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Commemorating COs in the War of 1812


July 15, 2011
-Deborah Froese

Waterloo, ONT. — As the bicentennial of the War of 1812 approaches, the Niagara region of Ontario is abuzz with preparations to remember with a variety of events including battle re-enactments, period food, discussions and tours.

On June 18th, 1812, US President James Madison declared war on Great Britain in an attempt to capture what were then British colonies to the north in the regions of Upper and Lower Canada (later becoming Ontario and Quebec, respectively).

But there is more to the War of 1812 than overt military action. Jonathan Seiling, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies in Toronto, and Carol Penner, pastor of First Mennonite Church, Vineland, are taking charge of preparations to commemorate
Conscientious Objectors (COs) to that war.

In an email interview, Seiling stated that he and Penner wanted to draw attention to the actions of those belonging to historic peace churches like Quakers, Mennonites, and Tunkers/Brethren in Christ who opposed war.

“We wanted to raise public awareness of the presence of these non-resistant Christians during the War of 1812 and to help people learn more about their understanding of what it meant to them to be Christians in a time of being invaded by a neighbouring country.”

The 1812 Bicentennial Peace Committee consists of 8 members representing Mennonite Central Committee Ontario, Quakers, Mennonites, Brethren in Christ and Conscience Canada, an organization promoting changes for peace at governmental levels.

“We have worked as an independent group, organized under the auspices of MCC Ontario for the sake of financial and other organizational support,” Seiling wrote. “Our goal in bringing these issues before the public is ultimately to increase the dignity of the CO tradition in Canada.
This war was essentially the first testing of CO [status] in Canada, which was granted in 1793.”

In addition to his peace committee work, Seiling is developing a book about the 1812 CO experience. He noted that CO issues have piqued his interest since youth and he served a board member for Conscience Canada until recently.

“I am also especially interested in digging up stories about the experience of Mennonites in 1812, because some of my ancestors were present in Upper Canada at that time.”