The Bahá’í Faith is an independent world religion that was founded in 1844 and has been present in Canada since 1898. It is based on the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh, which emphasize the oneness of humanity, the oneness of God and the fundamental oneness of religion.
Canadian Bahá’ís come from diverse backgrounds and are dedicated to the promotion of a global society that reconciles the spiritual and materials aspects of life.
They work with their friends and neighbours to strengthen communities through the spiritual education of children, the empowerment of young people, the enrichment of the devotional character of community life, and the expansion of capacities for service.
The Edmonton Baha’i Community consists of approximately 600 adults, youth and children residing in Edmonton who are followers of Baha’u’llah and are called Baha’is. Baha’is believe that Baha’u’llah is the Promised One of all peoples, bringing humanity towards the realization of its full potential as a human race, and ushering in the era of peace foretold by all the Prophets of the past.
History of the Baha’i Community in Edmonton
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.
46 years later, the Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Edmonton purchased the Orange Lodge on 94 Street and 111 Avenue. The site was chosen because of its capacity to hold children’s spiritual education classes, its proximity to the First Nations residents, accessibility, and furnishings, including dishes and chairs. Today, almost 400 members strong, the Edmonton Baha’i community represents a wide variety of races, cultures and social classes.
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”.