In 1997 A book entitled "Gateway to the Past" was written and edited by Nettie Brandt and me
which told the story of my great-grandparents, the Cornelius and Maria D. Loewen family. It is
currently sold out and out of print so I am publishing some of the text online for all to peruse and
enjoy at will. I will add information that I think is pertinent to my personal story and that of the
MARIA (DUECK) LOEWEN
I was born to Peter and Margaret (Friesen) Dueck on Dec. 17, 1870. We were a happy, loving family living on the Borsenko Colony located on the Dnieper River not far from the city of Nikopol in present-day Ukraine.
Even though I was only a little girl of three, I remember especially one word - Canada - that was often mentioned in our home. Whether Grandparents came to visit us or we stopped in at aunts, uncles or neighbors, my ears seemed to catch that word, Canada. One day Mama set me down and explained carefully that at the beginning of June when I would be three and a half, we would make a very long trip to a new country, a country called Canada. How excited I was! Moving day meant packing day and I wanted to make sure my few precious toys would be tucked into one of the many bags or boxes.
For months, life never seemed quite normal. Papa would be at meetings or busily arranging for an auction sale. Mama was either sorting and packing our household goods and clothes or baking and roasting Tweeback (double buns) and storing them in a special trunk ready for the long journey.
Finally that great eventful day arrived! It was a beautiful June summer morning, 1874, amidst many hugs and kisses from relatives and neighbors, that I was lifted into the wagon filled with all our special possessions. So many other wagons followed ours and I asked many questions. My parents explained that 65 families in all, 327 people to be exact, were on their way to Canada with Mr. David Klassen and Mr. Cornelius Toews as our leaders. I was told that those friends, neighbors and relatives that stayed behind would join us later.
The air was charged with excitement, the sunshine was gloriously warm and I soon felt my head nodding along with the creaky noise of the wagon wheels. When Mama noticed this, she quickly spread a comforter in a hollow between the boxes and immediately I was fast asleep in my cosy resting place.
At last we reached Nikopol, a seaport on the Dnieper River, and here we boarded a boat which was to take us to the large seaport of Odessa. The boat ride was so smooth and calm compared to the bumpy wagon ride. My eyes were wide open trying to take in all the never-to-be-forgotten sights along the river. Among the forested areas along the water's edge I watched for wild animals. Whenever we passed a town or village area, I waved excitedly to the children playing on the bank.
It took a number of days till we arrived at the city of Odessa. My eyes were big as saucers as I caught sight of the first city I had ever seen. So many big buildings, so many roads, so many people - unending questions tumbled from my lips. The biggest and best surprise was boarding a train and the fast ride that followed - from Odessa to Berlin and on to Hamburg, Germany. I never tired watching the scenery whiz past the windows. However, this ride was much more jerky and swaying than the boat ride had been.
Eventually we reached the large seaport, Hamburg, on the North Sea. It was here that Mama held my hand firmly as we boarded the big ship that would take us across the English Channel to Hull, England. Out on the deck and inside the cabin, I experienced so many new things. We disembarked at Hull and were soon on a fast train ride across England to Liverpool. Before we could board the ship Austria, we all had to have a health check. Fortunately our family got a clean bill of health but the John Klassen family was diagnosed as having scarlet fever and had to stay back. The ship set sail on a Tuesday morning to make the long voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. At first everything was very interesting and thrilling. However, with the crowded conditions, I had little room to run or stretch my legs. Eating mostly Reschi Tweeback was getting to be quite monotonous but Papa always reminded me that I must not grumble about the food. "Once we get to our new home," he said, "we will have lots of potatoes, meat, and milk. And Mama will occasionally bake a cake!"
Very soon after leaving Liverpool, the moderate wind became stronger, and by evening the ship began to rock quite badly. The storm worsened over the next two days and almost everybody became seasick. How I wished I hadn't eaten any Tweeback at all - my stomach felt so sick. The fourth day at sea, the storm abated and we all started to feel better. On Saturday I helped Mama clean up a bit for Sunday. The next day at our church service, everybody was very thankful that we had survived the storm and the captain enjoyed the songs we sang. However, when it got foggy, we had to quit singing so the foghorns could be heard.
One morning Mama told me that a little baby had arrived at the Klaus Brandts and they promptly named him Klaus after his Papa. Sometimes I noticed people were crying and I was told that someone had died and would have to be 'buried' in the deep ocean waters. Actually, a number of children died at sea.
For many long days, I saw water and more water as I stood on deck with my parents. Occasionally I glimpsed dark shapes in the water but none of them came near the ship. Once we spotted some seagulls and other birds, we knew land was near. Arriving at Halifax, a canon shot was fired as a greeting! We had safely reached the continent of North America!
