The Dyck’s of Waldheim
Written by Julie McNeice
The following is a creative historical account of the Julius T. Dyck family: who they were, what they stood for, and trustingly, what they stand for today. Julius Dyck was the builder and original owner of the Dyck log house which is at the Mennonite Heritage Village in Steinbach, Manitoba. This article is written by Julius T. Dyck’s great-granddaughter Julie named after Julius and his grandson Julius (Jim), her dad.1
In the village of Waldheim, Manitoba in the summer of 1876 twenty-four-year old Julius Dyck was tall, like his grandpa “Little John” Duck. Julius, still showing freckles, slim-built but strong, stood over his days’ labour, that of building his twenty-four foot by thirty-six-foot log house out of seasoned oak, each log dovetail notched with continuous squared timber framing as he’d been taught in the old country. It was “believed to be the second farm home built west of the Red River in western Canada,” according to an article in The Morden Times in 1962.
Julius was born in the village of Neuhorst in the Khortitsa colony in South Russia, where his father, Peter, was a landowner. Peter married Julius’s mother, Aganetha Toews, on 4 March 1852. Julius was born 16 December 1852 and sister Aganetha in 1854. His father died on 27 July 1855.
Julius’s mother, although born a Toews, had been married previously to John Klassen (Kausen) and brought two sons to her marriage with Peter: son Peter, born in 1839, and John, born in 1841. Her husband, John, died in 1847 and she re-married to Peter Duck. After Peter passed away, Julius, his mother, and his sister went to live with his grandfather, Little John, in the village of Nikolaifeld in the Yazykovo colony where they were living in 1873 when the census was taken.
In early 1876 young Julius and his family immigrated to Canada with a group of Mennonites to settle in southern Manitoba on the West Reserve. Travelling together from their home in Waldheim, Russia was Julius and his wife Katherina (Unrau); Julius’s mother Aganetha; his sister Aganetha, married to his wife’s brother Abram; and step-brother John Klassen. Little is known about the family’s journey except they travelled from Hamburg and arrived in Quebec City on 19 June 1876 aboard the ship S. S. Sardinian. Other points of departure were Liverpool, England on June 8 and Londonderry, Ireland on June 9. Julius and Katherine had married on January 11, just days before they left their homeland. 2
According to family oral history, the family experienced a tragedy right before they left from Russia. On the eve of their departure, Abram Unrau, Katherine’s father, attended either a wedding or a celebration of the upcoming immigration on the island of Khortitsa and Abram, while rowing back with his friends, drowned.
The story Uncle Frank Sr. told was that the boat was sinking because there were too many people in it, and because he (Julius’s father-in-law) was the only one that could swim he jumped out of the boat. They couldn’t let him back in or it would sink, and he drowned. Apparently, one of them became a Christian and confessed this tragedy; however, it is difficult to prove as there are no known records of his death date. Family historian Esther Zacharias has handwritten in her book on the Unrau family that Abram “was struck on the head with an oar and drowned.”
EARLY YEARS IN CANADA
In Manitoba, Julius took up a homestead patent at SE21-2-5 WPM on the West Reserve in August 1877. According to his homestead application, he had been living and farming in the village of Waldheim since 20 July 1876. He had twenty-four acres under crop and another twenty-four acres broken and under cultivation. According to the 1881 census for the village of Waldheim Julius was said to have two horses, one cow, two heifers, two hogs, a wagon, plough, and a harrow. His application for a homestead patent indicated that he “had made improvements on the land in the form of one dwelling house 24′ X 36′ and one stable 24′ X 16′.” According to Julius’s grandson, John (Jr.), Julius built a small log cabin 20′ X 20′ on the homestead for shelter while breaking up his land. Julius’ mother Aganetha took out a homestead patent as well at SW21-2-5 WPM.
In 1881-82 Julius took his log house apart log by log and numbered his logs, marking them sequentially in Roman numerals for easy re-assembly. 3 It was unusual for Mennonites to number the logs in such a way; however, Julius was forward-thinking and industrious. Julius moved the log house to his farm one and a half miles west of Waldheim and placed the log house almost on the west property line of SE 21-2-5 WPM. He positioned his mother’s house very near to her east property line of SW 21-2-5 WPM, so they were within steps of each other. He then proceeded to live there with his family.
