Archive | March, 2020

Katie’s Journey: From the Steppes of Russia to the Alberta Prairies

9 Mar

Knock Knock! “Hi Mrs.’s Judy home”? As usual Katie was in the kitchen, cleaning up after doing some baking. I had always known her to be busy….cleaning, washing, baking, cooking and preserving vegetables from her garden. No freezers in the early 1950’s. She had a cold room in the basement where the jars from her canning were stored. If she wasn’t busy around the home, she was selling Avon products in her area or was at the church for choir practice.  She loved music, sang and accompanied herself on her autoharp. In the fall, I remember fires in the Brown’s backyard after it was cleaned up and the debris burned before winter set in. Mr. Brown, aka Eric, was the fire starter.

Although I had known Katie since I was 2 years old, it was only in later years after her husband Eric had passed away in 1994,  that we became good friends. We had many conversations, some at Swiss Chalet our favorite eating place and it was during these, plus others with family members, that I learned about her remarkable life.

Katie’s family came from the villages of Grossweide and Rudnerweide.

Katie was born into a large Mennonite  family  in 1921 in the small village of Grossweide, one of 57 in the Molotschna Colony just above the sea of Azov in the  Russian Empire, today part of the Ukraine.  The colony of Molotschna was founded in 1804 by Mennonite settlers from West Prussia.  Each village had an elementary school. At a time when compulsory education was unknown in Europe, the students were taught reading and writing (Mennonite Plaudiestch dialect – low German),  arithmetic, religion and  singing. The teacher was typically a craftsperson or herder, untrained in teaching, who fit class time around his main work.    I understood Katie had only the equivalent of grade 6 education..but  she was a smart woman. After her husband Eric passed away in 1994, she kept all her household accounts in a book. She would record when all her bills were paid, how much things cost. In 1992 when she and Eric sold the family home, she was the person that handled most of the real estate dealings to purchase the new condo. Katie also loved to crochet and all her family has at least one afghan by which to remember her.

Times were tough in Russia in 1920, there was little food and many families had already left for North and South America. The Mennonite villages felt the full impact of the famine and the preceding drought. If the people  were lucky they might find an onion or a few beet greens, if not then their diet was reduced to moss, chaff, dried weeds and ground corn cobs. Katie’s father Herman Wall was a teacher in the village. He and his wife Katherina had a large family…5 boys and 7 girls. Katie had been sickly as a young child and inadequate food didn’t help a growing girl. The Mennonites of Molotschna sent a commission to North America in the summer of 1920 to alert American Mennonites of the dire conditions of war-torn Ukraine.  A year passed before the Soviet government gave official permission for the international Mennonites to conduct relief work among the villages of Ukraine. Kitchens provided 25,000 people a day with rations over a period of three years beginning in 1922, with a peak of 40,000 servings during August of that year.

Hermann 36, Katherina 35, Anna 6, Katherina 4, Lisa 2, Johann 1+ and Mary 6 mo. Departed Liverpool England for St. John New Brunswick arriving 25Jan1926

In 1925 it was the Wall Family’s turn to leave. They would take a train across the country to a European port . There they would board a ship that  would take them to Liverpool, England. They were held up in quarantine in England for several months before before sailing to Canada. They sailed aboard the Montrose and arrived in on Jan 25, 1926 at the port in St. John New Brunswick.

Waiting to board the train to leave Russia.


They then had a long train journey  across Canada  from New Brunswick  to Edmonton, Alberta and then on to Wembly where there were to live. How they made that last part of the journey I do not know.  I found this document online (South Peace Archives) and see that it wasn’t long before this industrious group of people were purchasing land for their settlement at Wembley.

