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Wheels, war, witness

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Another take on the War of 1812

Question: How are the Niagara Region, bicycles, and the War of 1812 related to each other?

Answer: On July 28, MCC Ontario recognized the war’s bicentennial by sponsoring “the historic peace church Niagara bike tour,” led by historian Jonathan Seiling.

As Mennonites whose grandparents and/or parents came to Canada in the 20th century, we knew little of the earlier Mennonite history of the Niagara Region. The opportunity to take in the beautiful scenery of the Niagara area while discovering a different perspective on the War of 1812 intrigued us. We looked forward to learning more about the historic peace church witness while touring on two wheels.

Under grey skies with a threat of rain, we joined with other Anabaptist cyclists to visit three newly placed markers related to the experiences of the Brethren in Christ in Bertie/Stevensville, Quakers in Port Colborne, and Mennonites in Vineland, Ont.

Refusing to be enemies

The War of 1812 was the first test of conscientious objection in Canada. Men from Mennonite, Quaker, and Brethren in Christ congregations refused to serve in the militia based on their convictions and interpretation of Scripture. Mennonites and Brethren in Christ paid a special tax in exchange for exemption from taking up arms. The Quakers, who refused to pay, were often imprisoned for their nonparticipation.

We heard stories about Mennonite families who took risky, real-world actions to live out Jesus’ ethic of peace. Determined not to call anyone enemy, Mennonite women fed not only British and Canadian soldiers during the war, they also helped hungry American soldiers who asked for food. For this, they were scorned and called traitors.

On occasion, Mennonites were conscripted to haul supplies for the militia. If they refused, the soldiers often confiscated oxen and wagons. Claims for compensation following the war were marginally successful, often taking more than a decade to settle, then returning only a small portion of the value.

The media has inundated residents of the Niagara Region with War of 1812 stories and events over the past year. We appreciated hearing from MCC a side of the story that hasn’t been presented at these celebrations, a perspective that speaks of a peaceful witness.

A peaceful witness today

We’re grateful we aren’t asked (or forced!) to go to war for Canada in our time. However, a peaceful witness is also needed outside of armed conflict. We’re still called to leave our mark in society, filled with violence in such forms as
bullying, road rage, and conflicts between co-workers and neighbours.

Whether at our place of work or in our neighbourhood, we are called to love our enemies just as Jesus taught. We want to commit ourselves to nonviolent resolution of conflict in all its forms.

The Prince of Peace is Jesus Christ…
True Christians do not know vengeance.
They are children of peace.
Their hearts overflow with peace.
Their mouths speak peace,
and they walk in the way of peace.

—The words of Menno Simons, 1552, inscribed on the marker at First Mennonite Church, Vineland, Ont.
—Avid cyclists Marlene and Arnold Goertzen are members at Southridge Community (MB) Church, St. Catharines, Ont.

War of 1812 peace sites to link


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