Springs Church pastor Leon Fontaine dies at 59 – Winnipeg Free Press
Members of a Winnipeg church are mourning the death of the man who made their congregation one of the largest in the country.
Springs Church pastor Leon Fontaine has made a name for himself as a charismatic speaker and gained notoriety for hosting services that broke public health rules throughout the COVID pandemic -19.
Fontaine died on Saturday, according to his family. He was a 59-year-old grandfather, days away from celebrating a milestone birthday.
“It is with devastated hearts that we share with you today that on Saturday, November 19 at 5 p.m., our father, Pastor Leon went to be with Jesus,” Eden Shimoda said, in a pre-recorded video of her and his four siblings which aired at the end of the respective services held throughout the day on 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 fellowship that the reason their father was absent from in-person sermons for over a month was that their parents took a vacation and Fontaine “got checked out,” after which he had learned of some personal problems.
Fontaine’s health has taken a sharp and unexpected turn in recent days, she said.
The family did not release details of the illness or cause of death. Springs church administrators asked for confidentiality and declined to comment on Sunday.
The congregation typically holds in-person, drive-in, and virtual services. On Sunday, none of the sermons were broadcast live for the public.
The Canadian flag outside Springs Church at 595 Lagimodiere Boulevard, the Christian institution’s main location in southeast Winnipeg, was lowered to half-mast over the weekend.
Sylvia Buller Isaak, who has known Fontaine for about 20 years, said the news of the senior pastor’s sudden death comes as 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 says — “the best is yet to come” — brings them comfort, Buller Isaak said.
Before being renamed Springs Church, the congregation began gathering as the Springs of the Living Water Center in 1980. In 1994, Fontaine and his wife Sally became senior pastors and transformed the parish into a mega-church at three sites.
The Hartford Institute for Religion Research estimates that the non-denominational church regularly attracts a total of 8,000 Canadians to its programs.
The original location near Symington Yards became a campus with a church, cafe, and other amenities. There is also a Springs Church in downtown Winnipeg and Calgary, where the Fontaines moved their family years ago.
Just under 500 students were enrolled at Springs Christian Academy in 2021-22. The private church-affiliated school faced widespread backlash after he staged a summons that violated public health orders banning indoor gatherings during the height of the pandemic.
Fontaine was well known in Christian circles before March 2020, but has become a popular anti-restriction figure due to his controversial views on public health precautions and their repeated violations.
“This convoy of truckers exploded”, Fontaine said in a video message posted on Miracle Channel, her Christian television channel, in February.
“If you’ve ever felt like the past two years have been an absolute void of common sense and sanity, the number of donations and the speed at which this thing has been galvanized proves that you are not alone.”
The Springs church was fined $9,000 after its leaders admitted to holding an indoor graduation ceremony in May 2021.
Prior to this event, the church received five fines of $5,000 for holding drive-thru services in November 2020, while Fontaine and her son racked up a total of six fines of $1,296. These charges were all stayed as part of a plea bargain related to the graduation penalty.
Hope Wiebe said his son and wife, former members of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, started attending the Springs church in August 2021 because other places of worship were closed due to COVID-19 .
“As a driver, I started attending (in September 2021 and) enjoyed the love (and) camaraderie of the congregation, all generations, from children to the elderly,” Wiebe wrote in a Facebook post on Sunday.
“The church has grown steadily during the COVID season,” she added.
In the video released on Sunday, the family pledged to build on Fontaine’s legacy.
“We are so grateful for what mom and dad have built over the past 28 years…and we know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the best is yet to come,” said Michala Fontaine Stannard, l one of his four adult daughters. .
“And we’re going to stand on dad’s shoulders, what he’s built and we’re going to keep racing to build this kingdom.”
— with files by John Longhurst