Rosthern Saskatchewan c.1906
Mennonite Beginnings in Rosthern, Saskatchewan Canada.
Immigration from Russia to Saskatchewan.
A group of families arrived in Manitoba from Russia on November 2, 1891. During the first winter they stayed with relatives and friends in Manitoba, but at the close of the winter they began thinking of establishing their own homes. Since much of the land was taken in Manitoba where most of the Mennonites were located, they looked further westward. Among them was a resident by the name of Klaas Peters, who was a Mennonite and a C.P.R. agent. He promoted Saskatchewan, and a group of twenty-seven families of pioneering spirit decided to go to Saskatchewan.
Once the entire group was assembled everything was loaded into railway coaches and cars. The people, domestic animals, and baggage comprised two coaches. They left Morden, Manitoba, on April 22, 1892, and arrived at Rosthem, Saskatchewan, on April 24, at four in the afternoon. En route, the train halted on open prairie between Lumsden and Saskatoon. We wondered what the reason for this stop could be, and soon learned that the entire crew had left on an antelope shooting expedition. I do not recall how successful the active hunters were. A number of animals must have been shot down, given the large herd.
We, too, took advantage of this brief stop, stepped out of the coaches with spades, and dug holes in the virgin prairie soil in order to determine the quality of the soil. Grass in this area was not high since several prairie fires each year burned all grasses and plants down to the ground. Ordinarily the so-called “prairie grass” grew like “prairie wool”, as thick as a layer of felt. In every direction deep buffalo trails were visible. They were trampled to knee-depth, and all led toward a river or lake. Indians told us that these trails suggested the vast herds of buffalo that had roamed the prairies. (The last of the large buffalo herds on the Canadian prairies disappeared in the 1870’s about 15 to 20 years before the arrival of the first Mennonite settlers.)
When we arrived at the present-day site of Rosthern, the entire station consisted of a water reservoir or tank with a railroad siding and a telegraph pole with the name plate “Rosthern” fixed to it. At that time the railway was owned by the Qu’Appelle, Long Lake and Saskatchewan Railroad and Steamboat Company, and leased to the C.P.R.
Our first impression of this entire area was hardly encouraging. As far as we could see the earth was blackened and not a blade of grass was in sight since a prairie fire had swept over the area. In this desolate setting the rail coaches were shunted onto a siding, and remained there for about five weeks as living quarters for the settlers. In one of the railway cars, a settler, Mr. George Ens, opened a small retail store with the most essential items for settlers: coffee, sugar, tea, tobacco, nails, soap, etc. He soon erected a small shanty which served as home and store. Mr. Ens was the first settler and, thus, the founder of the town. During the first five weeks, Mr. Ens and several other men also took a train to Prince Albert, where they purchased two carloads of building lumber to build their first houses. These were small shanties built next to the railway track, although some settlers stayed in tents initially. Theirs was a very primitive way of life, as would be expected in a new settlement.
Upon our arrival at Rosthern we were also greeted and welcomed by a small group of earlier Mennonite settlers. They were Old Colony people who had moved from Manitoba to Alberta and settled in the Gleichen, Alberta, area. The environment and climate at Gleichen were not to their liking. It was dry and water was difficult or impossible to obtain, and in July of 1891, on the recommendation of Klaas Peters, they had moved to Rosthern where they erected their primitive homes—small tents—near the station. All took homesteads at or near the location of the present town of Rosthern.
The Search for Land. In late April a group of thirty men gathered and boarded five wagons. With five or six on each wagon, we started on our search for land. We headed westward, there being no road at all, since apparently no one had traveled this way before. Our only help was the surveyor’s post or land markers. We passed a few haystacks and saw two young playful foxes who hardly took notice of us as we passed by. It was a beautiful scene in nature.
We also came to a rather small bush area where we noticed a large herd of cattle which belonged to a German settler named Diehl. Since the cattle on this grassland appeared so healthy we decided to look at them more closely. It was spring and the cows had calved. As we drew nearer, the cows grew restless, coming wide-eyed with out-stretched necks. We became uneasy, though we could not guess why they were disturbed. Perhaps it was George Ens’ Russian sheepeoat. At any rate, some cows started right for us, and we had to start running—faster than many of us thought we were really capable. Our only refuge was the wagon and every one of us ran at full speed to reach its safety again. We had seen little of the herd.
