Mennonites At The Beach
August 25, 2011
Kincardine, Lake Huron, Ontario
As the women entered the water, their dresses ballooned. The men walked slowly but powerfully into the waves. The little girls looked like Holly Hobby, and the boys like Huck Finn. There were about a dozen of them.
It was a surreal moment on the shores of Lake Huron. During our yearly summer retreat at a cottage near Kincardine, we stumbled upon a group of Mennonites enjoying a day at the beach. Their horses and wagon were parked at the side of the quiet cottage road. They were dressed as old-order Mennonites do – the women wore long sleeved dresses that buttoned under their chins and swept their ankles. The men wore straw hats, and muted long-sleeved shirts punctuated by suspenders. Both the men and women had large, powerful, calloused hands.
Their ultra conservative faith and way of life would never allow for them to shed a few layers at the beach, let alone wear a bathing suit. So the entire group of them waded into the water, fully clothed. It was ethereal, watching them.
I knew if Michael didn’t seize the opportunity to photograph them, he would forever regret it. So after some brief encouragement, Michael approached one of the men and introduced himself. He told the man that he thought the group looked beautiful as they entered the water – he said he would like to photograph them, but he wanted to ask their permission before doing so. The large Mennonite man, George, listened to Michael intently and then asked, “What are you going to do with the photos?” Michael explained that the photos were not for profit, he merely wanted to capture this beautiful moment. After some consideration, George agreed. They continued to chat for about 10 minutes. They talked about organic farming, and the recent tornado in nearby Goderich – George had heard about the tornado from a neighbour and was contemplating taking a group to the devastated area to see how they could help. They talked about how beautiful the beach was - Michael asked if they came to the beach often, and he said no. George said, “I don’t know why we don’t come more often, we always think we’re too busy to do something like this.”
Michael shook George’s hand, and thanked him for the opportunity to photograph them. He then proceeded to sit a respectable distance away, and chronicle this incredible moment.