Tag Archives: ukraine

Family Picture

I am working on a history book about Dave’s parents for an upcoming family reunion. Dave’s cousin John who is the true Driedger family historian has been helping me by providing some wonderful photographs. My very favorite is this one of Dave’s Oma Margaretha Friesen, posing with her siblings and cousins in the village of Schoenfeld where they all lived.
Dave’s Oma is standing against the tree with a balalaika in her hand. One cousin with a very fashionable hat is riding bike and Margaretha’s brother Cornelius and another man are up in the tree. I think the photo reflects what I heard so often from my own grandparents about how almost idyllic and prosperous a life the Mennonites had in Ukraine before the revolution. There was time for leisure pursuits, farming was financially rewarding, Mennonites ran profitable businesses and established good schools and enjoyed music and other cultural endeavors. And then within a decade everything had changed and this whole way of life was gone.
I think this photo was probably taken around 1913. It is a reminder that a seemingly stable and good way of life can disappear dramatically.

Other posts……..

Dave’s Christmas Present

Thoughts on Refugees

Portraits in Hope



Leave a comment

Filed under Family, History

Luxury Car- A Family Story

Heinrich Enns and his wife Gertrude

In 1912 my husband’s maternal grandfather Heinrich Enns bought a new car.  It was a German made Opel. The average car at the time was priced at around $700.  The Opel’s price tag was double that at $1,500 which gives you some idea of the wealth of Enns family.

Heinrich and Gertrude Enns lived on his family’s  large estate in Kowalicha, near the Schoenfeld Mennonite settlement in Ukraine.

My husband’s grandfather and his family on the lake in front of their estate 

The Opel Heinrich bought was an open touring car and was a deep red color.

A car exactly like Heinrich’s is in the Museum Sinsheim in Germany- Photos of the Opel by Kai Gruszczynski.

When the family went driving through their home village of Kowalicha or went down the road to neighbouring Schoenfeld, where they attended church and where their children went to school, Heinrich sat behind the wheel in a full driving costume complete with goggles. 

This map of the Schoenfeld settlement was made by Henry B. Wiens in 1912. Kowalicha where the Enns family lived is marked by a star. 

Beside Heinrich in the front seat of the Opel were his two older sons Peter and Henry.   In the back seat was his wife Gertrude and his two younger sons Johann and Diedrich as well as the boys’ nanny.  

Dave’s grandmother Gertrude Enns with her four sons outside their house in Kowalicha. Their nanny is behind the fence.

If rain threatened a canvas was pulled over the top of the car and fastened down with buttons. People in the village would come out to see the beautiful automobile. The village dogs were especially intrigued  by the car. They would run behind it barking and howling. It must have made quite a picture!

The car as well as all the family’s wealth was lost during the Communist Revolution in Russia.  After Heinrich’s family immigrated to Canada they were beset by a series of financial, agricultural and health difficulties that meant they were never able to afford another luxury car like that magnificent red Opel. 

Other posts………

Family Blueprints

Who Owns Family Stories? 

Dave’s Christmas Present

Leave a comment

Filed under Family, History

Earrings and Tombstones

anchor earringsI bought these anchor earrings as a souvenir during our trip to Ukraine in 2011. I noticed many of the Mennonite tombstones in Ukraine had engravings of anchors. daniel peters tombstoneThis is the tombstone of my great, great grandfather Daniel Peters which I found in the village of Nikolaipol in Ukraine. It was hard to read some of the lettering on the stone but the anchor symbol on the top was clearly visible. me with great grandfather's tombstoneEverytime I wear my anchor earrings I am reminded of my family connections to the Ukraine and our memorable visit there.

Other posts…….

The Station of Tears

The Disappeared

Remembering Yalta

Leave a comment

Filed under Family, Ukraine


I just finished Maurice Mierau’s  book Detachment. He writes about the experience of adopting two sons from Ukraine.  The boys went through some pretty traumatic life events before the adoption.Interwoven with the description of these events, is the story of Maurice’s father who decades prior, also lived through traumatic times in Ukraine before immigrating to Canada.  It is interesting to see the two stories juxtapositioned and to learn how Maurice comes to terms with both.  The title of the book stems from the fact that Maurice felt a kind of ‘detachment’ in his relationship with his own Dad, and doesn’t want to have that same kind of detached relationship with the boys he has adopted, or his older son from a previous marriage. 


