History on Betel Home
Betel Home started as a dream by a small group of women at the turn of the century; these women were members of the Ladies' Aid of the newly organized First Lutheran Church of Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Since the inception of the Ladies' Aid on August 5th, 1886, one of its main objectives, aside from supporting the Church, was that of helping the needy.
The founder Fru Lara Bjarnason brought up the matter of the lack of suitable facilities for the ailing and homeless, at a meeting in January 1901, stating it was imperative such a facility be found, thus the beginning of Betel.
For quite some time the plans remained dormant, reason being the lack of funds. With the dream still alive in all the women, the next step was to build up the much needed funds. Mrs. Bjarnason president of the Ladies' Aid, made a motion on March 8th, 1906 that a donation in the sum of $50.00 be made towards the fund to be used for a proposed Old Folks Home. The motion passed unanimously.
These keen business women found different ways of raising funds; one was buying property and later selling it at a profit. With the concept of the Home becoming well known, donations from various women's groups as well as individuals were collected. In January 1912 the women were advised that when the Home was established, forthcoming grants would be coming from both the City of Winnipeg and the Government of Manitoba.
With matters growing increasingly more complicated, the Ladies' Aid felt they were not up to the task and a larger committee was needed. On May 15th, 1912, a motion was made and passed: ..of an eight women committee be elected from the Ladies' Aid membership, with these eight members selecting an additional seven members of either sex. At all times there must be eight members from the Ladies' Aid on this committee.
This group was to be known as the "Old Folks' Home Committee", working hard at raising funds and making the public aware of their efforts gained good will and support from the entire Icelandic community.
The Old Folks' Home Committee in June 1913 approached the Icelandic Evangelical Lutheran Synod (council of a church) with the recommendation it adopt the ideas of the Home. This they did and elected the first Betel Board immediately.
The dream became reality on March 1st, 1915 when the rented quarters on 854 William Avenue in Winnipeg welcomed its first resident. But not long after, every room in the house was full and a ten person waiting list, it was evident a larger facility was needed. After considerable deliberations by the board it was decided a more peaceful and rural location would be suitable, with a favored choice of Gimli, if possible.
First Betel
First Betel Home in Gimli
(about 1917)
"Beaver House", as it was called, was an unoccupied boarding house on the south-west part of the town on a large piece of land. With room for twenty-six residents (including all on the waiting list) it met all the requirements.
The quick move was made on October 3rd, 1915, and given the name "Betel", it was dedicated by Rev. Bjorn B. Jonsson, minister of First Lutheran Church Winnipeg. The adjoining lots were turned into a small farm and a garden, which supplied food for the home as well as kept some of the healthier and active residents usefully busy.
Old Lakeview Hotel
Old Lakeview Hotel
became the new Betel
By 1917, the Betel "family" was in need of a larger facility as they had outgrown their current location. Another building in Gimli was available, the three story, "Lakeview Hotel", located on the south end of First Avenue over looking Lake Winnipeg. As before, it was the lack of funds.
It was made possible through a totally unexpected source, an old gentleman named Jon Helgason who died and bequeathed his whole estate to Betel. With this gift, the property was bought, most repairs were made and the move was made from Beaver House to the new Betel on December 12th 1917. The size of the building now allowed forty residents. NOTE: Beaver House was destroyed by fire in 1922 - a total loss.
Betel with North Addition
Betel with North Addition
1917-1928 were very progressive as well as rewarding with gifts of property and money being received by many generous people knowing the importance of Betel and its old folks. With these gifts a much needed addition was erected on the north side adjoining the old structure. This addition was used for the admittance of waiting applicants, a suite for the matron and an office.
The Depression Years were a struggle as the public support was at its lowest and the waiting list was at its highest to date.
In 1940, the Betel celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary, receiving a sizable gift of money of which almost half came from the residents. As well, other gifts from near and far, which helped swell the coffers.
Betel with Staff House
Betel with Staff House
In 1945, a staff house was built just west of Betel and used as living quarters for the staff, thus, freeing up more beds in the main building allowing more people on the waiting list to be admitted earlier. The staff house was used up till 1966, till it was then moved to a new location.
Many years went by with the building deteriorating with each passing day. Extensive repairs were needed including the outdated heating system, overcrowding was also an issue with some residents housed in rooms in the basement. Board members decided to launch an expansion and renovation program, but again funding was an issue.
Betel Board members decided on August 12th, 1954 to investigate the cost of the repairs needed, with Dr. George Johnson taking the lead roll.
With cash donations, pledges and a government grant totaling $83,987.00 the actual construction begin on November, 18th 1954 at a corner-laying ceremony. As the new two story-building began to take shape the contributions continued to come in. The new fifty room building was erected on the north side of the existing one, ad-joining the Thordarson wing.
As the new building was progressing, a tentative dedication service set for June 2nd, 1957, the second phase of the project, renovating the older building experienced some financial difficulties.
With the first part of the project complete, the second part, renovation and improvements of the older building was just beginning and had to be paid for. Appeals went out and were well received, with the generosity of loyal friends the Fund grew.
A $10.000.00 donation from the Winnipeg foundation in the summer of 1957 as well as a grant from the Province of Manitoba brought the Building Fund to a total of $168.000.00 in November of that year. With that, all accounts were paid in full, all except $1,120.00 for some repairs to the roof.
Betel 1958
Betel in 1958
A January 15th, 1958 Board meeting requested an elevator be installed to access the upper floors, without the elevator no more resident admissions could be made. A tender was put out and elevator was installed, making the third floor accessible and welcoming new residents.
Construction of a sitting room with access to the outside was made to ground floor in July of 1966. A sitting area was also added to the second floor in the fall of 1967.
A two storey addition was added to the rear of the original structure, and completed in September, 1969. This gave much need space to the second floor and would allow room for more occupancy.
In October 1971, the third floor was renovated to provide an additional ten personal care beds.
A three story addition to the south side of the building was completed in late 1973. This addition included a full basement with a laundry room, large lounge area on the main floor, and two bedrooms and a sunny sitting area on the two other floors.

Other than some minor renovations and maintenance not much was done to Betel Home till the winter of 1988. With construction already underway, an official sod turning ceremony was held on December 14, 1988 for the new 80 bed, $6,000,000.00 Betel Home.

With construction completed, residents moved into the new Betel Home on March 5, 1990. The ribbon cutting ceremony took place on May 23, 1990 to celebrate the official opening of the new Betel Home.

Betel Home   Waterfront Centre
Betel Home and Waterfront Centre

Visit the Betel Home Foundation Website.