Mennonites moving to northern Ont. to rework old farmland
Mennonites leaving southern Ontario to move to the rural corners of northern Ontario are bucking the trend of out-migration in the north.
For Erven Martin, who spent his whole life in Waterloo County, soaring land prices made it hard to run a farm in southern Ontario — and unlikely that his six children would be able to afford land of their own.
So, seven years ago, Martin moved his family to a farm outside of Massey.
"There's a lot of things I like about northern Ontario. There's no question in my mind,” he said.
“There's less humidity, there's cleaner air, [and] cleaner water."
About 20 other old-order Mennonite families have joined the Martins in the Massey area.
Local cattle farmer and town councillor Charlie Smith is thrilled to see old farmland being worked again.
But he said a handful of people in Massey are more suspicious of the newcomers.
Smith stands up for the Mennonites, even though they don't vote in elections.
"I said, you know, it's hard to represent you, when you don't vote. So, if there's a conflict that arises and I stand up for you, I lose out on votes and I don't gain votes."
Erven Martin said the differences between him and his neighbours aren't keeping them from blending into the community.
"I'll respect you for who you are, if you can respect me for who I want to be."
More and more Mennonites in Ontario also want to be northerners.
There are several Mennonite communities along the North Shore of Lake Huron towards Sault Ste. Marie, as well as in the rural townships around Powassan.
The furthest north they've ventured in northeastern Ontario is a new cluster of roughly 15 farms near Matheson.
"We're hoping it can grow slowly, but at the same time, there's only so much farmland available here,” Martin said.
“The amount of land is going to somewhat determine how many families are going to be able to make a living here."