Czech immigrants of the swan valley 2.
The Volyn Czechs were generally very well off. Economic conditions did not play a role in their decision to move on. In fact, many of the exiles decided to stay where they experienced the horror of the Second World War. For example, the family that purchased my grandfather´s farm decided to remain. The head of the family had been to work in the United States and with his earnings was able to build a large mansion like home on the property. However, as the communist movement swept through the Ukraine, he and his family were murdered as enemies of the people and their bodies were thrown down the well.
Major concerns had to do with the anticipated loss of freedom and somewhat inexplicable fear of the impending Second World War. Also at this time Canada was actively recruiting immigrants to take up farming in western Canada. Naturally the advertisements described life on Canadian farms in glowing terms. Canadian agents who actively recruited in the area of Volyn in their sales pitch verified everything that posters and pamphlets portrayed.
A dream of Canada began to form in the minds of the Czechs. Canada was seen as a land of economic opportunity, a land which above all guaranteed personal freedom and personal safety, a land of democratic traditions, a virgin land where opportunity beckoned. Even the more realistic letters about the harsh conditions on the Canadian frontier coming from recent immigrants already in Canada could not stifle that dream. A restlessness to move possessed many of the Czech wanderers yet again.
The move to Canada occurred between 1927--1935 right in the middle of the Dirty Thirties. The influx of Czech Baptist immigrants to Minitonas came by two separate streams. One group moved directly to Canada from Volyn in 1927 and the years following while the other group coming a little later in the early 30´s came from Czechoslovakia.
The Czech Baptists in Volyn were in close contact with the German Baptist villages in the Ukraine. The two groups were bound by a common faith and experience. They frequently intermarried and visited back and forth. All of them spoke not only their own ethnic language but Ukrainian and Russian as well.
This relationship had a direct influence on the direction the Czech Baptists would take in their immigration to the Swan Valley in Manitoba, Canada.
Two German Patist ministers, Reverends Bledow and Kujat, actively worked on behalf of the German Baptist Conference in Canada to encourage further immigration of ethnic German Baptists to Canada. Their efforts resulted in large numbers of German Baptists coming to Canada. As would be expected the German Baptist migration from Volyn to Minitonas contained families of mixed Czech and German background.
Another important influence in directing the German immigrants to the Swan River Valley was a Canadian immigration agent, a retired RCMP constable, who had served in the Dauphin area. He advertised the news that land was available in and around Minitonas which was much like the land the farmers worked in the Ukraine. This knowledge circulated among both the Germans and Czechs in Volyn.
So it was that along with the German immigrants to Minitonas came two families of mixed German and Czech background. The first to arrive was the family of Vladislav Matejka (Mateika) and his wife Emilie born Rode of German Mennonite stock. They arrived in Minitonas from the village of Rozysce in September, 1927. They took up residence on a farm south of Minitonas in the Ravensworth district where their grandson Cameron Mateika now lives.
Another interesting feature of this first family was that a young single Czech youth, Vladislav Novak, came along with them. He immediately took up work at various places and came back to visit with the Matejka´s whenever time allowed. When more Czech families arrived, he was quick to marry Aninka, one of the eligible young ladies, the daughter of Jan Nemecek Jr.
Vladislav and Emilie Matejka attended the German Baptist congregation as members until 1934 when they transferred their membership to the Czech church and remained active there as members for the remainder of their lives. Emilie Matejka passed away in the new Swan Valley Lodge July, 1997 at age of 102 plus 11 months. She became one of the matriarchs of the Czech immigrants.
The other family of mixed background was Rut (Ruth) and Karel Valasek. Rut and Karel came to Minitonas in July, 1928 with Rut´s parents Ludwig and Amalie Lehman. Ludwig was German, but his wife, Amalie, was born Marek, my grandfather´s sister. They came from Warsaw in Poland where Rut and Karel were married just one week before they came to Canada.
The Lehman family being of mixed Czech and German background although being members of the German congregation had a considerable impact on immigrants both Czech and German. The Lehmans wrote to Europe encouraging their relatives to come to Canada. When families arrived they opened their home willingly until the newcomers could locate on properties of their own. When my grandparents and parents came to Canada in July 1935, they lived with the Lehmans until they were able to find a place of their own.
Rut and Karel Valasek were among the founding members of the Czech church. Their membership was abruptly ended in 1934 shortly after the new immigrants were shaken by the first major tragedy to touch immigrant lives. Karel drove his horses to water during seeding just as the Roaring River in the West Favelle District was in full flood in the spring of 1934. He did not unhitch the plow. Both he and the horses were lost in the flood. Rut later married Dan Biech and became a member of the German congregation.
