of Alberta

Old Colony Mennonites

Accession 2003.044

Title and Physical Description
Reinlaender Mennonite Church fonds. — 1880-2000. — 1 compact disc

Administrative/Biographical History

Old Colony Mennonites have their primary roots in those elements of the Flemish congregations of Danzig and West Prussia which, in 1789, founded the Chortitza “Old” Colony in South Russia. In 1875 the first of some 3,200 persons from Chortitza, and its daughter settlement of Fuerstenland (established 1864), settled along the Canada-United States boundary in Manitoba, west of the Red River. In 1876 the government of Canada accommodated them by establishing the Mennonite West Reserve of 17 townships (1,620 square kilometres) on their behalf. In Manitoba they called themselves the Reinlaender Mennoniten Gemeinde, and recreated a pattern of corridor farms stretching from a main road, an internal self-administration in which ecclesiastical authority dominated, and an economy based on grain crops and livestock. They persisted in viewing themselves, and continued to be viewed by others, as Altkolonisten (Old Colonists).

By 1880 the self-imposed and preferred isolation of the Old Colony Mennonites in Manitoba was beginning to be breached on two fronts. Historically related, but separate and less conservative, elements of the Bergthal Mennonites, who first settled on the Mennonite East Reserve in 1874, began to relocate to the still-vacant portion of the more fertile, open grassland of the West Reserve. In 1880 also, theManitoba Municipal Act made provision for secular, local government. Moreover, the provisions for homesteading under the Dominion Lands Act were individualistic, permitting the communal aspects of “colony” life as dictated by Old Colony philosophy to continue only if all households participated voluntarily. As a result, the communal life was increasingly difficult to sustain.

By 1890 “progressive” Bergthal Mennonites had created a teacher-training facility featuring instruction in the English language and secular curriculum provided for in the newly proclaimed, but not yet universally implemented, Manitoba Schools Act. The Mennonite Brethren had also established an evangelizing presence in the West Reserve. These internal and external factors in a major way prompted the withdrawal of substantial numbers of Old Colonists to as yet unorganized parts of the Northwest Territories (Hague, SK beginning in 1890 and Swift Current, SK beginning in 1900).

From 1916, compulsory attendance, of all children ages 7-14 in provincially accredited schools, was enforced. This, together with the uncertainties that resulted from a universal military conscription during World War I and the increasing difficulty in enforcing discipline and conformity within Old Colony ranks, prompted a determination to emigrate. Beginning in 1922, the majority of Old Colony adherents emigrated, and established the Manitoba Colony in the Bustillos Valley of west-central Chihuahua State in Mexico, leaving behind in the West Reserve an excommunicated and leaderless group. The Canadian daughter settlements in Saskatchewan established the Swift Current Colony in Chihuahua State, and the Patos (Hague) Colony in Durango State.

Among those who chose to remain in Canada there were still many who wished to avoid what they considered to be the threat of acculturation and secularization inherent in the imposition of the secular school curriculum and English as the language of instruction. Until the early 1960s it was possible to avoid this threat by homesteading where public schools were not yet established, on the agricultural frontiers of northern Saskatchewan and in the Peace River region of Alberta and British Columbia, (Carrot River, SK; La Crete, AB; Fort Vermilion, AB; Worsley, Ab; Ft. St. John, BC; Burns Lake, BC; Dawson Creek, BC; etc.). This was possible because public education policy only required public schools to be established “where numbers merit”. When the secular world, and particularly the public schools, penetrated their settlements, the more conservative again moved on. Upon the consolidation of the schools and raising of school-leaving age to 16 years in the late 1950s and early 1960s, this strategy was no longer workable, and a substantial number emigrated to new frontiers of settlement in British Honduras [Belize] and the Santa Cruz region of Bolivia.

In 1921 the Old Colony Mennonites in Mexico obtained documented privileges and immunities “in perpetuity” from President Alvaro Obregón and his government, equivalent to those granted to their forebears by Catherine the Great of Russia.

The debt incurred by the Manitoba and Swift Current Colonies in purchasing contiguous tracts of 600 square kilometres and 300 square kilometres from the Carlos Zuloaga estates at the unrealistic price of $20.50 per hectare in gold, when equivalent land could have been had for $4.00 or less per hectare, proved so burdensome that the Swift Current Colony eventually relinquished some 20 percent of its area, while the Manitoba Colony struggled for 35 years before finally discharging its obligations. The Patos (Hague) Colony (1924 ff.) escaped a similar dilemma because initial land purchases were restricted to immediate need.

Since 1944, the Old Colonists in Mexico have initiated or participated in at least 17 colonization ventures in 5 states, of which some 13 have been at least a qualified success.

Of the approximately 7,000 Old Colony Mennonites who emigrated from Canada in the 1920s, some 5,500 remained in Mexico. Their net reproduction rate has consistently been one of the highest documented for any group, averaging over 4 percent, and occasionally exceeding 5 percent per year. Despite emigration to Belize (1958 ff.), Bolivia (1966 ff.), Paraguay (1972 ff.), Argentina (1986 ff) and the United States and Canada (totaling at least 10,000), by 1988 the Old Colony population in Mexico had grown to some 40,000, representing a doubling time of approximately 16 years.

