“My father told us never to speak German when we were in town and to tell people we were from Holland.”
I was interviewing my mother for a story I wrote about her life. I was surprised when she said during World War II her Dad warned them not to talk German when they went into the nearby town of Drake, Saskatchewan, even though they routinely spoke German to their grandmother at home. If anyone asked them where their family was from they were to answer Holland.
Mom’s Mennonite grandparents had not come from Holland. They had immigrated to Kansas from Russia and Poland respectively in 1875 and then in the early 1900s they immigrated once again this time to Saskatchewan where the government was offering new settlers free 160 acre homesteads.
Through both migrations they maintained their mother tongue of German. But during World War II that became a liability since Canada was at war with Germany.
Mom told me that most of the Mennonite children in the Drake area went to the Kansas School, named after the state of Kansas where the Mennonite families had lived before immigrating to Canada. According to Mom children from a neighbouring school vandalized the Kansas School during the war because there was real antagonism towards the German speaking Mennonites.
Last week I was looking up something about my Mennonite family from Drake Saskatchewan and found an old newspaper article in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix that corroborated Mom’s feeling there had been ill will towards the German speaking Mennonites in Drake.
The story said that a group of men from Drake called the Canadian Corps had paid a surprise visit to the Kansas School which claimed to be holding Bible classes after school hours. The classes were being taught by a young man from Rosthern Saskatchewan. When the Canadian Corp entered the school they found many of the books being used for the Bible class were in German and there was German writing on the blackboard. The children were sent home and the teacher escorted to the train station where the local men bought him a ticket to go back to Rosthern. They sang O Canada as the Bible teacher’s train pulled out.
Mom was definitely right when she said her family had been treated suspiciously during the war. I wonder if this happened in other small Canadian communities with German speaking Mennonite populations.