THE WICKWARE FAMILY: Insights into the History of Renfrew County’s Catholic Germans

I wrote this article for the Upper Ottawa Valley Genealogical Group. It was published in the Winter 2022 edition of their newsletter, Timberline.

A few years ago, Jayne Brophy’s response to my Facebook post about potato pancakes led to a conversation about foods, traditions and language handed down in Renfrew County German families. As she told me about learning little bits of German as a young child from her Grandma Wickware (née Emma Hanneman), I asked the origin of the name Wickware. “Oh, it’s German,” Jayne said, “but the ‘W’ would be pronounced as a ‘V’.” When I pronounced it in that manner, I was struck by its similarity to another Renfrew County German surname.

“Is it possible that Wickware was originally Weckwerth?” I asked. “Oh no,” Jayne replied, “my mother said we were not related to Weckwerths.” Later, in a call to my cousin Denise Weckworth Bergstresser, I received a similar response: “No, that’s a different name entirely.”

Genealogists like nothing better than a mystery, so I started digging using What I discovered surprised my friend, my cousin and me, and it revealed the tip of a fascinating iceberg: the history of Catholic German families in Renfrew County

Surname and Religion

What I learned in the case of Jayne’s maternal ancestors, is that Wickware is a modified or anglicized version of Weckwerth. Based on census, civil registration and church records, it appears that Jayne’s ancestors began using Wickware about the turn of the 20th Century.    

In Renfrew County there are three family groups descended from German immigrants who bore the surname Weckwerth. One is the Wickware group which is descended from Johann Weckwerth (1843-1913) who emigrated from Ruschendorf, Kreis Deutsch Krone, West Prussia in 1861. He was Roman Catholic and most of his descendants are too. The other two are the Weckwerths (sometimes spelled Weckworth) who descend from Christian Friedrich Wilhelm (Fred) Weckwerth (1853-1934) who emigrated from Lauenbrügge, Kreis Dramburg, Pomerania in 1883 or from Franz Otto Weckwerth who emigrated from Floth, Kreis Czarnikau, Posen in 1903. These men were Protestants as are most of their descendants.

Relations and Locations

To date, I have found no documents indicating that these Catholic and Protestant Weckwerth men were related. However, given the relative proximity of their places of origin, there is the possibility that they may have been related through common ancestors several generations before they left Prussia for Renfrew County. Even though they originated in different Prussian provinces, they were from an area where the borders of all three converged. Lauenbrügge is about 70km as the crow flies from Floth, and Ruschendorf is approximately half-way between them. Today, all of these communities are within the boundaries of Poland. Lauenbrügge is known as Łowno, Floth is known as Radolinek and Ruschendorf is known as Stajnia Rusinowo. Ancestry DNA tests among their descendants would reveal if these men were related.

Records available on researcher Joachim Schultz’s excellent site Back to the Roots in Deutsch Krone indicate that the village of Ruschendorf had a Catholic chapel, but records were kept at the Catholic parish in nearby Mellenthin.  Schultz’s analysis indicates that the most common surnames in the parish register in the late 18th to mid-19th centuries were Schultz, Polzin, Koplin, Schmidt, Robeck, Litfin, Neumann and Weckwerth. Three of these names are connected to the Wickware family, and at least three others are associated with Catholic German families in Renfrew County.

Johann Weckwerth aka John Wickware

Johann Weckwerth/John Wickware was the first with this surname to arrive in Renfrew County. He arrived in 1861 sailing from Hamburg on April 15, 1861 to New York City on the Washington. He was travelling with his mother Anna Lück (née Koplin), stepfather Johann Lück and three step or half-brothers, Franz, Johann and Andreas Lück. The family’s home was identified as Ruschendorf, Prussia. There were other families from Ruschendorf and nearby Dyck on board as well, including the Jacob and Anna (née Tuske) Behnke family who also settled in Wilberforce Township, Renfrew County.

Johann and Marie (née Schultz) Weckwerth . Photo courtesy of Jayne Brophy.

