Yarrow (Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada)
Yarrow, British Columbia, Canada, a village of approximately 2,800 inhabitants, is located in the Fraser Valley some 12 kilometers southwest of Chilliwack (coordinates: 49.082, -122.05 [49° 4’ 55.4” N, 122° 3’ 45” W]). Situated between the Vedder River to the north and Vedder Mountain to the south, this area was once part of Stó:lo territory, known as S’ólh Téméxw. European settlers, most notably Volkert Vedder, arrived in the 1850s and preempted land that later became Yarrow. This land passed through several hands before Chauncey Eckert, a Chilliwack businessman, farmer and land speculator, purchased 1,000 acres in 1908 from then owner John Knox. This acreage would constitute most of the village of Yarrow.
Prior to the late 1920s, settlement in the Yarrow area was restricted to Majuba Hill (named after a Battle in the First Boer War, 1881) at the foot of Vedder Mountain. To Yarrow’s immediate west was Sumas Lake. Because of the annual flooding of the Vedder River, Eckert’s land was used primarily for grazing cattle and harvesting hay. When the BC Electric completed a rail line in 1910 that connected Vancouver to Chilliwack, the station at the foot of Vedder Mountain was named Yarrow, perhaps after a local flower.
The first Mennonite settlers arrived in Yarrow in 1928. The influx of Mennonites was largely due to two factors. One was a massive land reclamation project undertaken by the British Columbia (BC) Government (1921-1923): draining Sumas Lake, constructing the Vedder Canal to channel the Vedder River into the Fraser River, and building dykes (the latter not completed until after the 1924 flood). In 1927, Mennonite immigrants from Russia (Rußländer) residing in the Prairie Provinces began to read advertisements of cheap land and mild weather (average temperature from 2.3° C, January to 18.5° C, July), ample rainfall (average precipitation from 54.3 mm in July to 271.8 mm in December), the possibility of finding day work, and the hope of establishing a Mennonite community in Yarrow modeled after their Russian experience. Thus began the influx of settlers. After the collapse of the Raspberry market in 1948, Rußländer began to leave Yarrow, an exodus that continued for several decades. As a result, they no longer make up Yarrow’s largest population group. Since the 1950s, members of two other ethnic groups, the Dutch and the Sikhs, have settled in Yarrow and surrounding areas.
On 3 February 1929, the Mennonite settlers officially organized the Yarrow Mennonite Brethren (MB) Church. During Johannes Harder’s tenure as pastor from 1930 to1947, membership grew rapidly; it reached 970 in 1948. A small group of United Mennonites, also immigrants from Russia, first met in the Yarrow Elementary School; in 1938 they constructed a church building (Yarrow United Mennonite Church). Following World War II, their numbers grew significantly due to the influx of Mennonite refugees from Europe. In 1959, the Christian and Missionary Alliance dedicated a new church in Yarrow, and it eventually became the largest church in the village. Several hundred Dutch Canadians in the Yarrow area formed the Canadian Reformed Church and began services in a new church building in 2000 after having worshiped in the John Calvin School for seven years.
From the beginning, the Mennonites of Yarrow set up educational institutions. These included Sunday schools as well as a German School, the latter serving both Mennonite churches. In 1930, the Mennonite Brethren (MB) Church established the Elim Bible School, which ceased instruction in 1955 due to declining enrollment. In 1945, the MB Church opened a high school, Sharon Mennonite Collegiate Institute, which had an enrollment of 360 by its second year. MB churches in Greendale and Chilliwack joined this venture, and a new building was opened in 1947. However, the flood of 1948, which devastated Greendale, and the collapse of the raspberry market doomed the school. It closed in 1949. Two years later a second school, Sharon Mennonite Collegiate, was organized. It operated until 1969, by which time a declining Mennonite population in Yarrow had greatly depleted its enrollment base. Since 1973, the Reformed School Society has operated the John Calvin School in the former Sharon Mennonite Collegiate building.
Early on, the Rußländer organized themselves politically, electing a Schultze (mayor). In 1944, the Yarrow Waterworks Board was formed, and it became the de facto village council. Besides constructing water lines, this Board, among other things, installed sidewalks and set up a volunteer fire department.
A substantial business community flourished by the end of World War II. Most notably, the Yarrow Growers’ Cooperative Association, organized in 1936 (reorganized as the Yarrow Growers’ Cooperative Union in 1938), played a key role in processing and marketing raspberries until the collapse of the berry market in 1948 led to its closure. With the Co-op’s demise, the processing and marketing of raspberries was taken over by Pacific Coast Packers, Sun Ripe Foods and Earl Piercy and Company. The decades of the 1940s and 1950s marked the golden age of Yarrow’s business community, which included grocery stores, a grain mill and feed store, two building supplies companies, a major trucking firm, a box factory, shoe shop, insurance agency, barber shop, print shop, violin maker, and auto services and sales. Several of these have since left Yarrow.
In the first decade of the 21st century, Yarrow’s largest manufacturing and business firm and employer is Masonite International. Other businesses currently employing 20 or more workers include Yarrow Woods, the Coast Mountain Ice Cream, the Duck and Goose Farm and three hairdressing establishments. Several artisans also operated businesses in Yarrow. Mixed farming has almost disappeared and raspberries have been replaced in part by blueberries. Yarrow is also home to Yarrow Eco Village, an environmentally friendly housing community with leased farmland.
First Nations and First Settlers in the Fraser Valley (1890-1960), edited by Harvey Neufeldt, Ruth Derksen Siemens and Robert Martens. Kitchener, ON: Pandora Press, 2005.
Klassen, Agatha. E. Yarrow: A Portrait in Mosaic. Clearbrook, BC: A. E. Klassen, 1976.
Neufeldt, Leonard N., ed. Before We Were the Land's: Yarrow, British Columbia, Mennonite Promise. Victoria, BC: TouchWood Editions, 2002.
Neufeldt, Leonard N., ed. Village of Unsettled Yearnings: Yarrow, British Columbia, Mennonite Promise. Victoria, BC: TouchWood Editions, 2002.
Regehr, T. D. A Generation of Vigilance: The Lives and Work of Johannes and Tina Harder. Winnipeg, MB: CMU Press, 2009.
Windows to a Village: Life Studies of Yarrow Pioneers, edited by Robert Martens, Maryann Jantzen, Harvey Neufeldt. Kitchener, ON: Pandora Press, 2007.
Zum 25-jaehrigen Jubilaeum des bestehens der vereinigten Mennonitengemeinde zu Yarrow, B. C., Canada, 1938-1963. Yarrow, BC: First Mennonite Church, 1963.
Website: Yarrow's Pioneers and Settlers.
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To cite this page:
MLA style: Neufeldt, Harvey. "Yarrow (Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. January 2012. Web. 20 May 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/yarrow_chilliwack_british_columbia_canada.
APA style: Neufeldt, Harvey. (January 2012). Yarrow (Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 20 May 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/yarrow_chilliwack_british_columbia_canada.