Reimer, Elmer Edgar Ernest "Al" (1927-2015)

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Al Reimer, 1986.
Source: Centre for Mennonite Brethren Studies (Winnipeg). NP136-01-009

Elmer E. ”Al“ Reimer: university professor, editor and author, was born 30 May 1927 in Prairie Rose, Manitoba, Canada to Peter J. B. Reimer (18 October 1902-11 January 1988) and Elisabeth Kehler Reimer (20 March 1903-13 January 1946). He was the oldest in a family of two sons and three daughters. On 17 November 1951 Al Reimer married Joan Doreen Frederick (18 May 1930-6 April 2011); they had two sons and one daughter. Al Reimer died 22 December 2015 at his home. Al and Joan Reimer are buried in the Rosenort Cemetery, Rosenort, Manitoba.

Al Reimer grew up in the home of a schoolteacher, and minister in the Kleine Gemeinde church (Evangelical Mennonite Conference) based in Steinbach. His father was intellectually curious and widely read, with a deep appreciation of Mennonite history. P. J. B. Reimer played a leading role in founding Steinbach Bible College, creating the Mennonite Heritage Village in Steinbach, and establishing Eden Mental Health Centre in Winnipeg. Al inherited his father’s love of books, but rebelled against the restraints of the conservative southern Manitoba Mennonite community. Despite his religious feelings, Reimer was drawn to the Low German author and editor, Arnold Dyck, who lived in his community.

Leaving his Mennonite roots behind, Al Reimer initially took training as an opera singer in Vancouver. He returned to Winnipeg and earned a BA at United College, and later MA and PhD (1968) degrees in English at Yale University. His PhD dissertation was titled “The Early Works of Edward Young: Some Versions of the Sublime.” He began teaching at United College (University of Winnipeg) in 1960, where he remained until his retirement in 1990.

In August 1971 Al Reimer took a trip to the Soviet Union with his father, brother and 40 or so other Canadian Mennonites. The trip was a conversion experience for him, in which he had an “aching sense of coming home after long absence.” In the third of his articles on this trip in the Mennonite Mirror, he wrote, “It wasn't until I met the scattered fugitives from those [Mennonite] settlements in distant Alma-Ata that I came to understand fully that Mennonite history and the Mennonite identity are preserved within a living people and not within the cultural artifacts they have created.”

Within several years it came to him that recovery of his ethnic history was not enough, that it was necessary to become a fully committed Christian Mennonite. Al Reimer became part of First Mennonite Church in Winnipeg, and often sang in the choir.

Al Reimer became deeply engaged in the revival of Mennonite culture and literary arts in southern Manitoba. He wrote in the Mennonite Mirror from its first issue in 1971, and served as the magazine’s editor from 1978 to 1987. He wrote regularly for, and was an Associate Editor of, the Journal of Mennonite Studies. Reimer translated and edited a number of German and Low German texts, and edited several collections of Mennonite literature and criticism.

Perhaps his crowning achievement was his 1985 historical novel, My Harp is turned to mourning, a novel set in Russia during the tumultuous 1905-1924 period in the Mennonite colonies.

Beyond the Mennonite world, Al Reimer was a founding board member of the Manitoba Opera Association, and was a regular movie reviewer on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s program, “The Passing Show.”

In his essay in Why I am a Mennonite, Al Reimer wrote, “For me being a Mennonite means first and foremost expressing my humanity—much of what I think and feel—in what I regard as Mennonite ‘forms,’ that is, my church, my Mennonite community with its receding ethnic content, and whatever Mennonite art and culture I can help to define, affirm, and render meaningful to others.”


“Elmer (Al) E. Reimer.” The Carillon 23 December 2015. Web. 15 August 2016.

“Elmer Edgar Ernest ‘Al’ Reimer” GRANDMA (The Genealogical Registry and Database of Mennonite Ancestry) Database, 16-01 ed. Fresno, CA: " California Mennonite Historical Society, 2016: #13788.

Friesen, Ralph. “Al Reimer, May 30, 1927-December 22, 2015.” Rhubarb. Web. 15 August 2016.

Reimer, Al. “Coming in out of the cold” in Why I am a Mennonite: Essays on Mennonite Identity, ed. by Harry Loewen. Kitchener, Ont.: Herald Press, 1988: 254-267.

Reimer, E. E. (Al). “A summer pilgrimage.” Mennonite Mirror 1, no. 2 (October 1971): 14-16, 22. Available in full electronic text at

Reimer, E. E. (Al). “’Nun danket alle Gott’ sets tone in Alma Ata reunion.“ Mennonite Mirror 1, no. 4 (December 1971): 16-20. Available in full electronic text at

Urry, James. “Al Reimer (1927-2015).” Journal of Mennonite Studies 34 (2016): 351-353.

Publications translated, edited or written by Al Reimer

Harder, Johannes. No strangers in exile : a novel, freely translated from the German, edited and expanded by Al Reimer. Winnipeg : Hyperion Press : for the Mennonite Literary Society and the University of Winnipeg, 1979.

Loewen, Harry and Al Reimer, eds. Visions and realities : essays, poems, and fiction dealing with Mennonite issues. Winnipeg, Canada : Hyperion, 1985.

Neufeld, Dietrich, A Russian dance of death : revolution and civil war in the Ukraine, translated and edited by Al Reimer. Winnipeg : Hyperion Press : For the Mennonite Literary Society and the University of Manitoba, 1977. Six printings from 1977 to 1988.

Reimer, Al, Syd Reimer and Glen Kehler. The Berliner Kehler clan : a history in portraits. [Kelowna, B.C.] : Rosetta Projects, 2009.

Reimer, Al. Mennonite literary voices : past and present. North Newton, Kan. : Bethel College, 1993.

Reimer, Al. My harp is turned to mourning : a novel. Winnipeg, Canada : Hyperion Press, 1985. Three printings between 1985 and 1991.

Reimer, Al, et al., eds. A Sackful of Plautdietsch : a collection of Mennonite Low German stories and poems. Winnipeg, Man., Canada : Hyperion Press, 1983.

Reimer, Al. When war came to Kleindarp : and more Kleindarp stories. [Winnipeg] : Rosetta Projects, 2008.

Rempel, Herman. Kjenn jie noch Plautdietsch? : a Mennonite Low German dictionary, revising and consulting editor, Al Reimer. Winnipeg, Man. : Mennonite Literary Society, 1984

Author(s) Samuel J Steiner
Date Published August 2016

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MLA style

Steiner, Samuel J. "Reimer, Elmer Edgar Ernest "Al" (1927-2015)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. August 2016. Web. 2 Mar 2024.,_Elmer_Edgar_Ernest_%22Al%22_(1927-2015)&oldid=165189.

APA style

Steiner, Samuel J. (August 2016). Reimer, Elmer Edgar Ernest "Al" (1927-2015). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 2 March 2024, from,_Elmer_Edgar_Ernest_%22Al%22_(1927-2015)&oldid=165189.

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