My OPA by Koralie Jutras

John Bergen is my Opa, which means grandfather in German. He was born in 1933 in the Mennonite village of Gnadenthal, Ukraine. About 200 families lived in this small farming community. For the first years of his life, he lived there with his parents, Abram and Susanne Bergen, and his older siblings, Peter, Katie, and Henry. When John was six years old, his father was taken away, never to be seen again. This was at the very beginning of World War II. From then on, Susanne raised her children on her own. John remembers the good times he had in this village, especially picking vegetables in the garden located on the outskirts of the village. The village then became under German occupation and in 1943, all the families of Germen descent were told to return to Germany. This included the Bergen family. At ten years old, John took the train with his family to Poland, where they lived for a while, then fled to Germany when the German army was beaten back. In Germany, it was common for John to have to take refuge in a bomb shelter and hear the bombs exploding not too far away. Finally, in 1947, Susanne Bergen decided to join her relatives in Canada. She and her children took the boat to Canada and installed themselves in Manitoba. Throughout his childhood, John went to school in four different countries. He was seventeen years old when he finished grade 6.
Work, marriage, and family
John started working on farms when he was almost seventeen years old and learned how to milk cows. After doing this for a few years, he became an apprentice working with sheet metal (apprenticeship was the most common way to learn a job). Eventually, he started working with air conditioning systems, started his own company and trained apprentices himself. He says he has “enjoyed making people comfortable, summer and winter”. One day, he was invited to go bowling by a girl named Shirley Penner, whom he had seen many times at his church’s youth events. A few weeks later, she accepted an invitation from him to go boating. The two of them fell in love and were married in 1960. They had five children between 1961 and 1968: Carol, Marjorie (my mom), Donna, Nancy, and Richard. All the children got the opportunity to work with sheet metal every now and then. John and Shirley also made sure that their children got to visit their extended family regularly and they were often on the road.
Later years
As the children grew older and left the home, John was blessed with twelve grandchildren to which he enjoys telling the stories of his life. Many times, they have gathered around him to hear bedtime stories, always requesting for more. Now, John and Shirley also have 6 great-grand-children. His greatest joys of being retired are spending more time with his beloved wife and with his grand-children and great-grand-children when they come for a visit. He also enjoys working in his garden, a passion that has never left him since he started picking vegetables in the community garden in Ukraine.
Experience with aging
John is now 84 years “young”. When asked if growing older was different from what he had expected, John replied that he had no expectations. In fact, he says he has no dreams for his life: he simply takes every as it comes. He has started experiencing a few health difficulties, namely a frequent ringing in his ears and cancer a few years ago, which he has recovered from. He also cannot work as much in a day: whereas he used to work sixteen hours a day, he now cannot work more than three. However, he says it does not bother him since he does not have as high expectations of himself now that he is older. John is still quite active: he works on renovations in his house, does repairs on his church’s building, goes for walks and works in his garden.
Thoughts about today’s world
When asked how he thought the world had changed since he was younger, he replied, “It used to be that you could believe what people said. That is no longer the truth.” He went on to say that people seemed to seek their own profit rather than the other’s interest, especially in business, and that people were more self-centered. John’s advice to the younger generation is this: “Get yourself trained for a job… You might want to change it later, but you want to have something to fall back on.” He also encourages them to find things that they enjoy doing while they are young, because it will follow them when they are older. He says it is much harder to learn something when one is older.
Philosophy of life
John has a few sources from which he draws life principles: the Bible, teachings of his mother, and his experience. His faith in God gives him a direction in life and his moral guidelines come from the Bible. He has developed a habit to go to church regularly and he says his beliefs have kept him from being tempted to develop bad habits. My Opa lives for helping others. Even when he will no longer able to do any physical work, he says he will still be able to pray for them. He is also not afraid of death because he knows he is going to meet Jesus in Heaven when he dies. Even when he was going through treatment for his cancer, he was at peace. My grandfather takes one day at a time and trusts in God. He says, “I want to give God joy that I am doing exactly what He made me to do.”

