Community Farm of the Brethren, Ontario
Associated names: Community of the Brethren of Early Christianity; Juliusleut; Julius Farm
Location: approximately 20 km southwest of Kitchener near the village of Plattsville ON. Oxford County, Blandford-Blenheim Township (43.29261 N, -80.58233 W)
Community Farm of the Brethren (hereafter Community Farm) is a Christian commune – of Hungarian Nazarene (Apostolic Christian) and western Canadian Hutterite origins – located southwest of Kitchener, Ontario. This once large and nearly self-sufficient farming community was established in 1941 by Hungarian immigrant, Julius (Gyula) Kubassek (1893-1961) as a place for those seeking a community life centred on the devotion to God. In particular, Kubassek and his fellow Hungarian followers sought to create a community where the devotion and spirit of love that was expressed by early Christians could be nurtured. Community Farm was noted as a unique social and economic organization in the region. It was also the subject of a 1967 CBC documentary, “A Song for Brother Julius.”
Julius Kubassek was born near the city of Nyíregyháza, Hungary, to a deeply religious mother and to a father who was a zealous communist and social agitator. After discovering that his uncle, a Catholic priest, had fathered more than a dozen children with four female helpers, Julius declared himself an atheist. He worked as a bricklayer for a few years until the age of 18 when he moved to Budapest where he worked various jobs while studying electricity and drafting in the evenings. Kubassek (Figure 1) was conscripted at the age of 21 into the Austro-Hungarian army soon after the outbreak of the First World War (1914-1918). During one battle, he found himself encircled by the enemy. After surviving heavy bombardments, which resulted in the death of most of his fellow soldiers, Kubassek decided he had had enough. He managed to escape the front lines and made his way back home.
Kubassek spent much of the duration of the war recuperating from pneumonia while in hiding. Sympathetic to his father’s political leanings, Kubassek became the head of the local Red Guard in his village during the short-lived Hungarian Soviet Republic (March 21-August 1, 1919). Following the rightist counter-revolution of Miklós Horthy, Kubassek went once more into hiding, eventually escaping across the border to Czechoslovakia in the late fall of 1919. There, in an abandoned farmhouse, Kubassek opened up the cover of a copy of the New Testament that a fellow soldier had previously given him. Left grappling with the mystery of his survival during the war and disillusioned with his life, the once avowed atheist read the biblical canon five times in succession.
Inspired by what he had read, Kubassek visited several different churches, including those of the Baptists and Seventh Day Adventists. He later joined a Nazarene congregation while living in Vienna in 1924. The Nazarenes (Apostolic Christians in North America) are a nonresistant and often persecuted group of the Anabaptist tradition whose simple lifestyle and devotion to God impressed Kubassek. A year later, Julius travelled to the United States with the aim of finding work and sending back remittances to the struggling congregation. Although he found a Nazarene congregation in Cleveland, Ohio, Kubassek was disappointed by the luxuries and lifestyles of the Hungarian American followers. After visiting several other congregations, including some north of the border in Canada, he travelled to Bremen, Saskatchewan, where he briefly joined another Hungarian Nazarene congregation. There he met Elizabeth Megyesi, the daughter of the minister. They married and moved to Windsor, Ontario, following a conflict that emerged when Kubassek urged his father-in-law’s congregation to achieve greater conformity with Christ.
While in Windsor, Kubassek decided to establish his own Nazarene community, rather than continue the seemingly futile search to find a “true Apostolic Christian Community.” At the time of its founding in May 1931, Kubassek’s community of “The Brethren of Early Christianity” (then known as “Way of Life in His (Jesus Christ) Name”) had five adult members, Kubassek and his wife and children, Frederick (Frigyes) Kurucz and his wife and children, and the widower Alexander (Sándor) Bagó. Kurucz and Bagó were also from Hungary and had fled that country during the war, after being persecuted for their pacifist beliefs as Nazarenes. They were previously members of a small Nazarene congregation in Windsor, which Kubassek had briefly joined before embarking on his quest to create his own perfect community of Believers; an apostolic community where all things would be kept in common in accordance with his interpretation of Scripture.
