The Mennonites of Algoma

East of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, you may suddenly feel like you've gone back in time.

East of Sault Ste. Marie, many new residents, Orthodox Mennonites, have been moving into the farming areas of Desbarats. Traveling along the country roads, you will come across horses pulling wagons and beautiful farms being ploughed by horse and man.

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"The Orthodox Mennonite Church has its origins in a division from the David Martin Mennonites. When minister Elam S. Martin was excommunicated from the David Martin group, he gathered with other excommunicated in 1957 to form their own denomination. In 1962, the group was registered as the Orthodox Mennonite Church of Wellesley Township. A 1974 division weakened the group, and in 1978 they began to move from the Hawkesville to the Gorrie area. Their numbers have been strengthened by the return of some from the 1974 division and the addition of some Old Order Mennonites. Mennonites affiliated with the Orthodox have also settled in Kinloss Township and the Algoma District near Sault Ste. Marie." (as cited in Mennonite Archives of Ontario, University of Waterloo, 2014)

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Around early 2000, about 20 Mennonite families moved into the area along Government Road that runs from Bar River to Desbarats. The Mennonites moved north to this area because of the rising costs of farmland in southern Ontario. Relocating here provided the Mennonites with an opportunity to afford the farmland within the area.

The Orthodox Mennonites are conservative in their approach to technology. Their clothing and houses are very plain and do not have electricity. However, their services are open to outsiders such as shed building, tin roofing, cedar siding and cedar posts for fencing, and English services were added in the 1990s. The Orthodox Mennonites run their own schools. One school is located in Desbarats.

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Many of the Mennonites sell their produce at the Desbarats Johnson Farmers' Market on Friday evenings and Saturday mornings in the summer, as well as roadside, stands where you can purchase fresh bread, pies, honey, preserves and produce. This market is a must to visit. The Mennonites can be seen working the land and planting the seeds by hand or selling their wares.

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To find out more about the Mennonites visit www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/mennonites

Enjoy a wonderful ride east of the Sault to enjoy the wonderful scenery and farmer's markets during the summer months and appreciate our newest neighbours down the line.

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(Photo credits: Sheri Minardi Photography)
About Sheri Minardi

Born and raised in Sault Ste. Marie, Sheri Minardi is a retired teacher from the Algoma District School Board. Along with a love of teaching, Sheri has a passion for photography. Sheri Minardi Photography captures the magnificent Algoma region through her lens. She loves to set out on adventures to capture wildlife, landscape and still life images. She also does commercial and lifestyle photography. She is a member of the Arts Council of Sault Ste. Marie, the Art Gallery of Algoma, a committee member of the Sylvan Circle Tour, and the admin of Photographers of Northern Ontario and Trading Post for Photographers on Facebook. Sheri is a freelance photographer and writer. To see more of her work, visit www.sheriminardi.com. Sheri is also on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, 500px, ViewBug, Flickr, Google+, and Wordpress.

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