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Immigration To the West

Free essay example:

Immigration to the West


                                                                Mohammed Badruddin


                                                                History 146G

How is the immigrant experience of the Kroeger family similar and/or different to

that of other immigrant families coming to Canada in this time period?  Defend

your position with evidence from Arthur Kroeger’s book, Hard Passage, and from

your own independent research on this topic.  

Most of the Canadian immigration can be rooted back to the late 19th and the early 20th century. It is estimated that over three million immigrants entered the Canadian borders during that period. Amongst the many group of immigrants were the Kroeger family who were Mennonites living in Russia that migrated to Canada to escape the political and economical instability hoping to settle into a new homeland that will offer them the opportunity to live a prosperous and tranquil life.

When looking at immigration it is important to consider the contributing factors that prompted citizens of one nation to abandon their homeland and migrate to a new host land. It is also important to consider the extent to which individuals acculturate and assimilate into society as they adapt to their new surroundings. Acculturation is the process of acquiring cultural traits as a result of contact. As you enter the society, you tend to learn the culture and values of that society. Immigrants arrive as first culture and end us a combination of first and second culture. Assimilation is a series of stages towards adopting the dominating cultures way of life completely. Here immigrants arrive as first culture and by the end of the process second culture has taken over. ‘

Using Arthur Kroeger’s book , ‘Hard Passage,’ as the basis of my research I will examine the life of Mennonites in Russia prior to conflicts and then show how the situation evolved and caused thousands of citizen to migrate to the West. The author, portrays the story of his family migrating from Russia to Canada. Kroeger emphasizes that the experience is much more than that and uses his family’s personal life story to give readers the idea of the experience that thousands of other Russians Mennonite went through at the time. Despite the various challenges and difficulties Kroeger family faced in migrating to Canada and establishing themselves independently, it will be shown how the Kroeger experience despite being similar when compared to other minority groups, are still ‘better off’. Comparison will be made with similar groups from Russia such as the Doukhobors as well as distinct groups such as the Chinese.

Mennonites are an offshoot of the Anabaptist, a radical Protestant group that emerged in the 1500’s. [1] They originated from Dutch and German roots and went on to establish colonies in Russia throughout the late 18th and 19thcentury. ‘In time they become culturally German and their Dutch language gave way to Low German, the North German language which, mixed with some Dutch words, later became the lingua franca of the Mennonites in Russia.’ [2] Autonomy and refraining from violence was especially important to the Mennonites because of their religious beliefs and this is why they refused from taking up arms and participating in war. Mennonites were very independent, “Their colonies were fully self-sufficient and self governing. They financed and managed their own schools, colleges, hospitals, courts, credit unions, fire insurance, taxes, orphanages, and systems of poor relief. Only for rare cases of serious crimes……did they have to recourse to government law enforcements agencies.[3]

Arthur’s father, Heinrich Kroeger, born in 1883, lived during the period regarded as the ‘golden age’ of the Mennonite colonies.[4] Heinrich came from a well know family that manufactured clocks, and was born in the village of Rosental in the Chortiza colony- first colony established by the Mennonites.[5]

Heinrich’s early years can be seen as prosperous, with a busy yet comfortable standard of living. In his diary that he wrote in 1911 he states: “We threshed the load that was left over before breakfast. Then we went for the last two loads of wheat.... went to the Dnieper for a swim towards evening. The hired man trimmed the straw stacks.” [6] In 1912 Heinrich married Helena Rempel and they continued to live a peaceful life together like the other Mennonites during that time.

World War I ended the tranquility that many citizens experienced for years. In March 1915 Heinrich was sent to serve as a medical orderly on a train. For the next three years Heinrich continued his duties until the orderlies were demobilized in 1918. ‘The advent of war had broken off hiss career at the wagon plant, and his service on the trains had impaired his health.’[7]

The Civil War (1918-1920) and the Russian Revolution further deteriorated the situation of the Mennonites in Russia. ‘By the end of the civil war, Russia’s national income had fallen by two thirds, the railways had been destroyed, and Moscow and Petrograd had lost over half of their inhabitants.’[8] Devaluation of the local currency left daily commodities too expensive to purchase and at times daily commodities such as butter were used as a medium of exchange.

It is after the civil war where push factors, those that induce the citizens to emigrate out of the country start taking affect. ‘Religion was under attack, the Soviet government was seizing lands and transferring them to Russian peasants, people were being arrested and beaten on trivial grounds, local soviets had superseded village self-government……The famine of 1920 through 1922, and the hyperinflation that followed, further strengthened urge to emigrate.’[9]

It was a horrifying experience for Kroegers themselves as they fought for survival whilst their children suffered from hunger causing great stress to both parents, Heinrich and Helena.[10]

Despite the conditions improving in 1922 and the introduction of the New Economic Policy that gave citizen certain privileges such as independent farming, many of them turned their attention from survival to emigration as they saw no future nor hope for long-term prosperity. Two big question rose at that time with regard to emigrating. ‘Would they be allowed to go’ and whether any country would ‘take them in.’? [11] After years of negotiation many Mennonites living in the West made arrangements for emigration to Canada. The leading role was played by Saskatchewan schoolteacher and church elder name David Toews.[12] Since Canada was not recognized by the government at the time, Moscow would not deal with emigration process. Instead these emigrants were processes through Latvia. Those who could not pass the pre medical exam- usually because of trachoma- a highly infection eye disease prevalent in Russia were allowed to stay in Germany and Southampton, England. [13]

