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These small villages had their own assembly or Schulzenbott consisting of all landowners and an elected mayor - Dorfschulze, The entire colony was governed as a separate district or Volost and was presided over by an elected Oberschulze who was the supreme civil authority, tax collector, and police magistrate. The district or Volost council, the Gebietsamt, was in tum made up of elected delegates from the various villages.
The early years in Russia were devoted to sheep raising and subsistence agriculture, but Mennonites in Russia soon became large commercial wheat growers. Primitive agricultural practices had been improved largely due to the influence of Johann Cornies, a Molotschna land owner. He had introduced fertilizers, summerfallowing, crop rotation, and was also responsible for the breeding of improved strains of livestock, planting shade and fruit trees, and introducing silk and tobacco growing.
By the 1830's, however, problems had begun to develop in the Russian Mennonite Colonies. Rapid population growth combined with the Russian stipulation that they not subdivide individual land holdings produced overcrowding in the colonies. To alleviate this population problem, daughter colonies such as the Bergthal Colony (1836) and Fuerstenland (1864) were established. The rate of land acquisition, however, never kept up with population growth the result that each colony had a sizeable population of landless people or Anwohner. These landless lived at the edge of the village and supported themselves by working for a land owner. 16
This socio-economic problem, along with an increasing Russian nationalism and militarism which threatened both the Mennonite's German culture through a program of Russification, and their right of exemption from military service, led to a mass migration to America between 1873 and 1880. The opportunity of new lands in America, combined with troubles at home caused approximately 18,000 to come to America during this time. Of these approximately 7,000 settled in Canada.
When the Canadian Government learned of the Mennonites' desire to emigrate they dispatched William Hespeler, a German born immigra tion agent, to Russia to convince the Mennonites to settle in Canada. By 1873 a twelve member delegation had left Russia to investigate the settlement possibilities in North America. Here, they inspected parts of the United States and Manitoba. In Manitoba they were accompanied by William Hespeler and 1. Y. Schantz, an Ontario Swiss Mennonite whom the Canadian Government had hired to select lands for Mennonite settlement. Of the twelve member tour, five decided to recommend