In 1977, some 100 Old Colony families and 20 families of General Conference Mennonite Church (GCM) affiliation but Old Colony background from Mexico and Canada attempted separate settlement ventures at Seminole, Texas. Great difficulties were experienced in meeting United States immigration requirements, despite active intervention by Senator Lloyd Bentsen and Representative George Mahon. Precipitation proved inadequate to sustain the intended dry farming. Excluded groundwater rights, however, eliminated the option of irrigation on 1,685 of the Old Colony’s 2,600 acres. In 1979 the venture was liquidated in default of arrears of principal and interest. The General Conference Mennonite group had fared somewhat better, managing to retain its 1,172 acres of land. Those of both groups who had their immigrant status confirmed through ratification of a private Texas bill in 1980 have maintained a presence in the Seminole area, some as farmers

Despite majority emigration including that of their spiritual leaders, Old Colony Mennonites reorganized and have maintained a presence in all their original areas of settlement in western Canada. Since colonization in Latin America began in the 1920s, there has been a persistent return immigration of people of Old Colony background to Canada, capitalizing on retained Canadian citizenship or that of immediate ancestors. In the 1930s, returnees from Mexico tended to relocate in their former home communities, or on the frontiers of settlement — especially in the Peace River country of northwestern Alberta. In the late 1950s and mid-1960s small numbers of people of Old Colony background from Chihuahua participated in settlement ventures in the Clay Belt of northern Ontario (Matheson), soon abandoned; and in the Rainy River area (Stratton) of Ontario. Old Colonists from Mexico began arriving in southern Ontario in 1954. Since the late 1960s the preferred Canadian destinations have been intensive farming and industrial regions, focusing on the Essex County, Regional Municipalities of Haldimand-Norfolk and Niagara of Ontario, where many have become affiliated with the Evangelical Mennonite Mission Conference (EMMC).

Custodial History

The images on the Compact Disc were originally held by the Aeltesters of the Reinlaender Mennonite Church, paper-copied by Peter Goerzen (Series A, 1977) and Bruce Wiebe (Series B-D, 1991) and given to the Mennonite Heritage Centre (MHC) in Winnipeg. The MHC captured the images of the paper copies in multi-page, tagged image format (tif) electronic files.

Scope & Content
The fonds consists of 4 series: A)Series A.Reinlaender Gemeinde Buch-A, B) Series B Reinlaender Gemeinde Buch-B, C) Series C Reinlaender Gemeinde Buch-C, and D) Reinlaender Gemeinde Buch-D, .

Variations in Title

Also known as The Old Colony fonds.

Source of Supplied Title

Title based on the contents of the fonds

Source of Acquisition

Gift by Mennonite Heritage Centre, Winnipeg, Manitoba

Originals and Reproduction

Original paper-copied images can be found at Mennonite Heritage Centre, Winnipeg, Manitoba. The original documents of Series A are in the possession of the current church Deacon. The original documents of Series B and C are in the possession of Deacon Jacob Enns, Campo 6B, Mexico.

Access Restrictions

Access is restricted to those conducting personal research on the Reinlaender Mennonite Church and its families

Finding Aids

Series Inventory and Finding Aid

Related Materials

For more information about Reinlaender church registers, see published book by John R. Dyck and William Harms (1994). Reinlaender Gemeinde Buch, 1880-1903. Winnipeg: Manitoba Mennonite Historical Society, available in the MHSA Library.


Not Expected


Accession 2003.044
Language: German
Resource: Canadian Mennonite Encyclopaedia Online and notes by Bruce Wiebe
Last updated 31 May 2004 – Judith Rempel

Series Inventory

Series A. Reinlaender Gemeinde Buch (Chortitza, Fuerstenland, & Manitoba). — ca 1880-1903. — 424 tif images organized into 5 electronic files
This series contains images of the first church register of the Reinlaender church, organized by villages of settlement. It includes the original families from Russia whose origins were in the Chortitza and Fuerstenland colonies, as well as new families resulting from marriages before 1903. Families that moved to Saskatchewan are noted “Westen” indicating the settlement near Hague, or “Swift Current” for that particular settlement. The register was photocopied by Peter Goertzen of Winnipeg in September 1977. The paper copies include three lists of early church members in Manitoba: (1) contains 959 names including birth dates and church numbers, and precedes the church register. At least 56 of the couples listed do not appear in the Old Colony church register, but do appear in the Sommerfelder or Bergthaler Registers. A few additional birthdates are recorded for persons who came to Manitoba from Russia, but died before the church register was started. (2) and (3) dating from 1888, these lists include names, birthdates, and church numbers recorded by West Reserve Villages. One of the lists has some additions to 1894. The series is arranged by village of settlement and chronologically.

