8-20: THE SUDETEN SETTLEMENT IN THE PEACE RIVER DISTRICT

In a large circular valley with low hills gently raising on all sides is the Gundy Ranch, the haven of refuge for nearly six hundred Sudetens. The settlement is reached by rail via Northern Alberta Railways at Tupper or by the main highway from Edmonton to Fort St. John. It is just inside the British Columbia boundary and about four hundred and fifty miles north west of Edmonton.

The bringing in of these people of a non-British race and settling them in a block has caused some murmuring and a few open protests. It was to find out from personal observation what was being done to establish them so that they would become self-supporting, and if any efforts were being made to encourage them to become Canadians, that a visit was paid recently to the ranch.

Probably the busiest man on the ranch is the Superintendent, F. B. McConnell, but he found time to give information and answer questions. He told me that the land purchased or upon which options were held was twenty thousand acres. Eight hundred acres has been put under crop, eight hundred acres of new breaking done and he anticipated having twenty-five hundred acres ready for crop next spring. The land is a parkland type common to the Peace River district and northern prairies generally.

The land is held in trust for the immigrants by the Canadian Colonization Association. The newcomers are settled in small communities at convenient parts of the ranch, the smallest being two families and the largest about twenty. The latter is the main settlement at the old ranch buildings near where the highway crosses Tate Creek. When all the families have arrived there will be over one hundred and sixty families and approximately six hundred individuals. Once they have had a chance to get used to the district, those that decide to stay at the ranch will have an individual parcel of land of their own. It is now being worked somewhat on community lines until the division is made. The place is a hive of industry -- everyone seems to have a job and doing it. Three tractors are each going twenty-four hours a day and forty men are clearing bush. One cannot think of any pioneers without a vegetable garden. It was one of the first crops planted. The community garden is on the east side of the highway -- fifty-two acres of potatoes, cabbage, beets, turnips, peas, parsnips, celery, onions, etc., and like the crops of grain is looking like producing a fairly good crop. The man in charge of the garden, Mr. Weniger, is a practical man with much experience in large private and botanical gardens in Germany and the Sudetenland. He talked fair English and hopes to be able to improve it this winter. It was too late this spring to do anything with flowers after the vegetables were in but he is planning for some blooms for next year. Under his direction the women do most of the weeding and lighter gardening tasks, taking it in turns.

Dairying is also being carried on with sixty cows being milked at the central group. There are one hundred and twenty cows on the ranch. Other live stock includes thirty brood sows and seventy horses. The only poultry visible were a few geese.

At the time of the visit one hundred and fourteen houses had been built and they are still going up. These cottages are small portable buildings of an average size of fourteen feet by eighteen. This size is large enough for most families and are easily moved when the owner gets settled on his land. A number of stables ten by eighteen have also been built. These are portable as well. The settlement is practically self contained. There is a well-equipped blacksmith’s shop and harness and shoe repair shop.

Supplies are bought in bulk and weighed up and distributed from a central storehouse. A telephone in the Superintendent’s office connects with the Dominion Government and the Alberta Government systems.

The business of the settlement appears to be well organized and in capable hands. The handling of the affairs of six hundred people speaking a foreign language and with no experience in their environment is quite a problem. Fortunately Mr. McConnell is experienced in the management of large farms and settlements. He also speaks German. With a large-scale plan of the ranch under the glass on his desk he can show you just what is going on and where.

A number of the settlers are able to speak English, perhaps not fluently, but so that some conversation can be carried on. They appear to be a clean looking, healthy and intelligent lot and all seem on the sunny side of middle age. Every one spoken to were unanimous on two points -- their liking for their new home and their dislike for Hitler.

During the rush of summer work and getting a large settlement organized there has not been much opportunity to teach them English, citizenship, [or the fine points of being Canadian].

A large number of residents from Pouce Coupe, Dawson Creek and other points in the vicinity have visited the ranch and have created generally a good impression. There appears to be a decidedly friendly feeling existing towards their English-speaking neighbors. The officers of the Canadian Legion visited them prior to the annual School Sports Day and invited them to attend, which a number did. Other organizations have welcomed them and tried to make them feel they are in a friendly democratic country.

The day of my visit the School Inspector for the Peace River district of BC (A. S. Towell) held a long conference with Mr. McConnell with the result that two school houses are being built ready for opening in September. One of these, near the central group, will be two-roomed. There were 91 children of school age in the settlement that day. Some of them will be accommodated at Swan Lake School. English teachers are being provided.

Church services are held regularly by the Anglicans and the Roman Catholics and a church is being erected by the latter body. Social gatherings of some kind or other are held amongst themselves nearly every evening and community singing and other activities are carried on each weekend. There are a number of splendid musicians, professional and amateur, in the settlement.

The Canadian Club of the district has extended an invitation to the musicians to be presented at their next meeting to be held in September which will give them a chance to get better acquainted.

Practically all professions and trades are represented amongst the settlers. Some of these may drift to the towns and villages but most of them seem to be well content where they are at present.

Many residents of the Peace River district are not generally in favor of mass settlement of foreign immigrants. The attitude taken by most is that as long as they are here and settled in a block the best thing to do is not to blame them or do anything unfriendly. It makes sense to make them feel welcome provided they comply with the laws the customs of the country. Persecution drove many good immigrants into England in the past and these did much towards the prosperity of the old land. The class of people driven from Sudetenland to Gundy makes one think that Germany has lost and Canada gained by the movement.

Trade has been stimulated and a payroll created for local residents that has been more than welcome. By exhibiting a friendly, kindly attitude towards these new comers they should make citizens worthy of Canada.

 

[Editor's note: It is uncertain who the original author of this article was. Parts of it are quite patronizing and reflect attitudes of the time around 1940]

 

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Any other use may violate one or more copyrights which rest with the original authors.

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