We were now eleven miles west of Rosthern and turned northwest to avoid a large lake. Thus we came to a pine treed creek near the Laird Ferry area on the North Saskatchewan River. Here, on the right side of the river, we rested with our teams. From this location we gained an impressive view of the river and the surrounding area.
We continued in a northwesterly direction until we reached an Indian trail. (The direction indicated here seems to be erroneous and should probably be northeasterly) It was an old traders and Indian trail that led from Prince Albert to Battleford. On it we traveled in a north-northeasterly direction, continuing across the so-called Stone Hill. We liked this Stone Hill area very much, and were more convinced than ever of this as we passed by it again on our way back. But we discovered that this entire area was an Indian reserve of “Indian Beardy” (Bartindianer), land that could not be considered for settlement.
Toward evening we began looking for a place to camp for the night. We arrived in a valley, where Tiefengrund is now located, and prepared for the night. Several fires were made since there was snow falling and it was cold. Kornelius Penner, who was not too pleased with the idea of a night in the open camp, ran around and seemed to be searching for something. After a while he returned to us and said, “Men, I have found a house.” He was right. It was one of rancher Diehl’s, whose cattle we met earlier in the day. Diehl also owned a large herd of sheep, cared for by his hired shepherd.
The whole house consisted of one large room with two partitions in the corners. In one of these smaller rooms the rancher slept with his wife. In the center stood a stove. We begged him for a night’s lodging, which he willingly granted us. We were under the impression that we were the only ones that knew of this place. But when we awakened in the morning the entire room was filled. Almost the whole community was there. It was lambing season. The last man to arrive was a man named Julius Toddy, and he found a small space for himself near the stove where he decided to bed down for the night.
That night several new lambs were added to the sheep herd. Since the shepherd could find no empty space for the lambs inside the building, he laid them close to the seat of Julius Toddy. Toddy awoke, feeling a wetness, and noticed the situation. Thereupon he started to make audible “baas”, which awakened us from our sleep. He mentioned that many things had happened in his lifetime, but he had so far never given birth to lambs.
A small group of people who were unable to find room in the house had bedded down in the barn. They had covered their bodies with sheep coats, and upon awakening in the morning were covered with a layer of snow.
The next day we returned by nearly the same route as we had come, arriving safely at the Rosthern station. After a few days each man went out alone to find a homestead for himself. Six families settled down in a village somewhat to the north of where Eigenheim lies at present. They named the little village Friedensfeld (field of peace). But the name alone did not suffice because peace lasted only till the first “Schultenbott” (council meeting) took place. Here differences of opinion arose because of school and church matters. The people became restless, with a mind to move again. Each moved his small house to his respective homestead and the village of Friedensfeld was dissolved.
The summer of 1892. The people began to break the sod as soon as they had selected their homesteads. It was hard work, which began at sunrise and continued till 10 o’clock in the morning when the oxen were put to pasture, because that was the only feed available. At four in the afternoon the work on the land was resumed and continued until sundown. During the feeding time between ten and four, construction of homes could continue.
Most of the settlers had only a pair of oxen. A few owned horses, which they had brought from Manitoba. Some owned cows; a few had sheep and chickens. Each settler had acquired only the most essential farm implements: a wagon, a plow, a harrow, a mower and a hayrake. There were no blacksmith shops. Homesteading settlers drove three or four miles to the railway tracks, and there, on the rails, they sharpened or beat out their plowshares.
The main occupation of the settlers in that first year was making hay so there would be sufficient feed for the cattle in winter. Potatoes were also planted that first year. We were under the impression that planting them in the low spots would produce the best results, but we were badly mistaken. The best returns on potatoes came from level terrain, while the low spots yielded nothing. Potato planting was done in a very simple fashion. In most cases there was very little soft soil that had been plowed up, and the potatoes were only covered with earthen sod. We received a good crop despite this primitive planting method. In fall we simply lifted up the earthen sods, and there lay many fine potatoes, like eggs in a nest, except for being slightly flattened. The weather was rather dry all summer; rains were sparse.