The 1871 Census records twenty-eight-year-old John Weekwark as the head of a household in Wilberforce Township. He was married to seventeen-year-old Mary and they had two children, two-year-old August and infant Mary. Living with them were Mary’s parents, John and Mary (née Behnke) Schultz. All residents of the household were identified as Roman Catholics.

The burial record of Johann Schultz from St. Columbkille’s parish register. Schultz, who died in 1873,
was Johann Weckwerth’s father-in-law. Weckwerth’s signature with the original German spelling
follows the entry. Image:

From census records, Renfrew County birth, marriage and death records, St. Columbkille’s parish register, and public family trees posted to, it appears that John and Mary Wickware had fourteen children: August born about 1869 who married Christine Brunet; Mary Elizabeth born about 1871 who married Frederick Momey of Hawkesbury;  Martha born 1873 who married Joseph Kutchaw; Cecilia born in 1875 who married Martin Behnke; John born 1879; Joseph born 1881, Mary Helena born 1882; John born 1883 who married Mary Rowan;  Albert born 1884) who married Ann Esther Dunlop; Agnes Philomena born 1886 who married Nestor Archambault; Michael Joseph born 1891; Lawrence Edgar born 1893 who married Emma Hanneman; Arthur born 1895 who married Martha Brunke and Alexander Theodore born in 1896.

The Wickware brothers, sons of Johann and Marie Weckwerth. Albert, John, August and Lawrence (in chair). Lawrence or “Lorne” was Jayne Brophy’s grandfather. He married Emma Hanneman. Photo courtesy of Jayne Brophy.

With the exception of Arthur who was married in a Lutheran ceremony in Ottawa, all of the other children were married in the Catholic Church, and three of them married members of other Catholic Renfrew County German families. Lawrence married Emma Hanneman who had links to the other German Catholic group in the Renfrew area. Martha married a Kutchaw (whose family identified as German in census records, but had Polish ancestry) from Wilberforce Township. Cecilia married Martin Behnke who was a very close family contact from Wilberforce Township. Cecilia Wickware and Martin Behnke’s marriage was interesting for several reasons: first, the groom was the son of Jacob and Anna Behnke who had immigrated along with Johann Weckwerth.  After Jacob died, his widow, Anna Tuske married Franz Lück, Cecilia’s Wickware’s step or half uncle. This connection likely explains the dispensation to marry which was granted and noted in the parish register at the time of Cecilia and Martin’s marriage.  

Franz Weckwerth aka Frank Wickware

Franz Weckwerth was probably Johann Weckwerth’s brother.  Although I have found no documents to prove this, and it is possible they were cousins, I base my conclusion on several factors. They used the same anglicized version of their surname; their ages were close enough for them to be brothers; they were Catholics and attended the same church; they settled relatively close to one another; they were inter-connected by marriage to many of the same Catholic German families; and Franz’s brother-in-law, Martin Krüger was from Dyck, Deutsch Krone which was just under 10 km from from Ruschendorf.

Franz Weckwerth arrived in New York City June 7, 1873 on the Atalanta from Bremerhaven along with his wife, Apollonia (née Krüger), and their children Apollonia, August and Franz. They were accompanied by her brother, Martin Krüger, and a woman named Marie Wellnitz. The New York/Ellis Island records note that the group was Prussian and destined for Wisconsin, but not its specific place of origin. If they did go to Wisconsin, and there is evidence that other Catholics from Kreis Deutsch Krone settled there, it was a brief stay because the 1881 Canadian Census indicates that their next child, Bertha, was born in Ontario in 1876. Martin Krüger whose marriage record indicates his parents were Anthony Krüger and Julianne Walkworth (Weckwerth) of Dyck, Deutsch Krone, West Prussia married Anna Behnke in Pembroke in 1881. Marie Wellnitz married Franz Neubauer/Nighbor in Pembroke in 1878.

From census records, Renfrew County birth, marriage and death Records, St. Columbkille’s parish register, and public family trees posted to, it appears that Frank and “Effie” Wickware had at least four children: Apollonia known as “Effie” or “Ethel” born about 1867 in Deutsch Krone who married Edward Egan in Massey, Ontario; August born about 1869; Bertha born in 1876 who married John McArthur in Port Arthur; and Emma born about 1879 who married Henry “Harry” C. Mielke in an Anglican church in North Bay. Harry’s grandparents, Johann and Louise Mielke, and father, Carl, emigrated from Karlsrühe, Deutsch Krone, West Prussia in 1871 along August and Apollonia Krüger (née Wellnitz) and their family. Interestingly, Louise Mielke’s maiden name was Lück.

