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Portrait of Zichydorf Colony

The Community of Zichydorf
in Canada

by Georg Kurzhals, translated by Glenn Schwartz

From the 9 November 1980 Issue of Der Donauschwabe

Only a weathered barn and an artesian well remain of the former community.

First something about the former German community of Zichydorf (later Mariolana, now Plandischte) in the Yugoslavian Banat. The place lies on the railway line between Werschetz and Betschkerek and was founded, according to Felix Milleker, in 1788 by 500 – 600 colonists from Grabatz, Hatzfeld, Gross- and Kleinjetscha as well as Ostern. After 20 years (1809) there were already 1,068 inhabitants; by the l890 census there were 3,128 souls, of which 2,763 were Germans. Despite a large number of children the population climbed no higher, since after 1890 many inhabitants emigrated to North America, most to St. Paul, Minnesota.

In Canada however all went to the area of Regina, Saskatchewan. So it was known in many places (also Felix Milleker reports of it) that at Regina a second Zichydorf emerged. I also heard a few years ago, in a lecture by the author Karl Götz (Goetz) again about the Zichydorf in Canada, I resolved to learn more about this.

In 1979 I could finally make my long hoped-for wish come true. I flew to Cincinnati, where I visited the grave of our son and also relatives and fellow countrymen. On July 1, I climbed on a Greyhound bus with a two month ticket and rode south to Key West, Florida, along the Gulf Coast to Texas, then to Arizona and California, from there north to Vancouver, British Columbia and then east through the beautiful Canadian Rockies. After 38 days, with 210 hours of bus travel, I came to Regina on August 8.

It would take too long to describe all the wonderful places where I stayed. In Regina I was the guest of Jakob and Kathi Faul, who emigrated in 1928 from Zichydorf, Banat. When meeting after 50 years there were many things to tell. However when I asked about the Canadian Zichydorf Jakob said, “We will drive there with John Bolen, the last survivor of the village that I know of, and have him tell you about it”.

So we departed the next morning and I was surprised… as John’s mouth opened, I recognized his dialect and knew he was a Zichydorfer.

We sat in the car and made our way the way to the village, or rather, to the place where once the village stood, about 8 kilometers southeast of Regina. John showed me a sketch of the village and one of the villagers’ surrounding land, which he made from his memory, and began to lead us through rich wheat fields, summer fallow and only rarely through clover.

“I was only three years old when we came to Canada in 1896”, he said. “From my parents I learned in later years that Canadian agents in the Banat advertised for colonists and promised heaven on earth. And so developed a group of families which were willing to emigrate to Canada. However they decided that a family should first go ahead, to scout the matter. My father was willing, and so went first”.

“After landing in Canada, we traveled by the Canadian Pacific Railway to Muscow, Saskatchewan, about 60 kilometers before Regina. That was as far as the railroad went then. [Translator’s note: Muscow was a siding on the Grand Trunk Pacific (later Canadian National) Railroad just west of Fort Qu’Appelle. It seems that this line was only completed in 1911. The CPR line reached Regina in 1882, but Muscow was not on the line. It appears that the details of this recollection are in error.] In Muscow we were told that there was temporarily no land available, however there would soon be good land available at Regina. Until then we should work for a farmer that the immigration commission arranged. The work consisted almost entirely of gathering stones in the fields and piling them in heaps. It was hard work and often fingers were bloody. If we would have had the money, my father said often, we would have returned home”.

“Finally, after two years, we were notified that land was now available at Regina. As wages for the two years of work, we received from the farmer a covered wagon, two horses, a plow and some tools. With this property we traveled with some other settlers on the way westward to our destination. There we found the land measured into square miles or sections, as it is called here. A section has 640 acres, that is 259 hectares. The area to be settled included 72 sections, of which each second section belonged to the Canadian Pacific Railway.”

“This railway company was founded in 1880 to make possible the development of western Canada, and received many privileges from the government, including 25 millions acres of land. The sections, which would be distributed to the colonists, were divided in quarters. A quarter, called a homestead, had 160 acres or about 65 hectares and was bought by the colonists for 10 dollars.”

“The area to be settled was prairie land. Since the commission knew that in Zichydorf there were still over 20 families who intended to emigrate and wanted to found a settlement, section No. 21, which lay in the middle of the settlement area was chosen for the village. There they drilled an artesian well which still runs today, and the town plan determined”.

“On the adjacent section Scottish colonists were settled already for some years and one could see how fruitful the land was. So they immediately wrote to Zichydorf that other willing emigrants should come. We lived at first in and under the wagon, while my parents and older siblings built the house. To do it, sod three inches thick was peeled from the prairie with the plow. The sod was cut into bricks and stacked to make walls. Wood and accessories were procured from the immigration agency. The walls were smeared with clay and whitewash, the cow dung was cleaned up from the floors.

“As the house was finished, and also during construction, they tried always to clear land. It was very with difficult for the horses. One had to stop and let them graze and rest often, because they were tired. When 20, mostly large, families arrived from Zichydorf, the village was completed and called Zichydorf. Then the homesteads were applied for by the settlers. Some lay up to 8 kilometers from the village. The families which already had mature children would have two homesteads. The crops in the second year were good so that debts, which the settlers had to incur for the acquisition of cattle and equipment, were soon paid off. Barns and grain elevators were also built. However, there was also a rich crop of deaths. A cemetery was laid out, where four of my ten siblings and also my mother are buried”.

“Soon the owners realized that it was very troublesome to manage their fields far from the village and they built themselves temporary shelters in the fields, which they used during work periods. What kept the settlers at the village was mainly the hope that the railway line would pass there as promised and they would get a railroad station”.

“Every month a priest came from Regina to say Mass at the home of Mathias Debert, who had a large room. Sometimes they held dances to accordion music. It was troublesome for the children to go to the school 5 kilometers from the village, especially with meter-deep snow in the winter. In the school only English was taught, however at home only German was spoken. Today, on some farms, the third and fourth generation still speaks the native language, which one rarely finds in the cities.”

“After 10 years, with the hope for the railroad unfulfilled, one by one they left the village and settled on their homesteads. Before long, the village was empty and was torn down. Today nothing remains but a weather-beaten barn and the artesian well of the former Zichydorf in Canada.”

“The land on which the village stood now belongs to a descendant of Josef Anwender, who was one of the first settlers. He grows only wheat and has no cattle, so has also no stables. The only buildings are a house, toolsheds and granaries.” This was all I could learn from John Bolen about Zichydorf in Canada and see the remnants also.”

Many of the grown children of the Zichydorfer farmers have moved to the city and have settled in the east end of Regina, where also a hundred latecomers from Zichydorf, Banat had settled, so that the east end of Regina was, for a long time, called by the Zichydorf countrymen Little Zichydorf. After the First and the Second World Wars Regina remained an emigrant destination for Zichydorfers. In 20 years over 50 families settled in Regina and after the last War another ten families made the same move. However, today few people in Regina know the place name Zichydorf.

Georg Kurzhals