Retired educator writes book on German settlers coming to SK

Sask Bulletin
December 23, 2019

At the age of 94, retired educator and history buff Gordon Matthews recently completed a decade-long project with the self-published book entitled An Exodus to a Land of Promise.

Matthews, who served with the Royal Canadian Air Force in World War II and later tried his hand at farming before shifting gears to education, indicated this was an enduring passion to share.

His 35-year career included being a principal in a number of schools in southern and eastern Saskatchewan before eventually becoming superintendent in Melville, and then culminating his career as a part-time director of education at Peepeekisis Cree Nation during the early years of his retirement.

The book follows the two migrations of German people to the Canadian prairies a century apart–the second wave being largely descendants of the first wave from the mid-1700s to about 1825, with the second migration occurring between 1885 and 1914. The latter was sparked in large part by the lure of free land being offered as well as the deteriorating circumstances at home, culminating with the outbreak of World War I in 1914.

According to Matthews, “this book was not designed to be a smooth-flowing, carefully arranged sequence of events–rather, the aim is to present historical facts relating to the part played by homesteaders in the settling of the Canadian prairies.”

Matthews’ interest in this epoch in Canadian (and German) history was further fuelled by those German colonists from eastern Europe, including those from what is known today as Ukraine. Matthews chronicles a trip he took to western Ukraine in 2012, when he and a group of 20 fellow travellers visited the villages where the colonists had lived–they were removed from their homeland in 1939 due to an order from Adolf Hitler and the Nazis at the outbreak of World War II.

All this ties into Matthews’ own experience growing up in the Neudorf area of southeastern Saskatchewan, where he became intrigued by how the area had been settled by German-speaking people that came from Austria. Following extensive research on his part, Matthews realized the people were descendants of German colonists from the eastern edge of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire.

While serving as superintendent in the area he came to realize that there were two distinct strains of settlers: Catholics in the community of Grayson and Protestants in nearby Neudorf.

The book delves into the challenges these German colonists faced, both in their native Europe and later settling in to a harsh new reality of the Canadian prairies and all that it entailed, including the cold weather we are all too familiar with.

Matthews indicated anyone who might like to check out this book can contact him personally at fandgmatthews@sasktel.net or at 306-782-6420. Printing of the book is on demand and is available in both soft cover ($35) and hard cover ($43).