Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Hard Passage: A Mennonite Family's Long Journey from Russia to Canada

Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Hard Passage: A Mennonite Family's Long Journey from Russia to Canada

Article excerpt

Arthur Kroeger, Hard Passage: A Mennonite Family's Long Journey from Russia to Canada (Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 2007), 270pp. Cased. £19. ISBN 0- 88864-473-6.

After his father's funeral in 1971, the author of this book inherited a box containing handwritten documents in German, a few official documents in Russian, a diary from 1911, notebooks covering the 1920s in Russia and Canada, a certificate of naturalisation, and letters, postcards and photographs. He read histories of the Mennonites, examined the archives of the Canadian Pacific Railway, and interviewed survivors of the events chronicled in the historical data he collected. This book is in part an attempt to know more about his parents.

Taking their name from Menno Simons, a Dutch Reformer of the sixteenth century, the Mennonites were a strongly pacifist Anabaptist sect which practised adult baptism and refused to swear oaths. Fleeing persecution in Holland, they were given shelter in Poland and settled near Danzig, where they became culturally German, acquiring Platt Deutsche, until Catherine the Great offered them a permanent home in Russia with guarantees of religious freedom and exemption from military service. There they remained until the Bolshevik Revolution resulted in a more efficient and drastic persecution than they had ever known.

In 1922, Mackenzie King, not usually regarded as a friend of immigrants and certainly opposed to Jewish immigration, moved the Mennonites from the non-preferred list and made it possible for them to emigrate to Canada. Kroeger's family and 20,000 others arrived on the prairies in 1925 to continue the agricultural existence and religion which had inspired them in Russia. They were greatly helped by money loaned by the Canadian Pacific Railway, which was keen to populate the areas it served. Keeping together, speaking their own language and living a strictly biblically-based life, they were nevertheless keen to become Canadians. …

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