Mennonite Immigration Aid

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Founded in 1926 in Winnipeg, Manitoba the Mennonite Immigration Aid (MIA) organization was formed with the purpose to arrange emigration and settlement of Russian Mennonites into Canada. It was in business with the Canadian National Railways and the Cunard Steamship Line.

Beginning late in 1924 the Canadian Mennonite Board of Colonization (CMBoC) received many complaints that the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) was unfair in its medical inspections resulting in many immigrants being detained at Lechfeld, Germany and Atlantic Park near Southampton in the United Kingdom. This problem with the detention camps was given as the official reason for the formation of MIA. Another factor in its formation was the desire of the Canadian National Railway and other shipping companies like Cunard Steamship Line and Holland American Line to participate in the lucrative Mennonite immigration transportation business. These companies regretted that the CPR had secured all of the CMBoC immigration business. In 1926 David Toews representing the CMBoC discussed immigration transportation with the CNR but turned down their offer. This prompted a number of others to form MIA as a competing way of bringing Mennonites from the Soviet Union to Canada.

The prominent leaders on the board of the MIA were the Winnipeg surgeon Dr. Gerhard Hiebert (1868-1934), who became MIA president, lawyer Abram Buhr (1880-1960) as chief executive officer, lawyer Heinrich (Henry van) Vogt (1886-1968) who was also Buhr's brother-in-law, pastor Heinrich A. Neufeld who also served on the Board of CMBoC. Both Buhr and Hiebert had not been members of any Mennonite congregation for 20 years and none of its board had the stature or conference connections of CMBoC board members.

The recent immigrant to Manitoba Jacob J. Hildebrand who received money from the Cunard Line as their traveling representative also worked as an MIA employee and was assisted by Arthur H. Unruh (1905-1970) who was employed by the CNR's Land Settlement Association. MIA offices were at 709 Great West Building, Winnipeg, Manitoba. MIA never received an endorsement from any Mennonite conference. Funding for MIA came from cash advanced from the CNR and the Cunard Line who hoped to benefit from the sale of transportation fairs paid by large numbers of immigrants and through sale and settlement on lands held by the railroad.

In contrast to the CMBoC the MIA, under the dynamic efforts of its employee Hildebrand, sought to settle Mennonites into closed group settlements separate from outsiders and under rules defined by Mennonites themselves. Hildebrand promoted the group settlement at Mile 103 on the Canadian National Railway, later named Reesor, in northern Ontario as an example of this form of settlement. Unfortunately Reesor never thrived and eventually failed. Further, Canada no longer had large tracts of good empty farm land for group settlements and as a democracy could not and would not permit any community to exempt itself from Canadian laws and regulations.

MIA worked to settle some Mennonites into Canada particularly in helping establish the community at Yarrow in British Columbia but failed to convince the Canadian government to allow in the stateless Mennonite refugees who had fled Siberia for Harbin, China. Though AIM was a business venture founded on the hope of bringing large numbers of Mennonites from the Soviet Union its formation came near the end of the time when Canada permitted mass immigration of Mennonites and the Soviet Union was closing its doors on emigration. By 1929 immigration had all but ceased and in 1930 MIA folded.


Epp, Frank H. Mennonite Exodus; The Rescue and Resettlement of the Russian Mennonites Since the Communist Revolution. Altona, Manitoba: Published for Canadian Mennonite Relief and Immigration Council by D.W. Friesen, 1962.

Epp, Frank H. Mennonites in Canada 1920-1940 A People's Struggle for Survival. Toronto, Ontario, Macmillan of Canada, 1982.

Urry, James. "A Mennostaat for the Mennovolk? Mennonite Immigrant Fantasies in Canada in the 1930s." Journal of Mennonite Studies 15 (1996): 65-80.

Author(s) Victor G. Wiebe
Date Published August 2017

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Wiebe, Victor G.. "Mennonite Immigration Aid." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. August 2017. Web. 4 Mar 2021.

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Wiebe, Victor G.. (August 2017). Mennonite Immigration Aid. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 4 March 2021, from

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