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Migration to Canada

Mennonite Immigrants and the Canadian Mennonite Board of Colonization

[Eric Krause Note: The entire article has not been reproduced here]

Vol. 11 No. 1 Spring 2005
Roots and branches

Mennonite Immigrants and the Canadian Mennonite Board of Colonization
by Ron Isaak

This article deals primarily with those Mennonite immigrants who arrived in Canada between 1923 and about 1930 from Russia. The work to extract the records of the Canadian Mennonite Board of Colonization (CMBC) has been underway for some time yet is often overlooked. The following introduction to the CMBC has been adapted from the Mennonite Encyclopedia on-line. [1]

“When, after World War I, the Mennonites of Russia were famine-stricken and suffered many other hardships, the Mennonites of Western Canada were among those who wished to extend every possible help. Thus, on 18 October 1920, fourteen representatives of the various Mennonite churches in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta met in Regina, Sask., to organize a Canadian Central Committee similar to the Mennonite Central Committee just organized in the United States. The committee was to be in charge of a united Canadian relief program for the Mennonites who suffered in Russia. …

The first group of the new Mennonite immigrants arrived in Canada in July 1923. Similar contracts were entered into every year up to 1930. Over 21,000 Mennonites were brought to Canada under these contracts. …. Accommodation and maintenance were provided for the newcomers by the Canadian Mennonites who opened their homes to them on their arrival or assisted them in finding necessary accommodation.” [2]

The project to extract the data from the CMBC records is being undertaken by the Mennonite Historical Society of Alberta (MHSA). The following has been adapted with permission from their internet site. [3]

Between 1923 and 1930 almost 6,000 Mennonite households (20,201 individuals) pulled up their roots from the USSR and managed to emigrate to Canada. For many this had a substantial physical, emotional, psychological, and financial cost.

The Canadian Mennonite Board of Colonization of Rosthern, Saskatchewan created a registration form for each family that came to Canada under its auspices. These forms were cross-referenced to the ledger books which recorded the transportation debt which the Board owed Canadian Pacific Railway.

The registrations forms initially consisted of two-sided 5.5 x 8 ½ inch newsprint sheets that were pre-printed and completed by hand. … The pages are of fragile newsprint and with many years of handling their condition has deteriorated. The Mennonite Heritage Committee in Winnipeg (MHC) had them microfilmed as a conservation procedure for the long term protection of the originals.

What can these records tell us? Why is such care bestowed on these records? It’s because they contain rich information about the Mennonite households who were able to leave the USSR and come to Canada. Each one represents a milestone in the fleeing and freeing experience. Years later, they represent one sure proof of age for those who apply for Old Age Pension. Collectively, they represent a goldmine of data for family and academic historians. (For a further description go to ) When I first found out about this project I sent away (see ordering information below) for copies of the CMBC records for my grandparents and was not disappointed. The front of each CMBC record card (p. 10) lists the immigrating family with dates and places of birth. On the left are notes added as to what happened to each person, whom they married, etc. as this was the basis for a financial repayment record for ‘credit passengers.’ On this card beside Jacob Cornelius it says ‘1926 ertrunken’ (drowned); beside Abram Cornelius Isaak it notes he married Katharine Wiebe; for Johann it lists his wife as Katharine Voth (Fote); and for Maria (Mary), Isaac Friesen is shown as the husband. The numbers at the bottom were the family number (533) and a folio number for financial tracking (F 90). This debt for travel expenses was called the Reiseschuld and is a word often said with distain by our elders. The reverse side of the CMBC card indicated the dates of travel, the route taken, then destination in Canada and the naming of a relative in North America. (presumably a sponsor) The back of the Cornelius Isaak Family card states that the last place of residence in Russia was Alexanderpol in Bachmut. They left from Alexandrowsk (now Saporoschje) Russia (a staging area for immigrants) on the 27th of July 1924 by rail arriving in Riga, Latvia on the 31st of July, 1924. Departed Riga (actually port at Libau, Latvia, on the 1st of August, 1924 on the ship Baltara for Southampton, England. Arrived in Liverpool, England on the 5th August and departed Liverpool on August 7th on the ship Minnedosa and arrived in Quebec City, Quebec on August 14th, 1924. They are bound for Winkler, Manitoba. They have an uncle, Kornelius Isaak in Reedley, California. [Eric Krause Note: Re Annie Krause - Abram J. & Margaretha (Dück) Mathies immigrated to Canada from Schönfeld, Russia in 1924, crossing the Atlantic on the “Minnedosa”]

