Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Twisted Roots - Mather, Manitoba

Southwestern Manitoba was for awhile the home of my mother's family. After escaping from the Soviet Union in 1923 they settled in Gnadenthal, near Winnipeg, where her father purchased a farm. My mother was born there in 1927. With the onset of the Depression however the bank seized the farm for non-payment and the family drifted as economic refugees to less expensive land around Mather.

Mather today is a village with a stark broad main street of metal clad sheds purchased from catalogues. The original typical prairie town of wooden buildings running off the ubiquitous railway line was destroyed in a catastrophic fire in the late 1940s. Only a few charming old houses on well treed lots away from Main street survive from these early days. However the pioneers, and the now long gone railway, are commemorated in the pleasant green downtown.

Dad and I visited Mather to find family traces. We've no idea where the farm was but my Grandfather's grave, with its modest tombstone added by my mother in the 1970s, lies in the cemetery on a low hill a half mile from town.

Heinrich Albrecht married my grandmother in the fall of 1922, just six months after his first wife's dying. The previous five years had been hard with war, revolution and anarchy leading to starvation and destitution for millions in southern Russia and the Ukraine. Heinrich's first wife Aganethe bore five children, only two daughters survived these hard days. Sarah and Heinrich struggled to keep their family together and they left the chaos of a changing Russia for Canada.

After several years as a farmer Heinrich trained as a lay minister for the Mennonite church. Subsequently he traveled widely doing visitations and my grandmother, at home, managed the farm and looked after the by now four children, the older stepdaughters, Gredel and Annie, and her own children Henry (who I'm named after) and Helen (Mum). Their different paths lead to some interesting changes for in the late 1920s the title for the farm and all their property was transferred from Heinrich to Sarah.

Henry and Helen standing by the family horses as they are auctioned off.
The Depression crushed their farm life and was no better in Mather. In 1933 Heinrich died and Sarah sold what they had using the resulting cash to move to Winkler where their family life revolved around the garden, music lessons and school. However, when the money ran out even harder times followed.

An abandoned farmstead near Clearwater, Manitoba

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for that Dad. The number of times I wish I had brought along our copy of the Neufeld family history book is quickly increasing. Stephen was also interested to learn more about the heritage of our wedding rings. Love you, Erin