Irvine Alberta -
Published by the Odessa Digital Library -
Copyright 20 Mile Post Historical Society
Our Bessarabian Ancestors
by Dwayne Janke
Glance at many of the family surnames in this community history book. Notice a
certain similarity to them? Many of the families are descendants of
They were a people with a unique and fascinating history.
In 1804, Alexander I, Tsar of Russia, invited foreigners, especially Germans,
to settle large areas his armies captured near the Black Sea, including
Bessarabia. Like Catherine II before him, Alexander was eager to colonize
undeveloped but fertile black-
his efforts in the early 1800s at attracting immigrants that could serve as
models for agricultural occupations and crafts.
Generous promises were made to the foreign settlers and their descendants. They
were given free land for farms, interest-
taxes for various time periods, local self-
freedom to practice their own religion and freedom from military service.
The situation was exactly opposite to what many Germans experienced in Germany:
frequent military service in foreign wars, suppression by their own governing
leaders, crop failures, famine, land shortages, high taxes, religious
persecution and many other personal problems. Some had already left Germany and
settled in Poland, but destructive Napoleonic wars there left them eager to
listen to promises of a more peaceful life in south Russia.
From 1814 to 1842, about 25, mostly-
Bessarabia. Most of the settlers came from Wurttemberg in south Germany,
Prussia, Bavaria and Poland. Bessarabia was then an untilled country of rich
rolling plains, with natural boundaries -
Pruth Rivers as well as the Black Sea. It would become a rich farming and
grazing country, in large part through the efforts of the new German-
Although there were exceptions, the new settlers to Bessarabia tended to band
together to form villages that were solidly Swabian and Platt dialect
Separatists, at odds with the established church and looking to Russia as a
sort of "promised land."
A typical colony consisted of long streets with farm yards on either side that
included a house and barns, a threshing place, straw stacks and orchards.
Farmland (every family received land as personal and hereditary property when
they came to Bessarabia) was located near the colony.
Life in the beginning was difficult, as the first settlers had little to start
their new lives and needed to learn to farm in the different climate of this
treeless steppe. But soon the Prairie-
wheat, barley, oats, rye and maize. The production of grapes for wine was also
an important part of agriculture in Bessarabia. Garden produce and fruit was
plentifully grown. Horse, cattle, sheep, and hog breeding was also an important
In the Black Sea area, usually the colonists were not permitted to divide the
homestead land given to each family. It had to be handed down to an heir,
usually the youngest son. Fathers often had to buy land for their other sons,
so a great deal of property gradually was bought by the colonists. Large-
families and a growing need for land led to the establishment of daughter
colonies and further settlement. The population among German Bessarabian
settlements climbed to more than 33,000 by 1861.
Home life, church and school were closely linked among the Germans of Russia.
The church supervised instruction in religion and the study of German. Because
of this influence, the church helped to preserve the original German language,
culture and religion, even though the colonists quickly lost all contact with
the German fatherland. The villages, like German islands in a Russian sea, took
on only minor characteristics and a bit of the cultural life of the larger
The Bessarabia colonists prospered and progressed considerably. By 1871, the
German minority was seen as a prospering threat by some in Russian political
circles. They succeeded in having many of the rights ended which had been
promised to the colonists and their descendants at the time of settlement. The
Russian government, under Tsar Alexander III largely ended independent
government moved to make Russian the language of instruction in schools in the
German villages. The government was determined to make Russians out of all
"foreigners." Land shortages also became a problem.
In North America, however, things looked much better. Just as the Russian
government had attracted Germans with free land and special rights in the early
1800s, the governments of the New World made similar offers. According to the
Dominion Lands Act of 1872, every immigrant to Canada could obtain for $10 a
Tens of thousands of German-
Canada's land agents and recruitment advertising. They took up the offer to
come to Canada, especially between 1900-
lines made the Prairies readily accessible to new settlers. (Those
a campaign of hate in the first World War, the Russian Revolution, and
The emigrating German-
shipping ports. There they boarded huge ships as third-
death. Many landed at Canadian points of entry at Halifax or Quebec before
another long train ride to the Canadian Prairies, including many to the
Medicine Hat area. They found conditions much like the steppes of the Black Sea
and adapted rather quickly. Today we enjoy many of the fruits of their hard
work and determination.
Geography has likely influenced the immigrants to settle in this area. Strangers
approaching the extreme southeast corner of the Province, from any direction,
will be impressed by three dominating features -
and its vastness. Approximately 25 miles south of the Town of Irvine, the
beautiful Cypress Hills rise to an altitude of 4,534 feet. The gigantic sheets
of moving, grinding ice gouged out many depressions, some of which eventually
became deep, cold lakes.
Points of Interest
by William Glock
One is about a quarter mile southeast of town and is called THE POINTY HILL,
also known as KAISER HILL. It got its name "Pointy Hill" because it looks like
an ice cream cone turned upside down, very large at the bottom and tapered to
the top. The hill is about 200 feet high, and anyone going to the top will find
it is about 20 feet in diameter, with a 2-
as though it may have been a small volcano at some time. The entire hill is
covered with rocks (mostly small ones) and plenty of cactuses.
It was given the name "Kaiser Hill" during the First World War (1914-
Kaiser Wilhelm, the king of Germany, was burned in effigy on the top of this
The other hill is about 400 yards south of the town. This hill is about 250 feet
high, with the top about 100 feet wide and 400-
The following story about this hill was told to me in 1938 by a gentleman who
was then 83 years old. This tale was passed on to him by his grandparents and
his mother, who were full-
The area where the Town of Irvine now is was in the territory of the Cree. At
that time there were no white men here, and there was very good hunting in the
area, as this was Buffalo country (plus plenty of deer, elk, and antelope). The
buffalo migrated up here from the south, as this was their summer grazing range,
and therefore other Indian bands would also come here to hunt. Many of them were
enemies of the Cree. In order to protect themselves from attacks by these bands,
and also to locate the buffalo, deer, elk, and antelope, the Cree used this hill
as a lookout point, as you can see for miles around. The Cree name for the hill
I cannot remember as I did not write it down when I was told, but the gentleman
told me translated it meant "SEE FAR". The name was later changed when the white
man came. They called it "SPY HILL". by which name it is known today.