Fonds Volumes 4387, 5352 and 5357; Photo Colleciton 470; Artifact No. 8. - David Toews collection

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David Toews collection

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CA MHCA Volumes 4387, 5352 and 5357; Photo Colleciton 470; Artifact No. 8.

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Issuing jurisdiction and denomination (philatelic)

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  • 1886-1991, predominant 1926-1947 (Creation)

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Physical description

21 cm of textual records
64 photographs
1 artifact

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Biographical history

David Toews was born February 9, 1870 in Lysanderhoeh, Am Trakt colony, Russia to Mennonite minister Jacob Toews (1838-1922) and Marie Wiebe (1838-1924). In 1880 the family moved east to Turkestan to avoid military service and where leaders such as Klaas Epp predicted Christ would return. In 1884 the Toews family abandoned the trek and moved to Newton, Kansas. In the autumn of 1885 David Toews enrolled at Halstead Seminary in preparation to become a teacher. He began his teaching career in small Mennonite communities of Kansas in 1888. In 1891 he retuned to Halstead for more education.

In 1893 his former teacher, Heinrich H. Ewert, invited Toews moved to Gretna, Manitoba to teach in the Mennonite village schools. From 1895-1897 Toews studied at Wesley College (now University of Winnipeg) for his teacher's certificate. He taught in Burwalde, Manitoba and later in Tiefengrund, Saskatchewan. Here he met and married Margarete Friesen (1881-1941) in 1900. Together they had 9 children. The youngest, Irene died in 1926 in a house fire. This had a deep impact on Toews who received many cards and condolences during this time.

David Toews was ordained as minister in the Rosenorter Gemeinde (conference) on August 18, 1901 in Tiefengrund. He was ordained as bishop in September 14, 1913. Toews went on to a life of service to the church and the Mennonite people. He was one of the 9 men who founded the Conference of Mennonites in Canada (now Mennonite Church Canada) in 1902 serving on the executive committee in various roles from 1904-1940. In 1906 he moved to Rosthern to become principal of the German-English Academy (now Rosthern Junior College). He gave up his teaching duties in 1917 so he would have more time for church work.

In 1922 Toews invited church leaders to discuss the growing distress of their co-religionists in southern Russia. A new organization was struck which became known as the Canadian Mennonite Board of Colonization and Toews was elected chairman. This board was seen to speak for the Canadian Mennonites who had immigrated from Russia. Toews was dubbed "The Mennonite Moses" for helping bring 21,000 Mennonites out of Russia in the 1920s. To do this Toews personally signed a gentlemen's agreement with Col. Dennis of the CPR (Canadian Pacific Railway) for an amount of 1.5 million dollars. This debt was repaid in November 1946, a short time before his death.

During the Second World War Toews was one of the leaders who negotiated with the Canadian government for an alternative service program for conscientious objectors. Toews and many other ministers advocated on behalf of their people during these difficult times. Bishop Toews became one of the most influential Canadian Mennonite leaders which grew out of his love for his Mennonite people. Toews died February 25, 1947.

A biography was written in 2002 by Helmut Harder entitled, David Toews Was Here 1870-1947.

Custodial history

This collection has been deposited over 20 years (1988-2008) by various family members with most of it coming from C. Blake Friesen who married David Toews' daughter Louise.

Scope and content

This collection consist of correspondence, a travel diary, condolence cards, short biographies, and photographs related to bishop David Toews, his work, and his family. Together with the related materials this collection shows the depth of involvement bishop Toews had in the Mennonite community and how he, as one of the most influential Mennonite leaders of his time, dealt with forces from within and without the Mennonite community for the good of the Canadian Mennonite community

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Described by Conrad Stoesz September 30, 2008.

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Inventory file list available

Online version of finding aid available at:,%20David%20collection.htm

Associated materials

Related material: Canadian Mennonite Board of Colonization fonds, Conference of Mennonites in Canada fonds, Abraham A. Friesen fonds, Jacob H. Janzen fonds vol. 4566-19, William Janzen Collection vol. 5110-23, Mennonite Heritage Centre fonds vol. 1995-1996, Alvin Miller Collection vol. 4673-61 audio cassette #466, 1722.

Associated material: Centre for Mennonite Brethren Studies (Winnipeg): Cornelius F. Klassen fonds and Banjamin B. Janz fonds.

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German and English

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  • English

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