1-1 README.txt
1-2 RGB001-100.tif
1-3 RGB101-200.tif
1-4 RGB201-300.tif
1-5 RGB301-400.tif
1-6 RGB401-424.tif

Series B. Reinlaender Gemeinde Buch-B (Manitoba & Manitoba Colony, Mexico). — ca 1903-1942. — 343 tif images organized into 7 electronic files
This series consists of the second church register, consisting of 343 pages covering about 1,000 family units. It begins in Manitoba and continues in the Manitoba Colony of Mexico. It includes families formed by marriages beginning in 1903. Data is only recorded after 1923 for those families who moved to Mexico. After 1930 no further entries were made in this book. At that time, 1931, a new register was begun in Mexico for all families in the Manitoba Colony. It was again organized by villages. The register photocopied includes all families formed by marriages up to and including 1942. Occasional entries were made thereafter for births, baptisms and deaths. The final two pages of the register contain total church membership statistics for the years 1935 through 1942. About 1,600 families are documented. Numbers preceded by “P” are page numbers in the Reinlaender Gemeinde Buch-C (Series C) Register. There is a numbering gap from 2100-2999, 3100-3999, 4100-4999, and 5100-5999 The register was photocopied by Bruce Wiebe of Winkler in March 1991. The series is arranged chronologically.

1-7 OC-B000 notes, index.tif
1-8 OC-B001-050.tif
1-9 OC-B051-100.tif
1-10 OC-B101-140.tif
1-11 OC-B141-200.tif
1-12 OC-B201-250.tif
1-13 OC-B251-300.tif
1-14 OC-B301-343.tif

Series C. Reinlaender Gemeinde Buch-C (Swift Current, Saskatchewan & Swift Colony, Mexico). — ca 1904-1951. — 553 tif images organized into 11 electronic files
This series consists of the third church register that was begun in the Swift Current, Saskatchewan settlement about 1904. All families that came from Manitoba as well as families formed by marriages until 1923 in Saskatchewan are recorded. After that, the register was kept for the Swift Current Colony in Mexico and included families formed by marriages up to and including 1951. Due to lack of later entries, it is assumed that all families were rewritten in a new book at that time. The register consists of 410 pages recording about 1,300 family units. The register was photocopied by Bruce Wiebe of Winkler in March 1991. Page 433 (Herman Klassen m. Aganetha Driedger) has no number, p. 437 is missing (covering numbers 871-872), pp 448-449 are missing (covering two families with number 894), pp 495-496 are missing (covering two families with number 986), p. 517 is missing (covering two families with number 1028, p. 523 is missing (covering two families with number 1039), there is a numbering gap from 1100-1999, p. 604 is missing (covering family numbers 2099 and 2100), p. 605 is missing (covering family numbers 2101 and 2102), The series is arranged chronologically.

1-15 OC-C000 notes.tif
1-16 OC-C001-050.tif
1-17 OC-C001-050.tif
1-18 OC-C001-050.tif
1-19 OC-C001-050.tif
1-20 OC-C001-050.tif
1-21 OC-C001-050.tif
1-22 OC-C001-050.tif
1-23 OC-C001-050.tif
1-24 OC-C001-050.tif
1-25 OC-C001-050.tif

Series D. Reinlaender Gemeinde Buch-D. — 1928-2000. — 546 tif images organized into 13 electronic files
This series consists of general correspondence pertinent to the whole body of MCA and may include minutes, financial records, reports, policy documents, constitutions, bylaws, and petitions. The register was photocopied by Bruce Wiebe of Winkler in March 1991. The series is arranged chronologically

1-26 OC-D494-546.tif
1-27 OC-D020-067.tif
1-28 OC-D068-069.tif
1-29 OC-D070-127.tif
1-30 OC-D128-129.tif
1-31 OC-D130-215.tif
1-32 OC-D215a.tif
1-33 OC-D216-301.tif
1-34 OC-D302-387.tif
1-35 OC-D388-389.tif
1-36 OC-D390-491.tif
1-37 OC-D492-493.tif
1-38 OC-D001-019.tif

Finding Aid

Alphabetical indexes to the registers have been prepared by William Harms of Altona (Series B) and Bruce Wiebe (Series C). The index to the 1930-1940 Manitoba Colony, Mexico register is combined with an index to the subsequent register which includes an additional 3,000 families.

Village Number
Village Name
Page Range
21 Neuenburg 1-29
18 Osterwick 30-59
20 Schoenwiese 60-82
22 Blumenort 83-113
2A Gnadenthal 114-146
1C Thalbach 147-153
2B Gnadenfeld 154-171
3A Hamburg 172-186
3B Steinbach 187-204
4 Reinland 205-236
6A Rosenthal 237-266
6B Rosenort 267-285
205 Ropsenback 286-303
7A Rosenfeld 304-331
7B Rosengart 332-358
8 Reinfeld 359-381
9 Kronsthal 382-416
12A Schoenthal 417-429
10 Hochfeld 430-463
11 Einlage 464-483
not listed Heuboden 484-490
12B Hoffnungsfeld 491-514
14B Hochstaedt 515-527
14C Edenburg 528-529
22 Blumenort 530-580
13 Neuhorst 581-628
16 Blumenfeld 624-649
19 Schanzenfeld 650-691
23 Waldheim 692-724
not listed Chortitz 725-735
not listed Kleinstaedt 736-766