WEATHER ALERT

Springs Church pastor Leon Fontaine dies at 59

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Members of a Winnipeg church are mourning the death of the man who grew their congregation to be one of the largest in the country.

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Members of a Winnipeg church are mourning the death of the man who grew their congregation to be one of the largest in the country.

Springs Church pastor Leon Fontaine made a name for himself as a charismatic speaker and earned notoriety for hosting services that broke public health rules throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fontaine died on Saturday, according to his family. He was a 59-year-old grandfather, days away from celebrating a milestone birthday.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Springs Church pastor Leon Fontaine made a name for himself as a charismatic speaker and earned notoriety for hosting services that broke public health rules throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s with devastated hearts that we’re sharing with you today that on Saturday, Nov. 19 at 5 p.m. our dad, pastor Leon went to be with Jesus,” said Eden Shimoda, in a prerecorded video of her and her four siblings that was aired at the end of respective services held throughout the day Sunday.

The four-minute clip shows Fontaine’s five adult children, all of whom are active members of Springs Church, discussing the family’s collective shock and their father’s love for the non-denominational Christian congregation.

Danielle Fontaine Craig told the church community the reason their father had been absent from giving in-person sermons for upwards of a month was because their parents took a vacation and Fontaine “got himself checked out,” after which he learned about some personal issues.

Fontaine’s health took a sharp and unexpected turn in recent days, she said.

The family did not disclose details about the illness or cause of death. Springs Church administrators requested privacy and declined to provide comment Sunday.

The congregation typically holds in-person, drive-in and virtual services. On Sunday, none of the sermons were livestreamed for the public.

The Canadian flag outside Springs Church at 595 Lagimodiere Blvd., the Christian institution’s main location in southeast Winnipeg, was flown at half-mast over the weekend.

Sylvia Buller Isaak, who has known Fontaine for about 20 years, said news of the senior pastor’s sudden death is a shock to everyone. “He loved, loved people. He loved his faith. And he loved his country,” she said, after attending an afternoon service in Winnipeg.

As parishioners mourn, a phrase Fontaine often declared — “the best is yet to come” — is bringing them comfort, Buller Isaak said.

Before it was rebranded as Springs Church, the congregation began gathering under the Springs of the Living Water Centre moniker in 1980. In 1994, Fontaine and his wife Sally became senior pastors and grew the parish into a megachurch with three sites.

The Hartford Institute for Religion Research estimates the non-denominational church regularly draws a total of 8,000 Canadians to its programs.

The original location near Symington Yards has become a campus that boasts a church, coffee shop and other amenities. There is also a Springs Church in Winnipeg’s inner-city and Calgary, where the Fontaines relocated their family years ago.

Just under 500 students were enrolled in Springs Christian Academy in 2021-22. The church-affiliated private school faced widespread backlash after it hosted a convocation that violated public health orders banning indoor gatherings at the height of the pandemic.

Fontaine was well-known in Christian circles prior to March 2020, but he became a popular anti-restriction personality due to his controversial opinions on public health precautions and repeated breaches of them.

“This trucker’s convoy has exploded,” Fontaine said in a video message that was posted on the Miracle Channel, his Christian TV station, in February.

“If you’ve ever felt like the last two years has been an absolute vacuum of common sense and reason, the sheer number of donations and the speed at which this thing has been galvanized just proved that you are not alone.”

Springs Church was fined $9,000 after its leaders admitted they hosted an indoor graduation ceremony in May 2021.

Prior to that event, the church received five $5,000 fines for holding drive-in services in November 2020 while Fontaine and his son racked up a total of six $1,296 fines. These charges were all stayed as part of a plea bargain related to the graduation penalty.

Hope Wiebe said her son and his wife, former members of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, started attending Springs Church in August 2021 because other places of worship were closed because of COVID-19.

“As their chauffeur, I started attending (in September 2021 and) enjoyed the love (and) fellowship of the congregation, all generations from children to the elderly,” Wiebe wrote in a Facebook message Sunday.

“The church grew steadily during the COVID season,” she added.

In the video aired Sunday, the family pledged to build on Fontaine’s legacy.

“We’re so thankful for what mom and dad built over the past 28 years… and we know, without a shadow of a doubt, that the best is still yet to come,” said Michala Fontaine Stannard, one of his four adult daughters.

“And we are going to stand on dad’s shoulders, of what he’s built and we’re going to continue the race of building this kingdom.”

— with files from John Longhurst

maggie.macintosh@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @macintoshmaggie

Maggie Macintosh

Maggie Macintosh
Reporter

Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.

History

Updated on Sunday, November 20, 2022 8:26 PM CST: Adds quote from Hope Wiebe

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