It does not appear that any of Franz Weckwerth’s descendants remained in Renfrew County, but the marriages of his in-laws and daughter demonstrate connections to other Catholic and non-Catholic families from Deutsch Krone who had settled in Renfrew County.

Insights into the Religious Diversity of Renfrew County Germans

Catholic German families in Renfrew County are the minority, but not an insubstantial or insignificant group. Some descend from Protestant immigrant families from Pomerania, Brandenburg and West Prussia in which children or grandchildren converted to marry Irish, Kashub, Polish or French-Canadian spouses, but most, like the Weckwerth/Wickwares, were Catholic before they immigrated and possibly had been Catholic for several generations in the Old Country.

Emma Hanneman Wickware’s Catholic German-language prayer book. The publication date of 1932 demonstrates that she was still using German for her private devotions. Photo courtesy of Jayne Brophy.

The majority of these traditionally Catholic families came from Kreis Deutsch Krone or other parts of West Prussia and some came from Posen. In West Prussia and Posen, Germans lived alongside sizeable populations of Kashubs and Poles. When one looks at the surnames in the genealogies of Catholic Renfrew County German families or investigates civil and church records from the region (see the Back to the Roots in Deutsch Krone website created by Joachim Schultz), it is clear that there was intermarriage between the groups, and this fact likely had a role to play in the religious identity of the Catholic Germans of Renfrew County.

The Wickware family is just one of the Catholic German families of Renfrew County, and its connections to other Catholic families both in Renfrew County and the Old Country demonstrate the process of chain migration and the desire to marry within the familiarity of the cultural/religious group. It also raises questions about migration between the provinces of Prussia, the ethnic and religious diversity of that region, the intermarriage between groups, and the possible kinship between the historically Catholic and Protestant German families in Renfrew County that share surnames (including Behnke, Hanneman, Hass, Klatt, Krueger, Quade and Weckwerth). Most importantly, though, it points to a rich and fascinating aspect of Renfrew County German history that deserves further research.


Note: For the purpose of this article, I have referred to Renfrew County Germans and not Renfrew County Germans and Wends because, I have found no evidence of Catholics among the Wends arriving in Renfrew County. An interesting point is that after John Wickware’s mother died, his stepfather, Johann Lück married a Kielow who was Wendish, but it appears that she did not convert as she is identified as Evangelical Association in later census records.

The Rockingham Six Podcast — A treat for Family Day 2021

It has been a while since I have posted to my Prussian Hills Blog.

Family Day seems like a good day to rejuvenate this blog and to initiate my plan to devote more time to the history of German community in Renfrew County. So, I am providing readers with a transcript of a talk I gave originally in August 2019, but then recorded as a podcast called The Rockingham Six for The Opeongo Line in October 2020.

If you would like to listen, rather than read, click on the following link.

If you are interested in Renfrew County history, you might want to look at other excellent podcasts produced by The Opeongo Line.

Here is a link if you want to read an article from The Madawaska Valley Current about the Rockingham celebration in 2019 when I delivered the original talk. It includes some photos.

Please note that this talk, for purposes of focus and brevity, focused on six German families who had very strong connections to the village of Rockingham and St. Leonard’s Church. Another twenty-five German families living in the townships of Brudenell, Lyndock, Radcliffe and Raglan identified Rockingham as their post office in an 1888 directory. I will provide information about the latter group in a subsequent blog post.
Happy Family Day!

A Transcript of the podcast posted on The Opeongo Line October 25, 2020

Hello, I’m Mark Woermke.