The area had much wildlife: deer, antelope, foxes, coyotes, ducks, prairie chickens, etc., but they were not destructive of the crops. Many of the settlers shot them and prepared the meat for winter use. Cattle prices were low; a good ranch cow cost up to $10.00.
We received our mail at Duck Lake. Train service was provided weekly. The mail was usually brought out by someone who drove or even walked to Duck Lake. It happened, too, th at letters were lost and were picked up on the trail. Duck Lake had a Hudson Bay trading post. There were also some seven or eight mounted police stationed there. These men came to our settlement at least once a week and enquired how we were getting along. We then had to sign a form for them that would prove their visit to our area.
Hilliard Mitchell had a store in Duck Lake, and since at this time there was no store, station, or post office in Rosthern, we were always obligated to go to Duck Lake. Once we had established ourselves somewhat, we applied to the government for a post office for Rosthern. Mitchell opposed this as much as possible. He seemingly had considerable influence since he was a member in the Territorial Government. (Mitchell served in the Territorial government, but when Saskatchewan was established as a province in 1905, George Ens successfully entered the election and won the Rosthern seat. He was one of the first Mennonites in Canada to hold political office at the provincial level.) We were, in fact, generally displeased with Mitchell. For one thing, he was accustomed to dealing with Indians and half-breeds, and we also experienced the rather rough treatment he gave to them. He was not a friend of the German people
To carry forward the post office idea we delegated George Ens with a petition to Prince Albert, where he met with the resident lawyer, II. Newland. (In the manuscript the author says Newland “had recently left the position of Lieutenant Governor of Saskatchewan.” In the context of the manuscript this is misleading. Newland was Lieutenant Governor from 1921 to 1931.) This man was helpful to Ens in wording the petition. All settlers in our area signed this petition “Haunki en Maunki” (husbands and wives). The outcome was th at in 1893 we were granted post office privileges. Our first postmaster was George Ens and the post office was situated in his store. The first years he received wages of $10.00; later it was $30.00 annually.
Usually the people gathered when the train arrived and Ens would then distribute the mail personally. The people did not demand much, yet he was quite busy at times. On one occasion, when the train arrived, the postmaster had to hurry with the mail bag on his back to reach the train in time. Since it was winter and icy, and since, like most early settlers, he still wore the wooden “mules” (i.e. Hotzschlorren—wooden soles, open heels, leather tops) he slipped and fell on his back. With legs up, and “Schlorren” even higher, he lay gazing at the sky. A quick search recovered only one “Schlorr”. Since there was not time to find the other, the postmaster hurried on one sock and one “Schlorr” to the train to dispatch the mail. From that day on he changed his uniform, at least with respect to his feet. “Hotzschlorren”, though economical, were not practical for this business.
The first winter, 1892-93. One foot of snow fell on November 6th. The winter of 1892-93 was severe with extreme cold down to -45 degrees F., and considerable snow on the ground. On the railway tracks there were up to twelve foot high drifts in places. In January and February there was no train for seven weeks. Our food stocks dwindled; even Ens’ store supplies had disappeared. To venture out by team was impossible, due to the deep snow. Mostly the people lived on potatoes and milk, though a number still had tallow of butchered cattle. A very few had some eggs. The flour had been consumed. The tobacco was also gone, so that heavy smokers sought out a substitute for tobacco. One of them searched the hay stacks for dried leaves to smoke.
In Manitoba some of our fellow Mennonites heard of our plight and collected food supplies for us. In fact two carloads were gathered. We all waited anxiously for that train to come. Finally after seven weeks we saw smoke to the south. It was heavy dark smoke, so it had to be a tra in ! The settlers of the nearby farms all came to meet this train, but due to conditions the train only arrived the next day. It had to work its way through deep snow and drifts. When the train finally arrived, there was great disappointment because our two carloads of food supplies were not in this car lot. Only the mail had been included. Some time later our awaited supplies arrived. The Mennonites in Manitoba had given the food supplies and the C.P.R. brought them to our destination without charging freight fees. A distribution committee was formed as soon as the supplies arrived.
