The Making of the Mennonite Mechanic Story
Behind the scenes of one of the feature profiles in dandyhorse’s new EQUITY issue
By Evan Morrison
Photos by Jose Sierra
When I first met dandyhorse publisher, Tammy Thorne, I was thinking of applying as web editor for the popular Toronto bike magazine she owns. During that initial meeting I pitched a story about Mennonites on bikes since I’m from the region of Ontario where there are many Mennonite communities – and I find it fascinating that they can function in our modern society without all of the so-called modern technology that the rest of us live-and-breath by… like iPhones.
Tammy thought it was a great idea and especially wanted us to get a photo of a horse-and-buggy with a bike – and even find out which mode of transport could make it into town more quickly – when we did the interview and the shoot. She said that she’d always wanted to have an image of a horse in dandyhorse and this could be the chance. She also told me a story from her childhood about how she got a dirt bike instead of a horse growing up on the farm because “you had to build a fence” for the horse, and, of course, feed it. She was brought up with a two-wheels are better mentality.
And so it was decided, we would do a story about Mennonite cyclists.
The issue was finding a Mennonite willing to be interviewed about their experiences with bikes and cycling. A notoriously unglamorous people – the Mennonite culture is based around a simplistic lifestyle that is generally very closed to external forces in mainstream society – we knew it would be a challenge to find a Mennonite willing to pose or give consent to photography. Having your photo taken is something that the Old Order Mennonite church forbids. So when looking for a person within the Mennonite community to interview about cycling it was difficult to find someone willing to do an interview and pose for photos. Being from the Woolwich region myself I knew many folks and families within the Mennonite community, many of whom were unwilling to partake in the article for the simple fact that they did not want to draw unwanted attention to themselves or the Order. The first thought was to feature a family and talk about the importance of cycling to them and the role bikes play in their daily lives. After several unsuccessful attempts to find a family for the story, the next thought was to feature a bike mechanic who was part of the Mennonite church as the publishers father, a semi-retired farmer, sometimes buys tractor parts from the Mennonites and he suggested a bike shop he’d seen the sign for. Tammy called and chatted with a fellow named Luke. We sent him magazines but he ultimately declined.
I then decided to check out Brookside Cyclists. That’s where I found Paul Martin, a farmer who runs Brookside Cycles on the side – he’s also done several bike tune-ups for my family in the past. Paul is a Markham Mennonite, a faction of the Mennonite church that has it’s roots in the Old Order Church but since the factions split from the Old Order Church in 1939 has become more lenient about modern conveniences such as owning cell phones and tractors, sharing similar beliefs with the Conservatives Mennonite Order; another group that allows it’s members more of the modern conveniences that we in society enjoy on a daily basis.
After getting in touch with Paul and his wife, they both agreed to an interview and photo shoot at his workshop where Paul does most of his work on bikes brought to him for repairs. Our photographer and I went out to Paul’s farm located on Zuber road just off highway 86, where we found the farmer just finishing up some work on a tractor. He took us out to his bike shop, a small shed where he keeps a number of bikes still under repair, bike repair tools, and a whole section of bikes for sale. Paul had never done an interview before but was willing to answer our questions and even take us through a tour of his shop.
Paul explained that while he considers Brookside Cycles more a hobby than a career, bikes are very important for the Mennonite community who use it as one of their main forms of transportation aside from the buggy. The shop is also full service and has a very impressive selection of bikes for sale. After answering a few questions Paul showed us around the shop, then propped a bike on his workstation for some photos and took us though a regular tune-up, which he explained was the most common job he does on weekly basis.
After about an hour of speaking with Paul we let the him get back to his bike mechanic and farming duties. We then took a walk around town and watched the Mennonites on their bikes heading into town and the cycling enthusiasts taking advantage of the beautiful day to get in their daily exercise. The Woolwich region is a place populated by two very different cultures coexisting together while living very different lifestyles, but when it comes to the bike, both cultures take advantage of the benefits cycling has to offer. Read the full story here from our new issue of dandyhorse.
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