Re­gion’s Men­non­ites look to the Mar­itimes for land and a new start

Crowded On­tario spurs hunt for farms and re­al­tors can’t find them fast enough

Waterloo Region Record - - FRONT PAGE - Greg Mercer, Record staff

ST. JA­COBS — When a group of prospec­tive buy­ers ap­proached a Prince Ed­ward Island re­al­tor ask­ing about farm­land re­cently, they added an un­usual re­quest — they also needed a church.

The buy­ers, all Old Or­der Men­non­ites from the Elmira area, wanted a place to build a com­mu­nity hub in ad­di­tion to land to sup­port their fam­i­lies.

Re­al­tors Al­lan and Tayler Weeks were only happy to oblige.

The Weeks sold the group eight farms, plus a church, so they could es­tab­lish a new colony on the island. And the re­al­tors say more are com­ing — as the grow­ing Amish and Men­non­ite pop­u­la­tions in south­ern On­tario look fur­ther afield for af­ford­able farm­land.

“We’re talk­ing on the phone all the time. There’s an­other fam­ily in the works right now buy­ing land, and there’s quite a few more in­ter­ested in com­ing,” Tayler Weeks said. “We just have to find them the right farms.”

Pock­ets of Old Or­der Men­non­ite and Amish set­tle­ments have been pop­ping up around the Mar­itimes for sev­eral years, leav­ing their crowded churches and com­mu­ni­ties be­hind in On­tario.

Men­non­ite fam­i­lies from Water­loo Re­gion have long spread around the prov­ince in search of cheaper land, but the re­cent fo­cus on At­lantic Canada is new.

An­other island re­al­tor, Brad Oliver, in­stalled a hitch­ing post in front of his

of­fice in Mon­tague, P.E.I., to make his new clien­tele feel at home. He’s also sold farms to 16 Amish fam­i­lies in the last two years, and thinks there could be hun­dreds more com­ing.

The only prob­lem, he said, is find­ing them farms fast enough.

“I’ve got more buy­ers than I’ve got sellers,” said Oliver, a Wil­frid Lau­rier grad­u­ate who lived in Water­loo Re­gion in the 1970s. “It’s an eco­nomic thing. Dad can sell his farm near Mill­bank and buy an equal farm here, and a cou­ple for his boys, and still have money left over.”

In Prince Ed­ward Island, they’re buy­ing farm­land at an av­er­age of $2,500 an acre, Weeks said — a steal com­pared to south­ern On­tario, where an acre of work­able land can cost up­wards of $15,000 or more.

“It’s our land price. It’s tough for fam­i­lies in On­tario,” Weeks added. “For the Men­non­ites, it’s too hard for the younger ones to es­tab­lish their own farm. So they’ve started their own com­mu­nity here.”

The de­mand is sig­nif­i­cant enough that Oliver trav­elled to Water­loo Re­gion a few years ago to meet with church el­ders to dis­cuss real es­tate op­tions.

The buy­ers have sent sev­eral large groups down to P.E.I., to in­spect po­ten­tial farms and barn sites and even meet with the prov­ince’s min­is­ter of agri­cul­ture to dis­cuss the tran­si­tion, Oliver said. They needed spe­cial ex­emp­tions from the prov­ince to con­struct build­ings with­out plumb­ing and get gov­ern­ment IDs with­out pic­tures.

Since their faith doesn’t al­low them to fly, they also have to travel to the east coast by slower means.

“Ev­ery time they come, they bring a bus. They’ll take a 24pas­sen­ger bus and fill it,” Weeks said. “They’re very unique. We’ve learned so much from them. They’re prob­a­bly the nicest clients we’ve ever had.”

Out­side Sus­sex, N.B., an­other group of Men­non­ite fam­i­lies set­tled into a ru­ral com­mu­nity this spring, buy­ing up farm­land and an un­used com­mu­nity hall that serves as their school and church.

The fam­i­lies all set­tled within about 20 kilo­me­tres of that hall, planted veg­eta­bles, and are build­ing a green­house and ma­chine shop.

“We felt the Lord led us right to Sus­sex,” Jo­han Guen­ther told a lo­cal news­pa­per re­porter. “Our church was get­ting to be too full, and in­stead of adding onto the build­ing, they thought it would be nice to have an out­reach.”

Guen­ther said the group of fam­i­lies had spent two years study­ing where to re­lo­cate in Canada, and pray­ing for guid­ance.

While the new ar­rivals might turn heads for their bug­gies and old-fash­ioned style of dress, the lo­cals in the Mar­itimes have wel­comed them, Oliver said. They’ve set­tled into largely ru­ral ar­eas where their life­style is less at odds with the main­stream pop­u­la­tion, he said.

“Ru­ral south­ern On­tario is get­ting pretty citi­fied. Here, we still have a very ru­ral, agrar­ian so­ci­ety. Our peo­ple don’t find those guys to be too back­wards or any­thing,” he said. “They’ve re­ally been well-re­ceived.”

Weeks’s fa­ther first es­tab­lished a con­nec­tion with his Men­non­ite clients when he met them at a farm show in Lon­don, Ont., last year. Now fam­i­lies are re­fer­ring their rel­a­tives to him, and more are on the way.

“I’m sure they would have loved to stay in On­tario. But they’re kind of cre­at­ing a new chap­ter in their com­mu­nity, and they’re com­ing east,” Weeks said.

DAVID BEBEE, RECORD STAFF

A Men­non­ite cou­ple head to­ward Wal­len­stein Fri­day. Men­non­ite fam­i­lies from Water­loo Re­gion are buy­ing land in P.E.I. and New Brunswick.

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