Mennonites Not Welcome in Canada, 1925 edition

This was posted by my brother on Facebook. I’m posting here so my non-Facebook friends can see.

Fascinating and disturbingly familiar language.

After World War I there was public outrage about Mennonites (and Doukhobors) having refused to serve in the military, with the additional problem that they were German, as was the enemy. Laws were passed to prevent Mennonite immigration. MCC was formed in the US to address the starvation in Ukraine, but it became clear that Mennonites there would need to be rescued from the intolerance of the Soviet Union to religion. But both Canada and the US were now closed to them. In Canada Gerhard Ens was a politician who moved in Liberal circles, having served in the Saskatchewan legislature from 1905 to 1914. He called upon Mackenzie King, leader of the opposition in parliament to see if he would be favorably disposed to lifting the ban against Mennonite immigration if he were to become Prime Minister after the upcoming election. He, being from Waterloo where he had gotten to know Mennonites (of the Pennsylvania variety) promised to do what he could. He was elected and issued an Order-In-Council to lift the restrictions against Mennonite immigration that led to 20,000 Mennonite coming to Canada, starting in 1923, of which my parents were in the second shipload. Mackenzie King had a problem in that he had lost his own seat in the election, so the people of Rosthern obliged by having their elected representative resign to open the seat for Mackenzie King to run in a by-election, which of course he won.

My grandmother married Gerhard Ens in 1935 after both were widowed. Grandmother always held that without Mr. Ens’ help Canada would not have accepted the Mennonite refugees. In my case it was the gratitude of my parents that led to me being named Gerhard, as the first child to be born after Gerhard Ens’ entry into the family. Of course it was also the eagerness of my siblings to integrate into Canadian society that caused them to instruct me to tell my teacher my name was “George” when I started school. Since Canada was now involved in another war with Germany it was expedient to be named after the English King George rather than be called by the German sounding name “Gerhard.”

An interesting story we heard just this week adds to this account. We have stayed at a B&B near Canora, Saskatchewan a number of times and did so again on our current trip. This is the place where the Doukhobors settled around 1900. We heard that just the day before they had hosted a man by the name of Cadbury who had come to visit the Doukhobor Museum in nearby Verigin. Cadbury, a member of the Cadbury chocolate family had Quaker roots, and he became interested in exploring the connections between Quakers and Doukhobors. In the late 1800’s the Quakers in England as well as Pennsylvania became concerned about what they heard was the brutal persecution of this communal, pacifist sect which resisted military service. Unlike the Mennonites who had historically received favored treatment from the Russian government, the Doukhobors, as Russians did not have this privilege, and were imprisoned and exiled. Tolstoy tried to help them, and he worked with the Quakers to persuade the czar to let them emigrate. They provided financial assistance as well as the connections with the Canadian authorities to make this happen. But because the Quakers did want to draw attention to their largesse they kept the matter quiet, and it never became generally known. We were at the museum last year and learned something about the Doukhobor history but there was not mention of the Quaker role. Perhaps that will change now.

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