Now it was time for another train ride - a welcome change from the rocking, swaying sea voyage. This train took us from Halifax to Toronto to Collingwood on the Great Lakes. Here a boat was waiting to take us to Duluth, Minnesota. By train we travelled from Duluth to Moorhead, a Red River port. At Moorhead we got some freshly baked bread. How delicious! It was here that we boarded the International for the last three-day journey down the curvy, snakelike Red River. In some places the water was so shallow, that the boat had to be pulled with a cable and pulleys. How different this slow ride was compared to the one across the Atlantic. After we landed in Winnipeg, Papa went to purchase the needed supplies while Mama let us play on the grass by the riverbank. What a wonderful experience to feel solid ground and soft grass under my feet again!
When Papa and the other men got back from their shopping spree, the International turned upstream to the landing place where the Rat River empties into the Red. After our last night on the boat, we disembarked on August 1, 1874. Two months had elapsed since we left our home in Borsenko. Some Red River carts were waiting to take the women, children and baggage to a shelter erected by the government four or five miles away. The men and older boys followed on foot. The weather was hot. Bloodthirsty mosquitoes filled the air. Their needle-like stingers pierced us all over and I had never been so itchy before. These bothersome insects were a new experience for all of us.
During these two months of travel, I had made friends with a number of other children but alas, a change was coming. Only 18 of the 65 families moved with our leader Mr. David Klassen to the West Reserve while the other 47 families stayed with Cornelius Toews on the east side of the Red. Mr. Klassen and his followers formed a new settlement along the banks of the Scratching River northwest of Morris. When we finally arrived on August 14, 1874, we were very disappointed that the land agent had not kept his promise to Mr. Klassen of setting up a large shelter for us just south of the present Lorne Loewen residence. Many of the families decided to stay in Winnipeg for the winter but the menfolk came out to help those families who decided to brave their first winter on the prairies.
My parents immediately went about the serious business of getting a home ready for their family of four children before colder weather set in. Since building materials were not available, they used the natural resources of the land, like soil, sod, wood and grass. Mama and Papa decided to make a semlin, a dugout in the riverbank with a dirt roof. Papa, with the help of a few other men, dug a square hole up to four feet deep, with the opening facing the river. Chunks of sod were piled up three feet high around the hole. Branches and dirt were used for the roof. The entrance was closed off with canvas. I had great fun helping wherever I could but playing outside on lovely fall days with my twin sisters was even better. I soon noticed that it was getting colder. I was no longer allowed to run barefoot outside and before long it started to snow. Even though Papa had bought an iron cookstove in Winnipeg, it was hard to keep it going all night. The thermometer slipped down to -30 and even -40 on a number of nights. That first winter I sometimes found hoarfrost on my blanket in the morning. I had always liked licking snow but this was a little too cold for comfort. Even the potatoes Papa had bought, froze. This severe winter weather had some blessings in store for us - to keep our calf from freezing, Papa brought it into the semlin. Now we had a pet inside! This created a most enjoyable pastime, except for the smell.
Just before Christmas, on December 17, I celebrated my 4th birthday. Shortly after the festive season, on January 6, Epiphany, a cute baby boy arrived in our semlin. He was named John and was the very first newborn little Canadian in our settlement. By the way, I had three brothers - Henry, Jacob and John, and three sisters - Anna and Margaret, who were twins but not identical, and Helena.
Only years later did I learn why this great migration from Russia had taken place. These were the reasons for their leaving: Catherine the Great had promised all settlers special privileges, notably--
1) exemption from military service
2) religious freedom
3) full control of their colonies
The Mennonites experienced little interference by the Russian government and had practically no contact with the outside world. They enjoyed this isolation and independence.
However, in the early 1870's, teaching Russian became compulsory and then the announcement came that universal military conscription would be enforced. Other problems were the increasing lack of land for farming, aggravated by the fact that the Mennonites were refusing their sons to go to war. Many privileges that Catherine the Great had promised were withdrawn and the Mennonites felt a sacred trust had been broken.
The first few years in Canada were very difficult for my parents. They didn't own much more than a cow and a plow. Mosquitoes were so extreme that haymaking was almost impossible. Frost and grasshoppers destroyed their crops the first two years and yet they kept going.
In time, the land was surveyed and our neighbors in the Rosenort area were the Heinrich Duecks and the John P. Friesens. Eventually my parents could afford to build a new home complete with a big brick fireplace used for heating, baking, and cooking for the family. Worship services were held in different homes at first. After schools were built, it was convenient to use the school benches for pews. Worship services were alternated between Rosenhoff and Rosenort.