I wondered how knowing he was going to write a book about the adoption influenced the way Maurice felt and acted. He made notes about everything. Did keeping those notes interfere in any way with him participating in the adoption process and family life? Was he always thinking about what was going on in terms of what he would write about it?  Sometimes when I know I am going to be writing about an experience I make different choices about what to see and do and sometimes I’m so busy making notes and taking pictures it detracts from the experience.  I wonder if that happened to Maurice.  On the other hand sometimes taking notes and reflecting on an experience makes it more meaningful and memorable so that might have happened to Maurice too.

Detachment will be of particular interest to people whose families have immigrated from Ukraine like mine, and couples who have been through the foreign adoption process. The book will also make you think about how your parenting behavior was influenced by the parenting you received.  

Other posts……..

Red Stone

The Disappeared


1 Comment

Filed under Books, Ukraine

My Grandmother’s Childhood

My grandparents Margareta Sawatzky Peters (  1900-1999)  and Diedrich Peters (1901-1996)

Margareta Sawatzky Peters ( 1900-1999) and Diedrich Peters (1901-1996)

My grandmother, Margareta Sawatsky Peters was born in the village of Gnadenthal in Ukraine in May of 1900. In an interview with my aunt she shared childhood memories. 

My grandmother's grandparents Johann Schellenberg and Helena Andreas.  Johann lived with my grandmother's family for twenty years.

My grandmother’s grandparents Johann Schellenberg and Helena Andreas Schellenberg.  Johann lived with my grandmother’s family for twenty years.

“We had no old folks homes. My mother cared for my grandfather who lived with us for twenty years after my grandmother died from a leg infection. There were no doctors to help my grandmother. My grandfather would invite all his friends over to our house. They’d smoke Turkish cigars, drink brandy and talk about politics. My grandfather read the German Odessa newspaper regularly so he knew what was going on in the world. But he had to hold the paper right up to his nose. He was almost blind and we didn’t have anything like eyeglasses or eye doctors.

Here I am in a pile of white sand in Ukraine the kind of sand my great grandmother sprinkled on her floor in patterns to make her house beautiful

Here I am in a pile of white sand in Ukraine the kind of sand my great-grandmother sprinkled on her floor in patterns to make her house beautiful

My grandmother was a meticulous housekeeper. The clay floors of her house were carefully swept and sprinkled with sparkling white sand. Our kitchen was heated with a clay oven and the roof had a huge open chimney. As mother cooked the soot from the chimney fell on her. Sausages and hams were hung inside the chimney to be smoked. A brick oven was heated with straw or pressed manure and used for baking bread.

My grandmother's parents Franz Sawatzky 1869-1936) and Margaretha Schellenberg Sawatzky (1873-1943)

My grandmother’s parents Franz Sawatzky (1869-1936) and Margaretha Schellenberg Sawatzky (1873-1943)

My mother decorated our house with designs she cut into potato halves. She dipped the potato designs into a mixture of ash and milk and used them to stencil beautiful patterns onto the walls.

Photo I took of a community pasture on our trip to Ukraine

Photo of a community pasture I took on our trip to Ukraine

There were about 400 cows in our village. The herdsman came through the streets at 4 in the morning to take the cows to the community pasture for the day. We strained milk with a system of wooden bowls and sticks. After the cream rose to the top we made butter that we sold to a peddler along with our hens’ eggs. We sold eggs in tens not by the dozen. Two tailors made clothes for the village men but the women made all their own clothes. 

Photo I took of one of the last remaining windmills built by the Mennonites in Ukraine.

Photo  of one of the last remaining windmills built by the Mennonites in Ukraine taken on our trip there in 2011

Our village had four windmills to grind rye into flour and to grind grain into cattle feed. 

When I visited Gnadenthal in 2011 there were boys swimming in the lake just like they did in my grandmother's day.

When I visited Gnadenthal in 2011 there were boys swimming in the lake just like they did in my grandmother’s day.

