- Rosthern Junior College
Rosthern Junior College, an independent
high school, has been a landmark institution in the town of Rosthern, Saskatchewan, Canadasince 1905. Opening in that year as the German-English Academy, it was founded by Mennonitesettlers in response to a need for trained teachers to work in the schools being established in homestead communities in Saskatchewan. Implicit in this perceived need were concerns among Mennonite settlers for the preservation of culture, religious values and the German language, concerns that arose directly from the pressure in the province (Northwest Territory at the time) to make education English and assimilative.
Mennonites arrive in Canada
Particularly in the 1870’s, Mennonites of Dutch-German origins residing in colonies in the
Black Searegion of present day Ukrainebecame alarmed at the rising nationalism in the Russian Empire. Along with land shortages in these growing colonies, pressure toward Russification of minorities was threatening Mennonitevalues in education. Similarly, the promise made by Catherine the Greatto exempt them from military service was quite clearly being challenged and rewritten by the then current Russian government. Canadawas seeking farming immigrants, and about 7,000 Mennonites chose to immigrate to Manitobawhere the government of Canada set aside two reserves for their resettlement. In the early 1890’s, some of these families decided to move on to Saskatchewan, thereby establishing a trend that would see considerable Mennonite immigration to the Saskatchewan Valleyarea before the turn of the century. Many came from Manitoba, but others arrived directly from colonies in Russia, from the Danzigregion of Prussiaand from Kansas, Nebraskaand Minnesotawhere they had settled in the 1870’s.
Thriving Mennonite farming communities were quickly established in the Saskatchewan Valley area in the vicinities of Aberdeen, Laird, Waldheim, Langham, Dalmeny, and Rosthern particularly. Churches were established, land was broken and cropped and roads were built.
Establishing a school
In 1903, under the leadership of teacher David Toews, meetings were convened to address the question of education for
Mennoniteyouth in the Valley. Toews was born in the Russian colonies, but did most of his growing up in Kansaswhere his father eventually became a minister. He came to Canada to study at the already established Mennonite school in Gretna and eventually found his way to the Laird-Rosthern area as a teacher. (A plaque in honour of his efforts to establish Rosthern Junior College is prominent at the school’s entrance today.)
These meetings concluded that there were good reasons for establishing a Mennonite
high school, including the preservation of culture and language, the training of teachers for local schools, the vocational training of those not able or inclined to be farmers and, of course, developing spiritual leadership for the growing Mennonite community. The culmination was the rental of a facility in Rosthern in 1905, the hiring of a teacher and the opening of the German-English Academy in November with eight students.
Despite great difficulty in meeting expenses in lean years, the school soldiered on. Toews became its principal, fundraiser and general overseer, and in 1910, a two-story brick schoolhouse was dedicated, followed in 1912 by a girl’s residence. In 1909, the school was incorporated with the province of
Saskatchewanas the German-English Academy. Enrollments continued to grow, but during the 1920’s & 1930’s David Toews found himself expending more and more time and energy appealing for the necessary finances to run the school.
By the 1940’s, it was apparent that a new, larger school was needed. It wasn’t until 1956, however, that the
sodwas turned for phase one of the current school plant. The concluding phase of the new school building was completed in June 1963 after a tremendous fundraising drive spearheaded by school president Elmer Richert and secretary-treasurer John R. Dyck. The school now boasted large, bright classrooms, laboratories, a gymnasium, ample office space and a libraryadequate for the time.
The major development of the 1970’s was the construction of new residences. As was the case in the building of the school plant, tremendous effort, primarily on the part of principal Ernest Epp and staff member James Andres, was required to raise funding for this latest construction project, and again the
alumniof the school came through with gifts and pledges which, when accompanied by a manageable mortgage, enabled the completion of the current residence facility. Also in the ‘70’s, the conference of Mennonites in Albertaand the Conference of Mennonites of Saskatchewan (now Mennonite Church Alberta and Mennonite Church Saskatchewan respectively) committed themselves to annual grants toward the operation of the school.
Beginning in 1964 when a newly elected Liberal government announced a per Saskatchewan pupil grant of $85.00 for private high schools, the contribution of the Saskatchewan government to the operation of the school has been crucial. Over time, these grants were increased more or less in keeping with the rising costs of providing education. In 2001, the current government approved the equalization of per pupil grants to all independent high schools, a move that nearly doubled the provincial contribution to Rosthern Junior College, so that currently, the provincial grant accounts for 30% of the annual income of the school.
Course of study
RJC’s program of studies has, of course, evolved over the years. When Herman Fast began instructing the first few students in November 1905, the course of studies included Church History, Bible Stories, German Language, Bible Reading and World History. In the mid 1940’s, an attempt was made to expand the curriculum to include courses recognized by the
University of Saskatchewanso that students could begin their liberal arts education at RJC. A petition to the provincial government to change the name from the German-English Academy to Rosthern Junior College resulted in the present name of the school, although the anticipated elevation to the status of “junior college” in the eyes of the U of S never really materialized.
Today, RJC offers an “education with a plus”, a full high school program augmented by rigorous music, sports and drama programs, outdoor education, a modular vocational program, computer courses,
Christian Ethicsat all levels and numerous opportunities to develop Christian public service skills and interests through field service and travel. Early classes were taught exclusively in German; today French has replaced German as a second language course in an otherwise all-English curriculum.
Over the past decade, an average of 130 students in Grades 10 to 12 have enrolled at RJC annually. Approximately half of the students have come from
Mennonitefamilies in the constituency area of Albertaand Saskatchewan, with the other half made up of students specifying other or no denomination, international students and children of alumni from other provinces. An academic staff of twelve, four residence deans, and a support staff of eight serve the students.
* Epp, Frank H. Education with a Plus: The Story of Rosthern Junior College. Waterloo: Conrad Press, 1975
* Rempel, J.G. Die Rosenorter Gemeinde in Saskatchewan in Wort Und Bild. Rosthern: D.H.Epp, 1950
* Epp, George (editor), Roots and Wings: 100 Years of Rosthern Junior College. Rosthern: Rosthern Junior College, 2005
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