Waterloo Region is an area in southwestern Ontario known for its Mennonite colonizers. This is especially true in Waterloo and Woolwich township. The colonizers largely came from Pennsylvania, and they and other Germanic Christian sects are sometimes known as the Pennsylvania Dutch.
One wonders why these colonizers’ descendants stay there though. As right from the start there was a push for other views in the area. The county was named Waterloo and so was a town which grew into a city inside the county. What was the problem with this? Well Waterloo is the name of one of the most important battles ever fought. And Mennonites are conscientious objectors who refuse to fight in war time, risking jail and other persecutions instead.
Alright, Waterloo is just a name. Conscientious objectors can live with that. Eventually Waterloo grew and began attracting insurance companies. To this day, Waterloo has thousands employed at Manulife, Sun Life, Economical Insurance and Equitable Life. For its size, Waterloo certainly performs well above its weight with regards to insurance companies. It’s just that this is strange, given the Mennonite heritage.
Mennonites can have strange ideas about insurance. Ranging from normal ideas to it’s simply not necessary. For instance old order Mennonites in rural areas will sometimes have a barn building bee where the community will build one member’s barn in a day. Another capability that sometimes excludes insurance are Mennonite relief agencies which will give relief to other community’s natural disasters. Mennonites are capable people and don’t always have to insure.
The third oddity about Waterloo is its two universities, the University of Waterloo and Wilfred Laurier University. Combined with an accelerator centre, Waterloo has become a technology player. Blackberry founders were enriched enough in the noughties that they could help start a couple think tanks, the Perimeter Institute and the Centre for International Governance Innovation.
So some of the best thought and tech in the country comes from Waterloo? So what? Many Mennonites reject technology and will not have electricity in their homes or vehicles more advanced than a horse and buggy. It’s almost ironic that Waterloo has high tech companies.
And finally, with the Mennonites’ mastery of agrarian life it is very strange that Waterloo County became Waterloo Region and continues to grow quickly in population. Waterloo Region already has 500 000 and is expected to grow to over 700 000 people in the next two decades.
Indeed this might be the final contradiction of Waterloo and its Mennonites. Neighbouring counties are already seeing the influx of old order Mennonites buying farms and continuing their way of life outside of Waterloo Region. Maybe all the Mennonites will flee because Waterloo Region is becoming “worldly”. But I doubt it. Some Mennonites have gotten used to the city life and don’t mind even things that can be initially seen as ironic.