Mennonite archives overflowing old space
By Robert White | Monday, December 5, 2011
A 1749 copy of the Martyrs' Mirror is one of the books featured in the Mennonite archives.
WATERLOO, ONAn archival collection that would stretch nearly a kilometre, if laid end-to-end, is one reason the Mennonite Archives of Ontario needs more space.
They'll get space as part of a $6.3 million expansion of Conrad Grebel University College, where the archives will see another 6,000 square feet (about 550 square metres) added to its existing space.
"The new addition almost doubles the space we have," says archivist Laureen Harder-Gissing.
But this December, two years before the September 2013 move-in date, the archives will celebrate their 70th anniversary. The event will feature speeches, tours, the official opening of the Frank H. Epp collection and the launch of a compilation of articles by the archives first archivist, Lorna Bergey.
The archives began as a box of research for Lewis Burkholder's 1935 book A Brief History of the Mennonites in Ontario. The research was placed in a "Mennonite box" at the Archives of Ontario in Toronto. By 1941 the collection was back in Kitchener in the hands of a Mennonite Conference of Ontario historian. Beginning in 1958 it was housed at Rockway Mennonite School until the 1965 opening of Conrad Grebel College where the archives have been housed ever since.
According to its website, The Mennonite Archives of Ontario now serves as the official depository for Conrad Grebel University College, Mennonite Central Committee (Ontario) and Mennonite Church Eastern Canada.
"Originally the area was a work room that, over the years, filled with archival stuff," says Harder-Gissing. The 780 metres of "archival stuff"archivists measure collections in terms of linear feet, she explainsincludes:
A wall of bookcases devoted to genealogies, including the Woolner family who can trace their roots to the Domesday Book of 1086.
A rare periodical collection that includes copies of The Beacon, a newsletter from the World War II era published by Mennonite conscientious objectors in British Columbia work camps.
The largest collection of Anabaptist works in Canada including a copy of the Martyrs' Mirror printed in Pennsylvania in 1749.
A collection of family Bibles including the Reesor Bible printed in Switzerland in 1531, whose hand-painted woodcuts have been scanned for the archives' image database.
An image collection that features 17,000 photos including those of area photographer David Hunsberger and images from the Canadian Mennonite; the artwork of Woldemar Neufeld, Peter Goetz; and the research photos of local artist Peter Etril Snyder.
Highlighted at the anniversary celebration will be the Frank H. Epp Collectionthe largest personal collection in the archives. Epp, who died in 1986, was a journalist, professor, college president and author of the two-volume Mennonites of Canada history.
"He had a diverse array of interests," says Harder-Gissing of the immense collection which fills about 70 storage boxes. "We had twice as much material as we ended up with."
For more information, see the Mennonite Archives website.