Day-to-day our lives may seem ordinary, but everyone’s unique experiences are what make our stories special. These stories tap into feelings of nostalgia, happiness, sadness, and more. These are the stories that help to make St. Catharines what it is today. At the St. Catharines Museum, our goal is to collect these stories and share them for generations to come.
The STC StoryLab project allows us to connect with residents across St. Catharines and share their life with the world. That is why this project is so special. Being able to listen, document, and share the stories of the residents of St. Catharines is such a unique feat.
This project began through virtual interviews featuring residents across St. Catharines. The participants of the STC StoryLab each have different experiences in this city. Finding out what St. Catharines means to people, and the memories they hold here is so important.
The people we have met with have such unique lives that it would be a shame to not be able to share them with the world. One of our participants, Lydia Mandau, has said she has always wanted to write a book on her life. Having an oral history of her life now documented is a way for her to share her life story with her family, and the world. This is exactly what this project hopes to achieve.
Recently, we had the opportunity to sit down with members of the Scott Street Church in St. Catharines. Operating for over 75 years, the church has seen many changes. The members of the church have come from all over the world, and all walks of life. We went into this experience with no expectations, and left with some of the most remarkable stories.
We first got in touch with Scott Street Church through one of their employees, Samuel Baerg. Samuel reached out to us to help him with gathering history. Through him, we were able to connect with a few members of the church to take part in STC StoryLab. The members of Scott Street Church each have such a unique, inspiring, and special life story. We are so grateful for the opportunity to have heard from each of them and share their lives with the community.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, this project launched as a virtual interview process. As it is now safe for in-person interviews to take place, we were luckily able to be on site at the Scott Street Church. What an incredible place to conduct our first set of in-person interviews!
When you first walk into the Scott Street Church, you are immediately in awe of the architecture. The woodwork inside the sanctuary is so beautiful and precise, it is amazing to see. The Mennonite people who built the church were masters of their craft. Being able to conduct these interviews in a place so full of history makes the process even more special.
History of the Church
The Scott Street Church opened as the Mennonite Brethren Church of St. Catharines in 1943. As the population of the church grew, they moved around a few times to accommodate the large group. Finally, in 1954 they were able to settle at its current location on Scott Street. Much of the church population were Mennonites coming from Russia and Paraguay. In the early days of the church, they conducted services in both English and German. This is what drew most of the members here. Having a place for people to worship in a language they spoke helped to create a sense of familiarity.
Over the years the church continued to expand. By 1968 they were the largest Mennonite Brethren congregation in Ontario. The church has always been so helpful in accommodating its members. They have opened up sister churches, and offer plenty of community services. This even includes a senior citizens’ apartment complex on the grounds of the church. The members that we interviewed have such an appreciation for Scott Street Church. Each of them mentioned how this church provides them with a sense of belonging, and that this is their home.
During this process we were able to conduct four interviews: Gerhard & Cathy Wall, Margaret Janzen, Lydia Mandau, and Pastor Rob Patterson. Each of them have led such distinctive lives. Finding out how they all found Scott Street Church and made St. Catharines their home was so special. Their unique experiences all led them to the same place, and it is so interesting to see how their stories connect.
Gerhard and Cathy Wall
Gerhard & Cathy were both born in Paraguay after their families fled Russia. Gerhard’s family landed temporarily in Germany, then sought refuge in Paraguay. Cathy’s family fled to China before later making their way to Paraguay as well. Finally, each of their families immigrated to Canada and settled in St. Catharines. Gerhard and Cathy met through the Scott Street Church, and have been married for 52 years. Together they are able to call the Scott Street Church and St. Catharines home.
Listen to hear Gerhard and Cathy tell the story of how they met:
Margaret lived a similar life as her family also fled Russia and ended up in Paraguay where she was born. Moving to Canada at 17 presented her with a slight culture shock. After finding Scott Street Church, she was able to feel a sense of belonging. Margaret worked as a nurse for over 30 years at St. Catharines own Hotel Dieu. She later worked another 20 years as a massage therapist. Between all this she found time to raise her son, take part in the church, and form her life in St. Catharines.
Watch this clip to hear Margaret talk about her first impression of Canada:
Lydia lived an incredibly hard life. Born in Poland she and her family had to flee the war. She was captured and spent several years working on German prison camps. Eventually, she reunited with her family, made her way to Canada, and devoted her life to the church. During her life journey she lived in Austria for over 30 years. In retirement, she found St. Catharines to settle down in. Lydia now considers the people of Scott Street Church her family.
Listen to a brief story about Lydia’s time in one of the prison camps here:
Dr. Rob Patterson
Pastor Rob is unique as he was born in St. Catharines and grew up in Niagara Falls. His life as an educator has taken him all over the world including spending 15 years in Nairobi, Kenya. After years of travel, Scott Street Church was looking for a new Pastor. This gave Rob the opportunity to come full circle and return to St. Catharines where he believes he is meant to be.
Listen to Rob talk so passionately about why he loves St. Catharines:
St. Catharines is home to such incredible people. Sitting down with each participant and listening to their story in their own words was truly a gift. Each of their stories has helped us understand why St. Catharines is so special to its residents. This city is people’s homes, their happiness, and their life. Their stories and unique life moments will benefit generations to come.
As an intern for the St. Catharines Museum this summer, I never imagined I would be able to take part in such an extraordinary project. When I first heard of STC StoryLab, it seemed interesting, but I had no idea just how amazing it would be to be a part of. This experience has allowed me to cross paths with people I would otherwise never have the opportunity to. During the interviews I was behind the camera. I got to listen, see, and feel the emotions people brought forth as they took us on the journey of their life. They all have told their story in such detail it felt like I was there with them. The participants we spoke with were so honoured and excited to share their story. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to listen. Each interview left me so in awe I was almost speechless. This project was more than a learning experience for me. The stories people have shared are something I will remember for the rest of my life. I will never forget this experience and the people I have met at the Scott Street Church.
Your story is important too! For more information and to find out how you can become a part of this project, please visit our website.