The Waldheim people, who lived 15 miles away, usually required a whole week for one trip to Rosthern. They would travel six miles at a time with their ox teams and then rest. They had to continually dig themselves out of the snow on the way. They remained overnight at farm homes along the way, and other farmers would join them along the way, so larger groups would arrive together in Rosthern. Their purpose in grouping up this way was so that the first ox teams would break a trail, and the others could follow in the same trail. Often when they would return again the trails were covered over with snow, and new ones had to be made.
In Rosthern the whole group usually remained with George Ens for the night. The oxen were tied to the sleighs outside, and the people all came inside like herrings packed in a barrel. The available space inside was about ten by eighteen feet. Here ten to fifteen or even more men stayed overnight. They were usually in high spirits. It was a fine time for visiting, and one of the important facets of such meetings was a chance to express opinions and ideas. That’s how they got their supplies.
The summer of 1893 In the spring of 1893 several more families arrived from Manitoba. Seeding began on May 8th. We received seed grain from the government, which had to be repaid at 35 to 40 cents per bushel after the harvest in fall.
We were now about forty newly-settled families residing in this entire area. In all, approximately 600 acres had been put under cultivation, of which three-quarters was seeded to wheat and about one-quarter to oats. Red Fife wheat was most popular, and the 1893 grain crop was very good. There were 30-bushel yields per acre for wheat and oats. The best wheat yields were harvested on the “double” summerfallow. This was the term used for land that had been plowed twice. The first plowing was only shallow, the second about an inch deeper, This was done mainly to produce loosened soil on the surface, which was then harrowed and seeded.
Seeding was done by hand. None of us had seeding drills in 1893. The farmer walked ahead scattering the seed and leading his oxen which pulled a harrow that covered the scattered seed. The grain had to be covered immediately or the birds would eat it. On the regularly broken land there was little loose soil, so the birds would consume much of the seed grain.
The first harvest was gathered into stacks in August and the last grain was harvested as late as October. This crop was not destroyed by frost. One of the Mennonite farmers owned a threshing outfit, and he threshed the entire area. The threshing engine (steam engine) had an upright boiler. (Before 1908 most of the steam engines used in Saskatchewan were “stationary” engines, not steam tractors which were widely used on the prairies later. The early steam engines referred to here were similar to those used by the Mennonites in Russia before World War I.) His fee for threshing was three cents per bushel. The wheat price was then set at 25 cents per bushel, and weighed 64 pounds to a bushel, but there was a dire need for a market. There seemed to be no sale for the grain. Thus many resorted to the barter method of disposing of surplus grain. Most of our first grain crop was purchased by new settlers for seed grain. Almost all the farmers had some wheat gristed for flour. For this they had to go to the Prince Albert flour mill, a distance of about sixty-five miles. With an ox team, a trip like this could take up to ten days or even more when there was a long line at the mill. The Prince Albert mill was the only one within a radius of some 500 miles.
The Gerhard Bergen family and home near Hague, Saskatchewan. The Bergens moved to the area in 1891 from Manitoba. The photo was taken around 1893. Provided courtesy of Elizabeth Bergen, Altona, Manitoba.
Subsequent economic progress. The winter of 1893-94 was not as severe as the previous year. Many by now had horses, so that local traveling was improved greatly. There was much snow.
In the spring another group of settlers arrived. They settled down in the Eigenheim area. More land had been broken up, since the earlier settlers were already better equipped with “pulling” power (i.e. horses). The newcomers were better off, having brought out more cattle and machinery. This was in contrast to the earliest settlers who had very little of anything.
In 1894, every settler had broken up about forty acres of land. This was a good year. The wheat yield ranged between twenty-five and thirty bushels per acre, and weighed sixty-three pounds to the bushel. Red Fife was again popular. There was already so much wheat that the settlers could not utilize it all for themselves. The result was that Peter Neufeld began to buy wheat and erect a granary. But since he did not pay top prices the other settlers requested that George Ens also buy grain. He bought grain that year at 53 cents per bushel and shipped fifty carloads of wheat to Winnipeg.
