Edmonton Baha’i Community History
The first Alberta Baha’i, Esther Rennels, is reported to have lived in Edmonton from 1911-1917. Mabel Pine followed, coming to Edmonton from Vermilion in 1941. Ina Trimble was the first Edmonton resident to become a Baha’i and shortly four others joined the Faith in 1942. At nine, the first Local Spiritual Assembly of Edmonton formed in 1943. Their two goals were to gain male Baha’is, and increase membership from ethnic communities, longing to be “a truly international group”. Towards this end, they organized a Race Unity meeting on November 12, 1943 with Muslims, Jews, Ukrainians and one Chinese in attendance. The first male Baha’i, Roland McGee, arrived in Edmonton, with his wife Anne, in 1946.
A Czechoslovakian/German member who became a Baha’i in Edmonton in the early 1950’s recounted that in those days the Baha’is had to be very strong individuals. He remembered with fondness some of those “slightly eccentric characters”, joined by energetic 60s youth. He reflected, “As an immigrant, you always feel that you have one foot here and one foot over there. You wonder about your identity. But as a Baha’i, you learn to look up and grow with others.”
Bijan Asdaghi was one of the first Persian Baha’is to immigrate to Canada prior to the Iranian revolution. He remembers fondly his warm Canadian Baha’i welcome. Arriving with his wife in Edmonton 27 years ago, they could “smell and feel freedom everywhere”. Bijan believes that the Baha’i community has grown in maturity since he came. “At first we were more concerned with developing our own community,” he stated. “But over the years we have really developed an outward orientation. We have children of all faiths in our classes and we support other Edmonton community initiatives”.
Karene Gershuny, a Haitian Baha’i, has been in Edmonton one and a half years. When asked about the difference between the Haitian and Edmonton Baha’i communities she replied, “Well over there we all know the same songs and there is lots of laughter and drumming. Here, I have to work harder to make friends and I miss the Haitian singing…” She is quick to add, “Edmonton is home though. The Baha’is welcomed me right away,” said Karene with a smile. “And of course, with my Albertan husband here, I feel more connected”.