Henry Paetkau

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


How do ethnic groups survive and maintain their identity when transplanted into an alien cultural environment? That question is one of the major issues in the study of ethnicity. Both historians and sociologists have, in recent years, attempted to understand more clearly and explain more fully the nature and dynamics of ethnic group cohesion and survival. While there is general agreement on the strength and persistence of ethnic peculiarities, there is considerable debate over whether this is due primarily to factors and forces internal or external to the group. What current models and theories designed to understand and explain this phenomenon disregard, moreover, are the religious beliefs and values which are a central component in the identity of some ethnoreligious groups like the Mennonites.;The traditional Russian Mennonite ethnoreligious identity consisted primarily of three elements: (1) a separatist, pacifist religious faith, (2) the German language and culture which came to embody it, and (3) a predominantly agrarian lifestyle. These values came into direct conflict with an increasingly urbanized and predominantly Anglo-Canadian society which expected conformity to its socio-economic, cultural, and political, if not religious, values. This thesis investigates some of the dimensions of that conflict as reflected in the settlement of Russian Mennonite immigrants in Ontario after World War I. It sets out to test a number of presently-held theories regarding ethnic group survival. It also challenges some of the generalizations and assumptions about Russian Mennonites which have characterized the historical and sociological literature to date.;The study concludes that although the Russian Mennonites in Ontario behaved much like other immigrants, their survival as an ethnic group cannot be understood apart from the persistence of their peculiar religious beliefs and practices. The New World environment challenged the traditional coalescence of cultural and religious values, however, prompting the search for a redefinition of that Old World identity. Still, the Russian Mennonites have survived as a distinct ethnoreligious group in Canada.



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