According to family oral history, the church excommunicated Julius because of this effort to defy authority by moving from the village; however, I have not been able to verify this story. One family member recalled hearing Julius was one of the first to be excommunicated “but there was a Hoeppner and George and Peter Sawatzky that later were excommunicated as well.”
During our lengthy discussions at family gatherings over the years, many potential reasons for Julius’s move have been proposed. For instance, in the mornings the horses were brought from their stables in Waldheim to clear the land as the reserve was “heavily oaked”, according to early explorer John Palliser. They returned in the evenings immeasurably tired. Many young Mennonite farmers objected to their horses being worked that hard and became quite distraught at having to treat their animals this way. Also, the farmers were being pressured to live on their land by nearby non-Mennonite farmers along what was colloquially known as the Menno Canuck line, of which Julius’s mothers land abutted. All these reasons make sense; however, none are known as fact.
Dyck boys Left to Right: Julius, Jacob (standing) John, Frank, Peter, Abram (sitting)
Except for John (Johann), the Julius Dyck boys were tall. Yet, what he lacked in height, he made up in character. Great Uncle Frank often told the story of a time when they were hanging out with the Johnson brothers and young John rode up on one of the family horses. One Johnson boy said “Hey, he’s too young to be with us, send him home!” and Frank replied “[If] you think you can send him home, you go ahead and try!”
Julius died on 9 February 1909 and is buried in the Waldheim cemetery. His death certificate states “as a result of [a] fall.” In her book on the Unrau family, Esther Zacharias has hand-written “he fell off the barn roof” while other family members say he fell off a hay rack or wagon, or a tree. In any case he is said to have broken his femur and subsequently developed gangrene. He “suffered greatly” according to family history. His brother-in-law, Abram Unrau, signed the death certificate as a witness and it was confirmed by a Dr. Hiebert, who lived in Morden.
THE DYCK FARM PROSPERS
Two years later, while working in Saskatchewan, young John was summoned by his mother to “come home to look after the farm.” John had married Katherine Hoeppner, who was a year younger than him, in 1910. John’s mother (Katherine Dyck) had remarried Isaak Fehr in 1910 and passed away in 1933. Isaak passed away in 1935.
The Dyck farm prospered under John’s careful guidance; orders for all farmhands were to have horse-teams outfitted and ready to go at six o’clock a.m.! As one former farmhand told John’s son, Jake, “He’d see four completely outfitted teams come out that barn and head off in four different directions at six a.m. sharp” every day except on Sundays. Cousin Hughie recollects Grandpa John as having at least forty horses. According to my Uncle Jake, a barn sixty feet by forty feet, precut from Eaton’s, was put up in 1924 or 1925.
In time John and wife Katherine (Hoeppner) had children: John (1911-2004), Tina (1913-2005), Pete (1916-1979), Tony (1917-1948), Julius known as Jim (1919-1955), Isaac (1921-1979), Liz (1923-present), Anne (1925-2011), Henry (1928-present), and twins Frank (1930-2008), and Jake (1930-present).4 Katherine died tragically in 1930 after giving birth to the twins. Frank then went to live with his Hoeppner aunts until age two at which time John was told to “come get him or we will keep him!” Tina and Liz were expected to take on the role of mother, but that was a hopeless task with five rambunctious brothers to look after!
John Dyck Family from Left to Right: John, Jim, Tony, Pete, Tina, John holding Henry, Isaac, Liz, Anne
The family continued to live in the original log house until 1930 when John built a new home. They only lived in this new house for five years as it burned completely to the ground in 1935.This forced the Dyck family to move back into the log house until they rebuilt, which wasn’t until 1942. While tragic for the family, this event gave them a tremendous advantage during the Great Depression as John used the insurance money to pay off the mortgage on the properties he was purchasing. Uncle Henry could recall witnessing the fire when he was seven as he and his sister Tina frantically rode their horses to alert the field-hands. Apparently, the younger children had been berry-picking with Tina when the fire started, and their dad was in town.
