Klassen, Henry Cornelius (1931-2005)

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Henry C. Klassen

Henry Cornelius Klassen, professor: b. 30 November 1931 in Coulter, Manitoba. He was the second youngest in a family of six children of Cornelius and Margaret (Niebuhr) Klassen, who came to Canada from the village of Steinfeld, in the Schlachtin colony in Russia in 1926. Henry was baptized into the Mennonite Brethren Church at Boissevain, Manitoba, about 1948. He married Agnes Warkentin from Grunthal, Manitoba, in 1954. They had three daughters, Alice (Shields), Lois (Neufeld) and Eleanore (Finch). He was predeceased by his wife Agnes in 1979. When Henry died at the age of 73 on 14 January 2005, he had ten grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Henry finished both high school and Normal school in preparation for a teaching career that began at age 18 [1950]. He then taught in various Manitoba schools, beginning with a one-room school situation at the Cory School in Waldersee, followed by schools in Grunthal, Niverville, Winnipeg and Dauphin. During this period, Henry also completed his B.A. (1959), B.Ed. (1961) and M.A. (1963) at the University of Manitoba. In 1964 Henry was accepted for doctoral studies in History at the University of Toronto where he earned his Ph.D. (1970). Following two years of teaching at the University of Ottawa, Henry took his family to Calgary in 1968 where he joined the Department of History at the University of Calgary.

During this time the Klassens attended the Foothills Mennonite Church. While in Winnipeg before 1964 they attended Portage Avenue Mennonite Brethren Church and in Toronto the Mennonite Brethren Church on Ranee Avenue. In the early 1980s Henry moved to Grace Presbyterian Church in downtown Calgary. There he served as an Elder of the Session for twenty years. Besides being involved in many other activities in this Church, he participated in monthly preparation of meals for the Mustard Seed ministry. During the last years of his life he lived in Okotoks, about a half-hour south of Calgary.

In the academic community, Henry Klassen was looked upon as a person of integrity who walked easily between the world of academia and the community. According to his colleague Donald Smith, Henry Klassen was not only "a role model for the rest of us in the profession, [but] made an enormous contribution to the study of Western Canadian history. . . ."

A meticulous researcher and devoted scholar, Klassen published numerous academic articles and three major books in business history: A Business History of Alberta (1999), Eye on the Future: Business People in Calgary and the Bow Valley, 1870-1900 (2002), and a biography of the mid-nineteenth century Montreal business man Luther H. Holton: A Founding Canadian Entrepreneur (2001). He was working on three more subjects of book length when he died.

Henry was associated with the Chinook Country Chapter of the Historical Society of Alberta for many years. Remembering Chinook Country, an anthology published in 2005 to celebrate Alberta's centennial, was dedicated to Henry Klassen who had served as president, and in numerous executive positions. He had proposed this project and contributed one of the essays as well as the book's introduction. Remembering Chinook Country was a great tribute to this "warm and generous scholar who gave so much to his students, his colleagues, and his community."

The consensus in academia may be summed up briefly: Henry Klassen had a keen sense of humor, conveyed in a soft-spoken voice. He could give a balanced opinion on a contentious issue. A gifted teacher, he encouraged students to express their opinions and to pursue their interests, always providing welcome scholarly advice. He cared about and took deep interest in the research of others in Canadian history, both at the university and in the community.


Two obituaries in the Calgary Herald: (18 January 2005): B 17; and David Heyman. "Klassen was a gifted teacher." (20 January 2005): B 7.

Klassen, Henry Cornelius. Introductions to his own publications.

Peter, Peter and Justina. Interview with Alice (Shields) and Eleanore (Finch), 26 February 2006; Lois (Neufeld), contributor by email.

Smith, Donald. "Henry Klassen (1931-2005)." in Remembering Chinook Country: Told and Untold Stories of our Past. Calgary: Chinook Country Historical Society, 2005: Preface.

Author(s) Peter Penner
Date Published April 2006

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MLA style

Penner, Peter. "Klassen, Henry Cornelius (1931-2005)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. April 2006. Web. 21 Sep 2020. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Klassen,_Henry_Cornelius_(1931-2005)&oldid=92313.

APA style

Penner, Peter. (April 2006). Klassen, Henry Cornelius (1931-2005). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 21 September 2020, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Klassen,_Henry_Cornelius_(1931-2005)&oldid=92313.

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