Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise in support of the initiative to establish a Mennonite heritage week. I want to start by talking a bit about the contributions of Mennonites to northeast Winnipeg and to Manitoba.
Manitoba has quite a significant Mennonite population, and it is one that has definitely made a mark on Manitoba culture and society. Some of the institutions in northeast Winnipeg, such as Concordia Hospital, owe their existence to Mennonites who came to Winnipeg. The Concordia Society was originally established in 1928, and the Concordia Hospital followed shortly afterward, in 1931. It was located on Desalaberry Avenue for a long time, on the bank of the Red River, right where the Columbus housing co-op is today. In 1974, it moved to its current location on Concordia Avenue. Not long after opening, it was found that the emergency room was well frequented and that the ICU was too small. By 1983, the emergency room was being expanded and the number of beds in the ICU was being doubled from four to eight.
Concordia Hospital is in the news a lot today because the current Conservative government is endeavouring to close the emergency room and the ICU. It is something people in northeast Winnipeg are very aware of and, frankly, very upset about, because it has become such an important institution for them. It is open 24/7 and is an important point of access for northeast Winnipeggers to get access to the health care system. Debates are alive and well regarding the Concordia Hospital and the role it plays. That institution was originally founded by Mennonites in Winnipeg.
Not far down the road is the Bethania personal care home, which started out in Middlechurch in the 1940s and moved to Concordia Avenue in 1970. It currently cares for some 148 residents.
There is also Sam's Place, which is an excellent restaurant and a great place to get a bite. It also has a wonderful used bookstore. In addition to being a lovely place to get a meal and find a good book, it is also a social enterprise run by the Mennonite Central Committee. It helps train youth and gives them the skills to go out into the job market and find employment when they are ready for full-time employment. I have hosted events at Sam's Place and held many meetings there. It is a really great place. To people listening back home who have not been there, I exhort them to go check out Sam's Place.
The MCC Thrift Shop can be found on Chalmers Avenue in Elmwood—Transcona. It is one of many. There are over 100 shops across North America raising millions of dollars for the work of the Mennonite Central Committee. It started as a modest effort in rural Manitoba and quickly turned into a great success.
We also have the Mennonite Brethren Collegiate Institute in Elmwood—Transcona, which is an important part of the community. It has many students and is involved in the wider community. For example, the Happy Days on Henderson festival is held on the grounds of MBCI every year.
Headquartered in Winnipeg is the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, which is an important organization. It was originally founded to help Mennonite farmers who wanted to help people across the globe by sending their surplus grain to places with an intense need. It was established in the early eighties, and continues to do good work across the planet for people in many different countries.
Those are just some examples of the institutions in Winnipeg, and particularly in northeast Winnipeg, where Mennonites have made a very pronounced and lasting contribution.
I have had the honour of knowing people who have been involved in politics in northeast Winnipeg, mostly people involved in the NDP. I think of MLAs such as Vic Schroeder, Harry Schellenberg, Erna Braun and Matt Wiebe, the current MLA for Concordia.
Political contributions have been made by Mennonites not just on the NDP side. Obviously, there are Mennonites in various parties who have made a number of different contributions.
Mennonites originally came to Canada, and started coming to Manitoba, in the 1870s, when the Russian Czarist government of the day undertook some reforms. It released the serfs, but in exchange, it required military service, and it took over the education system. I highlight those two things, because it was very important to Mennonites that they be able to teach their children their own language and faith and therefore have control over their education. It is also an important principle of Mennonites that they abstain from military service, so that was not compatible with the Russian government's draft at that time. They came to Canada under agreements that both exempted them from military service and gave them a fair amount of autonomy with respect to schools for their children.
Already in the 1890s, some of that was beginning to be challenged. There was the Manitoba schools question that came up. It was controversial at the time. Mennonites began to feel some pressure and discomfort, in a sense, that not all the deals they had made as a condition of coming to Canada were being honoured. That was exacerbated with the onset of the First World War, when Mennonites had to make the decision as to whether they would serve with Canadian forces and fight in Europe or whether they would stay home. The overwhelming majority decided not to participate. That was not well received by all. I want to come back to that in a moment.
Some ended up leaving. They went to Mexico. They went to Paraguay and other places to try to get back those kinds of agreements on education and military service they thought they had with Canada. For those who stayed, they became a really important part of Manitoba culture and society. They were an important part of promoting and cementing the co-operative movement in Manitoba, for instance, with consumer co-ops, grain co-ops and other kinds of co-ops, to try to make life more affordable for themselves in rural communities. They were an important part of the credit union movement. We have a huge Steinbach Credit Union building in Elmwood—Transcona, right off highway 59. That is a credit union that is going strong. They continue to support that movement.
I have talked a lot about the achievements of Mennonites and their importance to Manitoba culture, but I want to highlight that Canadians did not always think they would be a good fit, and there was opposition to having Mennonites settle here. In fact, there was an order in council in passed in 1919 that prohibited the immigration of Mennonites, Hutterites, Doukhobors and other undesirables. For a period of about four years, Mennonites were expressly prohibited from coming to the country. In the 1920s, there were comments made in this very place, such as this, from a Mr. Buchanan, who was serving as a member at the time. He said:
l intend to argue that they are not desirable citizens, although probably not on the same ground as defined in the Bill itself. I look upon a desirable citizen as one who comes into this country prepared to associate with the rest of the people and to assume all the obligations of citizenship. If immigrants fail to do that, then I do not look upon them as desirable citizens, and we should refrain from allowing such classes of people to enter the Dominion of Canada.
A colleague, Mr. Green, said:
I do not think we would ever be able to assimilate these people so long as they are allowed to remain in these communities, and we should not allow the Doukhobors, Hutterites and Mennonites or any people of that sort to come into Canada and live under their present customs. If we are going to build up a united Canada we must have people whom we can assimilate and who eventually will join the family of Canadian life.
We hear comments like this today in debates on immigration.
Mennonites are a great example of people who came to this country, worked hard and made significant contributions. I believe that is still true of people coming to our country from other parts of the world. Our job is to welcome them and work with them to ensure that those contributions are positive.