Dozens of people gathered in St. Vital Sunday night to celebrate the anniversary of Manitoba's first mosque, and the spirit of community it continues to inspire in its members after 40 years.
The St. Vital mosque, commonly known as the "Hazelwood Mosque" over the years, opened its doors on Sept. 25, 1976. But on Sunday, to mark the anniversary, the mosque was renamed Pioneer Mosque, in homage to its founders.
The City of Winnipeg has also shared its respects by giving the street the honorary name of Pioneer Mosque Way.
It was the only mosque in the city for about 30 years. Another thing that sets it apart is the fact that it was originally built as a mosque, whereas more recently created mosques in the city purchased and repurposed existing buildings.
Ezzat Ibrahim helped found the mosque and has been a member since its humble beginnings.
"We were s small community; 10 to 15 people or families. Now we have in Manitoba [thousands of] Muslims" Ibrahim said, adding religious places of worship play an important part in communities.
"By the presence of this mosque, it welcomed every Muslim that ever came to Winnipeg or Manitoba."
Ibrahim says he's excited to see what the next 40 years will bring for the mosque.
Osaed Khan with the Manitoba Islamic Association said he, too, has fond memories of the mosque in its early days.
"The story goes that they started slowly saving money and eventually built the first mosque," he said.
Khan hopes to see mosque membership continue to grow in future generations.
"When I grew up here, it was like all the families knew each other, it was still small but everybody kept the mosque as a second home," Khan said. "I think it was pivotal and a big change for the Muslim community."
Ken Ewankiw isn't Muslim but lives nearby and knows some members of the mosque.
"The people I know at the mosque here, they're very kind, very loving, they're no different than anybody else," Ewankiw said.
Saira Rahman spent a lot of time at the mosque in her formative years.
"It's basically where I grew up," Rahman said. "Coming back here ... I'm just flooded with memories."
"I remember fasting in 30 C weather. I was a kid and it was such an accomplishment, and then to come to the mosque every single day, even the weekdays, to pray the night prayers, I don't know how I did it, looking back," Rahman said laughing. "It took a lot of stamina."
Rahman, now a documentary filmmaker, said the mosque has a warm family atmosphere that she will always cherish.
"For the people who came and made this place their own ... I think this mosque will always be special, and no matter what other mosque we attend, this mosque will always have a special place in our hearts," Rahman said.