Bergthaler Mennonite Church

Bergthaler Mennonite shopkeeper, Gruenthal, Saskatchewan, 1986.
John Kenney (Saskatchewan Archives Board) SP-A26201, Saskatoon Star Phoenix Fonds

The name Bergthaler is derived from the Bergthal Colony in the Ukraine, the origin of many of the original Saskatchewan Bergthaler. They came to southern Manitoba in the 1870s and were among the first Mennonites who settled at Rosthern in 1891-92. Kornelius Epp was ordained as the first elder in 1902 and served until 1908, when he formed his own church. He eventually moved to Mexico with Herbert-area Sommerfelder Mennonites. Those remaining were led by Elder Aron Zacharias until 1926, when he migrated to Paraguay with a small group of followers. Zacharias, like Epp, left Canada because the Canadian government broke its promise of allowing Mennonites to operate their schools in the language of their choice. The remaining nucleus united under Elder Cornelius Hamm. The 1930s economic depression exhausted the “Waisenamt” (widows and orphans fund), and many Mennonites resettled in northern Saskatchewan. A Sunday School program started in the 1940s, and the language of the worship services became Low instead of High German.

Bergthaler migrations from Saskatchewan include Paraguay (1948), Honduras (1951), and Bolivia (1962). Education has been a key factor in these migrations. In Saskatchewan, two private schools have been established: one at Reinland in 1979, now closed, and Valley Christian Academy, west of Osler, which opened in 1986 and is thriving. There have been three major splits in the Bergthaler church - in 1979, 1983 and 1992. The issues of concern have been language and accommodations to the world. There are presently 1,800 people attending the Bergthaler churches in Saskatchewan, located at Warman, Martensville, Gruenthal, Blumenheim, and Reinfeld. Presently, the worship services are primarily conducted in English, and music is accompanied by instruments.

Leonard Doell