New book recalls English school controversy

January 4, 2012 | Focus On | Number 1
By Rosemary Slater | Special to Canadian Mennonite
One of more than 200 photographs from the new book, The Pembroke Years: 1919-1968, shows Pembroke School ball players Frank Janzen, Peter Neudorf, Jacob Janzen, George Sawatzky, George Ens and Jacob Sawatzky piling onto Abe J. Friesen’s truck.

On Oct. 1, 50 people gathered in the fellowship centre at Saskatoon’s Bethany Manor to launch the new book, The Pembroke Years: 1919-1968.



Bill Janzen, chair of the Mennonite Historical Society of Alberta, spoke at the launch. As a former Pembroke School student, it was Janzen’s initiative that originally started the Pembroke School book project. The former executive director of Mennonite Central Committee in Mexico, Janzen explained how he had come into contact with descendants of Old Colony Mennonites from Neuanlage, Sask., who had moved to Durango, Mexico, during the 1920s because of the controversy over the proposed building of an English school in a community that was strictly opposed to such an institution.



Research at the Provincial Archives in Regina in July 2004 led him to believe that the full story, which hadn’t previously been told, needed to be told. That story, which pitted government officials against the Mennonites, and even brought division within the Mennonite community, shows how they suffered under the heavy-handed policy of the provincial government at the time. The policy required that all children should attend English-speaking schools despite the promises from those at the federal level to the Mennonite community that they would be allowed to educate their children the way they wanted—using the Bible and the German language. Neuanlage had an Old Colony church and so the government deliberately chose the community as the site of the first English school in order to break the Mennonites and assimilate them, Janzen said.



The Pembroke Years details how the community, with the assistance of Russian Mennonites who arrived in 1923 and 1924, came to terms with the school and made it their own. It includes history, student and teacher memories, and almost 200 pictures.



The book describes the school’s difficult beginning followed by the changes that took place when the local school board took over. Concerned board members and caring Christian teachers, who fostered a spirit of cooperation, as opposed to the confrontational style initially adopted by the government, resulted in the formation of cohesive bonds that still make former Pembroke School students proud to call themselves “Neuanlager.”



The book launch was sponsored jointly by the Pembroke School book committee and the Mennonite Historical Society of Saskatchewan. Funds raised from the sale of the book are being turned over to the provincial historical society to assist with the planned expansion of the archives at Bethany Manor. 

One of more than 200 photographs from the new book, The Pembroke Years: 1919-1968, shows Pembroke School ball players Frank Janzen, Peter Neudorf, Jacob Janzen, George Sawatzky, George Ens and Jacob Sawatzky piling onto Abe J. Friesen’s truck.

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Pembroke Years

My parents were school-aged Russian Mennonites, arriving in Saskatchewan in 1923. Is there any way for me to find out if they are part of this story? For example, where can this book be purchased? I live in a coastal BC community.

Many thanks,
Kathy

You might want to contact the Mennonite Historical Society of Saskatchewan for more information at mhss.sk.ca. They list the book, Pembroke School District as available for sale on their website.

Barb Draper
Canadian Mennonite staff

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