Recording the Hungarian Past – in Canada

Plaque for St. Michael's RC church, Bashaw, AL, which was scheduled to be demolished in 2008; sign post for Kaposvár, now part of Esterházy, SK

Recording the Hungarian Past – in Canada

EPF

In addition to his life-long work and dedication to issues of environmental protection, Dr. Tóth Gergely is a Professor of languages – Hungarian and German. (He currently teaches German at Florida Atlantic University.) He has compiled over 300 oral history interviews and in a race against time, is photographing the remaining, and often rapidly disappearing, built mementos of Hungarian emigrants. 

He has published a 40-page summary of a trip through Canada’s prairie region, from Vancouver to Winnipeg where, in 2017, he searched for the remains of Hungarian churches.  Titled ”Magyarok a kanadai prérin – láthatatlan értékeink” (Hungarians on the Canadian prairie – our invisible treasures), it summarizes his discoveries. For at the end of the 19th and early 20th century, the Canadian government invited settlers, offering land at minimal prices, in order to populate and work the hinterlands.  Many Hungarian farmers took up the offer, established numerous settlements, and built little churches and chapels of various denominations – Roman Catholic, Reformed and Baptist.  These served the small congregations, scattered over vast, sparsely populated areas. 

In the part of Canada that is the subject of this summary, Dr. Tóth had scant references to go by, and depended mainly on the local people for information concerning the whereabouts of these (mostly abandoned) churches and cemeteries.  Often directed to distant fields by descendents of the original settlers, he recorded the Hungarian names he found on tombstones and grave markers in deserted cemeteries.

Interspersed with photos, this small work provides a glimpse of the community spirit of these early Hungarian immigrants who, so far away from their native land, still held fast to their ancestral faith in their native language.