Johann J. Gossen fonds, 1930, April 5, 2018 2:19 pm Accession 2011.011 Administrative/Biographical History  South Peace Archives
“Johann Gossen was born 1 January 1879 at Landskrone, Molotschna, Taurida, South Russia.  He was the son of Jakob Johann Gossen and Sara Berg and married Helena Friesen on 27 June 1910.  He was a school teacher by profession but also worked as a jeweller and mechanic. During World War I he served as a marine mechanic in the Russian navy.  He immigrated to Canada in 1923, living first at Swalwell, Alberta, before moving to Wembley, Alberta in 1929.  There he represented a group of 15 families who purchased and then subdivided the land and assets of the Adair Ranch.  This ranch which in 1926 consisted of  22 quarter sections of land, a large barn for 100 horses, 2 houses, a blacksmith shop and a pump house, had been purchased in 1926 by a group of Russian Mennonite immigrants.  The immigrants included members of both Mennonite and Mennonite Brethren churches worshipped together on the ranch as members or participants in the Hoffnungsfelder Mennonite Church.   They also worked the land together for two years, but in 1929 the Mennonite Brethren built their own church and a decision was made to sub-divide the land.  Some of the original settlers left and others, including Johann Gossen, negotiated a new agreement in 1930.  In those negotiations Johann Gossen, acted on behalf of the purchasing group.  The original copy of this agreement is held in the Regional Archives in Grande Prairie, Alberta.The Gossen family moved from Wembley to Burns Lake, British Columbia in 1932 where Johann Gossen died on 23 April 1945.”

John Gossen represented the families in the purchase of the land from the Adair Ranch Company. Name Herman Wall (Katie’s Father) is listed.


Big Horn School

Katie started her Canadian schooling at the Bighorn School  and then moved on to the Meadowville  School for another 5 years. In her teens she got a job at Bear Lake and then a house maid job in Sexsmith. This was the home of Florence May (Dillon) and Donald Park Brown. It was here that she met her future husband Eric Brown, They were married August 8, 1941. They moved to Edmonton where they would live for the rest of their lives.They were blessed with 3 daughters..Verna, Shirley and the following years. After several moves, they settled in the house on 69 avenue where they were to remain until 1992
when they downsized to a condo in the west end.

Katie and Eric in Sexsmith, Alberta


Young Katie at 20 years of age


Always a smile


Wedding Day



The Brown Family…Katie, Eric and Judy, Shirley and Verna



Katie and Eric were lifetime members of the Alliance Church and it was a central part of their lives. I went with Judy to the youth activities at the Richmond Alliance Church. Progressive Suppers were one of my favorite activities along with hay rides at a farm near the city. Oh did I forget to mention..we found the boys that attended Youth Group most interesting!
Given that Eric was 21 years older than Katie, it was normal that she take on many of the family responsibilities. as they both got older. This included learning to drive when she was 68,  as Eric could no longer handle that task. They were able to make a trip to Grand Prairie and Jasper with Katie at the wheel.

Eric and his mother Lizzie with the girls


Katie and her family …Eric, Verna, Judy and Shirley

Eric looking so proud of his family in this studio photograph. (1948)


Katie spent the latter years of her life in her west end condo, followed by several years at Lifestyle’s Terra Losa. She celebrated many birthdays at these places.

2011-07-05 17.16.17

Judy (daughter) and Katie



My Favorite man….Brian Thom




Scott (grandson),Shirley (daughter) and Katie at dinner at Swiss Chalet

Gatherings over time….Top Left..Patrick, Kim and Ty Jackson, Brian and Judy Thom, Keri Lee and Chris Miller and Cody and Angelica, Top Right..Kim, Judy Ty and Katie; Center..Judy Katie Louise, Louise, Katie Verna, Brian, Katie and Judy; Bottom…Judy Katie, Katie, Cody, Judy Ty                                                               


Her final years were spent at the Edmonton General Continuing Care Center. Katie was an ordinary woman who lived an extraordinary life. She will be missed.

Katie and her sister Margaret at 98th birthday party July 5, 2019

BROWN, Katie
On January 30, 2020, Katie Brown, of Edmonton, passed away peacefully into the presence of her Lord at the age of 98 years. Predeceased in 1994 by her loving husband, Eric, after 53 years of marriage. She will be lovingly remembered by her three daughters, Verna, Shirley, and Judy (Brian); seven grandchildren, thirteen great-grandchildren, four great-great-grandchildren, two remaining sisters, Margaret and Lena; and many other relatives and friends. Funeral Service will be held on Saturday, February 8, 2020 at 11:00 a.m. at Beulah Alliance Church, 17504 98A Ave NW, Edmonton.

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