Classification scheme: 

Title: Helene (Heese) Toews fonds

Dates of creation: 1934-2018 ; predominantly 1934-1960

Physical description: 6 cm of textual records

Biographical sketch: Helene (Heese) Toews (1893-1983) was born in Chortitza, South Russia to Heinrich and Margarete (Peters) Heese. She became a student at the Chortitza Madchenschule (school for girls) and finished her education at the Weibliche Gymnasium (high school for women) in Ekaterinoslav (now Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine). She taught at the Madchenschule before marrying Bernhard Toews in 1913. The couple had three sons. The family immigrated to Canada in 1927, settling briefly in Niverville, Manitoba before moving to southwestern Ontario and then Vineland. In 1937 the family moved to the Virgil area. In 1944, after Bernhard's death, Helene moved to St. Catharines. 

Despite numerous personal hardships, Helene Toews became a community leader. She took an active interest in church affairs, attending local, national and North American Mennonite conferences at her own expense (this was at a time when women were not sent as official delegates to Mennonite conferences). At a Conference of Mennonites in Canada meeting in 1945, she read a paper to a gathering of provincial women's organizations on "Die wahre Bestimmung der Frau" (the true role of women). She argued that women could work for God's kingdom outside of the realm of the family. Inspired by the organizations of Mennonite women in other provinces, she resolved to help organize the women of the United Mennonite Churches of Ontario. In May 1947, the United Mennonite Women's Mission Society of Ontario (later Ontario Women in Mission) was founded; Helene Toews was elected president and served until 1961.

Helene Toews was also a writer. She authored Glueckliche, sonnige Schulzeit (happy, sunny schooldays), a book of memories of former students and teachers at the Madchenschule, in 1952. Unpublished writings include a detailed account of her 10-day journey to the Soviet Union in 1960; she was one of the first of the 1920s Mennonite emmigrants to revisit that country. She also wrote an unpublished, spiritual autobiography which she titled "Gottes Worke an meiner Seele" (God's works upon my soul).

Custodial history: Donated to the Archives in 2009 as part of the Ontario Women in Mission fonds. Additional transcripts provided by Jakob Michael Stephan in 2018.

Scope and content: The fonds consist of Helene Toews' autobiographical writings, speech scripts, and an account of her trip to the Soviet Union in 1960. The fonds also includes various items hand copied by Helene Toews (poems, passages from devotional books, songs, etc.) that were meaningful to her. All her writings (files 1-3) are in German. Some of her writings were transliterated from Gothic to Latin script by Klara Wiens Knelsen (file 4).  Some were transcribed and translated by Jakob Michael Stephan (file 5).

Notes: For additional information, see: "Helene Toews," Der Bote, August 24,1983, 6; Ontario Women in Mission. Ontario Women in Mission. S.l.: Ontario Women in Mission, 1977; Stephan, Jakob Michael, "A Mennonite women's [sic] story about doubt and leadership," Ontario Mennonite History XXXVII no.1 (June 2019): 4-7.

Original archival description created 2020 by Laureen Harder-Gissing with notes from Jakob Stephan.

File list:

  1. Notebook, ca. 1960s
  • "Reisetagebuch: Ein einmaliges Ereignis meine Reise nach Russland am 19 Juni–31 Juli 1960"  (travel journal)
  • "Zum Treffen der Chortitzer Mädchenschülerinnern“  (speech on the occasion of a Madchenschule reunion)
  • Transcripts of Poems: "Hundert Falten" (unknown); "Zum Geburtstag" (Karl Johann Phillipp Spitta); "Nichts für mich! Nichts für mich!" (Luise Rolf); "Fürchte dich nicht, glaube nur" (Luise Rolf); "Warten können" (Luise Rolf); "Du und ich" (Luise Rolf) 