Canada offered the best opportunity for the Mennonites at that time. The four demands that were crucial for a Mennonite: ‘Assurance of complete religious freedom, military exemption, land of good quality and low prices, financial assistance for the journey’ were all guaranteed for the immigrants to Canada by the local government. [14] Religious freedom and military exemption are considered not only important for the Mennonites but also for other minority groups that were looking to migrate such as the Hutterites and the Doukhobors. [15] Both strongly believed in pacifism and autonomy just like the Mennonites. Canada therefore was not only a safe haven for the Mennonites at the time but also for a vast amount of emigrants looking for opportunity and freedom. The Canadian government offered citizens conditional acceptance and only allowed them to engage in agricultural activities. They were also not allowed to be of public charge for 5 years. [16]

Life in Rosental continued to be difficult for the Kroeger family in the mid 1920’s. Like others Heinrich came to a decision on favor of emigration after constant pressure from his wife. The process to apply and immigrate to Canada was a lengthy one. It took the Kroeger family 18 months before they were given the clearance to leave. [17] The journey itself was long and tedious. ‘By the time their train arrived in Monitor, the Kroegers and their children had been traveling for 6 weeks, by rail from Chortiza to Moscow and then Liba, by ship to London, by rail to Atlantic Parkby ship to Cherbourg and then Quebec and then finally 2500 miles by rail to Alberta.’ [18]

On arrival to Canada the Kroegers like many other immigrants noticed that it was not a ‘welcoming environment for a newly arrived family………., with five children, no knowledge of English. Minimal financial resources, and a father in poor health’ [19] Like other Mennonite, they were settled on unprofitable prairie farms often abandoned by their owners. It took 13 years before the Kroegers could fully self-support themselves and this was typical for many other Mennonite families who suffered from great poverty for years after their arrival to Canada.

Despite their low economic and social status and the fact that many Canadians had reserved attitudes toward foreigners, the Mennonites were generally well accepted.

Acculturation was evident amongst the Kroeger family and many other Mennonites. ‘Some Mennonite families who came to Canada were determined from the outset to become Canadian, and the parents insisted that their children learn and speak English. The majority of parents, however, sought to preserve the language and culture they had known in Russia. Kroeger family fell in this category and in the early years only the Low German language was spoken at home.[20] While trying to keep their own identity Kroegers realized like other immigrants of the importance of acculturating to survive in their new host land. Both their kids, Nick and Harry, who had no past knowledge of English were sent to attend the local school. There are other signs of the Kroegers assimilating and acculturating into the Canadian culture, On July 21 1935, Heinrich recorded attending an English service at the church. [21]

When comparing the Mennonite experience with the Chinese it can be seen that the latter witnessed worse situations during their immigration experience to Canada and the US. Chinese were not accepted as well mainly because they were considered  ‘too different’ from the rest and the government believed that the challenges of acculturation and assimilation were simply too great for them. While the government did not completely ban the Chinese, a stiff head-tax ($500) to deny their entry into Canada was imposed in 1903. [22]  The contributing factors that led to Chinese emigrating are different when being compared with the Mennonites. While both groups migrated as a result of economic downturns, religious freedom and military exemption was not the pushing factor for the Chinese. Instead Chinese were attracted to the West because of ‘opportunity and gold.’ Companies in North America also facilitated in covering all travel expenses. [23] Like the Mennonites there are signs of Chinese acculturating into the Western society. Roger Daniels in his book “Coming to America’ outlines two Chinese immigrants, George Washington Taylor and Yung Wing, who both immigrated to North America from China and adapted parts of the Western culture. Both immigrants attended local English schools and married women that were not of Chinese origin clearly demonstrating the impact the new culture had on them.[24]

Overall, I believe, most immigrants that came into Canada and the US were influenced by the local Anglo-Saxon Caucasian culture. Acculturation of some sort can be seen with almost all group that immigrated and this was on most cases voluntary in order to survive in their new host land. Despite this,

Canada was not a ‘melting point’ for these immigrants and some aspects of each culture still remained. When comparing the Mennonites with other groups it can be seen that the emigration struggle and hardships were faced by all minority groups that immigrated to the West. The Mennonites, were however fortunate to have members such as David Toews who with his strong efforts and contacts with the CPR and government officials aided the transfer of thousand of Mennonites to Canada. With his heroic efforts and commitment Mennonites were able to form a community in Canada. Due to this strong communal link between the Mennonites I believe their whole experience despite all the hardships and struggles was still better off in comparison to other groups that immigrated to Canada.


Kroeger, Arthur. Hard Passage: A Mennonite Family;s Long Journey from Russia to Canada, The Univeristy of Alberta Press, 2007.

Juhnke, James. A People of Two Kingdoms, Faith and Life Press, 1975.

Smith, Henry.  Smiths’ Story of the Mennonites, Faith and Life Press, 2005.

Knowles, Valerie. Stranger at our gates, Dundurn Press, 2007.

See, Lisa. On Gold Mountain, Vintage Books, 1996.

Daniels, Roger. Coming to America: a history of immigration and ethnicity In American life, HarperCollins Publishers, 2002.

[1] Kroeger 9

[2] Kroeger 10

[3] Kroeger 13

[4] Kroeger 9

[5] Kroeger 11

[6] Kroeger  18

[7] Kroeger 46

[8] Kroeger 61

[9] Kroeger 70

[10] Kroeger 71

[11] Kroeger 74

[12] Kroeger 75

[13] Smith 324

[14] Junhke 14

[15] Knowles 93

[16] Kroeger 80

[17] Kroeger 95

[18] Kroeger108

[19] Kroeger114

[20] Kroeger 142

[21] Kroeger 143

[22] Knowles 73

[23] See 14

[24] Daniels 248

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