Madam Speaker, I am really happy to stand in this place today and speak in support of Motion No. 111, which was introduced by my colleague, the member for Abbotsford. The motion would establish the second week of September as Mennonite heritage week.
I am particularly pleased because of the way the motion came up in the House of Commons. I did not know if I would have the opportunity to speak. I am so grateful that it has come up today and that I could be here.
So much of what I have done in the House of Commons over the last 10 years has been pretty confrontational. Whether my job has been in government or in opposition, it has usually included mentioning other parties' names and talking about what they have been doing to hurt the country and what we have been doing to help the country.
Today, I am just going to talk about a wonderful group of people, the Mennonite people. It is not going to be partisan at all. It really feels good to be able to do that. I am especially proud to be able to speak about Canadian Mennonites and to be able to honour them, highlighting the wonderful things that Canadian Mennonites bring to our culture in Canada and truly bring to the world.
I am going to be speaking a bit personally about how important this motion is to Canadian Mennonites. I am from southern Manitoba and I am a Mennonite myself, although I never really had thought about myself as a Mennonite because I grew up in a Mennonite community with Mennonite parents but we always went to the Pentecostal church. Growing up in Warren, Manitoba, and going to the Pentecostal church, we were not quite considered Mennonites. We were a little charismatic. Of course, there is a range but Mennonites are very humble and are not overly expressive. We were seen as being a little bit out there, being Pentecostals.
As my hon. colleague from the NDP just talked about, what it really came down to was our faith in Jesus Christ, our belief in loving God, in serving God, and our common beliefs around our Christian faith. As I grew up, I was part of the Pentecostal church and many of my friends were part of the Mennonite church. We really were brothers and sisters in our faith, as well as many of the things that we believed were important.
It is only as I have gotten older, even being a member of Parliament here, where every day any time I can, I tell somebody that I am from a Mennonite background and talk about things like our history, our music, our food, our culture, our sense of humour and our compassion. When I say “our”, I mean so many good Mennonite people that I know. I am immensely proud to be a Mennonite, and so proud that this motion was brought forward.
When my colleague, the member for Abbotsford, was first talking about bringing this motion forward, we sort of joked about it, because Mennonites are typically very humble and do not want a lot of attention brought to themselves. If people were to look at the history of Mennonites, they would see how they have been victimized, persecuted and have risen above that persecution, but they have never asked for an apology or restitution. They never want accolades. They just want to put their head down, put their shoulder to the wheel, as it is, and just keep working hard for their families, for their community, for their God, for their country.
When the member for Abbotsford talked about bringing this motion forward, we sort of chuckled because we really were not sure if he was fully serious. We are Mennonites after all; we do not have Mennonite heritage week. However, I am so happy that he was serious. We very much support him in this motion. Even though Mennonites are humble people, I am really happy we can talk about Mennonites to the extent that we are today.
I want to talk briefly about some of the struggles that Mennonites had to face. Mennonites have migrated across Europe. They came out of the faith of a man named Menno Simons. Mennonites believed, and still believe, that baptism should happen as an adult, because adults can decide if they want to follow the Christian faith and want to be baptized. They are also very strong believers in peace, passivism and not going to war.
For those reasons, over many years, they had to migrate across Europe because they were persecuted. I want to talk a little about the struggles they had, because they were brought to Canada. In order to have a clear understanding around the struggles of the Manitoba Mennonite community specifically, I want to talk briefly about the history of them.
The very first group of Mennonites arrived in Manitoba from eastern Europe during the summer of 1874. Some of them are probably my ancestors. I am a fourth generation Canadian. My grandmas and grandpas arrived here when they were a year old or so, probably before 1874. They settled on reserves east and west of the Red River.
Between 1923 and 1929, over 25,000 Mennonites managed to immigrate and although more wanted to come, in 1930, the Canadian government closed the door to Mennonites. It goes without saying that our modern Canada was built by immigrants, many of them fleeing war, strife, persecution and economic devastation.
The Mennonites are certainly among that group of people who came to find refuge in Canada and it is the reason that Mennonites have been at the forefront and leading the way of private sponsors and helping refugees who are coming to Canada now.
Among other things, Mennonite church organizations, private business owners and in my riding of Portage—Lisgar, many private individuals have banded together and are supporting refugees who are fleeing from persecution in the Middle East and in other areas because they have such a strong sense of what it means to be persecuted the majority of times because of their faith. They have been at the forefront of welcoming refugees to Canada and helping them.
There are two particular groups of Mennonites that arrived in southwest Manitoba, 14 families in one and eight in another. These Mennonites arrived with nothing but the clothes on their backs and Bibles in their hands. Although they had no money, they still managed to secure land without making so much as a down payment. Instead, they promised half of their gross annual income until the purchase price and interest were covered.
That is the way Mennonites did it then and do it now. They will set their mind to do something. Possibly it is a problem that they themselves need solved. They will find that solution.
I think of so many industries in my riding, for example. Mennonites who are farmers might have a problem with their equipment or something that is not working properly. They are incredibly innovative. They find a solution and they create a gadget to fix their combine or other type of tool. When a neighbour sees it, he will ask if one can be made for him because he really likes it. They sell it to a neighbour and before long, usually within just a few years, there is another small business that has sprung up out of the Mennonite community. Their expansion through southwestern Manitoba saw the creation of communities like Winkler, Plum Coulee, Rosenfeld, Altona. Many of those are in my riding of Portage—Lisgar.
I want to touch briefly on a couple of things. Mennonites not only have been through so much persecution, but one of the things that make Mennonites unique is Mennonite food. I do not know any other culture where a meal is deep-fried dough, which is called rollkuchen, and watermelon, which is arbus in German. Rollkuchen and arbus is what we would eat for supper, deep-fried dough and watermelon. If the dough was not sweet enough, we would dip it in a bit of syrup which is very good. Wareneki is cottage cheese which is boiled. We would have that with schmaundt fat and farmer sausage.
I also have to talk about the sense of humour of Mennonites and their love for music. At a Mennonite funeral we hear the most beautiful music ever from the congregation.
I want to close with some headlines from a wonderful website called The Daily Bonnet. This is Mennonite humour. If people are Mennonites they will get these headlines. I will not try to explain them, but I will read the headlines from The Daily Bonnet written by Andrew Unger from Steinbach: “Sound of Knacking Zoat Used as Mennonite Mating Call”; “Quilt Cartel Jacks up Prices at Mennonite Relief Sale”; “Left Lane Between Steinbach and Blumenort to be Designated 'Slow Minivan Lane'”; “New Bothwell Resident Arrested for Putting Processed Cheese on His Burger”;“Mennonites Rush to Get Their Cars Outside During Hail Storm”.
This is a good headline: “Dating Mennonite Couple Solidify Relationship By Sharing Co-op Number”. “Knackzoat Found in Last Summer’s Jean Shorts 'Still Perfectly Edible' Says Local Man”—