An open letter to Mennonites of Swiss descent

Ottawa Citizen screenshot croppedDear Swiss Mennonites,

On behalf of my fellow Russian Mennonites – and especially on behalf of Josiah Neufeld – I would like to apologize for sometimes forgetting about your existence.*

Most of us, of course, don’t actually erase you from Canada’s history in a major Canadian newspaper. But still, we all sometimes get so carried away with our talk of zwiebach, sausage and the Sommerfelder that we kinda forget you’re in the room.

Sorry about that.

To be fair, a lot of you don’t know much about us either. I’ll bet some of you haven’t even heard of those kerchief-wearing Old Colony Mennonites from Russia that Josiah confounded with the Old Order Mennonites from your heritage. It must have confused you to no end when you saw that reference in Josiah’s article to “bearded and kerchiefed kin” that came several paragraphs before the one that erased your existence.

You probably already knew that the Old Order weren’t the forebears of people called Rempel and Enns (or Neufeld) but that reference to kerchiefs still threw you for a loop. “What are these kerchiefs?” you asked yourselves, while stroking your cleanly shaved chins.

But I’m not writing to educate you about the micro-sects of the Manitoba Mennonite world. I’ll do that another day.

Today, I’m writing to apologize — to tell you that we don’t mean to hurt your feelings when we forget about you. Na yo. We’re just kidding around. Honest, some of our best friends are Swiss Mennonites.

To show you how much we love you, and because the internet loves lists, I have made up a  list of why we love all you Swiss Mennonites who came to the US and Canada so many years before us.

You helped us immigrate

As Josiah pointed out, the Mennonites who came from Russia in the 1870s were the most conservative of the lot and you might have found us a little odd. But you helped us negotiate with the Canadian government to get a settlement in Manitoba anyway. Thanks.

You make nice quilts

We used feather duvets back in Russia and they’re nice and warm but quilts are gorgeous and some of the patterns that you’ve come up with leave us all in awe. Good on you.

You fed us when we were starving

We had some hard times in Russia during the revolution and you set up MCC and sent us food when we most needed it. That’s something we’ll never forget. Except when we do.

You bake good pies

While we’re talking about food, I might as well mention pie. Pie is a really good way to use fruit when you’ve got more on hand than can fit in a platz and, we’ve got to admit it, you make pretty good pies.

You helped us immigrate (again)

Thousands of us came to Canada in the 1920s after war, revolution and famine back home. You made a huge effort to bring us over and welcome us to Canada even though way more of us came than you thought you were inviting.

You invented Dutch Blitz

That is one Vonderful Goot Game. We don’t talk like that or dress like the people on the cards but we’ll buy up those decks of cards and blitz with the best of you. Thanks for inventing it.

You’re pretty nice

As a general rule, I’ve found you’re mostly pretty nice people. Either that or you’re so very passive aggressive that I don’t notice. But I’m just going to go on assuming the former until one of you kicks me out of your buggy.


It’s true that we’ve had our differences and sometimes don’t really understand each other. And, yes, sometimes we down right forget about your existence. But we don’t forget you out of malice. And we’re sure it’s the same for you (not exactly sure because you really are so much better at that passive aggressive thing than us).

It was an unfortunate little mishap that had you written out of history in that Ottawa Citizen piece but let’s not make too big a deal of it, ok? I’m sure Josiah Neufeld’s learned his lesson.

It might not even have been his fault. I imagine a meeting between Josiah and his editor with Josiah explaining all the ins and outs of Mennonite schisms and migration patterns and about the differences between Old Colony and Old Order and Old Mennonite until the poor editor screams in frustration and demands that the Citizen’s readers not be subjected to so many Olds and, history be damned, just write it like they’re all one people.

And Josiah succumbed to the pressure, regretfully sacrificing all you Mennonites of Swiss-American heritage on the way. Maybe that’s what happened. I could probably have found a way to contact Josiah Neufeld and learned the truth before posting an apology on his behalf. But I didn’t. A sober Mennonite might have done that.

So, please, stop fretting and forgive us our oversights. We know you were here before us and we really do appreciate all you’ve done. We think you’re swell and we wouldn’t have half as much fun at a relief sale without you.

Yours sincerely,

The Drunken Mennonite

PS. I hope you don’t mind that I’m calling you “Swiss.” We know you’re not from Switzerland. Most of you have been in North America since before the American Revolution, and in Canada since just after that. We could just call you American Mennonites or Pennsylvania Dutch Mennonites. But that doesn’t feel right either.


The Shoo-fly Rye Cocktail

Fittingly, this is a variation on the Old Fashioned (I have no editor here telling me to restrict the number of olds). The Old Fashioned was the first cocktail and predates Russian Mennonites’ arrival in North America — but the Swiss were here already and they were busily distilling rye whisky. In homage to their beloved shoofly ryeshoo-fly pie, this one is made with molasses syrup rather than the usual white sugar.

  • 2 oz rye whisky
  • 1 tsp black strap molasses
  • 1 tsp warm water
  • 2-3 dashes of angostura bitters
  • ice

Mix the molasses with the warm water until dissolved. Stir in the bitters. Add rye whisky and stir. Add ice to glass and swirl to help the ice chill the drink. Garnish with a cherry.


*No, nobody actually discerned, nominated or even politely asked me to speak on their behalf. But if I always waited to be asked, there’d be a lot less Mennonite cocktails in the world.

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