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The Redemption of 635 Sargent Avenue

The Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) located on 635 Sargent Avenue kicked off the year with a 2020 Heritage Winnipeg Institutional Conservation Award of Excellence. The conservation project beautifully renovated the interior while upholding the building's rich history as a communal hub, a role it has maintained since its 1906 construction.

The Redeemed Christian Church of God at 635 Sargent Avenue in June 2019.
Source: GoogleMaps.

Before it became the home of the RCCG, the building was originally known as the International Order of Good Templars Hall (I.O.G.T.). The I.O.G.T was a fraternal order that stemmed from the temperance movement in the United States and promoted personal abstinence from alcohol as well as condemned the manufacturing and sale of liquor.  Founded under the leadership of Wesley Bailey, the Order of Good Templar came into existence in 1851 and the movement quickly spread to both Canada and Europe. Part of the organization's appeal was its acceptance of both men and women, and the lower middle class.  Winnipeg's I.O.G.T. chapter was formed in 1884, and by 1885 had gained 86 members - many of them Icelandic immigrants. This number had risen to nearly 300 by the turn of the twentieth century. For Winnipeggers, the I.O.G.T. acted as a community hub for it's Nordic population, providing a place to voice opinions and offering financial assistance to those in need.

Initially, the planned site for the new building was near Sherbrook Street and Notre Dame Avenue, but high property costs in the area exceeded what the order could afford. Another lot on on Sargent Avenue was selected as an alternative and was purchased for approximately $2,500 in 1905. The I.O.G.T.'s intention was to build a newer and larger hall that could combine their two preexisting locations, Hekla and Skuld. With the city’s development and the shift of the Icelandic community into the West End, the older halls were not only deteriorating, but were also becoming more separated from their community. The new building was estimated to cost $15,000, which the I.O.G.T. raised by holding fundraising concerts and events.

Behind the design of the two-storey hall was architect Samuel Hooper (1851-1911). Hooper was a prominent architect in Manitoba, who's work include the St. Mary Cathedral on 353 St Mary Avenue in 1896, St. Mary's Academy on 550 Wellington Crescent in 1902, and the Agricultural College Building/Administration Building on 66 Chancellors Circle in 1911. Hooper was appointed as the Provincial Architect of Manitoba in 1904, and would hold the position until his death in 1911.

Provincial Architect Samuel Hooper.
Source: MHS

After much anticipation and hard work from the I.O.G.T. and the Icelandic community, the doors of the hall finally opened to the public in January of 1907. Hooper's classically designed hall held plenty of space on the interior, with a meeting hall in the basement that could seat 400 people and a larger mezzanine hall that could accommodate 600 people. The hall quickly established itself as a cornerstone of the Icelandic community, and frequently held meetings in Icelandic to preserve their native tongue. As a means of providing revenue, the hall also rented the space out to a variety of community organizations and became the home of the annual conference of the Icelandic National League, a cultural organization that promotes Icelandic heritage and culture. Social gatherings held at the hall brought together people of all ages, from community lectures, dances and even bingo nights.

By the end of World War II, the mindset of the Icelandic community was changing. Younger generations of Icelanders, accustomed to Canadian lifestyles, had a much more liberal stance on alcohol which was at odds with the I.O.G.T. prohibitionist stance. The demand for a cultural meeting space was also dwindling, as new generations grew less attached to their cultural ancestry. These factors ultimately led to the closure of the I.O.G.T. Hall in the late 1950s, with no community opposition. The building was then handed down to the Independent Order of Foresters, also known as Foresters Financial, a fraternal insurance organization, that occupied the building up until 1998. Winnserv Inc., a non-profit organization that provides services for adults with intellectual disabilities, took over the building and managed the bingo events within the hall. In 2015, the building eventual made its way to the RCCG.

The original entrance to the I.O.G.T. hall.
Source: Christian Cassidy, Winnipeg Downtown Places

The RCCG originated in Nigeria and was founded by Pa Josiah Akindayomi in 1952, under the covenant that the Lord would meet the needs of the church if they obey and serve Him faithfully. Since then, the faith has grown exponentially in Nigeria. The RCCG would also grow internationally, and has established churches in the USA, Canada, England, Germany, and France. In Winnipeg, the RCCG's first home was at 2791 Pembina Highway, and they moved several times before settling on a new home at the former I.O.G.T. Hall. Since the church has moved in, it has provided weekly services and events as their Annual Revival Program.

The lowered entrance, seen here in 1986.
Source: Christian Cassidy, Winnipeg Downtown Places.

The founder of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Josiah Olufemi Akindayomi 
Source: Dictionary of Christian African Biography

When the RCCG obtained the building, slight modifications had already been made to the building's exterior. At the time of construction, all the way back in 1907, the main entrance was only accessible via a pair of staircases. These had been removed by the 1940s, and the entrance shifted down to ground level. In addition, a new mural was painted on the side of side of the building in 2003. The mural depicts Walter Zielke Ruesch (1928-2002), known to most as Zoohky, with his bike. Zookhy was a staple of the West End community for years, and was known both for his big heart and for his ability to fix anything. Zoohky would cycle around the area, finding broken items in dumpsters to repair and give to those who needed them most.

The Zoohky Mural, painted in 2003 and updated in 2004. The original mural was missing Zoohky's iconic bike, and local fundraising paid for the addition of a bike in the mural.
Source: Winnipeg Murals. 

Just recently, the RCCG renovated the interior to meet the needs of their growing community, with their hall and basement renovated to have carpet flooring and walls newly painted. It is this renovation that earned them an Institutional Conservation Award of Excellence at the 2020 Heritage Winnipeg Annual Preservation Awards.

Renovations underway at the 635 Sargent Avenue.
Source: Christian Cassidy.

The Redeemed Christian Church of God and contractor John Neufeld accepting the award for the restoration work at 635 Sargent Avenue. The award was presented by Heritage Winnipeg board member Greg Agnew.
Source: Heritage Winnipeg files.

Since the building’s opening in 1907, it has been maintained as a social space for different communities in the West End. This new preservation project ensures that it will remain that way in the years to come!

The interior after renovations have been completed.
Source: Christian Cassidy.

THANK YOU TO THE SPONSOR OF THIS BLOG POST:
https://www.yarrowsashanddoor.com/


Written by Kimberly Cielos on behalf of Heritage Winnipeg. Edited by Sabrina Janke.

SOURCES:
I.O.G.T. Hall | Christian Cassidy, Winnipeg Downtown Places

Samuel Hooper | Winnipeg Architecture Foundation
University of Manitoba Administration Building | Manitoba Historical Society
William Turnbull, The Good Templars | Archive.org
The Strangest Insurance Company in the World | Gerald Anglin, Macleans
Redeemed Christian Church of God
635 Sargent Avenue | Murals of Winnipeg
I.O.G.T. Hall | Manitoba Historical Society
635 Sargent Avenue, Christian Cassidy | Flickr




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