Today, I am going to share the story of some of the German families who settled in the vicinity of Rockingham, a once-thriving village in Brudenell Township in Renfrew County, Ontario, Canada. I originally delivered this talk on August 11, 2019 at the annual celebration of local history hosted by the Friends of Rockingham Church. For more information on the church, the annual event and the organization, please visit “”

It was a triple-honour to be invited to speak at that event: first to participate in the annual celebration of local heritage; second to join the illustrious list of speakers who have graced the pulpit of St. Leonard’s Church over the last 150-or-so- years; and third to promote the history of Renfrew County Germans — a group to which I am proud to belong.

Two historians, with whom you might be familiar, have written on this subject. Brenda Lee-Whiting authored a variety of articles on Renfrew County Germans and, most notably, she wrote two books: Harvest of Stones and On Stony Ground. Peter Hessel wrote Destination Ottawa Valley. Their books are very good resources for historians and genealogists, but almost nothing has been written about Renfrew County Germans since the 1980s – and there is much to research, analyze and interpret.

Let’s begin with some numbers. In the 2016 Census, 22% of Renfrew County residents reported German ancestry. In municipalities closer to Rockingham, the percentages were higher –47% in North Algona Wilberforce, 41% in Brudenell, Lyndock and Raglan, 25% in Killaloe, Hagarty and Richards and 19% in Madawaska Valley.

Most Renfrew County Germans are descended from emigrants from four provinces of the Kingdom of Prussia — Brandenburg, Pomerania, West Prussia and Posen — who came to Renfrew County in the thousands between 1858 and 1900.
If you can visualize the extent and shape of the current German Federal Republic, you should note that the majority of our ancestors came from territory outside its boundaries. To find the ancestral homes of most Renfrew County Germans we have to look at the map of Poland. Most of our ancestors came from territories that were ceded to Poland after World War I and World War II.

The historical Kingdom of Prussia consisted of thirteen provinces stretching from what is now Kaliningrad, Russia — formerly known as Königsberg, East Prussia — in the east, to the modern French border in the west. The four areas we are considering today were in the eastern part of the Kingdom of Prussia. As I mentioned earlier, they were Brandenburg, Pomerania, West Prussia and Posen. Brandenburg was Prussia’s heartland and home to a Slavic minority known as Vends or Sorbs. Pomerania was along the Baltic Sea. Parts of it had been ruled by the Poles and Swedes, but in the 19th Century, it was almost entirely German with the exception of the Kashubs, a Slavic group, who lived near its eastern border. West Prussia was south and east of Pomerania and the hinterland of the Baltic port of Danzig, which is now known as Gdansk. West Prussia had a large Kashub population. Posen, was south of Brandenburg and West Prussia and it was sometimes called Polish Prussia because of its Polish majority.

Before I continue, I want to make three important notes:

First, when I use the term, “Renfrew County Germans” my intent is to include the Vends. I don’t do that to diminish their historical contribution in any way. As a matter of fact, Wendish families from Kreis Cottbus and Kreis Lübben were among the first to arrive in Renfrew County in 1858. I do it to reflect their integration into the larger community and the fact that they did not self-identify until recently. Because they spoke German, were Protestant, lived in the same general area, arrived in North America on the same ships, and took up adjacent land in Renfrew County, the Wends mixed easily with Germans in Renfrew County – as they had done in Prussia.

Second, with regard to surnames, I will use the common, local, anglicized pronunciation of surnames. For example Gerkie, Krieger, Nieman, Potter and Woermke as opposed to Gehrke, Krüger, Pötter, Neumann and Wörmke.

Third, my pronunciation. If you are a German speaker, please forgive my German pronunciation. I am the third generation to be born in Canada and most of us Renfrew Germans have lost the Plattdeutsch our ancestors spoke at home or the Hochdeutsch they used at school and church. As my grandfather used to say, “two World Wars took care of that.” Additionally, I ask the indulgence of any Kashub or Polish listeners as I attempt to pronounce the Polish names assigned after the World Wars to the communities which were the ancestral homes of the Renfrew County Germans.

