Canada Calls - Immigration in 1926

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In the years following the Russian Revolution (1917) and Civil War (1920-22), many Mennonites began to feel the urge to leave the homes and land they and their ancestors had resided in for the past 200 years. Their strong religious beliefs as it related to war, and the growing threat to their safety and well-being brought them to that difficult decision. Rumours were circulating that all men would have to take up arms and that there would no longer be any freedom of religion. Some people had already left for Canada in 1922-23, and many had sent letters back to Russia describing how nice Canada was. The Mennonites struggling with the decision whether or not to leave were well-aware of the sentiments expressed in these letters.

In 1926, Abraham and Maria Loewen decided to leave Russia, for the promise of a better life in Canada. In actual fact, it was Helena, the oldest, who convinced her parents to emigrate, based on correspondence with individuals in Canada, as well as the support of the Canadian Mennonite Board of Colonization, which had completed all negotiations with the Canadian government and with the CPR. Abraham was the only member of his immediate family to do so; a decision his siblings could not understand. They had no relatives or friends in Canada on whom they could depend once they arrived in that strange land. Canada was willing to accept immigrants, so they applied. Three hundred people were allowed to leave from the Orenburg region, and 1000 had applied. Some couldn’t go because of illness, like trachoma; others because of finances, and still others wanted to wait until the 1926 crop was harvested.

The Canadian doctor (Drury) who examined Abraham Loewen noticed a 'mangled' thumb (through injury) and would likely have denied him permission to enter Canada had it not been for the fact that the Abraham Loewen family had more than enough able-bodied sons to compensate for that 'handicap'. Finally there were only 285 ready to go, and had people known that these would be the last from Orenburg to be allowed to leave, more would likely have been willing to forgo the promise of a bountiful harvest.

Of the 1000 or so that had applied, only 285 were selected. This group 'elected' seven men, who took care of getting passports and making travel arrangements. Among these seven were a cousin, Abram Loewen, and Rev. P.P. Dyck, who later became Mary Loewen's father-in-law.

Dan Loewen recalls that time:

Summer of 1926 - Pretoria, Russia - a long time ago and oh, so far away. And I was so young - only 8 years old. Parents and everybody talking about us going to a far country. Where would that be? In a young mind, excitement and wonder. Preparations being made that I could not grasp.

Tina Loewen remembers on the day of the sale that all the household goods were outside and it was a sunny day.

Father sold everything that he was allowed to sell - cattle, horses, chickens, implements, and many household items. Plus the large addition to the barn, which was for storage of straw, hay, and some implements. It was dismantled and put up at another village. The day of moving or journeying came. Father had made some special suitcases for this trip. They were of black wood with iron bands to hold them together. We had dinner of noodle soup at Uncle Abram and Aunt Margareta Driediger’s home. They had a nicer home than we had and they were financially better off. Everything that we could take for the journey was put on a wagon (hayrack) that some villagers supplied to take us to the railway station at the town of Petrofka.

On September 3, 1926, the family left Pretoria, Village #14, - Abraham and Maria Loewen and their children: Lena, Abe, Martin, Isaac, Mary, Henry, Tina, Dan, and Anna, with their Uncle Abram Driediger driving the wagon. The family list was missing one name however - that of Jakob, who opted to remain in Russia to continue his studies at university. He lived out his years in the U.S.S.R. and died at the age of 99.

The road to the railway station, approximately 50 miles away, was for the most part only country trails. One section went through a small ravine with water. On driving through, one wheel dropped down (there was a concealed hole beneath the water), nearly upsetting the load.

On September 9, the group left Orenburg by train under the leadership of Peter P. Dyck. There was hay on the beds and the passengers supplied the blankets. Abraham Loewen had bought a cup for each to use on the trip. There was no washroom or toilet in the car. When all was ready, the doors were closed and the train chugged off towards Moscow, where arrangements had to be made for further travel. Abraham would bring in loaves of bread and sausage to eat. Hot water was available at all stations for “Prips” (Postum). Henry Loewen remembers, “Mother had roasted buns and had smoked meat and lots of other stuff.”

The train arrived in Moscow on September 15, 1926, where the authorities searched the cars, checking that no money was taken out of the country. To Henry's recollection, each family was allowed to take only 150 Rubles. On September 16, they left Moscow and in 16 hours arrived at the border at Sebesh, where they were checked again. On September 17, the train crossed the border. Dan recalls some people started to sing. “After all, we were being freed from the oppression of Communism which was, at that time, only starting to oppress people. Ownership of property was taken away from the people. That is why father could not sell his house and land - it was taken as government-owned.”

At Zilupe a CPR (Canadian Pacific Railway) officer who then took over the leadership of this group met the group. The cost of the trip from Orenburg to Zilupe had to be paid for by the emigrants, but from this point on, to Canada, the cost of the trip was on credit (Reiseschuld) from the CPR (Abraham Loewen was one of the first to fully pay back his "Reiseschuld" to the CPR.). Here they transferred to another train, 4th class, for the trip through Latvia to Libau, where they arrived on September 18 and underwent a thorough health examination.

On September 24, they boarded the CPR ship, ‘Baltara’, which took four days to reach London, by way of the Kiel Canal. In London, 8 autobuses took them to the train for Southampton, where they were taken to Atlantic Park, a large room, and served supper. Men and women slept in separate rooms, and in the morning, everyone (about 2000) had to take a bath, during which their clothes were checked and disinfected, and a doctor again examined them.

On September 30, they left Southampton and traveled by train to Liverpool, where on October 1, they boarded the CPR ship ‘Montrose’ for the voyage across the Atlantic. On the voyage they encountered some fog and icebergs, but all went well. On October 8, 1926, the Loewen family disembarked at Quebec City to set their feet on Canadian soil for the first time. Five days later they arrived at their final destination, Calgary, Alberta, where they were met by Mennonites who transported them to Acme, and by the end of that first day in Canada, the men were in the fields, helping with the harvest.

  ship in latvia

Boarding CPR ship in Latvia

boarding ship 2


The "Baltara"


The "Montrose"

montrose 3rd class

Third Class Sleeper on Montrose