|Deutsche Version||Plautdietsche Version|| By Dietrich Tissen and Nikolaj Tissen
February 6th, 2005
These stories were contributed by Dolores Reimer in Kanada. The first was written in 1993 by Reinhard Len Hiebert und reports of her grandparents' journey to Canada. The other is from the Memoirs of Gerhard Peter Reimer “93 years of God’s Guidance”. Gerhard Reimer was the brother of Dolores Reimer's Grandfather Johann P. Reimer. Text in italics is by Dietrich Tissen.
Our parents made a decision to leave Russia and emigrate to Canada. So, in October of 1924 our parents and family, and the John Reimer family with their belongings were loaded into horse drawn wagons and left our village of Podolsk. We headed for the train station of Sorochinsk and were loaded into a freight car. There was an upper deck and a lower deck. We each occupied half on one end of the car. (Four families travelled together in one car.) Helene Hiebert was six weeks old and Mary Reimer was about the same age.
After leaving Sorochinsk in the evening, the train stopped at Kuebachev (then and now Samara) the next morning. Dad and Uncle John went into town to find some doughnuts (Russian "kalatchi" must be meant) for our meal. (They came ten on a string). They were unable to find any, so they returned with a big loaf of Russian bread. Uncle John was quite excited on this journey. So was I. That night, when we were about to cross the Volga River he said, “Those who want to see the Volga River come to the door.” So I went to the door while he held it open and I saw the reflection of the bright moonlight on the water. It was really exciting. This train took us through Moscow, where we stopped for the night, then continued to the sea port of Riga, Latvia. The trip by train had taken about four days.
We were at Riga for two or three days. We stayed in barracks. We had to go through a sauna while our clothes were being disinfected for lice. (As far as I know, none of us had lice) Finally we boarded a ship, “The Melita” that took us across the Baltic Sea, through the Kiel Canal of Northern Germany, and across the North Sea to London, England. Kiel was a particularly beautiful port because the countryside was so green. The ship stopped there to load coal, which was dropped through the smoke stack. Peddlers came on board to sell apples while the ship was docked. We couldn’t buy any because we had no money. As we left, we passed underneath a railway bridge as a train was crossing it. It was a tall bridge but we were afraid that the ship’s mast would run into it. It cleared it easily. As we entered the North Sea that morning we saw many fleets of fishing boats. It had taken a day to travel through the canal.
London was a different world. How exciting to see the neon signs flash off and on, streetlights and cars. We arrived in the evening and were picked up with taxis (touring cars with their tops down) from the ship. We were taken to a railway station where a train was waiting to take us to Southampton where we stayed for a few days. We again boarded a ship, “The Empress of Scotland”. It was a big beautiful ship that took us across the Atlantic in seven days to Quebec City where we took the train to Rosthern, Saskatchewan. Nearly everyone was seasick during the crossing. (Luckily I was not). It was a great adventure to roam around the ship and go below decks to locate the engines, which burned coal. We arrived November 18, 1924.
The Mennonite Board of Emigration tried to find temporary places for these incoming emigrants in Mennonite homes, and later on would locate farms for these people to settle on. We ended up on a farm at Elstow. The Reimers ended up on a farm at Colonsay. Here we stayed and farmed a few years. In 1926 our grandmother, Helena Janz and her youngest son Cornelius, with his family emigrated to Canada and settled in the Colonsay area. Life was difficult and hard those first few years in Canada. The Reimers and the Corney Janz’s left Colonsay around 1930 and went to Osage in southern
Saskatchewan to farm. It was here that Uncle Corney’s wife Teena passed away. A six-month old son also died. Uncle Corney said that the Salvation army looked after the funeral. By this time the nation-wide depression had
set in. Times were hard. So the Reimers and the Janz family took up homesteads in the Speedwell district north of Fairholme. While on the homestead, Uncle Corney married Mary Berg of Dalmeny. In 1935 Uncle Corney passed away there in October of 1936.
