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Mennonite Heritage Portrait

“For generations mutual aid was an informal practice performed by Mennonites groups who felt that their faith was best expressed in the day to day actions of caring for one another. Through spontaneous gestures of assistance, such as the well-known barn raising, Mennonites put their faith into action when fellow church members or neighbors faced calamity.” (Mennonite Disaster Service History)

The Mennonite Heritage Portrait (MHP) web portal, funded for completion in June 2009 by the Canadian Culture Online Initiative, Partnership Fund of Canadian Heritage, is a reflection and an implementation of the Mennonite tradition of community collaboration. The Mennonite Heritage Portrait is designed for community wide contribution and presentation of the wealth of Mennonite cultural heritage and history in Waterloo Region,

To launch the Mennonite Heritage Portrait application (click here)

Local culture and heritage includes buildings and landscapes, community histories, stories, artifacts, paintings, sculpture, music, poetry, photographs, and much more. Local culture and heritage organizations often lack the tools to take stock of the full richness of their cultural asset base and communicate and share this richness with residents and visitors to their communities. Waterloo Region has a vast wealth of Mennonite cultural heritage and history, much of which is unavailable online. Cultural content without context provides only part of the picture, a black and white close-up of a vibrant panorama. Celebrating place-based local culture and heritage online, with aerial photo mapping, is a powerful way to help consolidate a sense of place and build social capital in our communities.

The general public has many questions about the identity of the people who came to Waterloo County in covered wagons so many years ago: “Who are the Mennonites? Why do they dress in black and use a horse and buggy in the midst of busy traffic and on open highways? Are the Amish, Mennonites?”

Being Mennonite is not confined to religious practice, for there are cultural traditions and practices unique to one’s family background (e.g. Swiss-German Mennonite, Russian Mennonite, Mexican Mennonite). For those who do not belong to the Mennonite faith, the Mennonite way of life is often seen as a fascinating yet closed world. The Mennonite Heritage Portrait (MHP) web portal is meant to help share information about what it means to be Mennonite within the broader Canadian community and to help inform the next Mennonite generation about their cultural heritage.

Objectives and Goals of Mennonite Heritage Portrait:

  • Build a web-based system as a cultural heritage inventory, seamlessly connecting and presenting content from various collections in context and in new and meaningful ways;
  • Engage youth with their culture and history with an enhanced secure participatory media social network;
  • Organize and narrate heritage content to make web navigation intuitive and user driven;
  • Support social network services to enable local conversations among practitioners, youth and the community on cultural heritage topics of shared interest;
  • Provide a mechanism for grassroots generated content to be authenticated and moved into the authoritative collections
  • Tested in Waterloo Region, MHP-derived services will be rolled out to interested heritage and cultural groups across Ontario, Canada and around the world

Target Audience for the project:

Primary: The Mennonite community, with a focus on youth, grades 5 – 12. Secondary: Canadians interested in the Mennonite community, students and researchers, tourists to Waterloo Region. Tertiary: Any and all who work to preserve cultural and historical heritage internationally (e.g. museums, historical researchers and the general public)

MHP contributors will have secure individualized workspaces that provide the means for uploading, linking (affiliating), annotating, tagging, commenting on and sharing content of interest. Contributors will be able to share their personal workspace with colleagues securely and participate in formal and ad-hoc group discussion online based on specified heritage content such as content descriptions or thematic narratives.

The Centre for Community Mapping will also explore the opportunity for an ad revenue service, called Mapadit, for the benefit of the MHP contributors and the sustainability and advancement of its services. COMAP believes that a social enterprise that serves local community needs provides a competitive edge for local advertising.


Collections will be linked to both authoritative (formal) and contributed (informal) content from local communities. As a democratization of cultural heritage, the MHP will provide:

  • access to authoritative collections, family histories and personal collections enabled though combinations of tag, text phrase, metadata and location-specific searches;
  • forums for discussion and debate around topics of interest (e.g. genealogy, quilting, photos);
  • a methodology whereby digital content can migrate from grassroots collections into formal collections as the content is authenticated;
  • authoritative narratives and histories linked to MHP collection content and
  • local culture and heritage presented with Web 2.0 collaborative mapping.

The MHP will provide coordination of all project activities. Heritage interest groups, individuals and curators will have tools that are intuitive, easy to learn and use.

Participating Partners

The lead proponent to Canadian Culture Online Initiative, Partnership Fund is the Centre for Community Mapping (COMAP), a nonprofit organization operating in the new media sector. Leadership for the Mennonite Heritage Portrait is being provided by a Steering Committee comprised of representatives from the participating partners in the project:

  • Mennonite Historical Society of Ontario (MHSO)
  • The Mennonite Archives of Ontario at Conrad Grebel University College (MAO)
  • Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online (GAMEO)
  • The Mennonite Story at the Visitor Centre in St. Jacobs
  • Waterloo Historical Society
  • Rockway Mennonite Collegiate (Kitchener, Ontario)
  • Studio of Peter Etril Snyder
  • Computer Systems Group (CSG) at the University of Waterloo

Initial seed funding for this project was provided by the KW Community Foundation. Additional funding (as required by the Partnership Fund who funds a maximum of 75% of a project) will be raised within the Mennonite community, from various foundations and businesses.

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