On the morning of June 16 a crowd gathered on Main Street in Stouffville. They had come to see a parade to honour the Govenor General’s Horse Guard (GGHG). Some people wore red and white to show their patriotism, but some wore red and white for another reason. About 55 representatives of three historic peace churches (Brethren in Christ, Mennonites and Quakers) wore red and white buttons that said, “To Remember Is to Work for Peace.”
We showed up because we wanted to have the history of our town remembered more completely than the parade was telling it. The parade was touted as a reconnection to a military unit from “our area” and that fought in The War of 1812. However, the historical record shows that Whitchurch-Stouffville was populated mostly by Conscientious Objectors at that time. In fact, nowhere else was there such a concentration of CO’s from three historic peace churches. According to our local Legion, there were only two definite, and possibly a third, veterans of The War of 1812 from here. The greater historical contribution of Whitchurch-Stouffville was to the history of Conscientious Objection.
As the pastor of a Mennonite Church, a church that talks a lot about peace, I was asked by some other residents of Stouffville why the Mennonites were being un-peaceful. Why would we try to stop the parade from happening? Why did the peace churches show up at Town Council to protest the parade? Some people said we were trying to impose our ideas on others. It seems funny to me that speaking up in a Town Council meeting was considered an un-peaceful thing to do, when democracy is all about resolving conflicts through dialogue. As spiritual descendants of those CO’s, we wanted to speak up about the role they played in Canadian history. They showed that minorities who have different values from the majority can be valuable citizens. They held up a vision of a world where conflicts are resolved without violence. They followed Jesus’ words to “turn the other cheek,” and to “love your enemies,” and inspired many people to think creatively about how to resolve conflict without violence.
We know we aren’t the only ones who want peace. We are happy to live in a country where people from many races, cultures and religions live together peacefully. So we will continue to uphold the story of the contribution of pacifism to Canadian history.