The Warners’ old farmhouse at the end of a private lane is nestled in 200 acres at the northern edge of Muskoka, Ontario’s scenic cottage region. On entering the wooden house I am embraced by its ambience of simplicity, warmth, orderliness and comfort. From the hall, where Magdalene greets me, I glimpse, to the right, a library and study. I follow her to the large country kitchen on the left, where she prepares a tray with tea things. With it we proceed to the living/dining room and sit down for our conversation. On entering here, on my left, my eyes had been caught by a small reproduction of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper, and I remember the contribution Hans had sent for our 50th anniversary publication in 2003. He was already sick at the time, but he responded to my request and wrote, recalling the words of Dr. Benesch, one of the many visitors to the farm:
(what needs to happen is)”...that the etheric stream from Europe is embedded into the soil here, like an umbilical cord - through bio-dynamic farming- in order that the Christ impulse in transforming the earth, can be helped through the activities of humanity....Rudolf Steiner pointed out, early in 1918, that Leonardo da Vinci’s painting of the Last Supper can lead to an understanding of the meaning of the earth as Christ’s body.”
This makes me pause in wonder for a moment, and as we sit and recall Hans’ life, the image stays with me.
Hans and Magdalene had settled in this place in 1954 to start a bio-dynamic farm - the first in Ontario. They had arrived from Germany on July 1, 1951 knowing that land, unattainable for them in Europe, could be purchased here. After first working for some three years on farms in southern Ontario they found their acres, complete with a dilapidated old house, near the village of Rosseau. Now their own work to transform this land began in earnest. The house gradually became the comfortable wooden dwelling it is now, the land was made arable, machinery and animals were acquired. Eventually, over the years, much was grown here for the family and the region, and bio-dynamic principles and preparations were developed and applied. Their first-born, Angelika, had already arrived, when they came to Canada. Three more children were born: Christiane, Dorothee and John, and all of them were, from an early age, contributors to the farm’s life and chores.
The Warners’ arrival in Canada coincided with the pioneering days of the anthroposophical work in Ontario, and Hans (and Magdalene by proxy) were founding members of the Anthroposophical Society and The Christian Community in Canada. Much happened on their farm in this context during that time. Many people met there, some of the Society’s AGM’s were held there, as well as other meetings to give shape to the bio-dynamic work. Some of the services of The Christian Community were also held in the very room, where now Magdalene and I were sitting; and, of course, there were many visitors from the cities in the south and from Europe who came to enjoy the ambience and pulse of this place as it slowly became a bio-dynamic farm.
Over the years, until his illness, Hans attended most of the Society’s AGMs, no matter where they took place, sometimes accompanied by Magdalene, when she could get away from the farm and family. Many members will recall his talks, always focussing on the urgency of our task.One of the last of these talks that I heard dealt with a book entitled “Angels don’t play this haarp (sic!)” by Nick Begich and Jeanne Manning. It deals with an American scientific research project carried out in the Arctic that aims at and apparently succeeds in influencing and steering the thought processes of people gathering in large crowds anywhere on the earth. Hans ended his talk by inviting everyone present to join him in a daily inner gesture of turning, in gratitude, to the elemental beings as a counter-measure to this menace. I believe that many of us did so.
Life on a farm brings its ups and downs, and the Warners’ were not spared their share of natural disasters and accidents. In one of the worst of these, their barn burnt down along with all their expensive machinery. Over the years, it also became increasingly difficult to market their produce and meat in the wider community. Another source of income needed to be found, and Hans took on a job of tax assessor for the region. As the couple became older Hans focussed increasingly on the promotion of the bio-dynamic cause, attending many meetings on it far and wide. Both he and Magdalene also began to travel extensively. With their camper they went all across Canada, even as far as the Yukon. They also travelled to Australia to link up with their bio-dynamic colleagues, and they visited Greece.
Hans was born in Berlin on March 9, 1924 and was baptised and confirmed at The Christian Community. In 1942 he was drafted into the army and, while in Russia, became seriously ill with malaria. This experience took him to the brink of death, but saved him from the defeat at Stalingrad. His recovery may have led to the decision to study medicine which he took up for a few months at the University of Berlin. In 1945, when he was caught up in the Battle of Berlin, another powerful cue of destiny touched his life. As bombs fell on the city all around him, Hans’ coat had caught fire. As he struggled to save himself, a book suddenly fell on the ground at his feet. In spite of the inferno surrounding him, he nevertheless felt compelled to look at its title: “Der Mensch als Selbstgestalter seines Schicksals” (“The human being-Creator of his own destiny”) by O. J. Hartmann, and something about it touched Hans: he felt compelled to pick it up and put it in his pocket. On reading it later, it led him to the resolve to take up anthroposophy. He had also begun farm work, and the question of whether to pursue his medical studies or to take up agriculture was resolved for him by a conversation with Emil Bock. He reached his decision and remained faithful to it. He became a farm apprentice at the bio-dynamic farm at Rengoldshausen near Lake Constance. There he met Magdalene, who had also taken up this work. They married and their first child arrived. They became members of the Society and took part in members’ meetings and bio-dynamic conferences in Stuttgart and at the Goetheanum; and, of course, they embarked on an intensive study of anthroposophy.
In both Hans and Magdalene a deep commitment to what they had taken up guided their next steps which soon took them to Canada and their farm near Rosseau.
As Magdalene and I finish our conversation as we walk a trail on the farm, she tells me of the different phases of its growth and later changes, always greatly helped by their son who has land right next door to them; and of the powerful presence of the elemental beings in this country. In this connection, she later tells me that Hans always had a connection to their presence: three times he had been struck by lightning. She, too, speaks of Dr. Benesch’s image of the etheric stream from Europe embedded into the soil here. I am awed by the sheer work, dedication and loyalty Hans and she had brought to this task, inspired by this image, until his and now gradually also her strength gave out. Hans, after a long struggle with cancer, died on July 1st - the same day, on which he had arrived in Canada 57 years earlier. As I say good bye to Magdalene, I am aware, once more, of the picture of the Last Supper by the door of their parlour, where so much happened that bore fruit. It is but a small reproduction, and when one sees it, one understands its meaning and presence here on this land.
Alexandra B. Günther
Elliot Lake, Ontario
September 29, 2008