Settler morale was high, since they now obtained actual cash for their efforts. They also realized some ready cash from sales of butter and eggs. These products sold at the following prices: butter, seven cents per pound; eggs, five cents per dozen. But the preserving of produce was not reliable, since shipping to Winnipeg was a great distance, and so this income was not lucrative. By the time butter reached Winnipeg it was often rancid and had to be used up as wagon axle grease.
In 1895 there occurred a total crop failure, due to a frost that destroyed almost all the grain. The wheat fields were completely blackened, the grain not even fit for chicken feed. In order to obtain seed, grain for the coming year seed was collected in Manitoba. A carload was sent to Rosthern and distributed among the settlers. Every settler who received seed grain had to make himself responsible for an equal amount in the fall, to be offered to any new settlers that needed seed grain.
Since it was very difficult to travel to Prince Albert for the needed milling, the early settlers saw the necessity of building their own mill. Since the settlers did not have the funds to build, they applied to Osier, Hammond and Nanton Company for a loan. (Osier, Hammond and Nanton Co. at that time were the owners of the Qu’Appelle, Long Lake and Saskatchewan Railroad and of that railway’s federal land grant. Like other companies of this kind, they sometimes advanced loans for developmental projects which would facilitate land sales and increase the railway’s traffic.) They were successful and received $3,000.00. The mill was built in 1896 by the previously mentioned Peter Neufeld, who had emigrated in 1870 from Schoenhorst, Russia, to Minnesota. But some of the settlers had to underwrite the loan with personal signatures. The mill was capable of doing 75 barrels per day.
Early church developments. In the early years groups would gather occasionally in the homes for church services and someone would read from a book. In 1892 there were no ministers or pastors within 250 miles of Rosthern. That winter the father-in-law of Julius Toddy died. Pastor Schmeider of Edenwald (Edenwald was a small Lutheran German settlement near Regina, Saskatchewan) requested George Ens by a letter to officiate at this funeral since the pastor was unable to travel the long distance. George Ens drove out to the Toddy farm for the funeral. He wanted the people to sing a song, but since he was no singer, and the people also not versed in singing, they simply omitted the songs. Ens read a Psalm, prayed, and the coffin was lowered and covered. This was the very first funeral within this settlement.
When the Old Colony Mennonite settlers arrived, they immediately considered the organization of a church. They wrote to the Bergthaler church in Manitoba requesting ministers. This action was not approved by a number of other settlers, and a second group wrote an anonymous letter to Elder David Stoesz clearly expressing their dissatisfaction. After that, the Old Colony group waited long and patiently for a minister, but eventually Elder David Stoesz came and called a meeting to which mainly Old Colony settlers responded. This comprised about half of all the settlers. At this meeting Kornelius Epp (of Fuerstenland, Russia) was elected as minister, and later ordained as Elder.
These Mennonites were of strong orthodox faith. Kornelius Epp’s brother, for instance, had on one occasion bought a profusely decorated clock with a wooden case. He then took a hatchet and chopped off all the decorations because the clock was too fancy. Later he got the nickname of the “chopped” one (Behackte).
Kornelius Epp was a poor farmer and must have been an incompetent servant of his congregation. Under his leadership the congregation suffered heavily. Many members attended other churches and others moved away. Finally Epp was left with very few adherents, and moved to Mexico.
In 1894 a group of new Mennonite settlers arrived. They came from the Rueckenau region of the Danzig area in Germany. This group had spent a winter in Manitoba. Among the members were Elder Peter Regier and his brother Kornelius Regier. Elder Regier purchased a farm and settled down in the area where Tiefengrund is located at present.
Elder Peter Regier had been the bishop of the Rosenort Church in West Prussia. He had become acquainted with H. Van der Smissen of Hamburg at the founding of a German association in the Werder. Van der Smissen assisted Peter Regier and his group when they emigrated and continued to show an interest in the religious activities of that group.
Elder Peter Reiger
When Elder Regier settled down in Tiefengrund a group of the same faith as he decided to join his fellowship. Several more families who arrived from West Prussia joined with those already residing there to found the Rosenorter church. Soon the homes where this group worshipped became too small, especially on such occasions as baptism and communion services. They agreed to build a temporary church building. For this purpose a collection was held among the early settlers. This collection amounted to a total of only ten dollars.
