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Canadian Farmers

Kanadische Farmer

Schleicher, Josef. "Canadian Farmers." Volk auf dem Weg, March 2004, 45.

Translation from German to English by Alex Herzog, Boulder, Colorado



After some ten years in which we had not seen each other, Valentin, in his external appearance at least, had changed only in minor ways, except that he had gotten older and had a more serious look. This was not the feigned solidity of a traveler, but rather an apparent expression of a different lifestyle.

When he was still living in the Altai, Valentin liked to partake of the bottle. Even the marriage with Maria, a young woman with strict rules from a Baptist family, at first had hardly any effect. Valentin worked in the collective and did not miss any opportunity to stay a bit longer in the carpenters' workshop and to drink a glass, or maybe more than one, with his friends. Of course he avoided to go under the gaze of his wife's relatives -- they might have "mis"-understood him and even criticized him.

This might have been his whole life, had not his wife made the following suggestion during the late 1980s: "Let's move to Germany together with my parents!" "Why not!" thought Valentin, who at the time was confronting a decision either to keep his family or to move in with the pregnant widow next door.

In the face of this situation, Valentin approached his community and confessed his sins. The gossip abated only after Valentin had emigrated with his wife's entire kinship and the neighbor's son had been born -- and the boy looked a lot like a specific black-eyed seasonal worker. Perhaps Valentin now regrets that he might have confessed too soon -- but that's not something he appeared to want to talk about during our conversation.

After several years in Germany, the entire Baptist community, of which Valentin had meanwhile become an exemplary member, decided to emigrate to Canada. None of them lacked money: some had saved funds they had received as compensation for the years under Soviet command, others had laid aside some moneys from their construction or assembly line jobs, a few others had been able to save part of the [government-provided] child subsidies, and some had sold homes that had been erected with the concerted effort of friends and relatives. As citizens of Germany they arrived in Canada and, with the help of an attorney's office, they purchased a tract of land that their first "scouts" had laid eyes on.

"We built an entire village of 50 homes in the Canadian 'Taiga,'" recounted Valentin proudly. Even during the first year they had built a school as well. However, it was not possible to instruct the children in German or Russian -- there was not enough time, and they lacked appropriate curriculum and school texts. "When we prepared to emigrate, we were thinking only about the land and our daily bread, which we wished to earn with our own hands, just as in Russia." In Germany, various aspects of modern society seemed immoral to many of the community. And in Canada, life in general had little to offer, except for the spiritual life of the community, which was fulfilling and interesting. But they could not force the children to learn only religious songs and prayers in school. Moreover, Canadian government officials soon cast an eye on the academic problems of the settlers. Thus the kids today learn English, and all subjects are taught according to the curriculum of the Canadian school system. In contrast, Valentin himself has acquired only a dozen or so brief expressions during five years in Canada. He quietly talked about how adults and children will soon speak very different languages: "The word of God will bind us together."

Such problems between adults and children are not yet apparent. But there are others, much more serious ones: on the land acquired in the middle of the "Taiga" it is not possible to grow grains. It just does not ripen. A 200 kilometers or so to the South, in the forest and steppes area, where Ukrainians and Mennonites live who emigrated there from Russia 100 years back, working the land is a profitable business, but not in the middle of the "Taiga."

Therefore Valentin and his brothers in faith no longer work the new soil. They have put their efforts into cattle breeding. "The summers are warm, but not very dry. We always put in a great deal of hay to last through the winter," recounts Valentin. "We keep the animals in the open, in big fenced pens, even during temperatures as cold as minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit. There is no wind in the 'Taiga.' The snow comes down straight and gathers at uniform depths."

Listening to Valentin, one gets the impression that the settlers lead a closed-in life within their community in the Canadian "Taiga." They have, however, built their own 10-kilometer road to connect to the nearest highway. They buy normal household goods in a neighboring town of oil workers. Flour, feed grains, and sugar they purchase from the Mennonites and Ukrainians. A few have traveled in small family groups. Others, like Valentin and Maria, have even been back to Germany.

None have yet given up their German citizenship (some haven't even given up Russian citizenship), but nobody wants to go back. "We like it in Canada," says Valentin. "But I am not going to lure anyone there, either. Nothing is possible without money. But we had some, and still it was difficult at first. And there is a continuing legal case between us and the Provincial government regarding the lands we had purchased. Someone somehow wants to look for oil there."

During our conversation, Valentin was sipping coffee, and without seemingly realizing it fully, he reached for a glass of beer. But even before Maria was able to shake her head, he pulled back his hand, clearly having caught himself, and he even said, "The pralines have alcohol in them, too!" Maria, who was ready to remove the cover from a praline, quickly put it back. Everyone around the table smiled, understandingly -- a beautiful package can indeed lead to an unintended sin. Who would make accusations for that!

Our appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation of this article.

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