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Banner: Moving Here, Staying Here. The Canadian Immigrant Experience

The Documentary TrailTraces of the PastFind an Immigrant
Free From Local Prejudice
A National Open-Door Policy
Filling the Promised Land
A Preferred Policy
A Depressing Period

Religious Refugees

by Matthew Wangler, research consultant

The Mennonite, Doukhobor and Mormon communities were united in their desire to create agricultural settlements rooted in a religious vision of human life and destiny. However, their ideas about that vision -- what it entailed and how it could be shaped in Canada -- differed considerably.

Between 1874 and 1880, approximately 7,000 Mennonites immigrated to Canada from Russia. They were fearful that the rising tide of nationalist sentiment in Russia would threaten their imperial guarantee of certain cultural and religious freedoms, particularly their exemption from military service. As well, they were intrigued by western Canada's vast farmlands and the availability of government loans to assist their settlement. These Mennonites sought to establish agricultural communities sustained by a Christian devotion to humility, pacifism, and the love of God and one's neighbour.

The number of Mormons immigrating to western Canada was relatively small. Beginning in 1887, the movement brought several hundred Mormon settlers to southern Alberta within four years. For many of these early immigrants to the region, Canada was a temporary refuge, a sanctuary from the severe anti-polygamy laws enforced in the United States, where, undoubtedly, many expected to return. As the community grew, however, and additional waves of settlers arrived from Utah, it began setting down roots in its new country. Some viewed this development as part of the continual unfolding of Mormon religious destiny; they sought to create cooperative settlements characterized by strong bonds of family, community, and faith.

Persecuted by Russian authorities for their ardent pacifism, roughly 7,500 Doukhobors came to Canada in 1899. Originating as a protest movement against the ritualism and materialism of the Russian Orthodox church, the Doukhobors emphasized the inherent divinity of every person as the primary guide to human fulfillment. As such, they unequivocally denied the taking of human life. They hoped to found a society in Canada inspired by their awareness of the godliness of each human being -- a place of spiritual vitality and human solidarity.

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