The government granted the group permission to fell poplar trees on the islands of the Saskatchewan River at no cost to them. The C.P.R. donated 20 acres of land, and the group began to work in erecting a rough log church for themselves. Every settler made a trip to the river, hauled home a load of felled trees, trimmed and shaped them, and the church building was erected. The settlers donated all their labour to complete the task.
Then came the finish work inside. For this cause the various congregations from their homeland overseas aided them. There were donations from the church in Heubuden, West Prussia; from II. Van der Smissen, Hamburg; from Brother Hesta, Haarlem, Holland; from Bernie De Haan, Amsterdam, Holland; from John Ens, Kansas; from J. Ens, Elbingen, altogether a sum of $275.00. In this undertaking much was left to faith in God, and Elder Regier shouldered considerable personal responsibility for cash outlays. The building was dedicated for worship on July 12, 1896. On that day twenty-four persons were baptized, and fourteen days later Holy Communion was celebrated with 107 participants.
Those were blessed days for Elder Regier personally, but also for the growing congregation. The building still lacked a ceiling and floor, but by 1898 overseas donations covered this as well. The cemetery laid out on the donated plot near the church was duly dedicated and on July 12, 1896, a 72 year old member of the church was the first person to be buried there. Up to this time it was customary to bury the deceased in their own gardens or elsewhere on their own homesteads.
Small groups also met in homes in some of the other settlements, notably Rosthern, Eigenheim and Waldheim. On August 11, 1895, the first local ministers and deacons were appointed to their office. The first minister so appointed was Gerhard Epp of Eigenheim.
Further immigration brought new immigrants to the area in 1902. Families were also growing. So the suggestion came to build a large roomy church house. Elder Regier could not escape some anxiety, since such a major project would involve him personally, as it had earlier. But his worries were soon relieved. In a week the members of the congregation collected $2,000 for the building, whereas six years ago it was impossible to raise more than $300.00.
The Rosenort Mennoite Church today (part of the church group previously known as the Rosenorter Gemeinde). The Rosthern Mennonite Church celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2003, and continues as an active congregation today.
Things moved quickly after that. The congregation received permission to incorporate, and was divided into six districts. All continued to belong to the one congregation, with Elder Regier leading, even though each district supported itself and also chose leaders from its own midst. On July 1, 1913, Elder Regier celebrated his 25th year of sendee in that position; he had been called to the work of elder (sometimes called bishop) of the Werder area at Rosenort, West Prussia, in 1888. Several elders, including F. Gerbrandt from the North Star congregation, joined in the celebration. A large mission festival was held during the afternoon. During the same day Regier called the attention of the group to the growing responsibilities and his own waning strength, and asked for an assistant Elder. On September 14, 1913, David Toews, the first teacher of the German-English Academy, was ordained to serve as Assistant Elder.
Most of the Mennonites coming to North America after 1877 probably formed their congregations in a way similar to that of the Rosenorter-Rosthern group. Thus the history of this community would become a model for the various congregations which emerged during the past fifty years.
Early schools. In Rosthern, where the Old Colony people were a majority in the earliest years, no school was desired and so none was built. But when the flour mill was built by outside labour, the other settlers of the area united with the labourers and voted in favour of a school. So in 1896 the first public school was built. The teacher was Abr. Gloeckler from South Dakota, He received a permit from the government to teach school. He had not been able to get a certificate. Prior to his coming, some school sessions had been conducted in farm homes.
At Tiefengrund Abram Friesen arrived from Germany with a large family of eighteen children in 1895. Several other families also settled in this area. Some homes were put to use as a school room, and Jacob Herman Klassen became the first teacher. Later, when the first school house was built, David Toews was the first teacher. Toews had come to the Tiefengrund area to take up a homestead after graduating from the Mennonite Collegiate Institute at Gretna.
Also in 1894, a group of some five families founded the village of Eigenheim. To begin with, classes were also held in homes. The teacher, Rev. George Epp, gathered the children of the neighbourhood of one and a half to two miles distance in a wagon hitched to an ox, and took them even in the winter in extremely cold weather to the Andres home for classes. Church sendees were also held in the Andres home, and also in the II. Epp home in Waldheim during the early years. In Andreasfeld the J. Janzen home and in Rosthern the George Ens home were also used for church services.