In 2018, I started compiling a place of origin database for German immigrants who arrived in Renfrew County prior to 1900. It is based on a variety of sources: immigration agent William Sinn’s list of Prussian settlers from 1860, the “saddlebag” register of births, marriages and deaths compiled by Lutheran missionary Rev. Ludwig Gerndt and provincial marriage and death registrations. I compare that information with data from Brandenburg emigration records and passenger lists from Hamburg, Bremen, Quebec and New York. Once I have a specific location, I cross-reference it with relatives’ places of origin and look that location up on the online version of Meyer’s Gazetteer which lists every place name in the German Empire circa 1912. The final step is to find the current name for these places if they are in Poland. To date, I have almost 1000 names in my database, and it is far from complete. Trends are emerging in this database. Let me explain those trends and how they relate to the Rockingham German families.

Today we are focusing on Germans and Wends who lived in the vicinity of Rockingham, Brudenell Township in the Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries.

I used two sources to create a list of Rockingham Germans — Lovell’s 1871 Canadian Directory and The Renfrew County Directory of 1888. My list consists of 31 heads of households who lived in Rockingham Village or who lived in the surrounding townships but whose postal address was Rockingham. There were hundreds more Germans living in the nearby townships of Brudenell, Lyndock, Raglan and Radcliffe in 1888, but I focussed on the Rockingham folks.

My place of origin database shows that 96% of German immigrants to Renfrew County came from the Kingdom of Prussia. In the Rockingham list, 94% came from Prussia. Only two individuals out of thirty-one did not — Ferdinand Holtermann, who was from the free-city of Hamburg and Joseph Ohlmann who was an ethnic German from the Alsace region of France.
The database shows that 43% of settlers in Renfrew County hailed from the Province of Brandenburg with most from Kreis Cottbus, Kreis Arnswalde, Kreis Friedeberg and Kreis Soldin. Note that a “kreis,” which literally means circle, would be comparable to a small county or even a township.

In the Rockingham list 42% come from Brandenburg. Friedrich Brohart, Christian Junop (Schonnop) and Friedrich Yourth (Jurdt) originated in Kreis Cottbus and are known to have been Wendish. The Hartwig brothers, Wilhelm and Hermann, and Ernst Weber were from Kreis Arnswalde. Friedrich Nieman (Neumann) and Christian Thom were from Kreis Friedeberg. Carl Granzie (Gransee), Martin Kurzweg, Ferdinand Liebenthal and Julius Schruder (Schröder) were from Kries Soldin. One individual, Friedrich Krieger (Krüger) was from Kreis Lübben.

The Renfrew County database identifies 38% who originate in Pomerania with the greatest numbers coming from Kreis Neustettin, Kreis Saatzig, Kreis Schivelbein and Kreis Belgard. In Rockingham, the percentage from Pomerania is 35%. August Gerkie (Gehrke) and Ernst Pomerenning came from Kreis Neustettin. Franz and Friedrich Block, August Hildebrandt and Hermann Luloff came from Kreis Saatzig. Ludwig Gutz came from Kreis Belgard. Johann Welk came from Kreis Dramburg and Wilhelm Pilgrim came from Kreis Ückermünde.

In the Renfrew County database 11% of settlers are natives of West Prussia especially from Kreis Deutsch Krone, Kreis Flatow, Kreis Berent and Kreis Marienwerder. In the Rockingham list, I can find no proof of origin from West Prussia, although I suspect that brothers Martin and Michael Kopetoske, because of their Slavic-sounding surname came from either West Prussia or Posen where there appears to have been considerable intermarriage between Germans and Kashubs or Poles. Subsequent research suggests that a good number of families in Lyndoch and Raglan townships who were not considered in this Rockingham list, have their origins in West Prussia.

The Renfrew County database identifies 4% who come from the Prussian provinces of Posen and Silesia. Only one individual in the Rockingham list, Carl Potter (Pötter), came from Posen (and additional research revealed his family had previously lived in Brandenburg). No one came from Silesia.

Now I am going to focus on the Rockingham Germans from my list. As I mentioned, I took those names and searched a variety of sources including census records, birth, marriage and death registrations, patent maps, land registry books, church records, passenger lists, newspapers and family histories to get more information about them. The research was fascinating, and I gathered far too much information for today, so, for the next little while, I will focus on only six families – the Rockingham Six. I shall start with the earliest family to arrive.

The 1871 directory identified tanner Fred Krieger and blacksmith Charles Potter in Rockingham and merchant Ferdinand Holterman in the village of Brudenell. Subsequent research revealed that all of them owned land at Rockingham.

