Posts Tagged ‘Immigration’


There is the official history of the world, and the land. There is religious history. There is political history. There is geo-political history. Some would even class colonialism, and other epochs of history (Reformation, Enlightenment, and Romanticism). Each human prairie-memoirsmovement and people cling to an official history of what they distill down to be the most important aspects for their legacy. The meta-narratives of history can be boiled down to the local communities’ yore, and then the tales of the people. This is the jurisdiction of family journals, scrap books, photo albums, and if one family is lucky, publishing of a memoir. This is the journey that Margaretha Wilms …and the Meadowlark Sang –Prairie Memoirs- (2011) takes the reader through. It starts with Mennonite Migration to North America, after laying out who Mennonites are, then comes down to her local family unit on the Prairies (when it was still the Northwest Territories).

A tale familiar to many of a family structure to accomplish shared goals, this being farm life, communal meals, shared religious upbringing, tight community with kith and kin. It also shares some of the struggles, what it was like to be in a world shaped by certain points of view. The fun of Crokinole (and yes it is fun, if you make it to Countess ask for a game). The importance of family, chosen and by blood, for that is what a healthy supportive community becomes, a family chosen. Sharing stories of roles that seem antiquated through today’s lens and child rearing that would not be considered but it was her reality that shaped her life.

The joy of Christmas and the arrival of the Eaton’s and Simpsons catalog for ordering  gifts from, and as we have learned through the exploration of the Countess Bible School, a time when the winter Sabbath from the farm would bring different opportunities.

Through it all, she ties to scripture of her heritage, Hebrew Bible prophets and wisdom. The familiar (to the Birds fans) refrain of the Teacher in Ecclesiastes 3:1-11 of a time for everything, and the prophet Joel, to a reminder of why sharing our stories matter:

Tell it to your children,
    and let your children tell it to their children,
    and their children to the next generation. (New International Version)

Willms (p.116) shares of the personal renaissance, as she grew in life and moved from shame to embracing of her heritage and who she was as a person. She writes of being a Saskatchewan farm child in the grasshopper infested-dust bowl of farm life of the Dirty Thirties, how her parents modeled values she still holds dear of the intangibles, or as Willms phrased it eternal over material.

Her journey takes her through Prairie Bible Institute and Caronport, as she discerns whom she is. The narrative shifts into the Russian Mennonites who came later to Canada. For Mennonites had enjoyed very good autonomy, and a strong control of the flourmill industry under Tsarist Russia, but between 1917 (Bolshevik Revolution) and 1925 (when the last would try to flee) the tide would turn as they were seen as enemies of the state (p.234-35). These immigrant’s to Canada became known as Russlanders, as only their country of origin was Russia (p.236).

meadowlark-memoir-image-1.jpgCP Rail loved the work ethic of Mennonites that were coming in this later wave, and brought them to the prairies to work (Countess, Gem, Rosemary and Duchess) with each family being given ¼ sections of land originally managed by French Settlers (p.236). Willms’ husband, John was part of this wave of immigration. They were a hearty bunch that built a church in Gem fairly readily, with many choosing to gather in the Clemenceau School in Countess because it was closer in the cluster (p. 237). The influx of Russlander Mennonites doubled the size of Mennonites in Canada and brought 176 new congregations, this is important as the church was the hub of communal life (p.237). In 1924, 8,000 Mennonites came to Canada, and CP Rail negotiated to sponsor another 3, 772 in 1925 (p. 239). Some newcomers found Canada to worldly and wanted to go to Mexico or Paraguay to avoid what they viewed as a “sinful” nation; while others wanted to dive in to Canadian life taking further education, rising in leadership and building a new world (p.238-9).

John’s parents were part of the 1925 wave of immigrants from Russia. By 1926 Stalin had stopped the flow out of the Motherland (p.239). John was born to his parents in Ontario, they went on to settle a farm in Manitoba before finally coming to Countess, AB in an irrigation arrangement with a few other Mennonite settlers (p.240).

John Willms met his wife Margaretha, in Alberta, in the Irrigation District of Countess, part of what is known as the Palliser Triangle the driest patch of land in Canada (p. 241-242). John had remained in the area when his parents had returned to Manitoba.

The irrigation district from Calgary to Medicine Hat was the property of CP Rail, and built to facilitate the railway (p.242). It was tax exempt from 1921 and was to be irrigated but this idea was quashed instead to use a Dam system of the Bow River by Bassano (p.242).  The French settlements were mostly in tact when the Russlander settlers came and moved in. They had originally been settled by Quebecois and Francophones from Eastern USA between 1917-1919 but after years of almost freezing to death, and few crops they left to head east back to Quebec (p.242). This is why CP Rail sought out the Russlanders to make the hamlets viable for their endeavour.

John attended Clemenceau School for his education, it was originally a Francophone school named after a VIP French General (p. 242-3). It was a one-room school house, with a rectory-style house on the same land for the teacher (who was also expected to function as janitor) (p.243).

As we move into the betrothment, wedding, and settlement back into Saskatchewan with Margaretha and John. Teaching around the province, children, staying connected with the family diaspora, the CCF, oh and a nice wrap up as an appendix with the recipes mentioned throughout the book.

It makes one reflect if they were to pause, and write the story of their family, what would it look like?

What is our story?


