Why are you here? It’s a question that is at the heart of genealogy, the history of movement, migration and family development that, eventually, leads to you. A new book by local author Gordon Matthews dives into the story of two migrations, which lead to settlement in the area.
An Exodus to a Land of Promise follows migration of German people, specifically two migrations which happened a century apart. The first saw German colonists migrate east to the Galacia and Bukovina regions in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The second saw those same colonists travel in the opposite direction, landing in Saskatchewan with the promise of 160-acres of free land.
Why did they immigrate the first time? They colonists travelled first to the east to teach how to use western techniques of farming. The colonists were promised 40 free acres, but Matthews said it wasn’t just the land that drew those people east. Constant warfare in Europe in the previous century gave additional incentive.
“They accepted this 40 acres free partly because it was free but partly because they were sick of warfare.”
So why move to Canada?
After three generations, and division among sons, they had very little land left, and couldn’t make a living. Once they heard about the land up for grabs in Canada, it was an offer difficult to pass up.
“They knew it was cold here, but they had to do it. There was another reason, at that time Europe was getting pretty shaky, there were alliances being formed... The Germans who were given 40 acres of land, they were told they would never have to join the military. Three generations later, they broke that promise. So, they boys, they got of age of 16 they wanted to avoid three years in the Austrian army, plus the shortage of land, they took off. Even though it was cold.”
While the book is primarily focused on German settlers, it also touches on Ukrainian history as well. They were part of the same immigration wave, and they were the second largest group of non-British homesteaders, just behind the Germans. Matthews said that you can’t talk about the German migration without the Ukrainians, because they are closely linked.
The incentive to write the book came from Matthews growing up in the Neudorf area. He had heard that the German-speaking people in the area came from Austria, but after taking trips to Austria he thought it was strange that people from the area moved to Saskatchewan. In research through the Neudorf history, he realized that the path to Saskatchewan was not a simple one for the immigrants that eventually settled there. Through researching the history of Neudorf, he realized that the people were descendants of German colonists from the eastern edge of the Austro-Hungarian empire.
Matthews was also interested in the history because of what he noticed when he was a superintendent in Melville schools, and how the communities were different.
“When I went in to visit the kids and teachers in Grayson, I realized that they were all Catholic, and Neudorf was all Protestant. I put the two together. The Protestants were from Galacia, and right next door, in Bukovina, lived the Grayson people. They settled and came over here, getting 160 free acres, and they settled just as they were... That was really what gave me a start.”
The book has been in the works for about eight years. During a trip in 2012, a group of 20 went to the area, to visit the German colonies, embedded in Ukraine. While they were there, they visited the villages where the colonists lived – they were removed in 1939 due to an order by Hitler – they went to the original Neudorf, where they discovered a monument to the colonists, erected by their descendents, signifying the colony’s existence from 1783-1939.
Matthews will be at the Yorkton Public Library on Oct. 19 at 1:30-5:00 p.m. for a book signing.