Briercrest Throughout the Decades
In the early 1920s, Annie (Copeland) Hillson led a home Bible study in the village of Briercrest with a friend who was shut in due to poor health. The study soon grew to include several members of the community who enjoyed solid Bible teaching from visiting preachers and community women, including Mrs. Hillson and Mrs. Isabel Whittaker. Eventually the group formed a new church, the Briercrest Gospel Assembly.
The people needed a pastor to lead the church and the Bible school they felt God calling them to open. A name that was brought forth time and time again was Henry Hildebrand. At the time Henry was a student at Winnipeg Bible Institute and a circuit riding preacher with CSSM. Although he was young (only 23 years old), he had proved himself faithful in his service to God and others.
Mr. Sinclair Whittaker, one of the believers at Briercrest, was a successful businessman and a member of the provincial legislature. He took it upon himself to contact Henry, informing him of their need for a pastor and their desire to open a Bible school. They had consulted many highly respected Christian leaders about the idea, but received discouragement from them all. Whittaker wrote to Hildebrand:
Henry agreed to join them.
Briercrest Bible Institute opened its doors on October 19, 1935, and 11 students enroled. A rented house served as dormitory, classroom, and office for the school. Mr. Hildebrand was principal and Mrs. Annie Hillson, Mrs. Isabel Whittaker, Jean Whittaker, and Margaret Rusk helped with teaching and administration. Donald McMillan joined them in the second term as assistant principal. By January 1946, the student body had grown so much that the school rented all the available space in Briercrest, including the disused Yale Hotel. About six months before the end of the war, knowing that enrolment would go up when the soldiers returned home, Mr. Whittaker said to Mr. Hildebrand, Henry, from all I know, an airport is what we will need after the war. Let us pray that God will give one of them to us.
Mr. Whittaker used his experience in business and politics to arrange the purchase of Royal Airforce Base #33 in Caron for $50,000—five per cent of its value. The new facility was dedicated on July 1, 1946, and the incredible task of converting the airbase into dormitories, classrooms, offices, and staff housing began.
Briercrest Christian Academy opened in September 1946, and a grade school also began that year. Enrolment grew in all of the schools and many new buildings (named after the pioneers who helped build the ministry of Briercrest) were constructed to accommodate the growing student body. The late 1960s were hard times for the schools as enrolment declined for five consecutive years; the farm economy was in recession and even Christians seemed to question the value of Christian education.
In the early 1970s, the schools began to recognize the need for academic credibility. Briercrest became a candidate for accreditation with the Accrediting Association of Bible Colleges (now the Association for Biblical Higher Education) in 1973, and earned full accreditation in 1976. Substantial investment was made in the library and the number of books grew from 9000 in 1971 to over 30,000 volumes in 1985 (and 70,000 today). In 1979, a distance learning program was launched. In 1982, the name Briercrest Bible Institute was changed to Briercrest Bible College. The Seminary began in 1983 and by 1985, faculty members had an average of 8.6 years of post-secondary training. All of these developments were coupled with aggressive expansion of academic programs. College enrolment grew significantly from 285 in 1970 to 775 in 1985.
Since then, Briercrest has continued to pursue academic credibility and program quality in all three of its schools: the Seminary, the College, and Briercrest Christian Academy.
Our mission statement is:
Evangelism and mission outreach have always been central to the life and training of Briercrest. From the first year, staff and students have gone out from Briercrest to bring the Gospel to the nations. Our first alumni missionary, Reg Glen, was both a member of the first graduating class and a faculty member. He and his wife, Kay, sailed for Southern Rhodesia, Africa, in October 1941.
Throughout our history, we have had six presidents: Henry Hildebrand (1935-1977); Henry Budd (1977-1990); John Barkman (1990-1996); Paul Magnus (1996-2004); Dwayne Uglem (2004-2013); and Michael Pawelke (2013-present). Sinclair Whittaker served as president of the board until 1950. These leaders represent our schools' rich heritage of staff and faculty who give their lives in service to God through Briercrest. There are far too many to name here, but we are so thankful to God for their sacrifice and their service.
As we move into the future, we are confident that God will continue to bless the ministry of Briercrest. We thank Him for the opportunity to provide students with spiritual and academic formation that equips them for lives of service to God and to others.