The Potter family
Blacksmith CARL POTTER (PÖTTER) and his wife DOROTHEA NIEMAN (NEUMANN) were living and working in Rockingham in 1871, but previously they resided in Sebastopol where their eldest child was born in 1870. Their second was born in Rockingham in 1872. The six children which followed were all born in Rockingham.

The 1888 directory identifies Carl as a merchant and owner of Lot 32 on the 9th Concession where he had a home and blacksmith’s shop, although land records show he also owned Lot 30 on the 8th Concession and that between 1870 and 1899 he purchased property from John S.J. Watson the founder of Rockingham village, Ferdinand Holtermann and Thomas Reid. All of this land was in or near Rockingham Village.

Some of Carl and Dorothea’s children stayed in the area marrying into local German and non-German families and others moved farther afield. His eldest, Charles, also a blacksmith went to the Algoma District in Northern Ontario where he married. Alexander, a lumber agent, remained in the area and married Lydia Zummach. Sophia married John Kinder in this church in 1896. Two Potter children, John and Samuel, who died in 1880 and 1884 respectively, are buried in St. Leonard’s cemetery. So is Carl who died in 1905.

In her book, The Way it Was in the Ottawa Valley, Brenda Lee-Whiting notes that the Potter home was occupied as late as 1973 by Ellis Kinder and that Carl Potter’s blacksmith shop was purchased in 1976, dismantled and reconstructed at an agricultural museum in Milton, Ontario

Carl Potter was born in 1837. He and his wife Dorothea arrived in Quebec City in 1869 on the ship “Louise Kohn” from Hamburg. They travelled with his brother Friedrich and his family. At embarkation the group identified their home as Klein Lubs, which is a village in Kreis Filhene in the Province of Posen (now known as Lubcz Mały, Poland). These Potter brothers were following another brother Johann, also a blacksmith, who left his home in Gerzlow, Kreis Soldin, Brandenberg (now Jarosławsko, Poland) with his wife and children and sailed on the Keppler in 1864 settled in Sebastopol Township.

The Potter brothers cited two communities as their residences. One was in the province of Posen, the other in Brandenburg but they were only about sixty kilometers apart. This fact highlights two things. First it reminds us there was an area where the four provinces – Brandenburg, Pomerania, West Prussia and Posen – intersected. If we were to plot the places of origin of Renfrew County Germans on a map, we would see that a large cluster falls within a 100 km radius of that intersection. This fact also demonstrates that our ancestors had more mobility than we might imagine. A workman, a day laborer or a tenant-farmer didn’t not own land, but he was free to move from estate to estate seeking better working conditions or wages. Blacksmiths, like the Potter brothers, would have even more opportunity to move about.

The Krieger family
FRIEDRICH KRIEGER (KRÜGER), the tanner, mentioned in the 1871 directory was also enumerated in the Census that year. He was twenty-six years-old and living with Carl and Dorothea Potter. This is likely how Friedrich met his wife, because in 1875 he married Carl’s niece AUGUSTE PÖTTER, the daughter of Johann Potter and Christiana Becker, from Sebastopol Township. Their first child was born in Rockingham in 1876 and by the 1881 Census they had increased their family size to three. By 1891, however, Friedrich and Auguste Krieger and their seven children were living in Sebastopol.

Krieger was one of the first German immigrants to Renfrew County. He arrived with his parents, Carl Krüger and Dorothea Koss and five siblings in Quebec on the Copernicus from Hamburg in 1858. Previously their home was Reicherskreuz, a village and estate in Kreis Lübben in Brandenburg. It is still located in German territory today. Kreis Lübben is in the region occupied by the Wends, so it is possible that these Krügers had some Wendish ancestry. They settled in Bromley Township near Douglas, but by 1871, Friedrich had gone out on his own and moved to Rockingham. Friedrich Krieger died in Sebastopol Township in 1927 and his wife died in 1941. They are buried in the Baptist Cemetery at Woermke in Sebastopol Township.