Five efforts to create an enduring settlement before 1941
The Brethren soon rented a farm near Stratford, Ontario. It would be the first of five efforts made in four provinces before Kubassek created his enduring settlement near Plattsville, Ontario. However, owing to the economic difficulties of the Great Depression, Kubassek returned with his followers to Bremen, Saskatchewan, that same year. In August 1932, Kubassek issued a manifesto (the “Brethren manifesto”) that denounced the “Nazarean church” (Nazarene/Apostolic Christian Church), as it was now functioning in North America, for compromising with the world. In particular, he condemned the Nazarene church for “working together with the fleshly government (whose power is based on armed violence)” while also assimilating into a worldly value system that encouraged the accumulation of material wealth. In 1933, the Brethren split with the Apostolic Christian Church of Bremen, and Kubassek and his followers moved to British Columbia. They stayed for several years at a rented farm at Yarrow (now a part of the City of Chilliwack). To support the community, which was joined by several new converts including a Nazarene couple, Kubassek and the other men worked in the lumber camps, cutting cordwood and assembling railroad ties.
While in Yarrow, Kubassek learned about the Hutterites and their communal lifestyle. With a strong belief that community life was the substance of Christ’s teachings, he traveled to the German Hutterite community of West Raley near Cardston, Alberta in 1936 to learn more about this branch of Anabaptists. Deeply impressed with what he saw, including the Hutterite community’s commitment to Apostolic Christianity, Julius eventually returned to West Raley with his small congregation that now included nine adults and ten children. They stayed with the Hutterites for 14 months and, during that time, integrated much of the host culture into their own way of life. However, owing to language barriers, their inexperience with grain farming, and differences between the two groups, Kubassek decided to take his followers back to Ontario to find a place of their own.
In the late summer of 1939, Kubassek’s group, which included two new recruits from West Raley, loaded up three railroad cars with agricultural implements plus ten cows, 16 horses, 16 pigs and eight geese, all supplied by the Hutterites who remained in close contact with the group until 1950, when ties between the two groups were formally severed. Relations with the Hutterites soured during the 1940s, in part, due to Kubassek’s authoritarian personality and hardline ideology. The destination of the Brethren was a 200-acre rented farm near Glen Morris south of Galt, Ontario (now a part of Cambridge). Mistaken as Doukhobors on their arrival at the Canadian Pacific Railway Station at Ayr, Kubassek and his congregation were met by a jeering crowd.
Community Farm near Plattsville ON
Kubassek soon faced growing tensions with his neighbours at Glen Morris due to his anti-war stance. In particular, he rejected the purchasing of war bonds, and he and his followers instructed their children not to sing “God Save the King” or to march in parades at the local public school. The harassment that the children experienced only ended with the group’s relocation in April 1941 to a farm near Plattsville where they were given permission by county officials to open their own school (Figure 2). The farm that the Brethren purchased became known as Community Farm of the Brethren. It was bought from a local veterinarian, Dr. Nurse. The nucleus of the community, which numbered 27 people at the time of their move, would eventually consist of a complex of buildings, including larger ones that contained the living quarters, food production areas, and nursery, library, and business office, plus several large barns and storage sheds, as well as smaller-sized structures that housed machine, mechanic and carpentry shops. Community Farm was sometimes simply referred to by outsiders as Julius Farm.
New members joined the community from time to time, including Hutterites, as well as “seekers” and Mennonites. Small numbers of newcomers also came from Hungary, England and even Brazil. By the late 1950s, five languages were spoken in Community Farm, with Hungarian being the predominant language and nationality amongst the 50 or so people who lived in the commune. That language was taught to the children and most had a good command of it in the 1950s. Population growth in Community Farm remained slow with the notable exception being the arrival of 46 Hutterites (6 families, all with the surname Entz) from the Hutterite colony of Big Bend, Alberta in the summer of 1960. These Hutterites had been threatened with excommunication from their own community after a dispute unfolded between two members of the Entz family and the colony’s leadership. They were likely encouraged to move to Community Farm due to growing concerns within the Ontario commune about the future health of the community, with nearly all members of the third generation being related. The leader of the “Entz Group”, John Entz Jr., had visited Community Farm many times in the past, so both communities were familiar with each other.
