This is a summary of a presentation by David Giesbrecht
at the celebration services on June 19, 1999.
We thank David for making it available to our readers.
The Vision is born: 1927-1931
In 1927 John Bargen of Nobleford, Alberta, noticed an advertisement in the Winnipeg Free Press Farmer that Mr. Chauncey Eckert was looking for settlers in the beautiful Fraser Valley. John and Mary Bargen arrived in Agassiz on November 11, 1927, and were soon joined by Isaac Sawatzky. In February 1928 eight families (50 people) arrived in Yarrow via BC Rail. With no resettlement committee to welcome them, some rented cabins from the Knox family while 4 families lived in a house on Majuba hill.
Bargen's overly enthusiastic report to the Rundschau resulted in new Mennonite settlers arriving almost weekly. J. C. Krause's memoirs report(s) a frustrated border guard at Sumas being asked by the driver of a Ford filled with a large Mennonite family for directions, "You'll have no problem', the guard responded, "as soon as you leave here, take any road leading east. You can't miss them. At least a million are already there,"
Worship services began as the first contingent of settlers arrived in February 1928 with General Conference and Mennonite Brethren worshipping together in the first few months.
On February 3, 1929, ninety-six members met to organize the Yarrow MB church with Rev. Peter Dyck as the first leader. By 1930 the first church had been built. The first wedding, (George Hooge and Mary Dahl) on June 16, 1929, took place in the public school that had just been built. In 1929 the young people formed a literary society with debates, orchestral music and ensembles. Waldo Bahnman was the first president of this society.
In the fall of 1930 this fledgling church organized a Bible school with PD. Loewen as the only teacher that first year. On June 21, 1931 the first BC MB conference was held in Yarrow with delegates from Agassiz and Sardis, Rev. J.A. Harder was elected the first moderator.
The Vision Takes Root: 1930's
While the spiritual life of this small community coalesced quickly, making a livelihood was another challenge. It was during the Great Depression that this community established itself economically. The courage and ingenuity of the early settlers was enhanced by the benevolent efforts of Mr. Eckert who became a patron of the Mennonites. Eckert sold land in ten or twenty acre parcels at $150.00 an acre with generous credit terms. He also helped secure building materials and other necessities of life.
Other business people were also helpful. Jacob Krause was at Spencer's Hardware to buy his first set of appliances when the manager looked him over and said "Looks like you have an honest face, take whatever you want (on credit, of course). George Baerg noted that because people worked so cooperatively "in a little while their homes came up like mushrooms."
Krause commented on the strength of the women in that settlement. "We have to praise our practical and enduring housewives who managed to look after the youngsters, prepare meals, mend the clothes, and besides that assist in the hoeing of sugar beets, beans, spinach, cabbage, and later rhubarb and berries." These pioneers had no idea what crops to grow and experimented with a variety of crops and became involved in curing tobacco and picking hops. However once they hit upon strawberries and-raspberries their fortunes began to change.
By the early 1940's a village structure was organized which became the Yarrow waterworks Board; but concerned with much more than the provision of water. A health society was organized with a special concern for the poor. In 1935 Yarrow berry farmers organized what became the Yarrow growers Cooperative Association. By 1944 this association operated a general store, a feed and grain buying business, and a packing plant.
For many local citizens the Mennonites were an unwelcome intrusion into the community. At one point a commission of inquiry from Victoria studied the Mennonite situation and commended them on their courageous beginnings. The media could be cruel. A Vancouver Sun article (March 20, 1934) quotes Gordon Towers of the Fraser Valley Board of Trade, "If it took a Pearl Harbour to get the Japanese out of the coast areas, it will take a similar disaster to influence Ottawa to remove Mennonites."
The Golden Years: 1940's
Despite difficulties the pioneers' vision for community building was consolidated; the economic base was strong and attention was paid to the social and spiritual growth. In 1948 the Yarrow MB church reached an all time high of 970 members. Music flourished under George Reimer and H.P. Neufeldt conducted a youth choir and orchestra. In 1944 Susie Brucks was commissioned as the church's first missionary. In 1945 MCC BC was organized in Yarrow with A.A. Wiens and George Baerg pouring their lives into this ministry. Elim Bible School reached a high enrollment of 152 in 1941-42. In 1944 a new building was added to Elim, In September 1945 Sharon Mennonite Collegiate opened its doors with six teachers and 150 students.
The Vision is Tested Late 1940's ...
The dreams of the pioneers were soon tested.
In spring of 1948 the Fraser River flooded most of Greendale and Matsqui, then the bottom fell out of the raspberry market. The Yarrow Cooperative could only pay 28 cents on the dollar to shareholders, resulting in its sudden closure. The churches were unable to sustain the cost of operating a high school and the building was sold to the Chilliwack School District.
The Elim Bible school closed in 1955. With these losses and young people seeking employment elsewhere, Yarrow lost its status as a the premier Mennonite community of BC.
Their desire to operate their own high school was strong and in 1952 the Sharon Mennonite Collegiate reopened and by 1955 a new school facility was built. The financial and student base was too limited to support this venture and in 1969 Sharon Collegiate closed again.
The 1950's and 60's saw the church debate language transition from German to English. By 1957 worship services became bilingual and in
1959 women received full congregational voting rights. In 1961 three church leaders (Peter Neufeldt, Herb Martens, and Walter Sawatsky), enroute to the Canadian MB conference were killed in an automobile accident in Idaho.
The Vision Reborn: 1980's and 90's
By 1980 the church membership had dropped to 297 and declined for another decade. The founding generation of this community would rightfully be concerned that the Scriptures remain central in our churches and that the worship of our Saviour continue to be uncompromised by lesser gods. May God help us and succeeding generations to discharge that trust faithfully.