of Alberta

Peter Penner fonds

Accession 2003.006, 2003.015 and 2017.031  (filed together under Accession 2003.006), and 2021.010 [filed separately]

Title and Physical Description

Peter Penner collection. — 1952-2002. — 20 cm of textual records. – 2 photographs. – 1 compact disc

Administrative/Biographical History

Peter Penner, born in Orlovo, Siberia in 1925, immigrated to Canada with his parents Peter P. and Katharine Wiebe (Kroeker, Baerg) Penner in 1926. Penner was married to Justina Janzen, daughter of Abram P. and Justina (Steingart) Janzen in 1949 in Vineland, Ontario. They have two children: Ruth C. J. and Robert G.

Penner grew up in the Mennonite Brethren (MB) congregation in Vineland, Ontario and was an active member of many other congregations as his life took him to many parts of Canada. He studied at Eden Christian College, Beamsville High School, Vineland Mennonite Brethren (MB) Bible School, Prairie Bible Institute, St. Catharines Collegiate Institute, MB Bible College (Bachelor in Religious Education and Bachelor in Theology), University of Western Ontario (Bachelor of Arts), and McMaster University (Masters degree and PhD in History). For the doctoral degree he read in British and British Imperial history, Canadian, and Renaissance and Reformation (including Anabaptist) history. After retirement in 1992 he was honoured with the title Emeritus Professor of History.

During World War II, Penner did alternative service as a conscientious objector (1943-1945), planting trees at Vancouver Island’s C2 Camp; working on the Alvin/Isaac Culp farm in Vineland Station, Ontario; and at Canada Packers in Toronto. He was ordained to the Gospel ministry by the Kitchener MB Church in 1954 and served in two MB home mission fields (Lindal, Manitoba – 1955-1957 and Toronto – 1962-1964). He taught at East Chilliwack Bible School (1957-1959) and Mennonite Educational Institute (Clearbrook, BC – 1959-1960), Mount Allison University (Sackville, New Brunswick, 1965-1992). He left the ordained ministry for university life, and focussed on British India, British, and European history, including Russian and Soviet history. In retirement, he also taught history at Lithuania Christian College, Klaipeda (the former Memel) briefly in 1997.

Penner wrote and published throughout his life. He was a frequent contributor of reviews and articles to MB and inter-Mennonite papers and other journals. He published various books: Reaching the Otherwise Unreached (1959), Robert Needham Cust: A Personal Biography (1987), The Patronage Bureaucracy in North India: the Robert M. Bird and James Thomason School, 1820-1870 (1986), No Longer at Arm’s Length: MB Church Planting in Canada– 1883 to 1983 (1987), The Chignecto ‘Connexion’: The History of Sackville Methodist/United Church, 1772 to 1990 (1990), Russians, North Americans, and Telugus: The MB Mission in India, 1885-1975 (1997); and edited two other books on British India, 1983, 1984.   He has also published the history of the Rotary Club of Calgary South for its 50th anniversary, observed in 2005, a history of Grace Presbyterian Church, Calgary (1905-2005), published in 2008, celebrating the that church’s first one hundred years. and then, in 2016, he published his autobiography under the title: A Time to be Born.  Memoir of a Canadian Mennonite.

Penner’s service record includes fostering the Anabaptist presence of Mennonites in the Atlantic Provinces (MAP) and helping to establish the Terry Fox Run for Cancer Research in Sackville, New Brunswick; sitting on the Boards of Mennonite Publishing Service (1981-1990), Westmorland Historical Society (President 1975-1977), Rotary Club (Sackville), Mennonite Historical Society of Alberta, American Historical Society of Germans from Russia (Calgary Branch), and Canadian Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. He has also done volunteer service in Lithuania and taught English as a Second Language in Barnaul, Altai, Western Siberia. In 2000, Penner was made an “honorary Calgarian,” in a White Hat Ceremony.

Peter Penner died in Calgary on 11 November 2021.

Scope & Content

The fonds consists of correspondence about choices that young Mennonite men made during World War II; alternative service, military participation, and postures between those two points.  Peter Penner also donated to the Mennonite Historical Society some of his books and complete, or almost complete, collections of The Mennonite Brethren Herald, The Journal of Mennonite Studies, and annual reports of the Canadian, Northern District, Alberta and other provincial Mennonite Brethren conferences.  These are held in the Library of the Mennonite Historical Society of Alberta.
Together with several boxes of books, a few subject files related to the Steingart Genealogy (Justina Penner’s grandparents ) were received as Accession 2017.031.  The books were placed in the Library and the subject files were added to Accession 2003.006, files 7, 8 and 9.