I attended school for a short time but then was required to stay home and help. I learned to grow a vegetable garden, sew clothes for my siblings, carry water, gather manure chips used as a fuel source, learned the art of preserving meat without refrigeration and all the other tasks related to pioneer homesteading.
Even though I lived in the Rosenort area, it was great to meet the young people of Rosenhoff during worship services. I, together with several others were baptized upon the confession of our faith in Jesus Christ and were accepted into the Kleinegemeinde Church in the month of July, 1888. A certain young man named Cornelius D. Loewen had begun showing a keen interest in me and this developed into a special love relationship which resulted in a wedding celebration on December 29 of the same year. We were married by Rev. Jacob Dueck. My new husband, Cornelius, was 23. We established our home in the Rosenhoff area. (This is approximately where Gary and Karen Hildebrandt live today.)
In time, on April 29, 1890, a beautiful baby boy arrived. We promptly named him Peter after my Papa. Then on December 17, 1891, exactly on my birthday, I gave birth to my second son. This one looked just like a Cornie and was named after his father. March 1, 1893, was the birth date of our third son, John, named after Cornelius' Dad. Secretly I had hoped for a daughter but three sons would be of great help on a pioneer farm. I was kept very busy cooking, cleaning, gardening and running after my three lively boys. Then tragedy struck shortly after we had celebrated Christmas, 1893, with our sons ages one to four. On January 11, 1894, our baby Johnny died of diphtheria. What is more difficult then seeing a tiny one suffer, die, and then submitting him to a casket lowered into the depths of the cold earth? Alas, our sorrow was to be tripled! Peter and Cornie both became very ill and no amount of care seemed to alleviate their suffering. On April 22, 1894, Cornie was taken from us and a third funeral followed on April 30, 1894. Within four months, diphtheria had taken its deathly toll in our family. Three little graves testified to what had been, and our home was left strangely quiet. My arms felt so empty- no little boys to feed, dress, talk to or play with. In all my sorrow, I found comfort in knowing that come fall I would again be a mama. In fact, in the next 16 years, Cornelius and I were blessed with nine more children. We named them Margaret (after my mother), Peter (after my father), Mary (after me), Anna (after Cornelius' mother), Elizabeth (after my sister-in-law Mrs. Jacob F. Dueck), Lena (named after my youngest sister - Mrs. Henry Friesen), Agnes (after my sister-in-law Mrs. John F. Dueck) and my last two - Tena and Susana got names that Cornelius and I especially liked! Our youngest daughter was born February 17, 1910, and died after a severe bout of diarrhea on August 22 of that same year.
Yes, Cornelius and I had 12 children, but isn't it interesting that each of my sisters also had 12? Anna - Mrs. Isaac Harms and Margaret - Mrs. Cornelius Rempel (twins) each had 12, Helena - Mrs. Henry Friesen also 12, Henry F. Duecks had four, Jacob F. Duecks two, and John F. Duecks had 14.
My husband's parents had 10 sons and two daughters. Five of the boys died at an early age and one of the Isaacs died at the age of 20. Cornelius' sister Anna married a Peter Hiebert but she died at the age of 27. Helena married Cornelius Eidse and died when she was 31. His three remaining brothers - Peter, John and Abraham all settled in the Rosenort - Rosenhoff area.
I never had a chance to go back to my childhood homeland but my life was full of the many-faceted joys and sorrows of a pioneer wife and mother. After all, we have no continuing city here but seek the one to come.
Memories of My Mother, Maria Loewen
Tena Brandt as told to Nettie Brandt
I was 24 years old and married a year and four months when I had to say my final good-bye to my dear mother. Sixty-five years have passed since then.
My parents had 12 children, four of which died under five years of age. Of the eight that grew up and married, I'm the only one left. It sometimes seems rather lonely without them but the clock of time cannot be reversed.
Of all my sisters, Anna resembled Mother the most. She was slender and approximately five feet, two inches tall. Mother was a very caring person and was deeply concerned about the well-being of others. When going out, we always had to tell her where we were going and we had to be home by 10:00 p.m.
I remember her as a rather sickly woman. The rigors and hardships of pioneer life had taken their toll. She suffered bad coughing spells, had a lot of trouble with her lungs and had severe headaches.
Church services in those days alternated between Rosenhoff and Rosenort. Whenever it was Rosenort's turn, my parents would take the one-seater buggy so they could go visiting after. This was always very strenuous on her, and when they got home Mother would almost always have a headache. We kids would use the two-seater buggy to go to church with Peter as the driver. I believe it was in 1921 when Peter got his first car. One Sunday, my parents had already left for church with the horse and buggy and we others would follow by car. However, Peter just couldn't get that vehicle going and we walked in very late. Mother must have felt very embarrassed.
