Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Martin Mennonite Meeting House

Our family moved from Toronto to the Waterloo region in 1970. My parents made some new friends in the area of Hawkesville and we attended church at the moderate Mennonite church in that small rural community. On the way there, we passed the Martin Mennonite Meeting House which was within the Waterloo city limits. This congregation, who had arrived from Pennsylvania, started meeting in 1824. The first meeting house was built here in 1848. I remember the Old Order Martin Congregation arriving by horse and buggy on alternate Sundays. Every other Sunday, the Markham-Waterloo Mennonites arrived in their black cars. Both congregations shared the building for many years.

The city has grown significantly in the past 30 years and the area around the meeting house and large cemetery is surrounded by malls, offices and auto dealerships. For a period of time, there was a strip club right across the road, but this is now the site of a large Orthodox church and banquet hall.

The Old Order Mennonites stopped using this building in 1993 as the traffic conditions were too busy for horse-drawn vehicles. The building was used for funerals until 2001, but is now vacated completely even though the grounds are well maintained. The simple building looks out of place in the urban landscape.

I love old cemeteries and the history that they record. The name Martin is one of the top six Mennonite surnames in the area, the others being Shantz, Eby, Baumann, Weber and Snyder. The Old Order Mennonites are buying farms north and west of here to escape the busyness of the growing city. It is very unusual to see a horse and buggy downtown now and essential trips are made by bus, or with a neighbour who has a car. When we visited Lancaster County in Pennsylvania a couple of years ago, we found the Amish community was promoted strongly as a tourist attraction. The OOM in this area seem far more private and tend to move away from the curious stares of visitors.

This historical landmark will remain as a ghost town, and remind us of the hardworking people who settled this area and contibuted to its unique heritage.

(Here is a link to a site called From Pennsylvania to Waterloo, a biographical history of the Mennonites in this region.)


  1. I can only imagine how hard it is to maintain their lifestyles with everything around them changing so rapidly. That headstone is fascinating. I suppose someone still sees that the cemetary is kept?

  2. Change is rapid and has it's effects, especially when a strip club is replaced by a church. But that's a good thing.

  3. I love old cemeteries too. So much history is told there.
    it seems sad that they had to abandon that building because of traffic.

  4. I love doing (and collecting) gravestone rubbings (always asking the maintainers permission though some stones are very fragile.)

    It must be hard maintaining their lifestyle in such a hectic world, I often wonder what percentage of their children leave the community...

  5. Ruth--how fascinating. I am going to send the link for this post to my dad, who will enjoy it also.
    I am struck with how fluid the early American church communities must have been--back and forth between the US & Canada.

    I think I mentioned previously that our family may have entered the US (before it was the US) to fight for Britain (Hessian soldiers), then as Loyalists went to Canada when the war was lost (for them). Not Mennonites, granted as they would not have been fighting.

    Probably many of the names around your part of Ontario are Brethren in Christ names (my birth denom)--such as Sider.

  6. Jayne- The cemetery is well kept. many of the stones are inscribed in German. The Pennsylvania Dutch dialect is widely spoken among OOM.

    Mary- I think a lot of local people were offended by the strip club across from this church. It went out of business.

    Lynne- The popular big box stores are being built all around the city. They take up so much land!

    Jaspenelle- There is security and a strong sense of community among the OOM and I think a lot of the children choose to stay. They have their own schools and generally just go to grade 8. The high school in Elmira has a special program for those who want a diploma and it focuses on the type of education they need for their lifestyle...no computers etc.

    KGMom- There is still a strong link between the Canadian and American Mennonites. OOM will take a bus to Pennsylvania to visit kin. You family history is fascinating. Empire Loyalists are in my ancestory too. The name Sider may be a variation of Snider (which is a variation of Schneider). Our surname has at least 5 variations and all came from the same family.

  7. Anonymous6:36 pm GMT-5

    It felt starnge to see a church that I had attended many a sunday in the past displayed on a web page. Lol Yes I can still remember the many hours spent sitting on the hard benches as the preacher droned on and on. As a young girl we would sit next to our friends and play with each others hankies to pass the time~ Then it would be time for the kneeling prayer, which seemed to last forever, oh how your knees hurt, there was no comfortable position.
    If the Church in the picture is the martin's on the edge of Waterloo, then I believe there has been discussion for the old order mennonites who drive buggies to relocate. Because Waterloo is slowly creeping into the rural district many old order mennonites have moved in order to be further away from "the world" . With modernizing always being an issue, the mennonites continue to split into different congregations which mark how "fast" or "slow" they will live. You can email me any questions at priscilla_vermont@hotmail.com


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