History of the Mennonite Archives of Ontario

The Mennonite Archives of Ontario had its origin in the research undertaken by Lewis J. Burkholder in the early 1930s for his book, A Brief History of the Mennonites in Ontario (Kitchener, Ontario: Mennonite Conference of Ontario, 1935). In his research he gathered a significant quantity of 19th century letters and published documents. He placed these in a "Mennonite box" at the Archives of Ontario located in Toronto.

In 1941 an archival collection began to be maintained at the Golden Rule Bookstore (later Provident Bookstore) in Kitchener, Ontario. The manager of the bookstore, J.C. Fretz, was also the historian for the Mennonite Conference of Ontario. At that time the "Mennonite box" was returned to Mennonite hands.

In 1958 an addition to the classroom building at Rockway Mennonite School provided space for archival materials. Additional materials from the Swiss Mennonite community in Ontario began to be gathered under the supervision of Dorothy Schwartzentruber who worked at the bookstore. At some point during those years, the Archives was listed as the “Mennonite Archives of Ontario” (MAO) with the Public Archives of Canada. The Archives has never been incorporated.

The organizational scheme employed by the archives were derived by that developed at the Archives of the Mennonite Church (Goshen, Indiana) by Melvin Gingerich, longtime archivist at that facility. He assisted in the early formation of the Mennonite Archives of Ontario.

In 1963, Conrad Grebel College initiated plans to establish an Ontario Mennonite archives. A committee appointed by the College’s Board of Governors, and including Dorothy Swartzentruber and College President J. Winfield Fretz, recommended that a specific invitation be sent to Grebel’s constituent conferences to deposit their archival materials at the College. Following this, the Board intended to extend the invitation to other Mennonite groups in Ontario to do the same.

In 1965, after the construction of the College, the collection was moved from Rockway. The College took charge of the Archives and developed its regional and inter-Mennonite mandate in co-operation with other Mennonite archives in Canada.  Lorna Bergey served as volunteer archivist until 1974 at which time Sam Steiner was hired as the first paid staff person. Laureen Harder-Gissing became archivist after Sam's retirement in January 2009.

The Archives has had three locations at Conrad Grebel. The first was on the lower floor of the College's residence. The second was a dedicated space within the library of the Academic building, built in 1976. The third, completed in 2014, tripled archival storage capacity and created new processing and reading rooms within an enlarged library.

The Mennonite Archives of Ontario now serves as the official repository for Conrad Grebel University College, Mennonite Central Committee (Ontario), Christian Peacemaker Teams (Canada), Conscience Canada and Mennonite Church Eastern Canada (MCEC). Other collections include the Mennonites in Canada collection gathered by Frank H. Epp, the archives of the Ontario Mennonite Bible School & Institute, the predecessor conferences to Mennonite Church Eastern Canada, the Non-Resistant Relief Organization, the Conference of Historic Peace Churches, MCEC congregations, and individual Mennonites.


Generally 9:00 am - 4:00 pm Monday to Friday. An appointment in advance is recommended.


Mennonite Archives of Ontario
Conrad Grebel University College
140 Westmount Road North
Waterloo, ON N2L 3G6

Phone: 519-885-0220 x24238