For church, Mother wore a lovely blue dress with long sleeves, a black apron and an embroidered kerchief. She always wore a head-covering for saying grace. Her hair was parted in the middle, braided and then wound around her head.
On our yard, we had an outdoor bake-oven. The dough was mixed, kneaded and set on long pans inside. When it was time to do the baking, the girls had to carry these pans to the bake-oven as they were too heavy for Mother. She would be the one to watch the fire and regulate the heat needed for proper baking. On the pans you would find Tweeback, brown bread, white bread, or pies. She also baked very delicious cakes but that was done with the indoor oven. The outdoor bake-oven could, of course, only be used in summer. Often Mother would make stacks of pancakes for the fieldworkers' lunches. These pancakes were sprinkled with sugar and rolled up for easier handling.
Come hog slaughtering time, Mother was the one who mixed the brine for pickling the hams. These, plus the sausages, were smoked in spring.
Even though I don't resemble Mother, my hands look just like hers. She did a lot of knitting for her children and grandchildren - socks, mitts and gloves. Because sewing machines were not equipped with buttonholers, Mother sewed dozens and dozens of buttonholes by hand. Buttonholes were needed on pillow cases, dress and shirt closures on both children's and grandchildren's clothes.
It was Mother who would count out the eggs to be taken to John W. Dueck's store where they were then exchanged for groceries.
Because of her lung problems, she was unable to walk to the neighbors without resting in-between. Therefore, a box was placed midway for her to sit down for a spell.
From her, we girls learned all the secrets about gardening: How to make perfectly straight rows, what to plant when - whether by the waxing or the waning of the moon, and everything else that pertains to proper gardening. Many of these ideas have been passed on to our daughters!
Sibling weddings were always a highlight. If my memory serves me right, Jacob and Margaret, Peter and Annie, Cornelius and Mary, Henry and Elizabeth, Henry and I were married in church with the noon meal and the following celebration at my parents' place. (I am not sure about the particulars concerning Jacob and Anna's, William and Lena's, and Ben and Agnes's weddings.) Because of Mother's ill health, the noise level and all the company at these celebrations were very hard on her.
In those days, married children usually stayed with their parents for a while. After Jacob and Margaret got married, they lived at our place and helped with the chores. They had their bedroom upstairs. Peter and Annie lived in my parents' summer kitchen after their wedding. Others who lived at home before moving out on their own were Henry and Elizabeth, Jacob and Anna, Bernhard and Agnes, and Henry and I.
When the grandchildren were born, Mother was always there to help. Usually she would take one of her unmarried daughters with her as an extra pair of hands always came in handy. Since Mother passed away a few months before our first daughter arrived, Anna, together with the midwife, Mrs. Eidse, came to assist me when the time came for Lena to make her appearance.
When several of Cornelius and Mary's children died, their funerals were held at my parents' place.
Visiting was an important part of socializing in those bygone days. Occasionally my parents would make a trip to the East Reserve for a number of days to visit friends and relatives. Lots of visiting and entertaining would take place when aunts, uncles and friends from as far away as Kansas would return visits.
Since 1928, I have faithfully kept a diary. Following are some of the highlights:
Oct. 28, 1928 We had Indians stay over for night. Apr. 25, 1929 We baked 424 Tweeback, 300 cookies and six cakes for Abram E. Eidses' golden wedding. About 100 people attended.
June 8 - 12, 1929 My parents and Abraham D. Loewens went to Steinbach for visiting.
Sept. 1929 My Dad put up a mailbox.
Nov. 20, 1929 My Dad bought our first washing machine with an electric motor from Mr. Abram D. Plett.
July 31, 1930 I sewed a dress for my Mother. (I'm sure it was neither a Sunday dress nor a dress for my wedding in November.)
When I was young, Mother had no money to buy us Christmas gifts. However, she would give us little cards with these words added - Aus Liebe zu Weihnachten. I treasure them to this day.
Mother suffered from dropsy and had very swollen legs. The last while she was bedridden. She died on March 27, 1932, and is buried in the Rosenhoff cemetery. On June 15, 1939 we laid our father to rest beside her!
My Dad, Cornelius D. Loewen
Tena Brandt as told to Nettie Brandt
My father, Cornelius D. Loewen, was born in Southern Russia on November 23, 1866. At the age of eight, he came to Canada during the great Mennonite migration together with his parents, Johann and Anna Loewen, and his four older brothers - Isaac, Peter, John, and Abraham. They crossed the Atlantic on board the S.S. Prussian #21, arriving in Quebec on June 18, 1875.
