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(Photo: Saim Orhan)
Around one-and-a-half hours from Toronto are the towns of Kitchener and St. Jacobs, places where Mennonites live and work, dressing as they did years ago and keeping close to their traditions from the past.
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They are an old Christian group that reminds us of the Amish who live in the US.
In the same region near Toronto, there is even a museum that tells us much about their lifestyle and their ways. Visitors to this museum, which is in a historic home, are treated to a sense of what life was like for the Mennonites long ago.
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The Mennonites of today are actually divided; there are those who call themselves the “Old Order,” and then there are more liberal and modern Mennonites who are less bound by the letter of their old traditions. In the Old Order, there is still a real attempt to stay as far as possible from technology and the features of modern society. These are people who generally live close to the earth, farming and tending animals. They have neither TVs nor computers in their homes. They and their children wear traditional clothing, clothing from the past. They use horse-drawn carriages and never motorized vehicles, even on longer journeys. Their children do not study at state schools but in schools run by Mennonites; some are homeschooled. They do not look warmly upon photography or video, either.
A Mennonite farm
We stop and look at a primary school belonging to Old Order Mennonites. The teachers and students are all dressed in traditional Mennonite clothing. In the schoolyard, students are engaged in an activity: trying to see who can walk furthest on a barrel without tipping over or falling off. We enter the schoolyard and head over to see if we can look in the building. One of the teachers hails us, and we begin to talk. We are told by the teacher that if we are planning on videoing or photographing anything, they cannot allow it.
A Mennonite home at an open-air museum.
Heading over the the Mennonite neighborhood
So we leave the school and head over to a Mennonite neighborhood. We see a mother and a small child in a horse-drawn carriage. We see such carriages all over the place; the Mennonites have religious beliefs that don’t allow them to ride in motorized vehicles.
The founder of the Mennonite order was Menno Simons. The group first appeared in the mid-16th century in Europe, and its followers were largely located in the south of Germany and in Switzerland. Increasing pressure against them as a religious group drove them to flee Europe, heading for America. They mostly wound up in the state of Pennsylvania, though later some left here for further north, in Canada.
Almida puts together a quilt.
We head to visit a Mennonite farm; we see tractors and shelters for the animals. We pay a visit to Almida, who has turned over all her farming and animal husbandry to her son. Almida is also a Mennonite from the Old Order. She spends her time sewing quilts to sell. She says she has sold many of her works for young women’s dower chests. She is now working on a quilt for a newlywed couple. She and many of her fellow Mennonites speak a version of German.
Mennonites at the St. Jacobs market
Now we arrive in the town of St. Jacobs. This is a place that is heavily populated by Mennonites, and the day we visit there is an open-air bazaar known as the St. Jacobs farmers market. Actually, this bazaar operates two days a week, and it is a great place to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables. In the summertime, a third day is added to the bazaar’s open days so you can always count on lots of fresh produce here.
The Mennonites make their own maple syrup. We are also surprised to see a kebab shop here, opened by a family from Antep.
We should mention the more modern branch of the Mennonites, the ones who do use motorized vehicles and have TVs and computers in their homes. They also have no problem with being interviewed or filmed.
In this region, you can also find Victoria Park, with all its natural beauty, not to mention its famous Canadian geese and lots of squirrels. We visit Mennonite Leon in his own home. He tells us how he and his daughter Alina once visited Turkey. I ask what his impressions of Turkey were. He responds: “I was very impressed at the hospitality people showed us. The clearest memory I have of Turks is how generous and hospitable they were. My daughter has told her friends about this atmosphere, and I think we’ve helped explain to people here what Turks are really like.”
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