After 1942 the log house was used as a shmode, machine shop, or blacksmith’s shop. It could also be used for the family’s newlyweds as my mother Susan (Peters) Dyck described to me how she lived there for a short time after she married my father, Jim, in 1942. Uncle Frank and Jake both carved their initials in the overhead beam coming out of the living room area of the Old Dyck House that can be seen to this very day. Siblings John and Tina had double weddings in that house on 17 November 1935: John married Mary Reimer and Tina married Jake Hiebert.
From all accounts it was quite some thing growing up in the Dyck family. John Dyck experienced a profound conversion and he is said to have displayed such remorseful grieving after his wife’s death in the Pentecostal church he attended that he was asked to do his grieving at home. “After service the third week the pastor came to him and said the church had had a meeting and he was to go home and not come back until he had control of his emotions.” He went to the barn to pray. He spent three solitary days and nights in the barn until he emerged, a changed man, strong in faith. He talked to his brother Isaac about his life-changing experience and after a while, he had to ask his brother, who was in deep thought “Isaac, are you there?” Isaac replied, “I have been a lay pastor for eleven years and I do not have what you have!”
John U. Dyck in front of his barn
While the children, in their own words, had to grow up on their own, John was a loving father. He was well-known in the rural community to be “good at veterinary work” and his name is written as witness on a few vital statistics certificates for attending deaths and births. There is a story told that he sat up nights with a Mr. Braun, who, at age thirty-four, was dying at home alone with cancer. John sat with him, holding his hand and reading scripture.
John also loved to schpitzeer (chat) in the evenings and on the weekends. Quite often neighbours would come over for a coffee to talk about old times and where their family originated. While John could be exacting and didn’t suffer fools gladly, he also had a kind heart.
As a grandfather, John also had a memorable personality. My cousins Hugh and Ron tell a story about being in the car with Grandpa John, who was a real speeder. As Grandpa John drove through the three dips in the road on the way to town, they would yell “whoopie” as their stomachs lurch. On one of these trips, Grandpa John hit a rabbit. He put on the breaks and as Ron recalled, “Guess what we had for supper!”
Hughie recounts a story of how he was staying overnight and slept with his Uncle Frank upstairs in the log house. Grandpa came in one morning from outside (they could hear him downstairs) and yelled upstairs, “Get up!” Uncle Frank said, “Never mind” as Hughie went to get up. And sure enough, in a little while Grandpa called up the stairs again to “GET UP!” Frank got his boots and banged them on the floor. He said they’d be okay for a while, and Hughie could stay in bed.5
Hunting has always been an important part of the Dyck family and they always made use of the meat. The Dyck farm was large and there was always plenty game running through their creek ravine. In fact, foxes really became such a nuisance that the RM of Stanley implemented a bounty at five dollars per fox sometime around 1948-50.
Uncle Jake says in 1948-50 the brothers got in a lot of fox hunting and they could hunt starting usually when they were eighteen years old. One time they were south of Winkler going across a field and shooting from the window of their vehicle. They were chasing two of them and had gotten one-the second one seemingly had got away, when they met up with the RCMP at the corner who said, “the other one’s over there!” pointing to it.
Hugh recounts that they often went wolf hunting with horses, and that Grandpa had hounds. They had a system of hunting with hounds in the way they chased down the wolves. Two or three hounds would run fast and get a wolf between them and throw it. One time a killer wolf had hold of one of his hounds by the throat and Grandpa pulled its mouth open so that the wolf let it go.
Above: Son Peter (Pete) U. Dyck with his pelts
My mother Susan told me that my father, Jim-named after his grandfather, often spoke of the Dyck boys target practicing with .22 rifles in the log house while their dad (my Grandpa John) was away. My mom said that my dad was a crack-shot as they all were taught to be, to do no harm, or “not cause unnecessary suffering to animals.” Ammunition was very expensive, so it was necessary to shoot well to save money. Growing up, I recall that cousin Jim, who would always share his box of .22 shells with me, even though one box cost around 75¢ and he only got 50¢ per week for allowance. I learned very quickly not to waste bullets.
My father died as the result of a fox hunting accident and his brother Henry was severely injured when their airplane, a piper cub, hit an air pocket and came down in 1955. Henry survived but was in a coma for three months. My father was almost declared well, and then developed gangrene again in his leg stump and passed away seven weeks after the accident. I don’t know if he had developed a bacterial resistance to penicillin, but I do recall mom saying that the head nurse Heidi Giesbrecht wanted to try a new drug but couldn’t persuade the doctor.