This entry was posted on November 10, 2017. 1 Comment

My Mother-in-law, Susanne (Loewen) Bergen

My mother-in-law was a cheerful, outwardly calm, trusting person who took life as it came.  She had survived many difficulties in the Soviet Union, but she was not bitter, always looking on the positive side.  She loved to tell stories, record genealogies and connect people who were separated by the war.  She learned to speak English in mid-life; managed a boarding house in Winnipeg and watched her grandchildren grow up in a new country, Canada.

Here is the first picture taken after  she arrived in Canada with her four children, Katie, Peter, Henry and JOHN in 1947. [l-r: Susanne, brother Jake, sister Maria Penner]

Connecting to her siblings in Canada was a real miracle. She had a partial address of her brother Jake Loewen in Elm Creek, MB; a partial address of her sister Maria Penner in Saskatchewan (who had moved to B.C.) The mailman checked around and found the right address for Henry and Maria Penner so they got the letter and here they are at Uncle Jake’s farm in Culross, MB.  (More pictures and stories to follow)

This entry was posted on October 15, 2017. 1 Comment

Memories of Cornelius Hiebert by grand-daughter Susan Abel

Remembrances of My Grandfather Cornelius Hiebert
By Susan Louise (Hiebert) Abel

My grandfather, Cornelius Hiebert, died when I was about thirteen years old, so my memories are not as rich as some would have of their grandfathers who knew them longer and more intimately; but I would like to tell to you what memories he left this granddaughter.
He was not a tall man, but neither was he a short man.  I remember sitting in his lap near a window in his house in Torrance, California.  I remember how old his hands looked to me, craggy and rough; but when I touched them, they were very warm and smooth.  Now my hands are like his were then.  His hair was of the whitest shade.  It was a handsome glorious crown of hair, though a bit thin toward the top, which framed a face that smiled at me.
My grandfather was a cabinet maker, and a businessman.  He came from Manitoba to California during the depression and that was a providence of God; for in Los Angeles, the movie business boomed in those years.  There he could make a suitable living for his family, creating desks and office furniture of the most beautiful woods.  When I would walk into his shop, I could smell, (and still smell in my memory,) the wonderful resinous odors from the cut wood.
I have heard that he never liked his first name much, because people called him Corny. That is the fault of the English language and not the name. My grandfather Cornelius was named for the Roman Centurion in the Bible, in the book of Acts, Chapter 10, who had given much alms to God’s people and prayed to God always.  My grandfather lived up to his name in many ways.  I feel that his mother Marie and his father Jacob named him well.
My grandfather’s main impression upon me was his very generous nature.  My grandfather gave me many gifts including the gift of life through him, via my mama, his third daughter Ida May.  But the first temporal gift I remember that he gave me as a little girl was a stuffed animal.  It was a strange rabbit, small enough for a three-year-old to carry, that wore a pink and grey plaid suit sewed onto his white fur, with floppy ears that had pink fabric inside.  I named that rabbit Boppy-Bear, and I do not know why.  It became my constant companion for so many years that it might have been an embarrassing thing to my parents.  It was finally lost one day and I have mourned over that rabbit, as it seems, permanently.
My grandfather knew little girls very well, for he had had five of his own.  He knew when to be generous and when to be strict.  My mama told me a story of how she and her sister brought home a recording of the Andrew Sisters and were happily playing it on their phonograph.  My grandfather did not like that sort of music.  He did not want them listening to things that might sway them to be common.  He always encouraged good music in their home.  That record was broken and they never listened to it again.
When my brother and I were little, our grandfather would often take us to the beach.  We would spend an afternoon playing with the waves and digging in the warm sand and our grandfather would watch over us.  I remember one afternoon when I became just too cold from all my play in the surf and I was shivering with goosebumps and complaining too.  My grandfather bent down and cupped the warm sand in his big hands and rubbed that warm sand over my bare legs.  It felt sandpapery but it warmed me up and I quit my complaining!
My grandfather liked being a successful business man.  He would buy himself Lincoln Continentals to drive, one a light blue, and its successor was silver.  He had nameplates engraved upon the driver’s door.  He would take us for rides in his luxurious cars and there was never more comfort to be experienced in a drive around town!  But my grandfather did like to give and not just receive.
I remember once he asked my brother to go get his umbrella out of his car, and when my brother returned with the umbrella, Grandfather gave him a ten-dollar bill!  That was a lot of money back in the 60’s!
When Pacific College needed a new library, he was happy to donate the funds for them to build it.  That library still bears his name.  My grandfather Cornelius was a generous man, as was his namesake, the Centurion; and my mama, his daughter Ida May, is also that way.   I pray that I may be as generous as they!

