German-Russians on the Canadian Prairie
Rußlanddeutsche in der Kanadischen Präire
Peters, Victor. "German-Russians on the Canadian Prairie." Globus Spezial, n.d., 191-192.
Translation from German to English by Claudia Müller, Halle, Germany
There are two main reasons for major immigration waves of the
German-Russians to the Canadian and the American West. In the
19th century an enormous increase in population with a resulting
price increase of acreage was observed in European Russia. A large
majority of Germans in Russia were farmers. Impoverishment, taking
up land in Siberia or immigration to America became alternatives
for many of them.
Also in the 1870s, compulsory military service was introduced
in Russia which was the last impetus for emigration. On the other
hand, there had been no military conscription in America, Canada
as well as in the USA and America had vast uninhabited areas in
the West which made it possible for immigrants to purchase land
for little money.
In some cases Germans had already moved from Russia to North
America before 1870. The introduction of compulsory military service
frightened especially Mennonites who reject military service as
a religious principle. That's why they started the initiative
for organized immigration. The Mennonites in Russia have always
had connections to Mennonites in North America as the first Germans
settling in groups in the USA (in Pennsylvania since 1683) as
well as in Canada (in Ontario since 1875) were Mennonites. When
they sent a scouting delegation from Russia to America in 1873,
the delegates traveled to Manitoba and to the states of the American
West. Their companions had been Mennonites from Ontario and Indiana.
After the Czarist government had made several concessions to
the Mennonites, a great majority of them decided to remain in
Russia. 18,000 Mennonites emigrated; 8,000 of them immigrated
to the almost unpopulated new province of Manitoba. Their decision
to settle in Manitoba was made because the Canadian government
agreed to their demands to settle in groups and to manage their
own German schools.
The first villages of Mennonites had been established in Manitoba
in 1874; as early as 1877, the Canadian General Governor, Lord
Dufferin, visited this eastern colony near Steinbach. Afterwards
Lord Dufferin delivered a speech in Winnipeg before representatives
of the government and entrepreneurs; he described his impressions.
According to the then new paper, the Winnipeg Free Press,
"Even though I traveled much all over Canada, I rarely experienced
such a spectacle with such a very promising future as the colony
of Mennonites. They've been in Manitoba for only two years but
on a long ride I made through the prairie that only yesterday
looked poor and scanty, inhabited only by wolf, badger and eagle,
I rode from colony to colony, farm to farm equipped with all kinds
of European conveniences and signs of highly developed agriculture;
I saw cornfields ready for harvest and herds of cattle on meadows
and pastures that reached all the way to the horizon."
Most German-Russians of non-Mennonite denomination preferred
to settle in the Western parts of the United States. Only some
Lutheran and Catholic families went to Manitoba together with
the Mennonites frequently settling in close proximity to them.
Only later when land in the USA became more expensive, did German
Catholics from the area of Odessa settle in Saskatchewan (1886)
and later yet, Lutherans moved to today's Saskatchewan and Alberta.
(The western territories had been established as provinces only
in 1905.) At the turn of the century, many German-Russians moved
together with ethnic German- Americans from the [United] States
to the "new West" in Canada.
The main contribution of the German-Russians to the development
of Canada had been the introduction and cultivation of new grain
cultures. The winter wheat of Kansas as well as the hardier spring
wheat of Manitoba had been imported from Russia by German immigrants
as well-tested grain.
For many years these types of wheat became major export products
of Canada and the United States and gave these countries the reputation
to grow the best wheat in the world.
Until World War II most German-Russians had been living in rural
areas. Only after this war did they start businesses especially
in industry and construction. German-Russian immigrants exhibited
a spirit of enterprise which left their marks of achievement on
all larger cities in the Canadian West. Nowadays, German-Russians
are represented by all professions (physicians, professors, architects,
lawyers, technicians, civil service, etc.), not so much in politics.
However, at an event in Winnipeg in 1973 celebrating the 100th
anniversary of German-Russian immigration, three opening letters
were read: One by Premier Schreyer from Manitoba and one each
by the governors of North and South Dakota. All three politicians
were of German origin and were either German-Russian themselves
or had family ties to them.
In the cultural domain German- Russians produced several writers
such as Arnold Dyck, Fritz Senn, Gerhard Toews, Rudy Wiebe, Paul
Hiebert, Jack Thiessen and others. Worth mentioning is also Hermann
Rempel known for his Mennonite-Low German dictionary. In addition
to them, there are historians such as Adam Giesinger (history
of the Germans from Russia), Gerhard Lohrenz and Frank Epp (Mennonite
history), Gerald Friesen (Canadian history) and others.
There are approximately 2 million German-Russians in Canada
and in the U.S.; the same number is still living in the former
Soviet Union today mostly in the republics of Central Asia. Even
South America and Mexico are homeland to several ten-thousand
German-Russians. Since World War II, Germany has become again
home to many German-Russian refugees; many ties exist because
of connections and visits to relatives, because of letters and
newspapers. A few years ago an umbrella organization of German
Russians with headquarters in Bismarck, North Dakota, was founded.
The first honorary member was Dr. Karl Stumpp who died in Germany.
This organization strives to preserve and to promote the cultural
heritage of German-Russians.
Reprinted with permission of Verein für das Deutschtum
Our appreciation is extended to Claudia Müller for translation of this article.