I wish at this time to make a few comments about our grandfather’s neighbour, whose name was Jacob Wieler. He bought his land from Grandfather, so Mrs. Mary (Wieler)Quapp was telling me, and they built a beautiful mansion on it. Mr. Wieler was a minister of the gospel. He married our Mother and Dad and also married Mr. and Mrs. John Reimer. In the early Twenties, the Communist authorities had been looking for him. They wanted to arrest him, so he had to go into hiding. He came to my Uncle John Hiebert and said, “You are the only man that can help me.” My Uncle John agreed that he would help him. He said, “We will have to shave off your beard, then put down straw in the bottom of the wagon, bed you down in it, and cover you up with a blanket. If someone wants to know what have you got there, I would tell them a very sick man.” So he took him to the train station of Sorochinsk, and got him on the train so he could make his getaway.
Mr. Wieler did come to Canada with his family and they lived at Coaldale. Mrs Wieler used to come to our place and visit with our Dad. He also used to come to the Reimers and visit with Uncle John. He was a man with a beard.
Russia came into a time of great unrest and civil war. Many Mennonites saw the handwriting on the wall and tried to emigrate. My brother Johann had already gone to Canada. Right after my encounter with the police I went to Moscow to get permission to go to Canada to visit my brother. It took five months before we obtained our passports to leave. This was in 1926. First we went to Moscow and then to Riga. As we passed through the Red Gate, I was trembling from head to toe. Our God who holds all things in his hand, had been our guide. We got to Canada! It was only by the grace of God that we were led thus, we know that for certain. How many of our friends and relatives had to stay behind. We never saw our parents again. My mother died at the age of 72. My wife and I have continually thanked God that he
brought us out of that land of terror.
In November 1926 we landed in Canada and came to Colonsay, Saskatchewan. My brother Johann and his family lived there. His brother-in-law Janz, brother of his wife Maria, also arrived at this time. He took in two immigrant families. There was much snow and it was very cold. When we landed in Canada I had fifty cents in my pocket. Then a farmer came across the prairie with horses and sleigh and brought us ‘Russians’ a hundred pound sack of flour. Soon after another one came with a big smoked ham. Can you imagine how this cheered us?
My brother Peter and his wife also came to Canada. Exactly two months later the Mennonite Immigration Committee had found a farm for us three families in Osage, Saskatchewan. Mr. Mitchell, the owner, had two farms. Four pieces of land of 400 acres, and one section of 640 acres. The 400 acres were not broken and were about two miles apart. the owner wanted to build a house for us. He would provide the material and labour. That first year all three families lived together in one house. Whatever two of them decided to do, the third one had to comply. At the end of the year, Janz
moved to another place. My wife and I moved onto the 400 acres which was about eight miles from the town of Osage. The terms of our purchase of the farm were rather harsh. We had to give half of the harvest towards payment.
If the harvest was particularly good and we sold lots of grain, we would have to give more than half. We were very thrifty in our spending........We lived on this farm for seven years.
We could hardly pay anything on our mortgage because half of our income had to go to the owner. We began to look around for other property and God led us to a homestead farm. It was in northern Saskatchewan at a place
called Fairholme. Here the people had built a Mennonite Brethren Church out of logs. We were happy for this kind of fellowship. We rented a flimsy frame house and experienced a severe winter. But we had a good wood stove which we had to keep filling with wood that winter. But the fellowship in the church was very warm and we thank God to this day for those dear friends. In Osage we had rented a railway car. At one end we put our cow
and four horses, at the other end we packed our furniture and machinery. Everything arrived safely and we were ready to make a new beginning. We had rented this homestead for $200.00 per year. It consisted of 100 acres. We used 90 of them for hay and seeded wheat in the other 10.
Spring had come at last. We read in the Rundschau that the M.B. church in Coaldale had agreed that no member was to go on Welfare. They wanted to help each other instead so that the Mennonites would not have a bad reputation with the government. My brother Johann, and his family of 11 children, and our family, with five daughters agreed to move to Coaldale. Johann said they had no money to travel by train so we decided to drive with horses. We didn’t want them to have to drive alone. The trek from Fairholme, Saskatchewan to Coaldale, Alberta took from the middle of May to the middle of June, 1935.
The fellowship in the church was very good. We especially appreciated our leader, the dear brother Benjamin Janz. Mennonites from all areas of Russia had settled together in Coaldale.