The family of Pavel and Slavka Nemecek although coming after both the Matejkas and Valaseks has been generally viewed as highly influential in focusing Czechs to Minitonas. This family impacted the growth and development of the Czech immigration in that they had large numbers of relatives in the village of Mirotin and elsewhere. For example, my grandmother was aunt to Slavka while Pavel had numerous relatives from his side.
In 1928 Pavel Nemecek went to Czechoslovakia to see whether any more land was available to returning exiles. However, the Czechoslovak government had by then closed the resettlement program and he had to return to Volyn. His major reason for moving on to Canada was the insecure political climate both in Russia and in Europe in general. He said: "I had this inner irrational premonition and fear of a European upheaval worse than the First World War we had just gone through. I felt as though God were telling me to move."
This deep feeling led him to decide to immigrate in spite of the good conditions in Volyn and in spite of the fact that his relatives would not go with him. Letters from his brother in-law Karel Horta who was already in Minitons influenced him to consider this area. Karel Horta himself was of mixed ethnic background belonging to the large Hart clan who were originally Hortas but through mixed marriages adhered to the German ethnic group and adopted the name Hart in place of Horta.
The good bye´s in Mirotin were heart wrenching. He had a sense that he would never see his friends and relatives again. His family departed for Canada September 26, 1928. They arrived in Minitonas October 22, 1928.The Karel Hortas kept them during the winter. In April 1929 Pavel Nemecek moved to his own farm in the Ravensworth district, SE1/4 16-35-26W. Pavel and Slavka raised 15 children. They became the largest family of the Czech arrivals. Their grandson Larry Jelinek (Yelinek) lives on this farm today.
The first months in Canada during the Dirty Thirties brought physical and emotional hardship for the Nemecek family. The comforts of Volyn and the security of family were but a distant and inaccessible memory. The solitude and resulting loneliness of this sparsely populated huge frozen land overwhelmed him so that thoughts of returning to Volyn sought to take root. When hunger threatened, Pavel Quickly learned how to hunt and trap to earn a few dollars and to provide food for the table. He sought spiritual consolation by becoming a member of the German Baptist church in Minitonas. The family had the tiniest of toeholds in the new land.
However, through all those difficult times a strange sense that this was God´s will and the realization of the incredible freedom and security offered by this land hardened his will to stay. Besides, this land seemed to offer hope for future wealth. As a result, his letters home did not dwell on the brutal reality of survival and the loneliness and sorrows but more with the dream of freedom and hope for the future. These letters had a positive impact on his relatives who made decisions to move to Canada shortly after Pavel arrived.
So it happened that the first influx of Czech families were Paul Nemecek´s close relatives. By the summer of 1929 Paul´s father, Jan Nemecek Sr. and wife Pavel´s brother, Jan Nemecek Jr. and family, also Pavel´s two brothers in-law, Pavel Bures and Josef Slama with their families arrived in Minitonas. They all took up farms in the Ravensworth and Lidstone Districts. Excitement gripped the tiny nucleus of immigrants. Soon that excitement was conveyed through letters to friend and relative in Volyn and Czechoslovakia. The stream of Czech immigrants to Minitonas began to gain momentum.
Another group of families arrived in Minitonas just before harvest 1929 by a circuitous route through Esterhazy Saskatchewan. That spring the families of Ludwig Andrs, Vaclav Moravec Srov., Vilem Kulhavy and Karel Kulhavy traveled together from Michalovka along with the Vilem Jersak family from Novostavech and the Josef Dvorak Srov. family from Martinovka, Volyn.
They arrived at the Esterhazy train station at night. All of their baggage was deposited on the wooden platform. They understood that Czech families lived in that region and that the agents had made arrangements for someone to meet them, but only the station agent was present. No one could communicate with him in English. In short order he closed the station and left. The little cluster of families huddled together on the platform discussing their predicament. Soon the soft weeping of the women accompanied the patter of rain drops which began to fall.
A couple of men were deputized to go into town to see what help might be available. Before they returned a stranger approached he group and addressed them in familiar Polish. He consoled them not to worry that he would have things arranged in no time. He took the group to his general store where he fed everyone bread, jam, and coffee while he sent others to seek lodging among the Czech families who lived in Esterhazy.
The acquaintance the Czechs made that night was with a Jew who came from Warsaw Poland and who called himself Joe Dolovich. This same man and his family soon after followed the Czech immigrants to Minitonas where he set up a prosperous business as a general store operator and cattle buyer. The Czechs had a long and friendly relationship with this man as they let down roots together in this new land.
Esterhazy was not an encouraging place during the Great Depression. Vaclav Moravec and Vilem Jersak decidet to travel west to Saskatoon to search for farm land. They had Russian acquaintances in Saskatoon where they stayed. They returned with dismal news. Crop failure everywhere. Their hope of obtaining new fertile land evaporated in the blazing summer sun.
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