© Mennonite Heritage Centre, Winnipeg, Manitoba (Last updated October 16, 2018)
Retrieval numbers: Volumes 1417; 2165; 2222; 4223; 4313; 4314; 4931; 5078, 6310-6332. Microfilm # 184; Microfiche #10.
Title: Chortitzer Mennonite Conference fonds
Extent: 1.3 m of textual records
Extent: 1 reel of microfilm
Extent: 1 box of microfiche
Repository: Mennonite Heritage Centre Archives
The Chortitzer Mennonite Church of Manitoba was the result of the migration of Mennonites from Southern Russia from 1874-1876, when almost the entire Bergthal colony was transplanted to the so called Mennonite East Reserve in Manitoba. The Bergthal colony began in 1836 as a daughter colony of the Chortitza colony in Russia. When the new colony was established, it began to form its own autonomy with its own church and civic leaders and institutions such as the Waisenamt (the organization responsible for orphans and settling inheritance matters for the community).
In the 1870s the Russian government wanted to impress upon the Mennonites of Russia new legislation, among them more Russian control of their schools and no more unqualified military exemption. In 1872 William Hespler, a Canadian immigration officer, met with various Mennonite groups to invite them to Canada. The various Mennonite colonies in Russia sent a delegation to Canada and the USA in 1873 to check out their options. The delegates secured a letter of invitation from the Canadian government, known as the Privilegium, or set of privilages extended to the Mennonites that allowed them to maintain their way of life. Among the privileges was control of education, religious life, exemption from military service, and land. After many high level meetings among the various Mennonite leaders and the Russian government, the Bergthal colony decided to emigrate. Bishop Gerhard Wiebe, with the support of his ministers, and the civic leader Oberschulze Jacob Peters, led the people out of Russia and into a new land. The Waisenamt which handling a lot of financial matters was a very important organization in this monumental migration. With the help of the Swiss Mennonites in Ontario, they were able to finance the emigration of all the people from the Bergthal Colony including the landless, poor, orphans and widows.
In Canada Bishop Gerhard Wiebe (1827-1900) lived near the small village of Chortitz and therefore his church became known as the "Chortitzer Church". He continued as the leader of the group until assistant bishop, David Stoesz, took over in 1881.
As early as 1877 some members of the community felt it was necessary to look for better farming land. Almost half of the families moved to the eastern portion of the so called Mennonite West Reserve (west of the Red River) between 1877-1882. In 1882 Aeltester David Stoesz ordained Johann Funk as Bishop to minister to these families that had relocated, thus beginning the process of giving them more church autonomy. The process of dividing up the Waisenamt also began. In 1892 the church under Funk split, with the major issue being the amount of external influence invited into the Mennonite community through formal education. The Chortitzer church opposed the direction of Funk and ordained Abraham Doerksen as their bishop. Since Abraham Doerksen was from the village of Sommerfeld, this group came to be called the Sommerfeld Mennonite church. The Funk group took on the name of Bergthaler.
In 1903 the Chortitzer church's Bishop, David Stoesz, died and Peter Toews stepped in and continued to tend to the spiritual needs of the Chortitzer church and their members. In 1915 another major leadership change happened with the ordination of Johann Dueck as Bishop.
In 1916 the Manitoba Government passed a law that seriously affected the Mennonites' autonomy with regards to education as they had been promised in the 1870s. The church petitioned and tried to work with the government to reverse this law or to make exceptions. These tactics did not have the desired result and the church began to respond with civil disobedience (deliberate non-cooperation). The government responded consistently with fining the people.
With time the people realized this approach was a loosing matter, either they would have to accept the new regulations or move once again. They again began to look for places to emigrate and found Paraguay to be a safe haven. In 1926-1927, 992 of the 2930 people from the Chortitzer Mennonite church moved and began the Menno colony in Paraguay and were joined by some of their counter parts from the West Reserve Sommerfeld Mennonite church. Another group of 1700 persons emigrated from Manitoba to Paraguay in 1948.