This entry was posted on March 11, 2017. 1 Comment

Parents of Jacob Hiebert

Abraham Hiebert 1823-1902

Shirley's great grandmother

Katherina Friesen Hiebert 1825-1899 married Abraham Hiebert Sept 29, 1846











Innovation & Scheming did not start with our generation.

When Katharina Friesen was eleven years old, she wanted to attend the farewell service for the first settlers who were moving from Chortitza  to new land 212 km away to establish the village of Bergthal in 1836. But she had been asked to look after her oldest brother’s children while the parents went to the church which was just across the street. So she bribed her oldest niece to look after the little children in return for some whipped cream.  With her charges thus taken care of, she ran across the street and sat down in the shade of the church under an open window and listened to the service.  When  Gerhard Dyck spoke the final words of farewell many people in the audience wept.  Before long, the little girl sitting under the window was also moved to tears. [Bergthal Colony- Wm. Schroeder]

About 1836 their parents moved to the daughter colony of Bergthal which was established in that year in South Russia. Abraham and Katharina were married on Sept. 29, 1846.

They left for Canada in 1874 with their family and many relatives and friends.

Settling first in the Niverville area (See Two Stubborn Oxen).  They then moved to Bergfeld on the West Reserve, not far from Plum Coulee (See Glimpses of Jacob and Maria Hiebert)

Their children were:

Helena (1847-1917) married Cornelius Groening Nov.12,1867 lived in Plum Coulee area.

Jacob (Aug 8, 1849-Apr. 9,1857)

Katharina (1852-1921) married Johann A.Friesen (Nov.1851-1921) lived in Altona area.

Anna (Jan 27,1855-Nov. 11, 1855

Abram (1856-  ?)       lived in Bergfeld, moved to Saskatchewan

Martin(1858-1944) married Helena Sawatzky(1867-1952) Dec 2,1884 retired in Winkler See descendents of Martin & Helena Hiebert by Violet E.(Hiebert) Loewen

Johann (1861-1906)     lived in Bergfeld, MB.

Jacob (1863-1950) married Maria Dyck(1864-1946)Nov. 6,1883; (our grandparents)farmed near Plum Coulee, retired in Winkler.

Heinrich (1867-1934) married Margaretha       lived in Gnadenfeld near Altona

Sixty eight grandchildren grew to adulthood among their descendants.

Abraham and Katharina spent their later years with their children, the Johann A. Friesens, who built a house for them on their own yard and took care of their aging parents. Their Christian witness left a deep impression on those who associated with them through the years.

Katharina died in 1899 and was buried near their home at Strassberg, east of Gretna. Abraham remarried to a Mrs. Wolfe on the E. Reserve where he passed away 1902.    [from Pioneer Portraits of the Past (21) by L. Klippenstein publ. in Red River Valley Echo 1974.

This entry was posted on December 1, 2016. 1 Comment


It was a typical December winter day in Winnipeg’s North-end. The year was 1934. …just one week before Christmas. A beautiful white blanket of snow covered the ground. My mother’s voice joined in with the large gently falling snowflakes as she sang,

“Leise rieselt der Schnee… freue Dich Krist-kind kommt bald…. ( Snow is gently falling… Rejoice, the Christ-child is coming)”

Yes, the Christ Child’s celebration was only a week away and Mom still had so many things to do. The house had been cleaned and her children, Herman, Betty and Helen had already put up the Christmas tree.