Shortly before his death on 11 November 2021 Peter arranged for the donation of two large binders containing a somewhat eclectic collection of 35 “chapters.”  Some of these “chapters” were autobiographical in nature, including a complete Curricula Vitae, information about his professional career as a historian, and the challenges, experiences, and collegial assessments of some of his writing projects.  Others focused on the biographies, places of residence and significant events in the lives of Peter’s and Justina’s ancestors.  There are also numerous “chapters” dealing with various aspects of Mennonite Brethren history.  A list of the 35 “chapters” is provided as a Finding Aid.

Source of Acquisition

Gift by Peter Penner, January & March 2003, 2017 and 2021.


Accession 2003.006, 2003.015, 2017.008 and 2017.031 (filed together under Accession 2003.006.)  Accession 2021.010.
Last updated June 2023 – Jim Bowman and Ted Regehr

GRANDMA #313196

File List

1 – 1 – Letter to Carole Brawn – 2002
1 – 2 – Obituaries for Frank C. Peters – 1973
1 – 3 – Es war Einmal ein Mensch [Autobiography of Cornelius C. Peters in 12 parts, published in Mennonitische Rundschau]
1  4- Mennonite Brethren Bible College Graduates, montage of photographs – 1952
1 – 5 – Unnamed [presumed Mennonite] Men and Women Standing in Front of Presumed Mennonite Church photograph – ca. 1950s [separated to oversize Box 2]
1 – 6 – [Number not used]

Files received as part of Accession 2017.031

1 – 7. Steingart Genealogy, 1940-1995, prepared by Frank Gerald Steingart.
1 – 8.   Correspondence with Shirley Perron regarding the Steingart Genealogy, 1998-1999.
1 – 9. File containing a compact disc, pamphlets, brochures and correspondence for and about Low German speaking Mennonite newcomers in southern Alberta.

Accession 2021.010 list.

1 – 1 Table of  Contents
1 – 1a Memoir of a ‘No-Name Man, and Biographical Sketch of Peter Penner.
1 – 1b “In the Steppes of Siberia.”
1 – 2 “Sagradowka”
1 – 3 The Peter Franz and Anna (Nikkel) Penner Family
1 – 4 Peter’s Early Years, 1926-1947.
1 – 5 Marriage, Denominational Reorientation and MBBC, 1947 to 1954.
1 – 6 Penner Family Personal History
1 – 7 Nicolai and Maria (Baerg) Kroeker Family and Peter J. and Katharina (Kroecker) Wiebe Family
1 – 8 Family and Property related to the Heinrich Steingart Family
1 – 9 The Abram P. and Justina (Steingart) Janzen Family
1 – 10 Peter and Susanna (Wiebe) Janzen family, and Janzentreffen in Willigen, Germany.
1 – 11 Our Association with the Mennonite Brethren Church (MBC): 1930s to 1957
1 – 12 My Life in the MB Church, 1957-1962 (Manitoba, BC and Ontario)
1 – 13 Our Association with the MBC, 1962-1967 (Ontario and New Brunswick)
1 – 14 The Ben and Esther (Hiebert) Horch Story (The Arts and MBC)
1 – 15 “The Meek Inherit the Earth” (Satire)
1 – 16 Orientation Toward Teaching: The Career Switch (1959-1967)
1 – 17  The Assistant Professor Years, 1968-1975
1 – 18 The First Sabbatical Leave, 1972-73
1 – 19 The Peter and Justina (Janzen) Penner Family Story, 1970-1984
1 – 20 The Heinrichs/Neufeld/Penner Saga (1962 onwards)
1 – 21 The Associate Professor Years, 1975-1983.
1 – 22 The MB Church Reflected in the MB Herald – in three parts, 1962-2002
1 – 23 The Publications of Peter Penner, 1952-2010
1 – 24 The Publication of No Longer At Arms Length: MB Church Planting in Canada, 1883-1983 (1987)
1 – 25 Relations with the MB Church in the Maritimes and Life of John Esau, 1926-1998
1 – 26 “The Historian from New Brunswick: Misfit or Gift?”
1 – 27 Curriculum Vitae of Peter Penner
1 – 28 The Professorship Years and Retirement, 1983-1992
1 – 29 Publication of Russians, North Americans and Telugus: The MB Mission in India, 1885-1997
1 –  30 The Abram P and Justina Janzen Family, 1971-2000
1 – 31 The Penner Family Story – in two parts, 1985-2010
1 – 32 Our Mennonite Experience in Calgary, 1995-2000
1 – 33 Our Trips to Eastern Europe, 1989 to 2003, 2007, and Our Lithuanian Experience, 1997
1 – 34 [missing]
1 – 35 The Making of the Siegfried Janzen Story, 1974 to 2005