Winnipeg Mennonite Elementary School (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada)

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The vision for Winnipeg Mennonite Elementary School (WMES) began in 1980 when Dr. David and Katherine Friesen initiated conversations with a group of respected leaders from the Mennonite community. Among these leaders were Helmut Harder, John J. Enns, and David Epp. Several meetings were held to explore the needs and viability of an independent Mennonite elementary school in Winnipeg.

By June 1981, the first Winnipeg Mennonite Elementary School board of directors was in place comprising Henry Friesen, Kathy Zacharias, Fred Pauls, James Friesen, Marvin Thiessen, Katherine Thiessen, Ike Dyck, Cornie Buller, Laverna Klippenstein, Allan Siebert, and Frank Toews. These members represented educational, business, and church sectors. Responsibilities of the board included policymaking, financial planning, fundraising, curriculum development, and staffing. The board decided the basic identification of the school should be with the Mennonite church community and that the concern to be Christian should be evident in all aspects of the institution. The stated purpose of Winnipeg Mennonite Elementary School was to provide instruction in courses as prescribed by the Department of Education in Manitoba.

By September 1981, Winnipeg Elementary School opened its doors in a rented wing of Lansdowne School at 715 Wiginton. The first year of operation saw some change in administration when James Siebert, the principal, terminated his position after only a short time.  Esther Anne Klassen stepped into the role until John Doerksen was hired for the remainder of that year. The first teachers were Esther Anne Klassen teaching kindergarten, Nellie Groening teaching grades one to three, and Ellen Kroeker teaching grades four to six. Erna Schroeder was hired on a part-time basis to assist in different classes. One bus was purchased, and 48 grade one to six students were registered for the first year of operation. The playground, gym, and library were shared by the two schools, WMES and Lansdowne. Later that fall, on 30 November, the first WMES Society meeting was held at Sargent Avenue Mennonite Church. The society consisted of parents, legal guardians and caregivers of any student registered in the school. An annual fee provided membership to anyone who was interested in the development of the school.

WMES saw rapid growth in its first 10 years. In 1982, it entered a lease agreement with St. James Assiniboia School Division for the vacant Columbus School. This building was shared with Westwood Community Church for several years. In its second year of existence enrollment increased to approximately 80 students. Two new teachers, Elsie Dyck and Henry Reimer, and a new principal, Jake Penner, were added to the staff. The following year Len Barkman took on the role of principal. He continued in that position until 1991. In each of the ten years at that location the enrollment and academic programs expanded. French, German, music, physical education, and resource specialists were added to the staff, along with classroom teachers, bus drivers, and administrative assistants. Student services support was contracted with the public school division. While the Manitoba Department of Education curricula were followed closely, Christian education was a key component of WMES. Daily devotions were held in each class and weekly school wide chapel services were highlights for both students and their parents.  During these early years a logo was designed to identify and represent the goals of the school. A tree symbolising growth, an open book symbolising learning, and the scripture passage from Proverbs 22:6, "Train up a child" were adopted as the ideal image for WMES.

Many new policies and procedures were implemented to ensure continued growth and financial viability of Winnipeg Mennonite Elementary School. Application for government funding was made and received. Association with Manitoba Federation of Independent Schools (MFIS) and with Canadian Association of Mennonite Schools (CAMS) began in these early years. Tuition fees and many fundraising events were planned by parents, board, staff and students to meet a budget that grew from $155,000 in its first year to over $1,000,000 by the 10th year. Some of these fundraisers included concerts, garage sales, banquets, bake and craft sales. While these events helped raise the necessary funding they also helped to establish a close school community.

By the early 1990s WMES had outgrown its space, and in 1992 moved into Bedson School just a few blocks west of its Columbus site. The addition of grade seven and eight expanded the Bedson campus to a full Kindergarten to grade eight facility.

Another expansion occurred in 1994 when a second school was purchased in Fort Garry. Opening its program in 1995 this school on Agassiz Drive quickly grew to be a Kindergarten to grade six school with one class of every grade. At this time the schools became known as Winnipeg Mennonite Elementary School Agassiz and Winnipeg Mennonite Elementary School Bedson. The organization was incorporated as Winnipeg Mennonite Elementary Schools Inc. Each school however, had its own parent association which organized fundraisers appropriate for the climate of the times. The respective parent associations were also active in planning events to build a sense of community within the student body and its families. The Family Picnic and Family Fun Night were annual events that helped create a happy school community. The society and board continued to function with much the same responsibilities as its previous mandate. Since its beginnings the WMES Society had an annual meeting in the spring and a semi-annual meeting in the fall to review the previous year's audited financial statements.

Winnipeg Mennonite Elementary Schools Inc. continued to grow from its small beginnings of 48 students in 1981 to an enrollment in 2008/09 of more than 370 students. Its budget that year was just over $3,000,000. The administrative structure had changed to include a CEO, who oversaw the operation of WMES Agassiz and WMES Bedson, and a principal at each site. In 2008/09 the K to 8 Bedson site became known as Winnipeg Mennonite Elementary and Middle School (WMEMS). While this name change was not yet official, it more accurately reflected the program of the school.

Growth at Winnipeg Mennonite Elementary School brought some changes, but the general aims, as set out at its beginning, did not change. In 2009 it still provided daily instruction in accordance with the Mennonite faith, striving to be a servant of Mennonite congregations and the larger community of Winnipeg and the surrounding area. The continuing mission of WMES was to provide quality, Christ-centered education integrating faith and life within a caring school community.


The Trumpeter (Winnipeg: Winnipeg Mennonite Elementary School, 1982-)

The Mustard Seed (Winnipeg: Winnipeg, Mennonite Elementary School, 2002-)

Additional Information

Address: WMES Agassiz, 26 Agassiz Drive Winnipeg, MB R3T 2K7; WMES Bedson, 250 Bedson St. Winnipeg, MB R3K1R7


WMES Board Chairpersons

Henry Friesen 1981-1982
Ken Epp 1982-1987
Ernie Epp 1987-1988; 1990-1991
Rick Ross 1988-1990
Al Schroeder 1991-1992
John Driedger 1992-1993
Ernest Wiebe 1993-1995
Richard Klassen 1995-2000
Bob Peters 2000-2006
Peter Janzen 2006-

 WMES Chief Executive Officers

Ron Loeppky 2000-2004
Cindy Thiessen; John Sawatzky 2004-2005
Larry Schroeder 2005-2006
Lawrence Hamm 2006-

WMES Principals

James Siebert start up in 1981
Esther Anne Klassen interim 1981
John Doerksen 1981-1982
Jake Penner 1982-1983
Len Barkman 1983-1991
Al Friesen 1991-1992
Robert Dyck 1992-2000
John Sawatzky (Bedson) 2000-
Len Barkman (Agassiz) 1995-2000
Cindy Thiessen (Agassiz) 2000-

 WMES Vice Principals

Ron Loeppky 1996-2000        

Ron Loeppky was acting principal during Robert Dyck's sabbatical in 1998. Marlene Wagner was acting vice principal.


Map:WMES Aggissiz (Winnipeg, Manitoba) Map:WMES Bedson (Winnipeg, Manitoba)

Author(s) Cathy Rempel
Date Published 2009

Cite This Article

MLA style

Rempel, Cathy. "Winnipeg Mennonite Elementary School (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 2009. Web. 24 Sep 2020.,_Manitoba,_Canada)&oldid=167520.

APA style

Rempel, Cathy. (2009). Winnipeg Mennonite Elementary School (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 24 September 2020, from,_Manitoba,_Canada)&oldid=167520.

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