Academic journal article Alberta History

A. M. Rehwinkel: Advocate of German-Canadian Culture in Alberta

Academic journal article Alberta History

A. M. Rehwinkel: Advocate of German-Canadian Culture in Alberta

Article excerpt

In the years after World War One, the Rev. Alfred Martin Rehwinkel, a Lutheran minister, worked arduously on behalf of German-speaking immigrants in western Canada. He also was instrumental in establishing Concordia College in Edmonton and joined its faculty in 1921. Both as a preacher and a lecturer, he took an active interest in the German heritage and culture around him. This article will examine Rehwinkel and his work on behalf of German speakers in Alberta after World War One until his departure from Canada in 1928.

Rehwinkel was born June 25, 1887 near the city of Merrill, Wisconsin. Being the son of German immigrants he grew up speaking German as well as English. He graduated from Concordia College, Milwaukee, in 1907, and Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, in 1910. In 1910, he began his ministry in Trinity Church in Pincher Creek, Alberta, completed his graduate work (MA) at the University of Alberta in 1918, and later became the pastor of St. Peter's Church in Edmonton.

After World War One, the Canadian government and Canadian railways encouraged immigration to western Canada. Rehwinkel was one of the young ministers selected to preach to German-speaking immigrants after they arrived in their new land of residence. But he was hampered by the Missouri and Ohio Synods as they launched into a "stupid, costly and an ungodly synodical rivalry, thereby causing offence and confusion and bewilderment among newcomers and endless heartache, disappointments, and frustrations among the young missionaries." (1) As a result, Rehwinkel found his ministering and missionary work held back by this church rivalry. (2)

His work also was fraught by differences within the German-speaking communities and the congregations themselves. Many settlers were from Germany proper but the majority were from the United States, Russia, Poland, Yugoslavia, the Baltic countries, and the former Austrian-Hungarian Empire. Friction was caused in the various congregations because of differences in nationality, customs practised in their land of birth, varied ideas and opinions of Lutheranism, and personal understandings and acceptance of the Lutheran church. Rehwinkel noted that the eastern European Germans were a simple labouring people while Germans from Germany were generally better educated and more intellectual. The lower classes from Germany were largely radicals, sometimes advocating communism and in most cases adamantly opposed to religion. The intellectuals were socially refined and great conversationalists, but some were cool to the work of the Lutheran church.

Rehwinkel's labours among newly-arrived German-speaking immigrants later aided him with his work amongst ethnic Germans and English speakers in Alberta. Although the challenges were great he rose to the occasion and was able to perform his work to the satisfaction of his church superiors, his various congregations, and his own conscience. (3)

During a Lutheran convention in Detroit in 1920, Rehwinkel announced that there was a desperate need for a Lutheran college in western part of Canada. He described the industrial, agricultural, and mining possibilities in the West, which were coupled with the natural increase in churches, congregations, and overall population. The argument was raised that there was no Lutheran institution of higher learning in western Canada, the nearest being in St. Paul, Minnesota. There was also the need for a seminary for the training and teaching young men interested in the ministry. These arguments presented by Rehwinkel culminated in the founding of Concordia College in Edmonton in 1921. (4)

In the first year of its operation, Revs. Albert H. Schwermann and Rehwinkel taught all the courses. Rehwinkel was responsible for German and history. His interest in the German language and its retention in Alberta also led him to write articles in the German-Canadian press. One of the points that he advocated was that German speakers should become more involved in politics and public offices as a way of saving the German culture from assimilation. …

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