Canadian Mennonite
Volume 10, No. 14
July 10, 2006


Congregation moves into new $3.3 million building

Floradale, Ont.

The new Floradale Mennonite Church has a gym on the left and auditorium on the right of a central foyer.

Floradale Mennonite Church dedicated its new church on June 18, more than a year after construction of the building began. The congregation was able to use the old building until the new one was almost ready.

Compared to the old church, with its cramped basement and small foyer, the new building is much more spacious. The pews in the new auditorium are designed to hold 350 worshippers, almost 150 more than the old building held comfortably. Many of the Sunday school rooms in the basement have large windows, looking out over the local park.

On May 21, the Sunday after the old building was demolished, historian Brent Bauman remembered that exactly 70 years before, on Ascension Day 1936, the Floradale congregation tore down its 1896 building. He observed that they must have been people of vision to begin a building project—with a basement—during the Great Depression.

In the midst of the excitement of the new, larger facilities, there were tears as the old structure came down. Many former members came to the final service in the old building, trying to say goodbye to all the old memories. To mark the transition from the old to the new, the congregation walked to the new foyer for a hymn and a prayer at the end of the service. Homer Schwindt led the way, ringing the old school bell that he used throughout the 1960s and ’70s to call the children to Vacation Bible School.

The total cost for the new building is a staggering $3.3 million. The relationship between the building committee, chaired by Clarence Diefenbacher, and the builder, Frey Building Contractors, has been excellent, with few unexpected costs. The congregation has contributed well, with strong support for fundraising projects. Among the generous donations was a new grand piano.

On the weekend of Sept. 23 and 24, the congregation is planning a homecoming and open house to celebrate the new building and to remember Floradale Mennonite’s history, which goes back 150 years.

—Barb Draper

Offspring of ‘Chortitza oak’ planted at CMU


John R. Friesen, right, who can trace his roots back to the Ukrainian community of Chortitza, shared his memories during the ceremony marking the planting of a sapling from the Chortitza oak tree at Canadian Mennonite University last month.

A piece of Ukraine came to Winnipeg in June, when a sapling from an ancient oak tree in the former Mennonite settlement of Chortitza was planted at Canadian Mennonite University (CMU).

The “Chortitza oak,” as it is called, is estimated to be about 800 years old; it was a focal point for the Ukrainian community, which was settled by Mennonites in 1789, and is often visited by North Americans who trace their roots back to the Chortitza area. Before the tree died in the 1990s, many of the visitors would gather acorns in the hope of growing their own Chortitza oak trees back home.

One person who did just that was John R. Friesen, a retired minister who now serves as a lay pastor at First Mennonite Church in Winnipeg. “Thirty years ago, I brought back some acorns, with the hope of transplanting them in Manitoba,” he said at the planting. “But I was not successful.”

Although Friesen and his wife Marian couldn’t reproduce the ancient oak, they had friends in Ontario who were able to do so. Earlier this year, Abe and Eleanor Epp of Niagara-on-the-Lake provided the couple with a sapling, which they donated to CMU to mark their 50th wedding anniversary. The tree was planted on CMU’s south campus, near the Mennonite Heritage Centre.

“To my knowledge, this is the first ‘Chortitza oak’ offspring in Winnipeg,” said Friesen, who traces his roots back to that settlement. “It will serve as a reminder of a heritage to which many of us connect.”

There are two other trees from the “Chortitza oak” in Manitoba, both located at the Mennonite Heritage Village in Steinbach.

During a tree-planting ceremony in early June, Friesen thanked CMU for “adding a segment to our heritage by caring for this oak. In a living way, it ties us back to our history.”

—CMU release by John Longhurst

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