Often when we travel it’s not just the sights and scenery that catch our eye. Often it’s the people simply living their lives in foreign lands that are the most interesting to see. After recently arriving back home to visit family in Southwestern Ontario, I quickly remembered that my home turf is no exception. In fact, a group of people that live here are one of the most intriguing local sights, both for locals and tourists alike: the Amish and Mennonite people.
This afternoon, from the deck of my parents’ new retirement home about 2 hours northwest of Toronto, I noticed horse and buggies tied up to trees near a small creek that runs along the edge of the property. Throughout parts of Canada and the US, groups of Old Order Mennonite and Amish people live without reliance on modern technology. Although each group differs greatly in what they do and do not allow, many still use horse and buggies for transportation, live without electricity, and have a strict dress code of plain, gender-specific clothing. My parents told me that a few families often have picnics here on Sunday, which is a day of rest devoted to spending time with family.
I relied on my zoom lens to capture photos of these Amish families as they headed home because they do not like to have their photos taken. It is important to respect this and make sure to ask permission before taking photos close-up. The girl in this photo caught my eye as she lifted her sunglasses to look at something on the driveway because she reminded me of the Mennonite girls I went to school with as a child. Growing up in “Mennonite Country” outside of Waterloo, Ontario, there were several Old Order Mennonite students in my classes throughout elementary school. They attended our school until the age of 14, at which time they quit school to work for the family and get married at a much younger age than I could even fathom at that point! Although I befriended a couple of the girls in my grade, much of their lifestyle still remained a mystery to me and intrigues me to this day. Despite their decision to live life largely as it was several centuries in the past, the Mennonites and Amish must still integrate themselves into modern society, and it’s not uncommon to come across a horse and buggy when driving down the roads in this part of the province.
Anyone who is interested in seeing Mennonite or Amish people in Ontario needs to venture out of the big cities and into small towns, or ideally into the countryside. Many Mennonite farmers set up stands at the St. Jacob’s Market in Waterloo. There is also a guided tour to a Mennonite farm to get a little glimpse into these people’s unique lifestyle.
Later in the evening, I headed to the same spot where the Amish families had enjoyed an afternoon picnic to watch the sunset. There might be something to a simpler lifestyle after all.
For another interesting look at Mennonite life, see the excellent short story Size Double XL by my mother that was recently published in the Green Hills Literary Lantern