MUSIC AND EICHUCKEN
Music was always important in the Dyck family. They were tenors and had good singing voices. As I grew up, we always got together at Grandpa Dyck’s for the Christmas gathering and, if we didn’t have a song to sing or could recite something we had been practicing from our church Christmas concert, Grandpa would hand us his Bible and we’d read from it until he lifted his hand for us to stop.
Pig killing was also a time when the whole family got together. I can recall getting up way before the sun to drive out there for a long day following it up with a wonderful supper of schinkenfleich (ham), eichucken (fried potatoes), and schmountfot (cream gravy) made by my capable aunts.
My Dad and my grandfather loved their eichucken cut razor-thin and fried just right in a cast iron frying pan. My mother lovingly tossed them as she fried them; years later, she would gesture with her spatula and remind me repeatedly: “This is the first thing your dad gave me after we were married. I didn’t have a spatula to fry his potatoes, so he made me one out of a soup spoon.”
A FAMILY MYSTERY
A story is recounted of how in the 1930s or 1940s the RCMP came to the Dyck farm to investigate a report that there was “some kind of weed growing all along the fence line.” It turned out to be “the largest natural crop of hemp ever found to be grown in Manitoba,” according to one cousin. There is some speculation as to how it got there: Mexican labourers or “bird-droppings.” After the police had left the boys found it growing all over the place: behind the pig barn, right behind the house, by the chicken barn, and even into the bush! Jake said he found it growing on his farm across the way too, once he knew what to look for! Great Uncle Jake, who smoked a lot, said that it was “just like tobacco.” He went upstairs to get rolling paper to try it but declared that “Oh, my, was that strong!” The RCMP did not bother the Dyck family further about this mysterious “weed,” as they had received a good report about them. During my research, I discovered an article which indicated that many early farmers in the Pembina Valley used to grow hemp, so this story could be totally innocent.
Aunt Alfrieda tells of how Great Uncle Frank Sr. came back to visit our original farm when he was quite elderly and recounted how in his youth the buffalo had roamed and that you could still see places where they had laid along the creek. He was so disappointed because “nothing was the same.” In the old days on the Dyck farm the post road went through by the creek bed, and there was plenty of wild plum trees, chokecherry and black cherry bushes.
In 1960 Frank and Jake bought the farm and took down the barn. In 1963 the Dyck “Waldheim” log house was moved to the Mennonite Heritage Village Museum in Steinbach Manitoba. Frank left the farm in 1990 to move to Morden.
The Julius Dyck’s are a special people and the Dyck house at Waldheim holds many good memories for its descendants to recount as oral family history when they get together. The land at SE section 21-2-5 WPM where the log house stood remains in the Dyck family and is presently owned by Julius’s great grandson Larry Dyck.
1 Genealogy available at: https:/www.mccasa.ca
2 Katherina was born in 1853 to Abram Unrau and Justina Reimer in the village of Schoenberg in the Khortitsa colony.
3 The barn was built on the north end of the house. in the typical Mennonite house barn tradition and in time eleven children were born: Aganetha (1877-1954);twins Julius (1878-1887) and Abraham (died 1878);Peter(1879-1946); Katharina (1885-1958); Abraham (1887-1964); Julius (1889-1968);Johann (1890-1968); Jakob (1892-1968}; and Franz (1894-1982).Julius’s two daughters are said to have moved to Mexico with their new husbands. Julius and Katherine also raised foster-daughter Katharina Klassen (1902-1920), daughter of Julius’s half-brother, and Peter’s son, also named Peter, who died in 1902. This information is from the Julius Dyck’s family record sheet extracted from his Bible.
4 The first of John Dyck’s’ sons to die was Tony in 1947 as he was hit by a gravel truck while mowing a ditch along Highway 432 in the 1-6 area. The·1-6 area is in Township 1 Range 6.
5 By this time some of the Dyck boys, including Jim and Tony, were at Conscientious Objectors Camp at Clear lake, as was brother-in-law Dick Zacharias.