On July 19, 2014, a “Dankfest” (festival of thanksgiving) was held at the farm of John and Janice Harder in New Hamburg, Ont., to commemorate the arrival to Canada of the Peter and Elizabeth Tiessen family from Blumstein, Ukraine. The event was also a thank-you to the Aaron Hoffman family from Heidelberg, Ont., who had hosted the Tiessen family when they arrived in Waterloo County in 1924.
On July 19, 1924, the 13 members of the Tiessen family, along with more than 800 other Mennonite immigrants from Ukraine, arrived at the Erb Street Mennonite church and were introduced to their hosts. It was here that the Tiessen family met the Hoffman family. A plaque in the church commemorates the 60th anniversary of the arrival of Russian Mennonites, and that event is featured in the history book of the church, Path of a People: Erb Street Mennonite Church 1851-2001.
The book states, “Approximately six hundred immigrants were expected at Waterloo Mennonite. A notation written at the top of Ira Bauman’s billeting list states that 855 persons arrived that afternoon. . . . The arrivals proceeded into the churchyard where they gathered at the driving sheds. There they were given a lunch of sandwiches, coffee, doughnuts, and raisin squares (according to the church records, $56.00 had been collected in an offering to pay for the food.) Many of the immigrants commented in later years that they had never before seen sandwiches, let alone eaten them. They registered with the billeting committee, and inside the church additional clothing was distributed to those who needed it. After the second train arrived, all assembled for a short but emotional worship service led by two ministers who had come with the immigrants, Jacob Wiens and Jacob P. Friesen. Gratitude was expressed to God for their safe deliverance, and to their Canadian hosts for the reception. They spoke appreciatively of Canada as a land of opportunity.”
Of the original Tiessen family who arrived on that day, the youngest child, Jacob (Jack) Tiessen (born in 1922 and now of Leamington), and the oldest grandchild, Peter Gossen (born in 1923 and now of Niagara), are still living.
Jack Tiessen initiated this event and was thankful to be able to attend. Peter Gossen was unable to attend. Many other children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren of the Tiessens came to the event.
Bob Tiessen, grandson of Peter and Elizabeth Tiessen, welcomed those gathered for the commemoration and gave a bit of background on the family’s migration to Canada.
His father, Frank Tiessen, had written his “remembrances” in 1987, and those are still often referenced. He wrote, “On July 21 . . . Hoffmans brought us to an unoccupied farm with a nice clean house, three or four bedrooms. Everything we needed was there, furniture, dishes, potatoes, flour and so on. They ate supper with us that first evening. After supper, many people came to greet us and also to pick who they wanted to work for them. Everything was so strange. They were all Old [Order] Mennonites and very fine people, but their ways were different from what we were used to.”
Early in 1925, the Tiessen family moved to Essex County. Frank Tiessen wrote, “The work was easier here than with the Old Mennonites. They worked very hard.”
While none of the immediate Aaron Hoffman family are still living, a number of grandchildren and spouses came to the commemoration. Reta Malloy, a grandchild of Aaron Hoffman, shared some memories of that time from her extended family. She said, “The most profound influence on the Hoffman family was the simple faith of the Mennonites from Russia. The Hoffmans were Old Order Mennonites and believed that their salvation depended on their simple, plain living. . . . The Tiessens and other families talked freely of their faith and spoke of being born again and assurance of salvation. They did not adhere to the plain living of the Old Order Mennonites and bought a car when they could afford it. While being respectful of their Old Order hosts, their faith overflowed and affected the young Hoffmans and their parents.”
The event was truly a “Dankfest” for the host family’s assistance in helping the Tiessen family to settle in their new and chosen home of Canada.
—Posted August 1, 2014