Virtual Spring Lecture Series - Who were "the Conchies?": Ontario Mennonites in Alternative Service During the Second World War

Join Laureen Harder-Gissing from the safety and comfort of your own home. This free online talk streamed live on Tuesday, April 6 at 1 p.m. 

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During the Second World War, trains and trucks carried thousands of Mennonite conscientious objectors (“COs” or "conchies") away from home. Some of the young men went to work in road building and forest camps in northern Ontario and the Canadian west, others to essential labour in agriculture and industry. Some young women went overseas as nurses or relief workers, or into the paid workforce for the first time. Saying “no” to military service and  “yes” to pacifist convictions took them all down unblazed trails, along which they would discover much about themselves, their society and their world.

Laureen Harder-Gissing began her role as Archivist-Librarian at Conrad Grebel University College (University of Waterloo) in 2009. A major project in her early years was the renovation and expansion of the library and archives, completed in 2014. She has been formative in the creation and expansion of the Mennonite Archival Information Database (MAID), which went online in 2015. She has served as the president of the Mennonite Historical Society of Canada (2019-2021) and in other leadership roles in the Mennonite historical community. In her archival processing and research work, her focus is on the fascinating variety of Mennonites with roots and branches in Ontario. She enjoys sharing what she has learned through talks, exhibits and tours, and is always learning from these encounters with other Mennonites and the wider public. She has recently begun a book project with co-author Brian Froese on the history of Mennonites in Canada from 1970 to the present. On the library side of her work, she has expended her role to include providing research support as a "liaison librarian" to several academic departments at Conrad Grebel.

Prior to 2009, Laureen worked as a freelance public historian for several Ontario Mennonite organizations. She also managed the Mennonite and Brethren in Christ Resource Centre in Kitchener, an audiovisual library which resourced the church. Her hometown is the farming community of Vineland, Ontario, an area rich in Mennonite history. During her undergraduate years, she lived and studied at Conrad Grebel.

If you wish to ask questions during the Q&A, they can be submitted in the comments for the video on Grey Roots YouTube (please note, you have to be logged into a YouTube account to do so), or via Messenger on Grey Roots Facebook. This talk will also remain available to view following.

This presentation is part of our Virtual Spring Lecture Series taking place online Tuesday afternoons at 1 p.m. from March 30 through April 20. Livestreams will be available at – pre-registration not required. 

The 2020 Virtual Spring Lecture Series is a free event, but if these talks are something you enjoy, please consider becoming a Grey Roots member. Your interest and support is sincerely appreciated.

Pictured: Pit Gang at Montreal River, 1942
Mennonite men from southern Ontario engaged in road building north of Sault Ste. Marie.
Courtesy: Wes Brown/Mennonite Archives of Ontario

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