Madam Speaker, it is my honour to rise in the House to speak in support of Motion No. 111 put forth by the member for Abbotsford, which would declare the second week of September as Mennonite heritage week, as a time to recognize the contributions Canadian Mennonites have made to building Canadian society.
ln supporting this motion, I will share some details of Mennonite contributions to the history and heritage in my riding of Markham—Stouffville. Our region had been home to indigenous peoples for thousands of years. ln fact, one of the largest Huron-Wendat villages in North America stood on the boundary between Markham and Stouffville some 500 years ago.
Then in 1804, settlers, including Abraham Stouffer, his wife Elizabeth and her brother Peter Reesor, arrived from Pennsylvania. They transported their families and possessions in four large covered wagons, each drawn by four to six horses. They brought pigs, fowl, sheep, cows, oxen, housewares, farm implements and homemade food for the six-week journey.
They followed a path forged in 1615 by French free-spirit voyageur Étienne Brûlé. Within 10 years, another 55 families arrived from Pennsylvania and settled into the community. The vast majority of those families were Mennonite. The federal government soon abbreviated the name of the town to Stouffville to honour Abraham Stouffer and his family.
The early history of Markham—Stouffville is the story of Mennonites and pacifism. They were the first conscientious objectors in Canada's pre-history. ln the War of 1812, Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe exempted them from military service under the Militia Act of 1793. Lieutenant-Governor Simcoe was more interested in taking advantage of the significant Mennonite farming skills than in recruiting unenthusiastic soldiers. Mennonites helped our country's early leaders learn the gifts of tolerance and forbearance to develop a more broad-minded country.
ln modern times, as we confront existential threats like climate change, economic inequality, racism, violence and global instability, Mennonites offer us a blueprint to live productive lives full of hope, meaning and purpose. Specifically, they challenge us in five important ways.
Number one, Mennonites are known for addressing issues on both a local and a global scale. The Stouffville Care & Share Thrift Shop collects and sells local thrift goods, with all funds raised supporting local and international development and peace projects. Residents benefit from more choice and lower prices. At the same time, all funds raised support international development and relief. Everybody wins.
Number two, Mennonites move beyond their own personal stories of persecution and injustice to help the persecuted and afflicted. Abraham Stouffer's ancestors were expelled from Switzerland in a climate of religious intolerance in 1709. That was the backdrop for a life of courage and faithfulness. Today, Mennonites in Stouffville have an inspiring track record of supporting the persecuted through their work with international refugees. During the Syrian refugee crisis, 1,500 refugees were resettled by Canadian Mennonites over just 12 months, from 2015 to 2016. Mennonite commitment to religious freedom is borne out in words and actions.
Number three, Mennonites work together collaboratively on common goals with a shared sense of purpose. They work in partnership and community. This is a model for how we, in the House of Commons, could work better across party lines to deal with the entrenched challenges of our generation. We can learn and then practise an ethic of caring and sharing our hardships with friends and neighbours, to improve our quality of life and increase our sense of community. As parliamentarians, we can follow Mennonite examples of barn-raising collaboration to bring effective solutions to our most pressing challenges.
Number four, Mennonites have modelled the importance of working through shared values. The transformative power of shared values brings a sense of urgency, belonging, legitimacy and healing to our communities. Our shared values allow us to build communities grounded in compassion and service. For example, a local Mennonite woman in Stouffville recently received a provincial Trillium grant to build a three-season structure to host indigenous reconciliation programming, including the KAIROS blanket exercise workshop.
Number five, we can celebrate the Mennonite model of a strong work ethic and sense of industriousness. For over 200 years, Mennonite farmers have tilled the soil of Markham—Stouffville, managing farm resources, taking risks, growing food, feeding cities and raising families. Seventy-five farms, many of which are run by Mennonite farmers, are now part of the Rouge National Urban Park, our country's newest national park, which will hugely benefit from Mennonite industriousness and superior farming skills.
My riding of Markham—Stouffville has vastly benefited from 200 years of Mennonite industriousness and community. Mennonites built a community with deep interlocking roots. Their zeal for justice and peace translated into lives of service, compassion and mutual assistance. The crest of the top of the Whitchurch-Stouffville coat of arms is the dove of peace, another Mennonite contribution to our rich town history.
Finally, while my husband and I were both raised in the Presbyterian Church, we started attending our local Mennonite congregation a few years after we moved to Stouffville. We eventually became members of the Community Mennonite Church, because we were inspired by the focus on peace, social justice and care for the environment.
With that, members can understand even more of why I am happy to stand in support of Motion No. 111 to establish Mennonite heritage week so we can honour the important legacy that Mennonites have made to Canadian history and culture.