The Holtermann family
FERDINAND HOLTERMANN was not found in Rockingham in Lovell’s 1871 directory or in the 1871 Census. Lovell’s places him, or at least his business, in Brudenell Village while the Census shows him as merchant living in Sebastopol Township with a wife and four children. Renfrew County land records verify him as the owner of 200 acres in Sebastopol, but they also reveal he purchased an acre in Rockingham Village from John S.J. Watson in 1867, another in 1868, a hundred acres in 1871 and even more in 1876. This would make him a significant landowner in Rockingham, but he didn’t stay long.

For some unknown reason, the Holtermanns left Rockingham about 1878 when they sold some of their property to Carl Potter. In 1881 Census records Ferdinand is found as a shopkeeper in Rainham Township, Haldimand County in the Niagara Peninsula. Ten years later, he died at Brantford.

Holtermann was a 29-year-old Hamburg merchant when he and his wife Pauline and their two children sailed from their port city to Quebec on the Excelsior in 1862. He is rather unique among the German settlers of Renfrew County insofar as he was a city merchant, not a farmer, day laborer or tradesman from a rural area.

The next three German families were found in The Renfrew County Directory of 1888, but they are also remembered on gravestones in the St. Leonard’s cemetery at Rockingham – the Ohlmanns, the Pomerenings and the Gehrkes.

The Ohlman family
JOSEPH OHLMAN was identified in the 1888 Directory as the owner of Lot 25 on the 5th Concession of Brudenell Township. Land records and patent maps show he owned other lots in the vicinity of Letterkenny.

Family sources say Joseph Ohlman left his home in the village of La Wanzenau in the Alsace region of France and sailed from LeHavre, to New York City in 1862 before finding his way to Miller Township, Frontenac County where his brother Leopold had settled along the Frontenac Colonization Road. That road ran from Kingston to the Madawaska River at Mattawachan in Renfrew County. The 1871 Census finds Joseph living there with Leopold. That same year, he married ERNESTINE KURZWEG of South Algona Township who had arrived in Renfrew County from Gerzlow, Kreis Soldin (now Jarosławsko, Poland) — the same village as one of the Pötter brothers — with her parents in 1862.

I don’t know how Joseph Ohlman and Ernestine Kurzweg met, but he may have travelled to Mattawachan and other parts of Renfrew County to find work. Alternatively, the German settlers of Miller Township were likely aware of the larger German community in Renfrew County and Joseph may have been seeking its pool of eligible young women.

Records suggest the Ohlmans lived in Miller Township near Plevna and near Denbigh, for several years after their marriage, but by 1881 they were in Brudenell Township with six children. In all, the Ohlmans had fourteen children, ten sons and four daughters. Some married within the local German community, others married outside of that. A number moved to Northern Ontario or the United States. All of their stories are interesting.

Frank Ohlman, a barber, married Rosa Yourth from Raglan Township in 1905 and they moved to Northern Ontario. She died in 1911 and three years later, Frank married Harriet Wilkinson in South Porcupine. Frank, his wife Harriet, and his brother Xavier Ohlman died tragically at Porquis Junction in a forest fire – the Great Matheson fire of 1916 which killed 233. The Ohlman’s’ bodies were found in a well on their farm. It was presumed they taken refuge there, but had suffocated.

Michael Ohlman married Esther Schmidt at Golden Lake in 1929. She was born at Cross Lake near Madawaska and was the granddaughter of Rev. Heinrich G.G. Schmidt an Evangelical Association minister. Michael and Esther Ohlman lived for a time in Napanee, but returned to the area to live at Golden Lake.

Clemence Ohlman was a resident of New Liskeard when he returned to the area to marry Tina Hildebrandt at Rockingham in 1906. She was the daughter August Hildebrandt and Emilie Luloff.

