Friday, January 3, 2014

Part three: Low German Mennonite History. From Russia to Canada

Mennonite people who immigrated to Western Canada from Russia in the early 1870s.


Canada rolls out the welcome mat to nearly 8,000 Mennonites from Russia.  In the 1870s, Canada was looking for settlers to lay claim to her western lands.  When they heard that a large number of German people from the Russian Ukraine were looking for a sizable tract of land in another country.  Agents from Santa Fe and Northern Pacific Railroads, which both owned land in western Canada, were dispatched to the Mennonite colonies in Russia.
 
A Mennonite delegation visited Canada at the government’s expense.  The rich, flat prairie land in southern Manitoba reminded them of their beloved steppes back home.  But more attractive than the prairies were the Canadian government’s promises: the Mennonites would be exempt from military service.  They would have the privilege to worship as they pleased and to keep their German language.  Plans were immediately made for a mass migration to southern Manitoba between 1874 and 1876.

The Canadian government reserved 450,000 acres for them to settle and farm.  This land was known as the East Reserve and the West Reserve, with the Red River dividing the two.  The first Mennonite settlers faced many hardships as they pioneered the land.  Villages were laid out as they had been in Russia, with one wide street nearly half a mile long.

Most of the Mennonites who migrated from Russia to Manitoba Canada in the 1870s came from Chortitza and two of her daughter settlements, Bergthal and Fürstenthal.  The more progressive Bergthal people settled on the East Reserve, along with some kleine Gemeinde Mennonites.  (The Kleine Gemeinde had its beginnings in Russia in 1812, when they branched off from the Old Colony Mennonites.)  The more conservative Chortitza and Fürstenthal people settled on the West Reserve.

In the 1890s many of the Bergthal Mennonites moved to the West Reserve and settled next to their more conservative brethren.  Conflict soon arose because of the Bergthalers’ more progressive thinking.  They were abandoning the practice of settling in villages, and they put much emphasis on advanced education.  The Chortitza and  Fürstenthal leaders saw a real danger in this threat toward their traditional way of living.  Major regrouping took place. 

The largest and most conservative group became known as the Reinland Mennonite Church or “Old Colony” while the more progressive group became the Bergthal Mennonite Church.  A small conservative group of the West Reserve became Bergthaler became known as the Sommerfelder.  

The Old Colony continued their traditional village pattern. During the early years in Canada, the school system was somewhat neglected, as taming the land and building houses came first.  By now few trained teachers were available and the system was already deteriorating.  Overcrowding on the West Reserve led to Old Colony expansion into Saskatchewan, were the Hague-Osler settlement began in 1895 and swift Current in 1905.

Canada’s involvement in Wold War I moved the government to assimilate the minority groups in its territories.  In 1916, all men between the age of sixteen and sixty-five were to register.  The Mennonites saw this as a military threat.  A draft was established in 1917.  The Mennonites were not required to serve, but conscientious objectors were at times summoned to court.

Public resentment flared toward the German speaking people.  English was to be the sole language taught in Canadian schools.  Private schools that did not meet provincial standards were closed in the fall of 1918.  Government operated schools were opened in the colonies.  Children between the age seven and fourteen were required to attend these schools.  Families who did not send their children to school were fined or the fathers imprisoned.  Parents who sent their kids to these schools were excommunicated by the Old Colony Church.

The Old Colony believe “ji meha jiliehet, ji meha fitchiehet” (the more learned the more misguided).  The Bergthal Mennonites were not as resistant and accepted the public schools or met the standards set by the government in their own private schools. The Mennonites felt cheated by the government, who, in their eyes, was not keeping the promises that had been made to the Mennonites before they came to Canada.  

They accused the government of making vain promise because they wanted people to settle the land.  Conferences were held by Old Colony leaders in 1919, and the conclusion to migrate was reached “with a heavy heart” they felt “compelled to seek another home.”  The leaders were looking for isolated, location in a country that would respect their school, language, and religion.  Delegates from Manitoba (West Reserve), Swift Current, and Hague-Osler were sent to investigate various land offers from railroad companies and land dealers in Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, and several places in the USA. 

After repeated disappointments, a delegation again visited Mexico in 1921.  After personally meeting with president Alvaro Obregón, a privilegium was worked out in nine days.  A large tract of land was purchased from the Don Carlos Zuloaga estate in the semiarid Bustillos Valley.  Manitoba Colony (West Reserve) bought 150,000 acres for $8.25 an acre in U.S gold, and Swift Current Colony bought 75,000 acres.

  Now that the land was found, emigration plans were made at once.  They disassembled their houses, and loaded them and their cattle onto trains, and headed for Mexico.  The main reason most of the Old Colony Mennonites left Canada, where they had settled a mere half a century earlier, might best be summed up by words of Old Colony Mennonite Bishop Isaac Dyck: “When the school, as the first plating place in man’s heart, was held in common with the world, then the church also couldn't remain free from it.” Click here to continue reading Part four: Low German Mennonite History. From Canada to Mexico.


Credits go to beautifully written book (Called to Mexico)
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...