Winnipeg, German Immigrants, and the McDermot Avenue Baptist Church, 1881-1910

I hope you are all having a wonderful summer. I am eager for fall and writing cozily in the room I have set up in my new home for reading and genealogy projects (writing my book and scanning photos!). I salvaged all the different iterations of this entry that I started and stopped writing in the last year. This is a very straightforward and condensed history of Germans in Winnipeg, as well as a short history of the McDermot Avenue Baptist Church, which was an important location in Kirsch (and Kelm) family history. This section should be read in conjunction with this entry about Julia Kirsch, my great-grandmother Martha’s oldest sister who migrated to Winnipeg during a period of Baptist persecution in Volhynia and whose home became a launching pad for many of her siblings who would also immigrate within the next twenty-two years. You can find their stories here.

By the time August and Julia Rempel arrived in Winnipeg in 1890, the population of the city was approximately 23,000.[1] They arrived at a time of rapid growth; Canada was actively recruiting immigrants, namely those from western and northern Europe. In the autumn of 1881, The Great Prairie Province of Manitoba and the Northwest Territories was issued in England to attract potential settlers and, by 1884, additional pamphlets and maps were published in other languages and distributed.[2] The population of Winnipeg’s North End, where the Rempel family lived, was 7,819 in 1890; by 1906, it had more than quintupled to 43,527.[3]

Many of these newcomers were of German descent. These Germans were from many places other than Germany, including Eastern Canada, United States, Romania, and Austria-Hungary. Germans from Russia (Volhynia, Black Sea, and Volga), however, represented the largest percentage at 44 percent.[4] According to the 1891 Census of Canada, there were 399 Germans living in Winnipeg.[5] The total number, however, was much greater as the census only recorded place of birth and not ethnicity. Because August and Julia Rempel were both born in Poland, for example, they are recorded in the 1891 Census as being from “Russia Poland.”[6] The 1901 Census of Canada did not distinguish between Germans born in Germany and Germans from elsewhere and recorded 2,285.[7]

In 1885, the Baptist church became concerned with evangelizing the swelling German population in Winnipeg and appealed to the Baptist Conference of the USA (North American Baptist Conference) for help. The following year, the conference enlisted thirty-six-year-old Reverend Friedrich August Petereit (who had been stationed in Minneapolis, Minnesota), the first German pastor of any denomination to administer in Winnipeg.[8] Reverend Petereit preached his first Winnipeg sermon in the city’s old immigration hall, in the mid-February cold: “Last evening[, Reverend Petereit] conducted services again at the immigration sheds where there was also a good attendance. This evening and tomorrow evening the [Reverend] will preach in the Baptist Church, where all Germans will be cordially welcomed.” [9] By April, Reverend Petereit had begun preaching a series of sermons “in the interest of the Germans in the city,” his efforts extending to Dakota Territory where Germans there also relished “this opportunity of hearing the Gospel proclaimed in their own tongue.”[10]

“McDermot Avenue Baptist Church,” undated, from Archives of Manitoba, George Harris Fonds, accessed 26 Aug 2022 through Manitoba Historical Society, http://www.mhs.mb.ca/docs/sites/mcdermotbaptist.shtml

On December 31, 1889, a modest congregation of seventy people proclaimed themselves Erste Deutsche Baptistengemeinde, or The First German Baptist Church: “The founding meeting on the last day of the year closed with singing and prayer and a love feast lasting until the first hours of the new year.”[11] The first church was built on the corner of Alexander Avenue and Fountain Street, not far from the immigration sheds by the Canadian Pacific Railway yards preached in just three years before. This new church was operational by January of 1891, a few months after the Rempels’ arrival. The Rempel family and the twenty-four others also from Ludwischin-Scheppel were among the first wave of German Baptists from Volhynia that settled in Western Canada from 1890 until 1900.[12]

The congregation grew and a new church was built a block away, on the corner of Pacific Avenue and Ellen Street, in 1901.[13] By the time Martha Kirsch arrived in Winnipeg to join her sister Julia in September 1908, the congregation, which now numbered approximately 200 members, had constructed an even larger church on McDermot Avenue and Tecumseh Street,[14] around the corner from where the Rempel family lived at 814 Bannatyne Avenue. The new church was dedicated on February 9, 1908, and was renamed the McDermot Avenue Baptist Church.[15]

Martha married Julius Kelm at the McDermot Avenue Baptist Church on April 14, 1910.


[1] Alan F.J. Artibise, Winnipeg: A Social History of Urban Growth, 1874-1914, (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1975), p139

[2] Ibid., p105

[3] Ibid., p155

[4] A. Becker, “The Germans in Western Canada, A Vanishing People,” from CCHA Study Sessions 42, 1975, p29

[5] Artibise, p139

[6] 1891 Census of Canada, Library and Archives Canada, accessed 27 May 2021 through Ancestry

[7] Heinz Lehman, The German Canadians, 1750-1937, translated by Gerhard P. Bassler, (St John’s, NL: Jesperson Press, 1986), p130

[8] Maria Rogalski, McDermot Avenue Baptist Church: 100th Anniversary, 1889-1989 (Winnipeg, MB: McDermot Avenue Baptist Church, 1989), p2

[9] Manitoba Free Press, 16 Feb 1885, accessed 27 May 2021 through Newspapers.com

[10] Ibid., 14 Apr 1885, accessed 27 May 2021 through Newspapers.com

[11] Rogalski, p2

[12] Donald Miller, “Volhynian Baptist Settlements in Western Canada,” from In the Midst of Wolves, accessed 26 Aug 2022, http://www.inthemidstofwolves.com/articles/canada-settlements.pdf

[13] Rogalski, p6

[14] Ibid., p7

[15] Ibid., p9

One thought on “Winnipeg, German Immigrants, and the McDermot Avenue Baptist Church, 1881-1910

  1. Teresa (fhtess65) August 27, 2022 / 2:13 pm

    Interesting about needing to recruit a priest from the US 🙂 I love learning new things!!

    Like

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