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Yarrow, British Columbia

Edited by
Esther Epp Harder, Edwin Lenzmann, and Elmer Wiens

Yarrow's Settlers: 1966-1975

Chilliwack Progress - February 16, 1966 p 1

Will Switch Secondary Students from Yarrow

Yarrow Elementary-Junior High School will cease taking secondary students in September, or shortly afterwards.
This was announced by school board chairman Arthur D. Rundell in a press release today. Yarrow's secondary students will go to Sardis.
The policy change means, in effect, that Yarrow will become an ordinary elementary school as soon as the transfer comes into effect.
Text of the press release is as follows:
"Arthur D. Rundell, chairman of the board of school trustees, announces that, on the advice of its secondary planning committee and after consultation with the people of the area, the board has authorized the transfer to Sardis Junior Secondary of Grade 8 and 9 students from Yarrow.
The transfer will take place in September 1966 or as soon thereafter as accommodation is available.
The board's purpose in arranging this transfer is to provide quality of educational opportunity for all junior secondary students of the School District."
"New secondary programs in British Columbia are very difficult to offer in small secondary school. The excellent facilities now under construction at Sardis will enable a much broader offering, not only for Yarrow children but for all of those in the southern section of the school district."
The construction of the A.D. Rundell Junior Secondary School is now nearing completion and the forthcoming additions and reconstructions at Chilliwack senior and Chilliwack junior secondary schools will provide similarly for all young people in the northern section.

Newspaper Article Courtesy of Esther Harder


By Guy Symonds - The Chilliwack Progress, Wednesday July 32, 1968 page 3

Inventive Talent and Determination Spelled Success for John Guenther

Less than four years ago John Guenther had seen a door factory once in his life. This year since January 1, his plant on Central Road in Yarrow has made 50,000 doors for sale to all parts of Canada, and imports material from Japan, Taiwan, Sweden and Brazil.

His staff of 20, also previously without experience in the operation can turn out doors at the rate of 10,000 a month under pressure. These include more than 100 standard types as well as what John describes as "oddballs."

What distinguished this operation is that John himself not only invented but also made most of his own machinery. Starting with the three or four that he thought would be sufficient for his operation; he is now building his 21st machine. This is a special laminated strip-gluing machine that does several things at once.

Combining several operations in one piece of equipment seems to be the Guenther speciality. As a result the machines built for a known amount are appraised according to the work they perform at many times their cost.

This is very good for business in a highly competitive market.

Previously to this, John Guenther was in the box business. He invented a portable hallock-making rig that he names "Frankenstein" ...because, he explains, it was largely uncontrollable! It took him 3 1/2 years to invent and build and it had 2,500 moving parts. With himself as operator, he could turn out 25,000 hallocks a day. The best anyone else could do was 18,000.

From drilling machines to "glue-line" and "trim-line" and the stapler that operates on top and bottom of the machine at the same time, all the equipment bears the stamp of John Guenther's inventive genius. It also carried the mark of the craftsman, for besides inventing the equipment, his professional efficiency as a machinist enables him to manufacture the product, a rare combination of talents.


Dust is a major problem and must be taken very seriously. It not only affects the breathing atmosphere but also the temperature. Exhaust fans reach every part of the building and radiant heat is used. Since a constant temperature of 60 degrees must be maintained, repeated changes of the air temperature cannot be tolerated.

There is an extremely personal angle to this success story of John Guenther.

Bad health had dogged him for years and he had become almost resigned to the prospect of being at least semi-invalid when he casually noticed the door making opportunity. Now there is little or no health worry and John is faced with such a demand for his product that he will have to expand his plant.

This will be started almost immediately. It will add 4,000 square feet of warehouse space to the existing 12,000 square feel that house the production line and stock room. This last takes care of some $100,000 worth of inventory. Here are found doors of hardboard, hollow doors; doors with solid cores, bifolds and a selection of doors of fir, ash and mahogany. Solid core doors are used for outside entrances for apartments and office blocks, while almost all interior doors are of the hollow type.


It would not seem that such an industry, once organized could present problems. On the contrary, says John; they crop up continually.

The price of perfection is unremitting attention to detail and occasionally some small lapse somewhere in the line will create condition that mean a spoiled product. At the moment John is giving his personal attention to overcoming a problem in manufacturing cause, strangely enough by the high degree of efficiency of the process. When building is completed the Guenther Doors plant will occupy 2 3/4 acres. It will not include a retail store. "We are a manufacturing plant and are not equipped to handle retail sales," says John. "All our outlets are wholesalers. It is the only way we can operate."

And operate he does to the point where he can compete with Montreal production in the Nova Scotia market. Not to mention Winnipeg and Calgary. Biggest outlet, and growing all the time, is the lower mainland. John's is not by any means a "rags to riches" story. It is, however, an outstanding example of light industry in a small country community, created by one man's initiative and perseverance in the right kind of business climate.


Old Ways fade, but love stays strong: A Christmas Story

Story: Tony Eberts & Pictures: Peter Hulbert
The Province, Saturday, December 23, 1972

Crowded for Christmas: Young and old are among the faithful at Yarrow's Mennonite Brethren Church

Christmas 1972 shone in the eyes of the children, but up on the stage of the austere old church there were memories of hardship and persecution in the music of guitars and mandolins.

These were the sounds that once echoed in the Russian settlements the older musicians were forced to abandon more than four decades ago, sounds that some carried to sod huts on the Canadian prairies and on to this Mennonite church in the Fraser Valley village of Yarrow.

"Only a very strong people with a tremendous amount of faith to bind them together," commented one historian, "could have survived the persecution and forces migration that the Mennonites experienced.

"This binding force was their religion and their belief in God. Their religion was the key to all other things in life ..."