The arrival of the Hutterites at Community Farm immediately resulted in a significant shift in the community’s ethno-linguistic makeup; it changed from a largely Hungarian community to a mixed Hungarian, ethnic Hutterite one (44% Hungarian and 48% Hutterite origin by 1967). Children were subsequently taught both Hungarian and Hutterite German at school for a couple of years before this effort to pass down the ancestral languages was phased out in favour of English-only instruction. However, Community Farm remained officially tri-lingual.
The Hutterite group’s arrival significantly increased the labour force of Community Farm and thus the farm’s productivity. By far the most important economic enterprise centred on the raising of geese. Community Farm was already the largest producer of geese in Canada in the 1950s, producing anywhere from 17,000 to 20,000 geese a year. Other important economic activities that lent to the Community’s relative self-sufficiency included egg noodle manufacturing, bread baking, dairying with a large milking herd of Holstein-Friesian cattle, beef farming, cash crop and market produce growing (e.g., potatoes, tomatoes, plums, grapes, cut flowers), and duck and chicken-egg operations. Many of these and other products were sold on Saturdays at the Kitchener farmers’ market, with the market reach for some Brethren products like “greaseless geese”, “Brethren noodles” and goose down and feather pillows having been as far as Detroit and upstate New York.
The land base of Community Farm grew from the original 365 acres to 1190 acres by 1957, of which 800 acres would be regularly used for cultivation (Figure 3). The major crops cultivated by the commune, which numbered 96 individuals (16 families, 46 children) a decade later, included corn and wheat, as well as mixed grain for livestock feed.
Life in Community Farm was centred on religious observance as well as on the concept of living and working together in brotherly love. Everything was owned by the community together. Private possessions had to be renounced when joining the sect and none of the members of Community Farm received private wages for their work. This form of “Christian Communism,” as one author has referred to it, was certainly influenced not only by Hungarian Nazarene traditions as well as the thinking of the communist-turned-Apostolic Christian leader of the commune, but also by the strong Hutterite influence on the community. Radios, televisions and even mirrors, which were considered to be an unnecessary vanity, were absent, and communication with the outside world was censored. Only a selective literature was permitted into the community’s small library, and all incoming and outgoing mail was read first by the farm manager. In addition, drinking alcohol, smoking tobacco, dancing, and even singing, apart from hymns, was forbidden. Community members were not supposed to have time for leisure, and even a non-utilitarian hobby like painting was often discouraged. As religious pacifists, competitive sports were forbidden since they were seen as a means of training individuals for war. Trips outside of Community Farm were only allowed for business, medical or missionary-related reasons.
Accommodations were separated into private, motel-like living quarters (Figure 4, map legend Nos. 6). These dwelling units possessed their own washroom and eventually a shower. Each living quarter had a small living room and up to three bedrooms, depending on family size. The living quarters radiated out along two wings west and east of the centrally located dining hall (No. 9), kitchen (No. 13), and chapel (No. 8). Additional dwellings, including some for visitors, could be found in an old 13-room stone building, which was the home of the original owner of the farm.
In terms of religious beliefs, the Brethren believed that personal communication with God is impossible; the only means to communicate with God is through the community. Moreover, it was the community rather than the individual that could be rewarded by God. Thus, prayer was directed towards one another, rather than to God. In addition, the Brethren’s social structure and values were believed to be sanctioned by God; obedience to the system was a form of worship that guaranteed the community, as a whole, a place in heaven. Another belief among community members was that all people are innately evil and are born in sin; God may consider an individual ‘worthy’ if they surrender their self-will to the will of the group as a whole. The Brethren believed that separation from the outside world was necessary to protect community members from a world ruled by Satan; this belief necessitated separation, as much as is possible, from outside influences, including from government and false Christians. Finally, as “members of the Kingdom of God”, suffering was to be expected. Members of Community Farm believed that the persecution they might endure due to their beliefs and practices was not only a test of faith, but also a sign of the End of Days and imminent return of Christ.