2. Notebook, ca. 1934-1950

  • "Das Werk Gottes an meiner Seele," 1934
  • "Die Wanderschaft zur oberen Heimat" (reflection about Canada as new home) 
  • "Du sollst mein Segen sein," 1941  (reflection/meditation)
  • "Zweck und Ziele der Nähvereine und der Frauenkonferenzen" (speech) 
  • "Einer nach dem anderen"  (transcription of a song including notes)
  • "An Jesus Christus"  (prayer) 
  • "Frauenmission" (poem possibly written by Helene Toews)
  • "Űber strömendes Leben"  (poem by an unknown writter) 
  • "Eine Insel der Zuflucht" (transcription of a poem by Heinrich Anacker) 
  • "Was ist das Wort?" (transcription of a poem by Edwin Bormann)
  • "Johannes der Täufer" (poem by a an unknown writter)
  • "Nur sei still? Wer weiβ, was Gott will?" (poem by a unknown writter)
  • "Ein alter Person zum Geburtstag" (transcription of a poem by Gerhard Peters)
  • "Geburtstagsgabel" (transcription of a  poem by Gerhard Peters)
  • "Ich habe nicht Zeit" (poem by a unknown writter)
  • "Was ist ein Mann?" (sayings for albums by Gerhard Peters)
  • "Advent" (poem by an unknown writter)
  • "Die Frau ohne und durch Christus: Die waher Bestimmung der Frau," 1945 (speech)
  • "Wie werden Gottes Segensträger?" (excerpts of Jakob Kroekers "Gottes Segenträger“) 
  • "Otto Stockmayer. Ein Zeuge und Nachfolger Jesu Christi, von Alfred Roth Seite 63"  (excerpt) 
  • "Maria und Marta. Jakob Kröker: Gesegnetes Ruhen (Auszügen)"  (excerpt)
  • "Wilhelm Schreiner. Der Weg des Hartmuts Stein" (excerpt)
  • "Macht im Gebet von Jakob Kröker" (excerpt)
  • "Zeugnisse (Kennwort aus den Reden und Schriften von Otto Stockmayer)"  (excerpt)
  • "Tiefere Reinigung  von J. Kröker"  (excerpt) 
  • "Wachsende Erkenntnis" (transcript of Toews' own writing) 
  • "Lehrbeispiel über Davids Salbung zum Könige von Gottfried Frankhauser" (transcripts) 
  • "Aus der vergangenen Zeit" (transcript of article from Der Bote (n.4,21), Jan 1934

3. Loose papers

  • Handwritten financial statement for Frauenverein, 1963
  • "Zweck und Ziele der Nähverein und Frauenkonferenzen und der Segen der Gemeinschaft," 2 Jul 1946 (speech and partial transliteration)
  • Untitled meditation on resurrection

 4. Writings transliterated by Klara Wiens Knelsen (some are not found in files 1-3)

  • "Die Wanderschaft zur oberen Heimat"
  • "Du sollst mein Segen sein"
  • "Zweck und Ziele der Nähvereine und der Frauenkonferenzen" 
  • "Die Ontario Frauekonferenz" (chronicle)
  • Financial statement for Frauenverein, 1963
  • "Ein kleiner Rückblick"  (the development of the Frauenkonferenz) 
  • "Zweck und Ziele der Nähvereine und der Frauenkonferenzen," 2 Jul 1946
  • Notes on Frauenkonferenz locations
  • Untitled meditation on resurrection
  • Song transcript
  • Financial statement for Frauenverein, 1962
  • "Die Frau ohne und durch Christus: Die wahre Bestimmung der Frau"
  • Financial statement for Frauenverein, [19--]
  • "Wie werden Gottes Segesträger?"
  • "Otto Stockmayer. Ein Zeuge und Nachfolger Jesu Christi, von Alfred Roth Seite 63"  
  •  "Maria und Marta. Jakob Kröker: Gesegnetes Ruhen"  
  • "Wilhelm Schreiner. Der Weg des Hartmuts Stein"
  • "Macht im Gebet von Jakob Kröker"
  • "Zeugnisse (Kennwort aus den Reden und Schriften von Otto Stockmayer)" 
  • "Tiefere Reinigung von J. Kröker"
  • "Wachsende Erkenntnis"
  • "Lehrbeispiel über Davids Salbung zum König von Gottfried Frankhauser"
  • "Aus der vergangenen Zeit"
  • Untitled meditation
  • "Das Werk Gottes an meiner Seele"
  • "Aus der Arbeit der Frauenvereine" (news clipping) 

5. Transliterations and translations by Jakob Stephan

  • "Ein einmaliges Ereignis meine Reise nach Russland am 19 Juni – 31 Juli 1960" (transliteration)
  • Summary of Helene Toews' travel to Odessa, 1960
  • Helene Toews visited a Baptist church service in Odessa (translation)
  • "God's work on my soul" (translation of "Das Werk Gottes an meiner Seele")


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