I am not even going to pretend what I write is without bias. I know this. I was raised in Canada in a working-class family that was taught to give a damn about their neighbour. Pretty much the lens I bring to life, as a minister I read my gospel through the lens of the Charter, why? I was one of those pesky Social Gospellers dreaming a better world every minute of every day. I also hold an unwavering belief that people are mostly inherently good, and despite evidence to the contrary, will make the best decision they can possibly make in a given circumstance. It is the one that does not learn as they grow that stagnates.

Due to my wonky brain, it has been a while since I have been able to provide comment to some political happenings, with clarity comes a moment to provide some clarity so here goes:

  • Women’s March: Sad it still needs to happen, but looking at our world we know why it needs to happen until we have truly moved beyond this label to being true equals on our planet. Ideologue extremists on both sides remember that you have the right to express these views because your grandmas and further back took up the fight for equality, so let us always keep the eye on moving forward as one family, humanity, not on bickering, tearing down and regressing.
  • Jason Nixon, MLA and the Sexual Harassment bill (Google it, or even just check #ABLEG feed on twitter). I am not going to discourse on the ethics of whether a sexual harassment claimant should be fired, it is the 21st century and that discussion should be null (for those who believe it is not the answer is no they should not be fired). But where the ball was really dropped was in governance as the case could have created a bridge for discussion and better laws for all. This happened because there were loopholes, and what I have read pressure from a bigger corporation on a small business owner. The bill put forward was to close loopholes for the abused, BUT and this is where ideological pissing matches hurt all…there was an opportunity for the Official Opposition Party Leader to come prepared speaking from his own experience where wrong was done and wanting to ensure another company owner was not placed in this position by a larger corporation and in inter-provincial gray areas. These are the amendments proposed to aid all Albertans for a better, safer future. That did not happen (if it did and I will gladly publish them).
  • Summer Student Job form and Reproductive Rights clause. Ah more virtue signalling from extremists (Virtue Signalling a new term I learned from friends in the religious right attempting to show your piety). They want you to believe it is about being pro-abortion. Read the form, all government RFP’s are online and able to read the clauses. The short 3-4 sentences is a check box stating you will adhere to charter rights, gender rights, sexuality rights and reproductive rights. This was done for many things, one that has come to light is that extremists groups have been using government funds (anyone of my generation or older probably remember the W-5 expose when the Canadian government funded the Neo-Nazi movement on our shores—so do not want a redoux of that)…but more it shows the quickness to literalness:
    1. Laws and freedoms are written in such a way for interpretation, and many things have started by test cases being floated, norms being accepted (e.g. equal marriage, dying with dignity). But also modernization and fights from the brave like Dr. Morgentaller, made abortion de-criminalized and funded—which leads to it being include in charter rights under gender rights. BUT Reproductive rights are more than just abortion. This speaks to autonomous control of your body. It speaks to things like honouring the choice of birth control (contraceptive, external, rhythm); to have or not have children; and thanks to Alberta’s (and Canada’s) horrendous Eugenics history, not forcefully sterilizing persons with disabilities, as we have and had a history of doing.

It also speaks to a medical practitioner not being able to force their religious views upon you when it comes to treatment. If you as a man or a woman elects for a vasectomy, tubal ligation or hysterectomy regardless of age and whether you have kids or not, you should be able to access. To the other end, regardless of above mentioned if medically it would solve an issue the doctor should not be able to use your age, or whether you still want kids to stop you from choosing the treatment (e.g. hysterectomy) as an option instead of suffering for years with a medical condition.

Do not let literalism sidetrack and important conversation. And if you as a group truly feel reproductive rights is the hill you want to die on, take it to court as a charter challenge, I have a hunch there is a great machination for clear addition of this to the charter through praxis, and eventual Supreme Court Decision.

 

  • Saint Ralph Klein is an Albertan myth. Many are wanting to herald back to those “halcyon days” of yore. Yet I challenge you to speak with your grandparents and baby boomer parents about the state of their health care. The Klein Government in the mid-90’s pulled a fast one on our elders. Treated them with disregard and disrespect, removing excellent medical care, and then played a shell game to replace it (check out Kevin Taft’s Shredding the Public Interest for more on this) will a for pay Blue Cross and cost-share prescriptions. Each Premier and Health Minister since Klein has been complicit in this disregard for our elders (and yes NDP this includes your current government). Think of it, each generation that retires has added to the building up of our communities and social contract, they deserve the best. The message sent is poverty and stress is okay. Both of those we know are huge factors in worsening health. I call on Premier Notley and our Health Minister Hoffman to not only return our coverage for seniors’ health care to Pre-Klein levels, but exceed and renew this social contract with our Elders, for it is the right thing to do.

Finally, the greatest division I see happening within Canada is how easy we like to throw immigrants and refugees under the bus, and/or shelter users. Bullocks. For those that have settled the prairies before the prairie provinces were made, and shortly after remembering your family came here, went through settlement shelters where they were given education, money, health care, and land grants on the prairies for settlement. Our forebears knew we were all in this together and did not allow division based on religion or country of origin break them apart. They settled our provinces, grew prosperous together as Canadians. Let us keep building this dream together.

P.S. always remember political parties and ideological affiliations are perfunctory constructs, constitutionally the legislatures provincially and federally are to be elected bodies of independents working collaboratively to provide Peace, Order and Good Governance for Canadians. We have two elections coming up- 2019 provincially, and 2020 federally prepare to vote for the Alberta and Canada you want for yourself and your neighbour, but also stay engaged in between holding our elected officials to their role in governing in the best interest of the citizen.

How do you want your neighbour to treat you?

How do you treat your neighbour?