Dad married Maria Dueck on December 29, 1888. They shared this walk of holy matrimony for 43 years two months and 28 days. Twelve children, four sons and eight daughters, were born to them of which three sons and one daughter died in infancy. After Mother passed away on March 27, 1932, Dad eventually found a new helpmeet in Helena Giesbrecht from the Plum Coulee area. Helena was a widow having previously been married to Jacob Giesbrecht. The Giesbrechts had one foster son, Peter. Dad and Helena were married on October 17, 1933. I found my new mother to be very friendly. With the death of Dad on June 15, 1939, their marriage only lasted five years and seven months.
My step-mother, sister Anna and her two sons - Andrew and Jake, continued living on the homestead until Anna's new house was finished in 1940. Anna took our step-mother to live with her. In 1943, at the age of 56, she quietly slipped into eternity during her sleep. Her son Peter and his wife Maria were tragically killed in an automobile accident in B.C. in July of 1947.
Dad, being small of stature, was nicknamed Klena Loewi (Short Loewen). His brothers were all taller than he - especially John and Abraham. He wore glasses with no temples, so whenever he laughed heartily, they wouldn't stay fixed on his nose and he ended up having to catch them.
I remember his good sense of humor. One day he brought home a very strange contraption. We curious youngest three were running after him and asking, "What is that?" He told us that it was a Scheiss Ovi (Cash and Carry). And so started the ultimate convenience of an indoor toilet. Dad was an enthusiastic and progressive farmer. Our barn always housed 10 - 12 horses and eight to ten cows. Since fieldwork was done by horses, and the animals needed good care all winter, extra help was hired. Those who worked for us most were Peter, Isaac, Henry and John Harms. Some others were the sons-in-law when they lived with us, namely Jacob H. Friesen, Henry B. Dueck, Jacob B. Dueck and my husband Henry. They offered their help instead of paying rent for staying at home the first while after their marriage. Extra help was hired during the threshing season and they were sometimes French or Ukrainian fellows.
Farming in those days meant getting up early. Chores had to be completed before the fieldwork started at 7:00 a.m. Threshing during harvest time, commenced at 9:00 a.m., weather permitting, and continued till sundown. Whatever was already loaded on the hayracks had to be threshed before quitting time. Dinner and Faspa breaks were needed for both man and beast alike. The women, who were not directly involved in the fieldwork, were kept busy cooking and transporting hot food to the field for the eleven o'clock noon meal. Faspa consisted of Tweeback, jam, cake and cookies.
Until 1911, Dad and his three brothers, John, Abraham, and Peter owned a steam engine and threshing machine together. In 1912, John, Abraham and Dad formed a partnership purchasing a new threshing outfit, namely a Rumley gas tractor and a six-bottom plow. The following year they added a sheaf loader drawn by four horses. Some years later a Fordson tractor replaced the horses for the sheaf loader. Eventually as the number of acres to be threshed increased, Uncle Abraham withdrew from the partnership and went on his own. This left Uncle John and Dad to continue as a company until my uncle's death in 1934. Dad did a lot of bookkeeping for the threshing gang. This kept him busy at his writing desk in the livingroom.
During the winter months, the hired hands' days were filled with fixing and oiling harnesses, repairing machinery and the tasks of daily chores. Another job was hauling straw or hay, often from considerable distances, for bedding down the animals. This was cold, hard work, often complicated by deep snowdrifts. On those days the dinner menu included Kielke and fried ham. One of the regular jobs for fall was cutting Haxsel (finely cut cattle feed). This was done because it took up a lot less space in the storage sheds than regular hay did.
After seeding was finished in spring, Mom and Dad would go with horse and buggy to visit friends and relatives in Steinbach and Blumenort. Eventually Dad invested in a car and travelling became much faster.
Dad had many talents and interests. He practiced his chiropractic skills when it came to broken fingers. He worked many hours as a blacksmith inventing and fixing things in his workshop. He loved to sing and was a song leader in the Kleine Gemeinde Church for seven years. Part of family time was spent with him reading the paper called Nordwestern while we did some knitting, mending or schoolwork. Because Dad had only one son, he depended on his daughters to help him with a lot of the fieldwork and the chores. This naturally created a special bond between us and him. He taught us to do everything well, to have order, and to be on time!
I look up to my Dad for being a very wise man who handled his home and business affairs well. He always took very good care of Mother. He died at the age of 72 as a result of diabetes.
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Last Updated February 18, 2000 by Lorilee Scharfenberg
Last Updated February 18, 2000 by Lorilee Scharfenberg