immigrating to Canada, one of the first things Mennonite communities
did was establish a church. They did this because church was important
to them. If you moved to a city, you'd probably find out where the
hospital, grocery store, and school were. You might also find out
where the skating rink, library, and park were. These are all important
parts of a city. They are so important that if a city didn't have
them, people would probably get together and build them.
the Mennonites came to Canada, they had to build their own churches.
These churches often began with just a handful of people. With such
a small group, a church building was not necessary at first; there
was more than enough room to meet at someone's house on Sunday morning
for worship services.
a small town in southern Alberta, was home to two such Mennonite
churches. The first Mennonites came to Vauxhall in 1933. They, like
many other Canadian farmers, were suffering from the effects of
the Great Depression. These Mennonite farmers were looking for better
land. Soon after they arrived, they set out to form a church. The
Mennonite Brethren church in Vauxhall began in 1934 with only twelve
members. Besides meeting in houses, they also met in the local school.
As the church grew, the members started planning to build a permanent
bought an old farmhouse and moved it to a new location. They used
wood salvaged from a barn to complete the structure. By 1939, five
years after their humble beginnings, the members of Vauxhall Mennonite
Brethren Church could finally give thanks for their very own church
“Indeed, we were very grateful we finally had our own, large, lovely
J. Esau wrote this in 1974. He was a member of the church and kept
a diary. Let's read along as he tells the surprising story of what
the 18th, 1940, dawned as usual. During irrigation time I would
always rise at 5 A.M. and, on going outside, had the habit of
looking east, towards our church. Why was there smoke behind the
church that morning? I rubbed my eyes and looked again and finally
realized there was no church, only smoke. I jumped
on my bike, rushing over there to see what had actually happened.”
Mennonite Brethren church before the fire
||The rebuilt Vauxhall
Mennonite Brethren church
church was burned down completely; only the storage shed still
remained. I rushed to inform Mr. Langemann of the sad news and
he followed me to the site to see for himself. Later on we heard
that the Conferenz church [the other Mennonite church in Vauxhall]
had suffered the same fate. Two churches in one district burned
to the ground by arsonists in one night. The Second World War
was on, and, because of our language, we were mistaken for enemy
aliens, and some persons schemed to do us harm. [It was] likely
planned in the local tavern.”
Read the newspaper
report in German, or the English
you imagine how they must have felt? They had worked so hard and
waited so long for that church building, and now it was ashes! The
air in Vauxhall that day must have been filled with tension. How
would the Mennonites react to this attack? Esau continues his story.
the Lord, we did not become bitter or [use] legal means to find
and punish the culprits. We bore the loss quietly, and it was
a huge loss, since absolutely no insurance was carried on the
building.” [CMBS, Vauxhall MB Church fonds, file
Mennonite Brethren Church was one of the churches that burned that
night. Vauxhall Mennonite Church also suffered at the hands of the
Vauxhall Mennonite Church was founded in 1938 with twenty-six members.
They, like the Mennonite Brethren Church, met in homes until they
could build a church. A renovated garage became their new church
home in 1939.
Dick was living nearby when the church burned down. He wrote down
his memories in 1988.
the fall of 1939, World War II broke out, and soon anti-German
feelings were directed at the German Mennonites, as we were considered
to be German sympathizers, mainly because German was spoken in
the homes as well as in the church. On the night of June 18, 1940,
both Mennonite churches were burned to the ground. The R.C.M.P.
clearly established that it was arson, and it became general knowledge
as to who had set the fires. No legal action was taken, because
of our peace principle.”
peace witness by both churches had a very positive effect in our
future relationship with our non-Mennonite neighbors.”
had lived in Vauxhall for less than ten years when the arsons occurred.
Their German language made them objects of suspicion, but Henry
Dick's last words on the subject show the commitment the Mennonites
had to the community of Vauxhall:
congregations proceeded to rebuild.” [MHC, 3542-5]
Vauxhall Mennonite Church