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
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
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, he said:
"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"
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
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 im Ausland
Our appreciation is extended to Claudia Müller for translation of this article.