Primary contactConrad Grebel University College 140 Westmount Road North
CA N2L 3G6
The Mennonite Archives of Ontario has its origins in the research undertaken by Lewis J. Burkholder in the early 1930s for his book "A brief history of the Mennonites in Ontario." The rare documents he gathered were placed in a "Mennonite box" at the Archives of Ontario in Toronto.
In 1941, the box was returned to Mennonite hands and placed in a dedicated archival room at a Mennonite-owned bookstore in Kitchener. In 1958, the collection was moved to Rockway Mennonite School, and in 1965 it found its current home under the administration of Conrad Grebel University College. Also in 1965, the Mennonite Historical Society of Ontario was formed by interested members of the Mennonite community. Among its purposes is to be an advocate of Archives programs and services. The Archives underwent a dramatic expansion in 2014, doubling the size of its facilities and tripling its storage capacity.
Mennonites and Amish originated as related but distinct religious identities in various parts of Europe during the 16th century. The practice of adult baptism , the refusal to swear oaths, and an adherence to a peace stance are common identifiers.
Mennonites first arrived in Canada in the late 18th century, settling primarily in the Niagara, Markham and Waterloo regions. Mennonite arriving in Waterloo were the first settlers of European origin in that region. These early settlers, commonly called "Swiss Mennonites," came largely from Pennsylvania. The 1820s saw Amish immigration directly from Europe, mainly to Wilmot Township.
Due to the autonomous nature of Mennonite congregational life, many divisions have occurred in Ontario Amish and Mennonite communities. The larger distinctive groups in existence today are Mennonite Church Eastern Canada, Old Order Amish, Old Order Mennonite Church, and the Old Colony Mennonite Church of Ontario. Some groups, such as the Mennonite Brethren in Christ (now the Evangelical Missionary Church) no longer identify as Mennonite.
Mennonites of Dutch/Prussian descent immigrated to Ontario from the Soviet Union in the 1920s and 1940s. Another group of so-called "Russian Mennonites" began arriving in Ontario in the 1950s via Manitoba (1870s) and Mexico (1920s). These groups settled mainly in the Niagara, Waterloo, Leamington and Aylmer areas.
Many Mennonites in Ontario have since gravitated to urban areas and are growing increasingly diverse in ethnic and cultural backgrounds, while other groups continue to see rural life as central to their identity. Mennonite and Amish congregations counted approximately 40,169 members (baptized adults) in 2012 (source: Mennonites in Ontario / Marlene Epp. - Mennonite Historical Society of Ontario, 2012).
The Archives serves as the official repository for Conrad Grebel University College, Mennonite Central Committee (Ontario), Mennonite Church Eastern Canada, Christian Peacemaker Teams (Canada) and Conscience Canada. Other Mennonite institutions, organizations, congregations and individuals also have collections here.
These collections come in many forms including letters, diaries, meeting minutes, photographs, films, audiotapes, artwork and clothing. Our growing collection currently consists of 780 linear meters of personal, congregational, and institutional records in a multitude of formats.
The Archives also houses the Mennonite Historical Library (catalogued through the Milton Good Library), which is the largest Canadian collection of Anabaptist/Mennonite published materials, dating from the 16th century to the present.