Aside from the Bible, the Brethren consulted the early Anabaptist writings of Peter Riedemann (1506-1556), Peter Walpot (1521-1578), and Andreas Ehrenpreis (1589-1662). Ehrenpreis’ Hutterite manifesto, An Epistle Concerning Communal Life (1650) was considered by the Brethren as the best summary of arguments for their way of life. They also regularly consulted one of the fundamentalist works of John R. Caldwell (1839-1917), reprinting a Hungarian copy of it in 1964 with some of their own edits to the original translation plus the addition of pictures of their own community. In what may have been a translation of The Charter of the Church (n.d.), but which was given the simpler Hungarian title Az Egyház (The Church), Caldwell asserted that communal living was the only way of dealing with the evils of the world.
Adult baptism was of great importance in the spiritual and social life of Community Farm’s inhabitants. Members were usually baptized between the ages of 19 and 22 and only then did they become Church members. The baptismal ceremony was the most important rite of passage and it was seen as a type of rebirth. It involved publically testifying that one’s life had been futile and sinful, and that complete surrender to the church was the only way to be redeemed. Marriage was restricted to baptized members of the community and pre-marital relations, including courtship, was not allowed. Aside from their beliefs, one aspect that served to differentiate members of Community Farm from outsiders was the distinct style of dress that the Brethren adopted. Women wore black headscarves, ankle-length blue or green coloured dresses, and aprons, while men wore drab green work clothes. In addition, the men sported beards after becoming baptized.
Daily activities began at 6:00 a.m. and only illness, disability or old age excluded adults from putting in a full day of hard physical work. A steam whistle was used to notify community members of the beginning of meal time, mid-morning and mid-afternoon coffee breaks, and time for prayer. As in the case of church services, communal meals and coffee breaks were segregated by gender. Men and women as well as boys and girls sat at separate tables. Moreover, seating was organized by age along a continuum from oldest at one end of the table to youngest at the other, with food being passed down the table from oldest first. Meals were also held in shifts (e.g. breakfast for adults first) and always began and ended with prayer. Complete silence during eating was expected, which helped facilitate the quick conclusion of the characteristically small, frugal meals – eating was viewed merely as a necessity rather than as a pleasurable activity. Sunday meals, in particular, were so light as to resemble a purposeful fast. Some Brethren meals such as “goose goulash with sour cabbage” and “poppy seed noodles” revealed the influence of Hungarian culinary traditions. At one point there had even been a proposal to supplement the income of the farm by selling Hungarian frozen foods, no doubt to the many Hungarian communities that existed in the province at the time. Most dishes such as “goose and rice” or various noodle-based dishes simply showed the community’s reliance on the chief staples that the community was known for.
Church service was held in the early evening hours on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays from 7:00 to 8:00 p.m. A fifth sermon was given Sunday mornings from 9:00 to 11:00 a.m. Until 1965, when church services were conducted entirely in English, Monday service was held in Hutterite German, Wednesday in English, and Friday in Hungarian. Hardwood pews faced a simple table, and women and men sat at opposite sides of the chapel. The seating varied by age with younger people sitting at the front and elders towards the rear of the chapel. For a period of time, two preachers – father Fred Kurucz and his son by the same name – were responsible for looking after the spiritual life of the community. The senior Kurucz, who the children simply referred to as Nándor bácsi or “uncle Fred” in Hungarian, provided shorter sermons to the ones delivered by his son. The sermons were accompanied by old hymns, such as “I am a pilgrim in Zion’s Land,” which was sung in German, and “Standing on the Promises of God my King” and “There Shall be Showers of Blessings”, which were both sung in English. Two hymnbooks were used in the chapel; Zion’s Harp , which was the first hymnal of the Apostolic Christian Church, and another that owing to its colour, was often simply referred to as the “Red Hymnbook.”