The village had a lake stocked with fish and twice a year we hired people to fish for us. The fish were divided amongst the villagers. On Sunday afternoons the boys would go swimming in that fishing lake but girls weren’t allowed to. The willow trees around the lake were cut down and used to make wooden shoes that children wore to school.

This building now a private residence was the schooll house my grandmother attended in Gnadenthal

This building was the school-house my grandmother attended in Gnadenthal

I could only go to school till I was twelve but I loved school. At recess we girls played ‘Drop the Hanky’ or ‘Hook and Eye.’ I memorized so many poems and there were lots of books to read. Our home had no books but was filled with music. My sisters and I played the guitar, banjo and balalaika while our mother accompanied us on the accordion.”

My grandparents with their family some 45 years ago

My grandparents with their family some 45 years ago

Grandma then goes on to talk about the Russian Revolution and how it changed everything, eventually leading to a decision to immigrate to Canada. That decision changed our family’s life forever. It is sobering to think about what kind of future our family would have faced if my great grandparents had not left everything familiar to them almost a hundred years ago, to start a new life in a new country.

Other posts…….

On My Grandparents’ Farm

My Grandmother’s Epitaph


1 Comment

Filed under Family, History

Another Chortitza Oak

At the Chortiza Oak in 2011
When Dave and I were in Ukraine we had our photo taken in front of the Chortitza Oak. It is a dead tree propped up by pulleys and ropes. The Ukrainians keep it standing because of its importance in a key event in Cossack history.

The tree also has significance to Mennonites who used to live in Ukraine because it was located in the heart of the Chortitza area where there was a large settlement of Mennonites.chortitza oak leamington mennonite homeOver the years Mennonite visitors to Ukraine have brought back acorns from the Chortitza oak and planted them here in Canada. The one in this photo is at the Leamington Mennonite Home where my father-in-law lives. chortitza oak cottam ontario

My brother-in-law John  has one planted in his backyard in memory of his parents who were both born in Ukraine.winkler chortitza oakOn a recent visit to Winkler, Manitoba I photographed this young oak which is also a descendant of the original Chortitza Oak.plaque Chortitza Oak WinklerA plaque explains it’s significance to the  Winkler community. 

Other posts……

A Spreading Oak

The Oak Park Connection

Seven Oaks Museum

Leave a comment

Filed under Nature, Ukraine

Thoughts on Refugees

My husband Dave's grandparents Abram and Margaretha Driedger with their two children arrived in Canada in

My husband Dave’s grandparents Abram and Margaretha Driedger were refugees who arrived in Canada in 1924

I am from a refugee family. My grandparents and my husband’s grandparents were refugees who came to Canada from Ukraine. Having just lived through the violence of a World War, a civil war and raids by ruthless bandits on their homes and communities many were traumatized. They came to Canada without money and only a few belongings. The Canadian Pacific Railway had to finance their trip. They had survived a recent famine in Ukraine so their state of health was less than ideal.

My husband's mother's family just before leaving from Lichtenau. His mother Anne is the little girl on her mother's lap.

My husband Dave’s grandparents Heinrich and Gertrude Enns were refugees who arrived in Canada in 1925

They were Mennonites, a religious sect often misunderstood by their new Canadian neighbours. Here was a group of people who insisted on speaking German, wanted their own private schools and refused to serve in the military. 

My grandparents Diedrich and Margareta Peters were refugees who came to Canada in 1923

My grandparents Diedrich and Margareta Peters refugees who came to Canada in 1923

Yet they were accepted into Canada and their descendants have served and enriched this country by making outstanding contributions in almost every area of Canadian life and culture. 

My grandparents Diedrich and Margaretha Peters who were born in Ukraine and whose lives were forever changed by the Break Event

My grandparents became prosperous Canadian farmers whose fifty-four descendants serve their country as school administrators, speech therapists,  nurses, media personalities, pharmacists, professors, physicians, professional musicians, agriculturalists, journalists, service managers, postal workers and teachers.

I’m so glad the government of Canada accepted my family when they were refugees. What if they hadn’t?

Other posts…….

On My Grandparents’ Farm

School for the Deaf- My Father-in-Law’s Birthplace



Filed under Family, History, Politics