Fraser Valley (British Columbia, Canada)

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Fraser Valley, British Columbia
Source: Mennonite Encyclopedia, v. 2, p. 381

The Fraser Valley, British Columbia, directly north of the Canadian border with the United States and almost parallel to it, from 1928 to the mid-1950s attracted approximately 12,000 Mennonites from the Prairie provinces. From Rosedale to Vancouver, an important Pacific ocean port, a distance of 74 miles (120 km), the valley is up to six miles (10 km) wide. The fertile soil, an abundant rainfall, and the mild climate, as well as the opportunity to settle in close-knit communities, were the chief causes of the westward migration of the Mennonites, most of whom had come to Canada from Russia during the 1920s. The chief Mennonite population centers of the mid-1950s from east to west were Chilliwack, Sardis-Greendale, Yarrow, Abbotsford-Clearbrook, and the Greater Vancouver area. Scattered through the valley at this time were 24 churches; 12 Mennonite Brethren, with 76 ministers and 4,129 baptized members; 10 General Conference Mennonite, with 31 ministers and 1,736 members, and one church each of the Evangelical Mennonite Brethren and Church of God in Christ, Mennonite.

While an increasingly large number of Mennonites in the valley went into small business, many of them were engaged in dairying, poultry, or small fruit raising, particularly raspberries and strawberries. Yarrow, the oldest settlement, an unincorporated village of 2,000 population at this time, had 27 Mennonite business establishments, such as berry processing plants (4), grocery stores (3), dry goods (3), box factory, sawmill. The Abbotsford-Clearbrook area on both sides of the trans-Canada highway rapidly developed into a Mennonite shopping district. Mennonite cooperatives organized during the depression in Yarrow, Sardis, and Abbotsford provided much of the needed credit to the early settlers. Inexperienced management and better transportation facilities to nearby larger shopping centers all but killed the cooperative movement. With the exception of a cold storage plant at Greendale, the remaining four cooperatives were berry processing plants. Jacob C. Krause of Yarrow, A. A. Rempel and Jacob Schroeder of Greendale, and John J. Rempel of Abbotsford, were among the outstanding early leaders in the cooperative movement. A postwar slump in the berry market, together with the devastating flood during the summer of 1948, which inundated the Greendale and Mission settlements, produced a major economic crisis. Only one Mennonite, however, lost his life when the dikes of the Fraser River broke, covering the settlements with up to eight feet of water. Total bankruptcy of hundreds of Mennonite farmers was prevented by the generous and far-reaching assistance given by the Canadian government and the Red Cross.

The concentration of the Mennonite population in a relatively small area has been conducive to the development of parochial schools. General interest in education is shown by the fact that during 1953 a total of 828 young people from Mennonite Brethren churches attended high schools, Bible schools, colleges, and universities. Interest in retaining the German language was attested by the attendance of 617 children from Mennonite Brethren homes at German classes conducted on Saturdays. Two Mennonite high schools in 1953-54 had a total enrollment of 476 students, while the four Bible schools enrolled 137 students. The oldest and most successful of the high schools, the Mennonite Educational Institute at Abbotsford, was founded in 1944, and supported by six Mennonite Brethren (and one General Conference Mennonite) churches. Under the leadership of I. J. Dyck as principal the enrollment grew from 43 to 385 students by the decade of the 1950s. The Sharon Mennonite High School at Yarrow, founded in 1951, was supported by the parents of the local Mennonite Brethren church and had an enrollment of 91 students at this time Because of economic difficulties and disunity among the four Mennonite Brethren churches operating it, an earlier Mennonite high school, founded at Yarrow in 1945 (Sharon Mennonite Collegiate Institute), had to close its doors four years later. The local public school authorities acquired its elaborate school plant, which was then used as a junior high school. For similar reasons the Menno High School at Greendale, supported by General Conference churches, had to close in 1948, having operated only two years.

In the 1950s there were two old people's homes in the valley, one privately owned in Yarrow, and one operated by General Conference Mennonite churches in Abbotsford. Although there were no Mennonite hospitals, for many years a Mennonite hospital insurance society assisted its members in defraying their medical and hospital expenses. Thirteen Mennonite physicians and dentists, and numerous Mennonite graduate nurses, provided medical services during the decade of the 1950s.

Politically, Fraser Valley Mennonites became conscious of their combined voting power when in 1940 the Mennonite block of votes elected a Liberal member of Parliament for the first time in many years. Thirteen years later, in 1953, this same member of the federal house was defeated by the same Mennonites who in the intervening years had been affected by the socialistic theories of the C.C.F. (Canadian Commonwealth Federation) and the Social Credit Party, and elected socialistic representatives to both the provincial and the federal legislatures. In Vancouver (Burnaby-Coquitlam) a Mennonite (Erhart Regier, son of Johannes Regier) was elected on the C.C.F. party ticket to the Federal House of Commons at Ottawa, although no generally recognized Mennonite political leader had arisen by the 1950s.

The strongest bond, and practically the only one, uniting all branches of Mennonites in the Fraser Valley in a common program was the Provincial Mennonite Relief Committee of British Columbia (later Mennonite Central Committee BC), which under various names has functioned since 1928. This committee became the official spokesman in matters of immigration of displaced persons, citizenship, settlement of landless families, care of mental patients and the indigent. From 1945 to the mid-1950s more than $961,000 had passed through its treasury, and 3,000 persons had been assisted to migrate to Canada. A. A. Wiens of Yarrow served as secretary-treasurer of the committee, beginning in 1945.

The very tense feeling between Mennonites and other Fraser Valley residents, which reached its climax during World War II, and which was based on social and economic factors, has subsided. The press, local and provincial government officials, as well as the general public, have learned to appreciate Mennonite industry and integrity.

Author(s) I. G Neufeld
Date Published 1956

Cite This Article

MLA style

Neufeld, I. G. "Fraser Valley (British Columbia, Canada)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1956. Web. 19 Jun 2024.,_Canada)&oldid=113102.

APA style

Neufeld, I. G. (1956). Fraser Valley (British Columbia, Canada). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 19 June 2024, from,_Canada)&oldid=113102.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, pp. 380-382. All rights reserved.

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