Delegation to Whitchurch-Stouffville Town Council Tues., Dec.

4, 2012, 7pm Representatives of Whitchurch-Stouffville’s Historic Peace Churches (Brethren in Christ, Mennonites and Quakers) Arlene Reesor (Presenter) with Arnold Neufeldt-Fast Re: Historical Plaque Commemorating the Early Canadian Pioneers of Peace and Conscientious Objection (NB: For a full chronology of meetings and media reports, with links, see: )

Thank you Mr. Mayor, This evening I represent residents who are members of local Mennonite, Brethren in Christ congregations, as well as the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). On May 8 and 15 we appeared before Council regarding our town’s relation to the War of 1812. On May 15 we presented to Council a request to erect a plaque in honour of our town’s earliest pioneers, the majority of which were also Canada’s earliest conscientious objectors to war. Council approved a motion that our group meet with Town Staff, including representatives from the Museum and the Town’s Heritage Committee (see Minutes). These meetings took place on June 13, August 16 and October 23. The four key items for discussion were: a) the location of the historical marker on Town property; b) design and cost of the plaque; c) the date of a public dedication, d) the use of the Town crest; and most importantly, e) the wording of the text; Location: In May our delegation to Council requested that the plaque be located on park space in the Community of Stouffville. In August, Town Clerk Michele Kennedy, and Stephanie Foley, Curator at the Whitchurch-Stouffville Museum, met with the Director of Leisure and Community Services, Rob Raycraft, to talk about a location in Memorial Park. Mr. Raycraft noted that the sensory garden in a redesigned Memorial Park was likely one of the last features to be installed in Memorial Park make-over, which might not happen until 2016. He suggested Sangster Grove across the creek from the pavilion for the plaque. If the plaque were mounted on a post, Sangster Grove could be a temporary location until the sensory garden is completed. We want to thank Town Staff for their helpfulness in this regard.

We ask Council to approve Sangster Grove as a temporary location for a plaque, and the Memorial Park sensory garden as its final location. ( Cost: The Town’s Heritage Advisory Committee Chair, Bob Curgenven, has also been extremely generous with his time and advice. He has suggested the design, size of font, and has contacted the firm that has created other cast metal plaques for our town. Our group will raise the funds for the plaque and its installation. Date: With Council’s approval, we would like to plan a public dedication of the plaque on Sunday, September 22, 2013, the weekend of the United Nations International Day of Peace (Sat. Sept. 21). The International Peace Day has been established by the UN to be a day “devoted to commemorating and strengthening the ideals of peace both within and among all nations and peoples.” Member countries are invited to commemorate Peace Day “through education and public awareness” with an aim to alleviate the “tensions and causes of conflict” ( We suggest that the weekend of the U.N. International Day of Peace is a very appropriate opportunity for our Town to remember its earliest settlers and their resolute commitment to explore non-violent responses to conflict and war. Text: The proposed text for the plaque is before us [show during presentation]. It has gone through a number of drafts, with good suggestions from Museum staff and representatives from each of the three historic peace church groups. We reached consensus on the following wording [read]:

Peace Church Settlers of Whitchurch-Stouffville A large number of the early settlers of present day Whitchurch-Stouffville were members of the Historic Peace Churches: Brethren in Christ (Dunkers), Mennonites, and Quakers. They were attracted to settle Upper Canada by Lt. Governor John Graves Simcoe with the offer of military exemption (1793). The peace teachings of the Christian tradition deeply shaped their faith and caused them to wrestle with what it means to be people of God’s peace, especially during times of conflict and war. As pioneers of conscientious objection in Canada, their commitment to the work of peace and reconciliation continues to stand witness in this community and around the world. We are also asking to use the town crest; the peace dove and olive branch on the crest were chosen as symbols for the peace tradition of Stouffville’s earliest settlers. Personal and historical reflections

I [Arlene Reesor] want to take this opportunity to say why the plaque is important to me and others in the community—especially to those who are descendents of the town’s earliest settlers. On my father’s side I am a Reesor; Elizabeth Reesor Stouffer and Abraham Stouffer were the earliest pioneer family in the Community of Stouffville, which was first settled in 1805. The Reesors and Stouffers were Mennonites, one of Canada’s three historic peace churches, and the largest settler group in the Stoufville area prior to the 1820s.1 On my mother’s side I am a Heise, and a descendent of “Dunkers,” later known as the Brethren in Christ. This is also one Canada’s three historic peace church denominations, and the Dunkers were the largest settler group in the Heise Hill / Gormley area prior to the 1820s. The Religious Society of Friends (the Quakers) The Quakers are also one of Canada’s three historic peace churches. They were the largest settler group in the former Whitchurch Township and their homesteads stretched across the northern part of our town from Newmarket to Uxbridge. There was no other place in Upper Canada in which all three historic church groups settled in such close proximity and together formed the majority of the population. These settlers came from the nearby American states of Pennsylvania, Vermont and New York. During the War of Independence they had refused to take up the bayonet and rifle against British on religious grounds. Lt. Gov. John Graves Simcoe was interested in attracting these groups to settle Upper Canada, and with the Militia Act of 1793 offered them exemption from militia service as an incentive. Once here, war flared up again between the British and the Americans. Mennonites, Dunkers and Quakers were not required to take up arms, but they were taxed at a much higher rate than their neighbours. A good number of them took matters one step further and refused to allow their horses and wagons to be conscripted for the war effort. For this they were fined or imprisoned. 2 By comparison, the Legion has a list of only two or three War of 1812 veterans who lived locally prior to the war (another five or six are listed whose next of kin moved here later in the century;; all of the others received militia exemption.
1 2

See for example J. Barkey, Stouffville 1877-1977 (Stouffville, ON: Stouffville Historical Committee, 1977), p. 4. See the minutes Series RG 22-94 York County Court of General Sessions of the Peace Minute Books, 1812-1813 (Archives Ontario MS 251, Reel 1); Wm. H. Smith, “Whitchurch,” Canadian Gazetteer (Toronto: Roswell, 1849), p. 212;; George Sheppard, Plunder, Profit and Paroles: A Social History of the War of 1812 in Upper Canada (Montreal/Kingston: McGill-Queens, 1994), p. 59.

This history of the founding members of the Whitchurch-Stouffville area is captured well in our Coat of Arms, adopted in 1973, with the dove of peace at the crest.3 That tradition has continued in our community, though it has long ceased to be the majority response to conflict and war. During World War II, however, this community had many conscientious objectors, most of whom were descendents of original settlers. Some of them are here today. I would like them, and the women here whose fathers, brothers or late husbands were CO’s to stand (if they are able) and be recognized as carriers of this tradition. [Thank you] I also want to thank Council for considering this very specific contribution of our town’s earliest settlers to the fabric of Canadian society with a permanent plaque. These people were willing to move from country to country, be fined or imprisoned, and even die for the sake of their neighbour and the enemy. That’s how our town started, and this plaque will serve as a small but important reminder of that story. We hope that many will join us for its dedication, and that it might serve as a reminder to new generations to work creatively for peace, in this community and around the world. In conclusion, Mr. Mayor and Council, we ask your approval of: the wording of the text; the location of the historical marker on Town property, and the date of a public dedication. Thank you


See Barkey, Whitchurch Township, p. 99.

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