On May 8, 1965 a group of thirty-five people met at Conrad Grebel College to discuss the question “Why A Mennonite Historical Society?” Less than a month later, the first Board of Directors was elected with Dr. J. Winfield Fretz serving as the first president.
Photo: The Board of Directors at 1966 spring meeting: (left to right) Dorothy Swartzentruber, secretary; Barbara Coffman, Herbert Enns, treasurer; Elven Shantz, J. Winfield Fretz, president; Wilson Hunsberger, Mrs. David (Lorna) Bergey, Harold Nigh, Orland Gingerich, vice president. (Mennonite Archives of Ontario photo)
The society’s original purposes included:
- promotion of interest in information concerning the Anabaptist-Mennonites of Ontario
- preservation of Mennonite historical materials, including centralizing these materials at Conrad Grebel College’s historical library and archives
- support of publications in the area of Ontario Mennonite History
At the first meeting of the MHSO’s Board of Directors, Winfield Fretz assumed the responsibility of writing a booklet on Mennonites in Ontario. The book was published in 1967 and has since been reprinted several times, with revisions in the more recent versions. The latest version of Mennonites in Ontario was written by Marlene Epp. Since the first publication put out by the MHSO, a number of books and historical dramas have been written by members of the MHSO, including a semi-annual paper. In March 1983, the first issue of Mennogespräch, (Menno-conversation) was published. Mennogespräch was to publish historical and genealogical items pertaining to Mennonites in Ontario. In 1992, the name of the paper was changed to Ontario Mennonite History. This publication of the MHSO continues to be published semi-annually today, with all members receiving the paper.
Other major projects undertaken by the MHSO have included:
- restoring the Detweiler Mennonite Meetinghouse near Roseville, Ontario
- furnishing Brubacher House in Waterloo, Ontario
- establishing the J. Winfield Fretz Special Projects Fund in Ontario Mennonite Studies
- working with the Mennonite Historical Society of Canada to produce the three volume history, Mennonites in Canada
- contributing articles to the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online