This was going to be a very special Christmas celebration. You see, my father had nearly lost his life just two months earlier when he was involved in a terrible accident. As he was riding his bicycle from work, a truck carrying a full load of cord wood for heating had swerved to avoid a collision with another vehicle and the entire truck-load of wood had toppled and literally buried my father. He would have been undetected had it not been for a woman who witnessed the accident and kept shouting, “There’s a man underneath all that wood!”

Dad remained unconscious for many hours, finally awakening in the Misericordia Hospital with mother sobbing over him. Dad suffered a partial skull fracture and both legs were broken. It was a miracle he survived!

Now, two months later, Dad was able to walk with crutches and was staying with his employer, Mr. Spendlove, where Dad ahad been employed as a gardener and general handy-man. A convenient arrangement had been made so tha tDad could slowly resume his former duties.  He had been given a basement room at his employer’s home on Wellington Crescent. As such, he was able to tend to refilling the coal stoker that fueled the prestigious home. Clearing the snow from the long double driveway was out ot the question and others had been hired to do the job.

Mr. Spendlove had made arrangement for Dad to spend Christmas with Mom and us three kids by taxiing him to our home on Redwood Ave.

“This” Dad said,”is going to be my happiest Christmas ever!”

He had been spared from death. Indeed, we could have been fatherless. Mom was just as excited. She knew Dad loved her Christmas baking and she was busy preparing another batch, just for him. They were his favorite shortbreads.

As the day-light waned into night, the house responded to the falling temperatures by letting out those familiar ‘frost bangs’ as the frost penetrated the walls. Mom had a hearty fire going in the wood-burning kitchen stove. As she placed a few more logs on the fire, she also added a handful or two of the sawdust left over when the wood had been cut in our back yard. Nothing went to waste in those terrible lean thirties… the depression years. Sawdust ust, however, had been an item of debate. Some considered it a dangerous fuel.

“Oh my goodness,” Mom suddenly exclaimed,”I’ve run out of butter for the short-breads. Herman, will you run to the corner store to get some?”

I was very comfortable and warm reading one of my Tom Swift collection of a dozen or so books in the series. I just hated the thought of going out into the cold night, but I knew that the cookies that Mom was baking were especially for our Dad who would be with us in a few days.

“Sure Mom,” I responded,”I’ll go to Kubow’s (the grocer).”  While I bundled up, Betty and Helen were busy with coloring books and doll cut-outs.

While Mr. Kubow was writing up the bill for the butter, which he added to the rest of the month’s purchases ( the bill was paid only once a month when Dad received his pay-cheque), the silence of the night was suddenly broken by the screaming siren of a fire-truck as it rounded the corner and headed down Redwood Ave. to where our house stood. When I heard the siren, I ironically said to Mr. Kubow, “I hope it’s not our place.”

With the transaction completed, Mr. Kubow accompanied me to the front door of his store. To our horror and disbelief, it was indeed our home that was engulfed in smoke and flames. The fire-fighters were already inserting the water hoses through a hole they had chopped in the roof. With butter in hand, I ran petrified to our house.

“Where is my Mom; where are my sisters?” I cried.

Mr. & Mrs. Wagner, who lived a house or two next to ours, had already taken Mom, together with Betty and Helen, into their warm home. I,likewise, was shephered into the house to join a weeping Mother and two terrified sisters. Mrs. Wagner was doing her best to console them.

My Dad had already been notified by the police. Within a few hours a taxi, courtesy of Mr. Spendlove, brought Dad to his burned out house.

His first words were, “Where is my wife and where are my children?”

When my sobbing Dad was told that his family was safe at the Wagners, his only words were, “Thank God!  Let the fire destroy everything but not my family. The house we can replace but not my Elizabeth, Herman, Betty and Helen I could not.”

Christmas,1934, came and went. Our family experienced love and kindness beyond description… from neighbors, from our church family and from many friends, some even unknown. Yes, there were Christmas gifts and hampers of food and clothing. There was even a large carton of groceries and goodies from the City’s Welfare Department.

