Digging Deeper Into Local History

Digging Deeper Into Local History

A Journey into Cambridge

One of the important local historical narratives (Preston, Village of Blair) is the arrival in the early 1800's of a group of German-speaking Mennonites from Pennsylvania.

But little else has been written about just why folks left Pennsylvania for the area.

We were curious and sought more.

Here is what we found, courtesy of the Mennonite Historical Society of Canada:

Attracted by available, inexpensive land, as well as the prospect of living under British rule, the first few Swiss Mennonite families left Pennsylvania shortly after the U.S. War for Independence in 1776. Following what came to be known as the "Trail of the Conestoga," they trekked in covered wagons to settle in the Niagara Peninsula and along the Grand River of what is now Ontario. From 1785- 1825 more Mennonites from Pennsylvania crossed the Niagara River. Many settled in Waterloo County, where Benjamin Eby founded Ebytown (present-day Kitchener) in 1807. During this 40-year period about 2,000 people came to Ontario from the United States.

Beginning in the 1820s some Amish families also began to move north from Pennsylvania. In 1825 Amish families began to flow steadily into Upper Canada directly from Europe: from Alsace and Lorraine in France, as well as Bavaria and other regions of Germany. Landing on the east coast of the United States, these settlers set out for Ontario on horseback, by cart, and on foot. Many settled just west of Waterloo County in Wilmot township. By 1850 about 1,000 Amish people had arrived in Ontario. In fact, there were virtually no Amish left in Europe; discrimination and the Napoleonic Wars pushed them to migrate to North America.

There continues to be a significant Mennonite population in these areas. As of 1998, there were about 20 distinct groups of Mennonites active in Southern Ontario. As a result of their dress and modes of transportation (horse and buggy, bicycle), the Old Order Mennonites of Waterloo Region are probably the most distinctive. The majority of Mennonites in southern Ontario, however, cannot be easily distinguished from the rest of society.