The work day often concluded with a community meeting held initially in Hungarian, then German, and eventually English. Sunday was the only partial day of rest for adults. Children and even teenagers who had completed elementary school, but had yet to be baptized, were required to attend Sunday School. Children were also given an hour of religious education before regular weekday school hours commenced (at 9:00 a.m.) and later again at the end of school hours (4:00 p.m.). The religious school was run by the preacher, assistant preacher and, occasionally, by a missionary, when present. Each baptized Brethern was expected to engage in some missionary work, which usually involved a short friendly trip to another community. By the 1960s, there were two community members who were entrusted with full time missionary work overseas. One was based within the small Nazarene community in Dunavecse, Hungary, and the other was active in an Israeli kibbutz as well as in Hong Kong.
Two councils were responsible for the operation and management of Community Farm. A “Brother’s Council” (administrative council) would meet one to three times a week to discuss business matters and to coordinate and plan community activities. It was comprised of three elected trustees (the farm manager, vice-farm manager, and superintendent) who were responsible for representing the Community in business and legal matters, a work coordinator, and all other baptized males. A “Member’s Council” was comprised of all baptized male and female community members. Although females were not given voting power, their attendance at council meetings contrasted with the Hutterites who did not allow women to sit in on meetings. This council, however, was rarely assembled and only dealt with major internal domestic or church-related issues. In addition, individual work departments guided the various operations of the community, such as farming, geese, dairy, the central kitchen, and noodle manufacturing. The work coordinator of the Brother’s Council was given the responsibility of coordinating all departments, which were each headed by their own “foreman.”
Work at the Community Farm was assigned based on gender, skill and age. While some of the men in the community were responsible for overseeing very specific tasks as foremen, such as repairing machinery, running the dairy barn, or overseeing work on the large market garden, others simply worked on the normal routine of seasonal farming tasks, such as plowing the land and planting and harvesting crops. Efforts were made to rotate individuals within the different operations of the farm. However, jobs were assigned with the best interests of the community in mind and work reviews were undertaken by the administrative council. Although some women were given specific positions that were more or less permanent, such as farm secretary or chief baker, others often worked on a six-week rotation, which involved one week of work in the kitchen in a group of four or five, followed by one week baking, and four weeks doing seasonal chores, such as gardening, canning, and cleaning (Figure 5). Young, unmarried women were often assigned work at the community nursery as well as in the kitchen, while male teenagers were expected to take part in all major farm-related tasks, such as harvesting or dairying, beginning at the age of 14. The concept of being a teenager did not exist. While Community Farm possessed its own school with a trained teacher from outside the community, formal schooling ended after Grade 8; however, correspondence extension courses were permitted, though not actively encouraged. These supplementary courses were largely limited to technical training.
Dissension and dispersal
Although Community Farm was portrayed in the CBC documentary, “A Song for Brother Julius” (1967), as a peaceful, utopian-like religious farming community, the commune had long been disturbed by internal unrest. In particular, tensions almost immediately arose between the colony’s leaders and the Hutterite newcomers from Alberta who found fault with many of the local practices, including council organization, missionary work, and even clothing style and hair coverings. While the founding members maintained that John Entz Jr. conspired to change their traditions, he and other members of the Entz Group claimed that they had not been treated as equals since their arrival in 1960 and were not being treated with respect. Members of the Entz Group would later allege that their concerns with local farming practices were being ignored and that they were also being forced to learn and communicate in Hungarian. A more serious allegation directed at the Brethren was that the Hutterite children were denied proper medical treatment in town.
Julius Kubassek died in January 1961 and Fred Kurucz became the de facto leader of Community Farm. Not long after, in April 1962, Entz Jr. declared that his people had lost faith in the leadership of the church. Kurucz reacted to Entz asserting his group had been deceived by the newcomers. Entz Jr. was excommunicated in November 1963 and members of the Entz Group subsequently set up their own religious sect within Community Farm. Both sides avoided each other when not engaged in work. The discord between the two groups, which led to separate meetings and church services, persisted for the remainder of the decade and beyond. A gradual outmigration of the Brethren ensued, with many families relocating from the early 1970s onwards to a Christian commune in Israel. Although Community Farm of the Brethren still exists, very few members remain and farming operations are consequently minimal.