Why have I told you this story? Well, it is my story of a Christmas that I will never forget. It was a Christmas that was not planned for: but it was a Christmas where more than ever, we thanked God for the gift of family… we were all alive and together.  Mother had barely escaped with her life and the lives of my two sisters, now Betty Bergmann Martens and Helen Litz. It was a Christmas where God had spared the life of my Dad in October.  It was a Christmas that today…73 years later…still flashes so vividly in my mind. It was also a Christmas where, especially my Dad was drawn closer to the Lord (as he would often comment in later years).

If my Dad had died in the  accident and my Mom and sisters perished in the fire, I would have been an  eight-year-old orphan.

So back to the title …. was the Wilm’s Christmas of 1934 a tragedy or a blessing? The answer is obvious. It was a blessing that emerged from great personal tragedy.

About the author. Herman Wilms married my cousin, Mary Kroeker, when he was 21. He was a prolific writer, but rarely showed his stories and poems to anyone.  Mary discovered them in his files after he died at 83 ( 2009.)

The Bank Robbery – Shirley Bergen

My first job was at the Canadian Imperial Bank in East Kildonan.  It  was 1952 and I had just graduated from Grade eleven. The manager, Mr. Schmor went to the same church as our family and hired me immediately as a ledger clerk.  All bookkeeping was done by hand. The books had to balance before we could go home so we often worked late.   The bank was open for customers from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm Monday to Friday.  On Friday we opened from 4:30-6:00 pm so stores could bring in their cash deposits.

On my second Friday at work, we were very busy getting ready for the afternoon rush. The teller had just filled his drawers with the daily cash quota when two masked men walked in. One stepped quickly into the manager’s office. The manager, who was interviewing a loans customer, leaned back in his chair and tried to push the alarm button.  But he was rudely forced to lie down on the floor at gunpoint. The other masked man came toward us. The accountant, Mr. Wasson, put up his hands.

“Get down on the floor,”  the man ordered while pointing a sawed-off shotgun at him. The teller was similarly pointed to the floor. They cringed as the bandit stepped over them to go to the vault.  Fortunately, Lorne, the teller had closed the combination to the safe moments before. The bandit did not force him to open it but went straight to the teller’s cage and emptied all the bills into a shopping bag. Then he headed for the door.

We ledger clerks were partly sheltered on the other side of the teller’s cage.  Quick-witted Irene knelt down and pressed the burglar alarm before she lay down on the floor with the rest of us.

The police station was next door so it did not take long for the police to get there. But Police Chief Einfeld thought it was another false alarm so he had his gun in his pocket which was probably a good thing. The masked man guarding the door made him lie down with all the customers on the floor. Chief Einfeld was afraid the man recognized him.  He was very, very afraid!

The masked men stepped over the police chief and got into a waiting car with a driver that sped away before people outside realized what had happened.  The only person who saw hold-up was one older lady whom they allowed to sit on a chair. She watched, spell-bound, as she clutched the cash deposit from her daughter’s store.  The robbery took only 90 seconds. Not a shot was fired. Estimates re how much they took were about $2,000.00 which would amount to $40.000. in today’s sums since minimum wage was 70 cents an hour.

We all got a bonus because of the stress we had endured.

The Capture of the gunmen made headlines for a week. They had prepared a hideout in the bush near Vivian, Manitoba. But they needed water. A fearful housewife noticed their guns as they sat by the side of the road. She told her father who was a pump man with the CNR at Vivian. He notified the station agent who tipped off police that he saw two men taking water in a jug from the pump house near the station. R.C.M.P. then converged on the area.

A vicious gun battle took place Sunday evening. One gunman, John R.Zahara. was killed. Just before he passed out, he shot Constable John Friend in the head and nearly killed him.

Alexander Zakopiac, the mastermind, was wounded in the foot but tried to escape. He was handcuffed and taken to Deer Lodge Hospital for treatment. He was scheduled to go to Headingly Jail, but evaded capture. The public was warned that he was schizophrenic and extremely dangerous.   For many days and weeks there was no sign of him.

A few months later he was arrested walking across Redwood Bridge at night, perfectly normal and unarmed. This was only half a block from Glenwood Motors where my Dad was the gas-station attendant that night.

I saved nine pages of newspaper clippings in my scrapbook




























This entry was posted on June 13, 2016. 1 Comment