Driedger, Johann (1859-1920)
Johann Driedger: entrepreneur, farmer, and excommunicated churchman; born 19 August 1859 to Peter and Maria (nee Olfert) Driedger in the Chortitza Colony in South Russia. He was the third child in a family of nine. In 1881 he married Katharina Martens. They had 10 children. Johann died on his farm at Osler, Saskatchewan in 1920 and is buried in an unmarked grave in the nearby cemetery at Reinland.
In 1875 at the age of 15 Johann traveled on the S.S. Quebec with his parents and siblings, landing in Quebec City. They moved to Manitoba where his father, Peter Driedger, helped to found the village of Blumenfeld on the West Reserve, an area designated for Mennonite settlers. Johann was baptized on 10 June 1878. In time he became the village Schult (Schulze) or overseer. Little else is known of his early life. His formal training was limited to six years of German schooling that included German language writing and reading, catechism, Bible, and arithmetic.
In 1904, Johann moved his family to Saskatchewan settling first in Clark’s Crossing, 13 km. (eight miles) north of Saskatoon, where he also became the first postmaster. He homesteaded near Hague, but transferred this property to his son Cornelius. He had farms at both Clark’s Crossing and Osler. He bought and operated, at different times, general stores in Osler, Dalmeny, Clark’s Crossing, Langham, and Hague. He also bought and sold horses and cattle. An enameled car dealer’s license plate dated 1913 was excavated on the farm where he had lived, suggesting he also sold cars. Johann engaged in real estate speculation during Saskatoon’s growth. In 1919, a year before his death, he lost 386 serviced city lots for failure to pay taxes (many other speculators lost land the same way).
In 1908, for breaking the norms and rules of conduct that at his baptism he had promised to uphold, Johann Driedger was excommunicated by Ältester Jakob Wiens of the Reinländer Mennonite Church (after 1936 officially called Old Colony Mennonite Church). Johann operated businesses, drove a car, wore ties, as did his sons (except Jacob), and had his family photographed. His wife and daughters wore dresses, and had their hair styled in ways considered to be worldly. Yet Johann's attachment to his community of faith was unwavering. When the Reinländer (Old Colony) Mennonites shunned him causing him to suffer in his store businesses, he drove his car to the church at Neuanlage and attended services. The congregation walked out refusing to worship with him. On another occasion, having been refused entrance to the sanctuary, he used a ladder to view the service by looking through a window. His determination was not an act of dogged defiance, but a desire to be re-united with the community of faith. While his lifestyle was considered to be liberal, his theology was conservative. Johann’s extensive correspondence with the Ältester, and a number of confidantes show a desire to be right with God and the community of believers.
Following his excommunication from the church, Johann Driedger, lost his store at Osler through a fire. When he tried to collect insurance from the community group plan, formally named "Mennoniten Feuer Versicherung" (Mennonite Fire Insurance), he was denied any compensation. He took the Church to court and lost. He was involved in several litigation cases, winning some and losing others.
For 12 years he struggled to be re-united with the Old Colony Mennonite Church. Shortly before his death in 1920 there was resolution, but he was not reinstated as a member. He even sent $1000 to the Church, apologizing for all the trouble he had created.
Johann was a self-taught entrepreneur, who should have farmed according to traditional practices, but who yearned to do other things. He failed and succeeded in early business ventures. He remained very loyal to the Reinländer (Old Colony) Mennonite Church, but it was unable to accommodate him. He was one of several other entrepreneurs who were excommunicated, including Isaac Mueller of Warman, and I. P. Friesen of Rosthern.
Johann’s letters and some other records are housed at the Mennonite Historical Society of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon.
Driedger, Leo, et al. Johann Driedger: Rebel with a Cause.
Letters and documents of Johann Driedger housed at Mennonite Historical Society of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Sask. All original letters are written in Gothic script and have been transcribed into modern German script by Johann J. Neudorf of Osler, Sask.
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MLA style: Jake, Buhler. "Driedger, Johann (1859-1920)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. June 2009. Web. 23 May 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/driedger_johann_1859_1920.
APA style: Jake, Buhler. (June 2009). Driedger, Johann (1859-1920). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 23 May 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/driedger_johann_1859_1920.