The main studies upon which this entry is based are Clark (1967), Entz and Entz Moss (2019), Irving (1971), and Yudin (2016). The online article by Ruetenik (2009) contains a half dozen photos taken at the farm in 1971, including a photograph of the family housing units. Much of the information on Kubassek and Community Farm varies greatly by source. For example, according to some sources, Kubassek was the sole survivor of his battalion while in others he was not. Some sources say that the copy of the New Testament that Kubassek had read in the abandoned farmhouse was given to him by a fellow soldier of either the Reformed or Jewish faith, while others say that he had found it there. The length of the Brethren’s stay in British Columbia varies from a “brief stint” to six years, while the exact year of their move to West Raley differs by source. In addition, while most sources place the Kubassek group’s move to Ontario in 1939, one source places it a year later. Even Kubassek’s place of origin is uncertain. While most sources mention Nyíregyháza, a Hungarian source refers to his 1919 activities with the Red Guard having taken place in “his village” near to that city. Incorrect references to Nyíregyháza being a town and even village, not to mention one reference to Kubassek having, at one point, hidden in a makeshift dugout under a pigpen behind his parents’ home either during the war or immediately after the failed 1919 Hungarian Soviet experiment, support the assumption that he was from a village or town, likely in close proximity to that city in northeastern Hungary. Other details like the original land area (365 or 375 acres) and eventual acreage of Community Farm (1190, 1200 and even 1500) also vary by source. For background information on the Apostolic Christian Church in North America and its Eastern European counterpart (Nazarene churches), see the special issue on the subject in volume 6 of the Journal of the Amish and Plain Anabaptist Studies, particularly Anderson’s article (2018). See also the Wikipedia entry on the topic.
By Jason F. Kovacs
- Anderson, Cory. 2018. A socio-religious introduction to the Apostolic Churches in North America. Journal of the Amish and Plain Anabaptist Studies 6(1): 26-60.
- Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Windsor Films. 1967. A Song for Brother Julius. 28:18 min. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5SXR5pwmjrQ
- Clark, Peter Gordon. 1967. The Brethren of Early Christianity: A study of a world-rejecting sect. Unpublished MA thesis. McMaster University.
- Csorba, István. 1955. Magyar telep Kanadában [Hungarian colony in Canada]. Látóhatár 6(4-5): 258-263. http://ujlatohatar.com/?page_id=187
- Editor – Rocky Cape Christian Community website. 2009. “Julius Kubassek.” https://anabaptistwiki.org/mediawiki/index.php/Julius_Kubassek
- Entz, John and Christina Entz Moss. 2019. Growing up on the Community Farm of the Brethren. Ontario Mennonite History: The Newsletter for the Mennonite Historical Society of Ontario 37(2): 1-5.
- Hostetler, John A. 1997 . Hutterite Society. 2nd ed. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
- Irving, R. M. “The Community Farm of the Brethren, Bright, Ontario.” In A.G. McLellan (ed.), The Waterloo County area: Selected geographical essays (pp. 75-81). 1971. Department of Geography, University of Waterloo.
- Kirkby, Mary-Ann. 2010. I Am Hutterite: The fascinating true story of a young woman’s journey to reclaim her heritage. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
- Kubassek, Micha. 2014. My family story. https://yfcprojectserve.com/my-family-story/
- Moss, Christina. 2018. A song for Brother Julius, revisited: on growing up on the Community Farm of the Brethren. Anabaptist Historians: Bring the Anabaptist Past into a Digital Century. https://anabaptisthistorians.org/2018/08/14/a-song-for-brother-julius-revisited-on-growing-up-on-the-community-farm-of-the-Brethren/
- Peters, Victor. 1965. All Things Common: The Hutterian Way of Life. Minneapolis: Lund Press.
- Ruetenik, Shishonee (2009) Hutterites: There shall be showers of blessings – Community Farm of the Brethren. http://thetreescommunity.blogspot.com/2009/03/there-shall-be-showers-of-blessings.html
- Yudin, Joseph. 2016. The Brethren of Early Christianity: A Christian Journey from War to Salvation in the Land of Israel. Unpublished MA thesis. University of Haifa.