During the 1950s the Chortitzer Church leadership participated in minister's conferences organized by the Sommerfeld Mennonite Churches (of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and British Columbia), the Bergthaler Church (of Saskatchewan) and by themselves. During this era the Chortitzer Church also began conducting revival meetings.
The Chortitzer Church (Gemeinde) decided to adopt a number of changes in 1968 and following. They took the name "Chortitzer Mennonite Conference" and developed a conference committee structure (welfare, building and maintenance and missions and Christian education). Gradually they also began using English and musical instruments in church worship. The official conference publication is the "CMC Chronicle".
The church is still in existence today with congregations in Manitoba, British Columbia, and Saskatchewan. Known as the Chortitzer Mennonite Conference, they consisted of some 2000 baptized believers attending 11 different congregations – 9 in southeastern Manitoba, 1 near Osler, Saskatchewan and one in Prespatou, British Columbia in 1987.
The earliest records in this fonds date back to 1843 when a church membership register was begun in the Bergthal Colony in South Russia - a book which was brought along with the emigrants in 1874. The membership records in this fonds continue to cover the period in Canada from 1874 onwards. After 1930 the records at the Mennonite Heritage Centre dealing with the Chortitzer Mennonite church are extremely sparse. The collection comprises of some preaching schedules and annual report books. The bulk of the materials are from the Waidenamt organization.
The most unique and important document is the letter of invitation (Privilegium) signed by John Lowe of Canada's department of agriculture in July 1873.
This fond consists of three series and 12 sub series. series 1) Bergthaler/Chortitzer church registers, series 2) Waisenamt documents with tweleve sub series and 3)Chortitzer Mennonite Conference Annual report books.
Finding aid consists of a series description, inventory file lists and various indexes to the church registers.
Symposium on the History of the Chortitzer Mennonite church, April 22, 1986 sponsored by the Manitoba Mennonite Historical Society. - 2 audio cassettes. (See MHC #479 and 480.) Dyck, John ed., Bergthal Gemeinde Buch. The Hanover Steinbach Historical Society, 1993. Dyck, John ed. Historical sketches of the East Reserve 1974-1910. The Hanover Steinbach Historical Society, 1994. Dyck, John ed. Working Papers of the East Reserve Village Histories 1874-1910. The Hanover Steinbach Historical Society, 1990. Ens, Adolf. "Mennonite Relations with Governments: Western Canada, 1870-1925". Ph.D. dissertation, University of Ottawa, 1978. Epp, Frank H. Mennonites in Canada 1786-1920. Toronto, Ontario: Macmillan of Canada, 1975. Epp, Frank H. Mennonites in Canada 1920-1940. Toronto, Ontario: Macmillan of Canada, 1982. Stoesz. Dennis E. "A History of the Chortitzer Mennonite Church of Manitoba. 1874-1914." M.A. Thesis for the University of Manitoba, 1987.
This collection of material came to the Mennonite Heritage Centre in four separate deposits. The Bergthal colony church registers were borrowed for photocopying from Bishop Henry K. Schellenberg by Peter and Vera Fast in 1975. In August 1979, Schellenberg brought the Chortitzer church registers for microfilming . The third deposit was made by Jake Peters in 1979-1980. Through his connections with the Waisenamt leaders, he was able to obtain permission to photocopy some records. A fourth deposit consisting of photocopies of large portions of the Waisenamt records was made in 2004 by Delbert Plett shortly before his death. In 2015, the Chortitzer church (now knonw as the Christian Mennonite Church) began a process of orgnaizing the Waisenamt materials with a team of volunteers, led by MHC staff As the sorting began, the letter of invitation was located and donated to the archives. Organizing of the Waiseamt materials and digitization of some of the materials continued untl it was deposited in 2016. See Mennonite Historian, December 2016.
Much in German
Description completed by Conrad Stoesz on June 29, 1998; updated June 2005. Reviewed and updated by Alf Redekopp, Oct. 2006. Updated by Conrad Stoesz October 16, 2018.
Acc. 2004-039, 2015-026, 2016-048.