The old ways are dying, say the elders. What famine, cold and suffering could not weaken is caught now in the divisive forces of today's affluence, and many are drifting away from the community and its simple strict Biblical rules.

But last Sunday night the old strength was there again. Yarrow's Mennonite Brethren Church was filled with the songs and prayers of the traditional Christmas music festival and the love that is the chief tenet of the Mennonite belief.

In a hundred homes along the rain swept roads of Yarrow, the kitchens boasted hoards of fragrant cookies and cakes and dumplings, glazed fruit puddings called plumamusse and meatballs and hams and home-made mustard so hot, it is said, that it will defrost a refrigerator.

The stories and songs of the Christ child in the manger seemed to give a special aura to David Heinrichs' big scrubbed white barn that stands just a few yards back from Yarrow's main street, filled with the smells of hay and cattle.

David farmed in Russia as a youth and then for six years in Saskatchewan before coming to Yarrow, where he and his wife and sons have turned some once-flooded fields into a prosperous dairying operation.

The strengths of faith and love show clearly in Johann and Aganetha Toews, who will be visited this Christmas by many of their 112 descendants. Next month, too, they will be special for Johann, 91 and Aganetha, 89, because then they celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary.

They were married Jan. 17, 1903, in Samara, Russia and lived later in Siberia before coming to Canada in 1927. Toews took up sketching as a hobby five years ago and one of his pictures, drawn from a childhood memory, shows men on a horse-drawn sleigh fighting off a pack of wolves.

There is warmth in the custom of each day visiting the community's tiny post office (on the main street, a couple of blocks west of the Heinrichs' dairy farm), partly to see about mail but mostly to exchange greetings.

"Most of Yarrow passes through between 8:30 and 9:30 in the morning," says Postmaster John Kehler, who takes pride in the fact that his little brick-fronted building always gets a national "A" Rating on neatness from the postal service inspectors.

Another meeting place is the grocery store of Cornelius Funk, who at 79 remains an active businessman with stores in two parts of the valley.

In the depression days of the early thirties he labored on hop farms or cut wood for 25 cents an hour to support his wife and seven children.

With his meager savings and a great deal of faith he bought a small hammer mill, worked it into a stock-fee business, branched into grocery stores and a bakery and today thanks God for his success.

Yarrow—named for the wild yarrow flower that blooms in the area—was born in 1928 when a group of prairie Mennonites saw the land advertised for sale in a Manitoba newspaper. They came as pioneers to pit themselves against a wild region of bogs and uncleared land.

Formed in 1525 in German-speaking Switzerland, the Mennonites moved in the same century to Holland. Later, a colony was formed in Russia, but its members clung to their German language and original culture. After the Russian revolution of 1917 the Mennonites, as land owners were forced to emigrate. Despite long delays awaiting visas, most finally traveled to Canada and the United States during the 1920's.

Some of these pioneers who still live in Yarrow recall the early months when five or six families shared a single house while they worked together to build others, and to clear and drain their fields.

In those years there were only paths, not roads, in the village. The only road followed the route of the old Cariboo stage line along the edge of the valley, and the post office was housed in an ancient roadhouse.

For many years almost all the settlers were Mennonites who maintained the same close-knit church-oriented society that had kept their communities together for centuries in Europe.

Today fewer than half the residents are Mennonites and the old Bible school that used to supplement the children's public school education contains only church offices and an activities room used mainly by teenagers. There are drug problems involving some of the young people.

Still, the two Mennonite churches remain the village's dominant landmarks and the church elders strive to keep their flocks together. Some of the ancient and restrictive rules have been relaxed such as the outright ban on marrying outside the faith - and church services are in German and English to suit all generations.

Early in December a Yarrow family's home burned to the ground and brought reaffirmation that the traditional Mennonite unity and love remain powerful forces.

Rev. John Klassen, energetic young pastor of the Mennonite Brethren Church, helped organize a community program that quickly found the family a temporary home and brought money, clothing, furniture and other necessities pouring in.

Some of Yarrow's Original Founders; with, right Reverend John Klassen

"The community really rallied around," the pastor reported, "starting at the fire itself, when two volunteer firemen were injured trying to save the house. There's plenty of the old spirit here."

John Klassen has his hands full helping to strike a balance between the tradition-minded early settlers and their children and grandchildren who seek a more low-key approach to religion.

At Christmas his job is easier, because the principles of the Mennonite faith embrace the universal message of the season, of peace on earth and goodwill toward men.

Since their inception in 1525, the Mennonites have been persecuted by rulers and governments for their beliefs that the Scriptures are the highest authority - stronger than any state, church or church leader - and that each man should love all other men, regardless of creed or race.

Typical of those who have successfully bridged the gap between past and present in Henry Ratslaff - settle , builder, farmer, church leader, father and grandfather, At 75, he things nothing of hiking up the steep and snowy mountainside to inspect the village's water system, which he was instrumental in designing and building.

"I wouldn't do it just for money," he said with a grin. "But I helped to put in most of those pipes and I built the reservoir and I've looked after it ever since it began. I guess some day we'll get somebody else to do it - or to give me a hand, anyway."

In the kitchen of the big house that Henry built, Mrs. Ratslaff took a moment away from her baking to pass out some of her mighty stockpile of Christmas cookies.

"This is the best time of the year," she said, "when the children' and grandchildren come home and everything is busy and noisy. We stay in this big house for times like these..."

The Ratslaffs' children have scattered in the winds of change. But, like the old memories and traditions that endure in Mennonite music and prayer, they will be together again at Christmas.

Newspaper Article Courtesy of Mary Froese

July 19, 1978 - At Yarrow Park
Jubilee Celebration of Yarrow's 50th Anniversary


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