In the year 1896 a school, now named Carmen, was built for Waldheim. The teacher was Peter Klassen (a former factory teacher in Chortitz, South Russia). Previously he had instructed in various homes.
Wilhelm Rempel (1817-1931) served for a number of years as postmaster at Rosthern. He had earlier come to Manitoba from south Russia, and resided at the village of Reinland. He ivas the first principal of the Gretna Normal School in 1SS9-1S90. On the photograph are left to right (standing): Wilhelm Rempel, his daughter Sarah, his son-in-law Janzen, son Wilhelm. Seated Mrs. Sarah (Abrams) Rempel (senior Wilhelm’s wife), sons Peter and Gerhard, daughter Mrs. Janzen. Provided courtesy of Jacob Rempel, Gretna, Manitoba.
Significant political events. The year 1896 was a year of importance for Rosthern inasmuch as the Dominion election took place that year. Till this time, the Conservatives had been in power. The whole district of Rosthern from the North Saskatchewan River to the South Saskatchewan River and from Duck Lake to Osier had a total of fifty votes at this time. Almost all of these were Mennonites. There were three candidates in the running: for the Conservatives, D. McKay; for the Independents, Captain Craig; and for the Liberals, Wilfrid Laurier. The latter won and one could say the votes of the Mennonites contributed to his success. (At that time politicians could run in more than one constituency, and in 1896 Laurier was the Liberal candidate in both his home constituency in Quebec and in the Saskatchewan constituency which at that time included most of northern Saskatchewan. Laurier won in Saskatchewan by a small majority of 44 votes. The Mennonites voted Liberal and their 50 votes won the election for Laurier. After the election Laurier, who had also won a seat in Quebec, resigned his Saskatchewan seat and T. 0. Davis of Prince Albert, Liberal Party, was elected in a by-election with a majority of 741 votes.)
Laurier became Prime Minister and he instituted a new policy of immigration. The immigration was a lucrative business and was promoted on a large scale. The government was concerned to obtain many useful immigrants, and premiums were paid to shipping companies for their special efforts in this respect. The government preferred Germans to others. (German immigrants were preferred over Galicians, Ruthenians Doukhobours and other Slavic peoples, but British, Scandinavian and American immigrants were preferred over Germans.)
George Ens was appointed immigration agent and sent to the United States to secure German immigrants. A considerable number were drawn in; people with means who were good farmers. Most of them came to Rosthern and took up homesteads. In this way Rosthern progressed quickly.
An added incentive to Rosthern progress was the celebration of the Jubilee of Queen Victoria. In July 1897 this Jubilee was celebrated throughout Canada and also in Rosthern. The town was decorated with green tree boughs, and at night brightened up with lanterns. The one and only foot pedal organ was brought into town from Tob. Unruh’s farm for this celebration. In the evening a program was presented. It was mostly humorous. The settlers were the actors, with people gathered from far and wide for this event. Batoche, Duck Lake, and the surrounding areas were represented. Even the Regina-Prince Albert passengers on the 5 o’clock train stopped over for an hour and all personnel and travelers joined in the fun.
Through this celebration the town of Rosthern came to be widely talked about and the newspapers of Prince Albert and other towns had columns or reports describing the celebration events here. The result of this was that more business people became interested in Rosthern and opened business places here. The town began to prosper.
A building under construction in the Bergthal district. It was the residence of Peter Abrams. Seen in the photo are Johann Andres senior, his sons Gerhard and Johann, the owner, Peter Abrams, and Jacob Andres, a brother to Gerhard and Johann. The standing an the fence is Aron Abrams who later became a grain buyer in Laird, Saskatchewan. The photo was taken around 1898, and provided courtesy of Art Abrams, Waldheim, Saskatchewan.
The author of this article is thought to be Peter Klassen from Waldheim, who is mentioned in the article. The translator of the article was Jacob E. Friesen of Hague, Saskatchewan. The complete text in both German and English is available in the archives of the Conference of Mennonites in Canada, Winnipeg.