Different memory of a war
Amid national celebrations, Canadian peace churches remember those who objected to War of 1812By Sheldon C. Good Mennonite World Review
Canadians are celebrating the bicentennial of the War of 1812 with re-enactments, monuments and parades. But the government has not included the peace church experience in its official commemoration events.
Mennonite Central Committee Ontario has placed plaques and historical markers in the Niagara region to honor pioneers of peace from the Mennonite, Quaker and Brethren in Christ traditions. Events throughout the summer are focusing on their common history as peace churches.
Jonathan Seiling of St. Catharines, Ont., who chairs MCC Ontario’s 1812 Bicentennial Peace Committee, said the historical markers are significant because the war — which holds a much larger place in Canadian history than in the U.S. — “represents the first testing of conscientious objection in Canada.”
“These people were absolutely not the quiet in the land,” he said of early-19th-century Canadian peace churches. “They took every opportunity to advocate for themselves and improve legislation.”
Mennonites and Brethren in Christ in Stouffville, Ont., 30 miles north of Toronto, are becoming a part of this legacy by protesting events that they say do not accurately portray history.
A “Freedom of the Town” event on June 16 — proposed by Member of Parliament Paul Calandra and approved by the Whitchurch-Stouffville town council — included a traditional military exercise and a parade.
The event’s budget did not come from the $28 million that the government has allocated for bicentennial commemorations over the next three years.
About 60 Mennonites, Quakers and Brethren in Christ gathered in the heart of town before the commemoration. They read peace texts from Jesus, Menno Simons and William Penn, and prayed.
“Our history was effectively disqualified, erased and rewritten, with the powerful help of pomp and ceremony, tanks and cavalry,” Mennonite professor and minister Arnold Neufeldt-Fast said of the event.
At a May 1 town council meeting, 50 members of Stouffville’s Mennonite and BIC churches voiced concern about the event.
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