For those who read German and have access to back issues of the newspaper “Der Bote”, the May 2, 1984 issue carried a lead story commemorating the trip 60 years ago. It is front page and entitled “Zur Erinnerung an unsere Auswanderung aus Russland vor 60 Jahren und das erste Jahr in Kanada.” Copies of Der Bote are in the archives at MHSBC. Thus, these cards supply important information about our immigrant forefathers including the name of the ship and date of arrival in Canada. From this information ship and immigration records can be ordered from the Canadian National Archives as noted in the last issue. To see if your family is listed on the CMBC records see the online index (right side of page) at The travel debt for credit passengers, called the “Reiseschuld”, also contains valuable information for the family historian. The Reiseschuld records will be the subject of the next article in this series. To order copies of the Canadian Mennonite Board of Colonization records contact the Mennonite Historical Society of Alberta (MHSA). They state “we'll be glad to supply a single scanned image (photocopy for those who do not have access to the internet) as an e-mail attachment at no cost. For copies of more than one record, we request a donation of $1.00 per record. The MHSA will be very pleased to receive independent donations from those individuals who would like to "sponsor" a series of individuals' (related or unrelated) records to be scanned and placed online. All requests may be sent to the MHSA. Please be sure to put "CMBOC" and any family details (surname, given name, birth date or year of immigration) into your query. Mennonite Historical Society of Alberta #223, 2946 - 32 Street NE, Calgary, AB T1Y 6J7 (403) 250-1121 e-mail: 

Ron Isaak is a member of the MHSBC.

1 (2005). "Canadian Mennonite Board of Colonization..” Canadian Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. "Mennonite Historical Society of Canada.” Retrieved 6 Apr 2005 

[Source: ]

Emigration from Central and Eastern Europe

When the Mennonites in Russia and Prussia felt that they were losing their exemption from military service again and encountered economic restrictions, some 18,000 of them left Russia to settle in the United States and Canada. Although the Chortitza settlement (Old Colony) was much smaller than the Molotschna settlement, it furnished almost half of the emigrants; they were unwilling to accept a compulsory alternative service program and objected to the Russification inaugurated by the Russian government. Only few Prussian Mennonites joined this migration whereas all the Swiss Volhynian Mennonites of Polish Russia joined; half the Swiss Galician Mennonites came to America, and many of the Low German Mennonites of Poland came to the United States as congregations.

An even larger migration of Mennonites from Russia occurred after World War I when in 1922-30 some 25,000 Mennonites went to Canada (21,000), Mexico, Brazil, and Paraguay. The reasons for this mass migration were the threat of complete disintegration of the religious, cultural, and economic way of life of the Mennonites. A much larger number would have escaped, had not the Second World War intervened. During the German occupation of Ukraine in 1941-43 some 35,000 were evacuated by the German army to be resettled in the Vistula area (Warthegau) where they had come from some 150 years ago. Because of the outcome of the war, nearly two thirds were forcibly repatriated by the Russian army in 1945-46, while some 12,000 found their way to Canada and South America. All the Mennonites of Prussia and Poland fled in 1945 when the Russian army approached. A large number of the Danzig and Prussian and some of the Galician Mennonites migrated to Uruguay and Canada between 1948 and 1952.

[Source: ]



1923 - 1929 - Mennonite Exodus

Maps and Historical Notes related to Mennonite History by William Schroeder