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New book from CMU Press explores history of Westgate Mennonite Collegiate

A new book published by the Canadian Mennonite University (CMU) Press presents a detailed account of the history of Westgate Mennonite Collegiate, a private Mennonite high school in Winnipeg.

Necessary Idealism: A History of Westgate Mennonite Collegiate is written by Dr. Janis Thiessen, Associate Professor of History at the University of Winnipeg.

A book launch will take place on Sunday, April 7 at 2:00 PM in the atrium at Westgate Mennonite Collegiate (86 West Gate). Thiessen will read an excerpt of the book and there will be music by alumni and refreshments. Tours of the newly renovated building will be available.

Using archival research and oral history methodologies, Thiessen carefully examines Westgate's transformation through the years.

"The school's reputation for being "against the grain" Mennonites was there from the very beginning!" Thiessen says. "The Mennonites who founded Westgate did so because they wanted a school that was decidedly different from the other Mennonite schools in existence at that time."

As a Westgate alumna and former teacher from 1995-2011, she is admittedly a sympathetic insider, but maintains a thorough review of the school. "I wanted to write a history of the school that would be a peer-reviewed academic assessment of the school's past, not a celebratory coffee-table-style book," she says.

Bob Hummelt, Principal at Westgate, says, "The book aligns with other histories of Mennonite independent schools, where Thiessen captures the rational for forming the school and how this desire to offer youth an education in the Anabaptist tradition was achieved and sustained in its first 50 years."

Thiessen's interviews with students, parents, teachers, administrators, pastors, and others weave a tapestry of experiences that capture Westgate's journey. Organized by theme rather than timeline, the book simultaneously makes a significant contribution to the history of independent schools in Canada.

"Lucidly written, it offers a significant case study of the interplay of ethnicity and religion in the evolution of a private school, thus adding depth to the study of private schools in Canada in the context of dynamically changing ethno-religious contexts," says Gordon Zerbe, CMU Press Editor.

The idea for the book developed in 2008 when the Westgate Anniversary Committee was planning celebrations for the school's 50th anniversary. Thiessen agreed to the project and began researching after receiving a grant from the Spletzer Foundation in 2010.

Thiessen received her PhD in History from the University of New Brunswick in 2006 and has taught at the University of Winnipeg since 2011 in the areas of Canadian, food, and business history.

She has written three other books: Snacks: A Canadian Food History, Not Talking Union: An Oral History of North American Mennonites and Labour, and Manufacturing Mennonites: Work and Religion in Post-War Manitoba.


About CMU PressCMU Press is an academic publisher of scholarly, reference, and general interest books at Canadian Mennonite University (CMU) in Winnipeg, MB. Books from CMU Press address and inform interests and issues vital to the university, its constituency, and society. Areas of specialization include Mennonite studies, and works that are church-oriented or theologically engaged.

For information about CMU Press, visit:

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