Church of God (Mennonite) denomination in both the USA and Canada.
The church membership register could provide some possibilities for demographic studies of the Kleine Gemeinde during the early years of settlement in Manitoba. It can be used for reconstructing the statistical data of the original Kleine Gemeinde communities of the East Reserve and for studying migratory patterns during the 1870s. The register is also a valuable resource for genealogy and family history.
Eight types of materials been identified in this fonds as follows:
-1) Peter Toews writings (Volume 2208:4-9; 2781:2-6, 14-23, 25, 28; 588:3-4)
-2) Isaac Toews material (Volume 2208:1-3)
-3) Church matters (Volume 2781:7, 24, 26, 27)
-4) Wilhelm Giesbrecht material (Volume 588:1-2)
-5) Books and pamphlets (Volume 588:5,6; 2781:8-13)
-6) Johann Toews material (Volume 2781:1)
-7) Sermons (Volume 4237)
-8) Microfilm material (Microfilm # 223, 224)