On December 4, 2012 Town Council approved a request for a peace plaque commemorating the early pacifist settlers of Whitchurch-Stouffville. Prior to the 1820s, the vast majority of settlers in what became Whitchurch-Stouffville were either Mennonites, Quakers or Dunkers (Brethren in Christ). These were Canada’s earliest conscientious objectors to war.
The plaque proposal, presented by a descendent of those original settlers, was a response by the churches to consider our Town’s relation to the War of 1812. At that time, virtually all inhabitants of the area were recognized by law as conscientious objectors. They were heavily taxed; some Quakers were even imprisoned for their unwillingness to contribute to the war effort. The peace dove with olive branch on our Town’s crest depicts the peace tradition of these earliest settlers.
The plaque will be commemorated on Sunday, September 22, 2013. This coincides with the United Nations' International Day of Peace held annually on September 21st. All Stouffville residents are invited to join our churches in a public dedication ceremony which will include speeches, food and music.
The plaque will be temporarily mounted at Sangster Grove, just west of Memorial Park. It will be transferred to the redesigned Memorial Park Sensory Garden once the Park’s reconstruction is complete.
The wording of the plaque was crafted by representatives of the three peace churches, in consultation with Museum and the Town’s Heritage Advisory Committee.
"Peace Church Settlers of Whitchurch-Stouffville"
A large number of early settlers of present day Whitchurch-Stouffville were members of the Historic Peace churches: Brethern 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."
In an increasingly militarized world, Stouffville residents can be proud of the contributions of our founding settlers. They demonstrated through word and deed what it means to turn the other cheek--as Jesus calls us to do--as an active, realistic strategy for breaking the cycle of violence.
By Glenda de Vries
Stouffville Free Press, January 2013.