Amelia Ohlman married August Berger in Wilberforce Township in 1907. Eventually they moved to Fort William, Ontario.
Joseph Ohlman Jr. was a carpenter who converted to Catholicism to marry Julia McDonald at Brudenell in 1903. After her death, he married another Irish woman Mary Ann Guiney in 1907. At one point he lived near Sudbury, but he went missing after a plane crash and was given up for dead for many years. The Eganville Leader reported that he was reunited with family members in 1952.
Brothers Charles and John Ohlman married Polish/Kashub women from Wilno. Charles was a barber at Canoe Lake, Algonquin Park when he married Pearl Lapenskie at North Bay in 1927. They later lived in Madawaska and Arnprior. John married Pearl’s sister, Agatha, at Wilno in 1921. Annie married Frank McLaren at Cobden in 1908. Eventually she and her husband moved to Syracuse. Gertrude married Henry Albert at Ottawa in 1913 and they continued to live there.

Joseph Ohlman Sr. died in 1903 and he was laid to rest in the Rockingham cemetery. His wife, Ernestine Kurzweg, died in 1909. Joseph Ohlman Sr. appears to have been quite ecumenical as he identified himself as a Catholic in some Census records; married a Protestant; donated land in Letterkenny to the Evangelical Association for a church; and was buried in the Anglican cemetery in Rockingham. Several of his children married Catholics.

The Pomerenning family
ERNST POMERENNING, his wife WILHELMINE RÖLCHER and their son Albert are buried in the St. Leonard’s cemetery. In the 1888 directory, Ernst is listed as a farmer owning Lot 23 on the 5th Concession of Brudenell Township. Land records show he also received the patent to Lot 22 Concession 4 in 1880, and the family appears in the 1881 Census for Brudenell Township. The 1891 Census identifies six Pomerenning children.

Before moving to Brudenell Township, the Pomerennings lived in Bromley Township where in the 1871 Census, Ernst identified himself as a farmer and Wilhelmine identified herself as a weaver. Prior to emigration, Ernst and Wilhelmine resided at Neu Valm a village and estate in Kreis Neustettin, Pomerania. It is now known as Chwałimki, Poland. They embarked at Altona destined for Quebec in 1862. Upon arrival in Canada, they headed straight to Bromley Township where their eldest child was baptized by Lutheran missionary Rev. Ludwig Gerndt that same year.

Ernst and Wilhelmine’s eldest child Bertha said she was born in Cobden when she married Julius Shilkie (Schülke) at Rockingham in 1892. Sons Albert, William and Gustave Pomerenning all said they were born in Brudenell Township, some specifically identifying Rockingham. Lizzie married widower William Walther at Jewellville. Annie was buried in Letterkenny. Daughter Emilie who was born in Bromley was married to Hermann Luloff at Rockingham by Rev. H.G.G. Schmidt.

Ernst Pomerenning died in 1897 at the age of sixty-one. Wilhelmine survived him by 24 years, dying in 1921 at the age of 85.

The Gerkie family
There is a headstone in St. Leonard’s cemetery for the infant son and daughter of A. and A. Gerkie (Gehrke). Sadly, for the historian and genealogist, it doesn’t include their names or dates. They are the children of AUGUST GEHRKE (1853-1937) and his wife ANNA PILGRIM (1856-1938) who were married in 1878 in Brudenell Township. They are found in the 1881 Census with two children. In the 1888 directory, August was identified as a tenant farming Lot 25 on the 9th Concession of Brudenell Township. By 1891 their family had grown to seven children. Sometime after 1891, the Gehrke family migrated to western Canada because they are found at Red Deer, Alberta in the 1901 Census. That is where August and Anna are buried.

1n 1862, when he was thirteen, August Gehrke along with his parents Friedrich and Charlotte and five siblings left the estate of Tarmen, Kreis Neustettin, Pomerania (now Tarmno, Poland) and sailed from Hamburg to Quebec on the Gellert. That was the same year, his future bride, Anna Pilgrim, along with her parents Wilhelm and Friederike, three siblings and her uncle Carl Pilgrim left the estate of Adl Bellin near the village of Bellin on the Stettin Lagoon in Kreis Ückermünde, Pomerania. That community is 10km west of the current Polish border.

Before I finish, to demonstrate the interconnectedness of Renfrew County German families, I would like to mention a couple of personal connections to the Rockingham Germans.

The first connection is CHRISTIAN THOM who emigrated as a nineteen -year-old in 1861 from Breitenstein, Kreis Friedeberg, Brandenburg (now Bobrowko, Poland). His mother was Christiane Wörmke, my great-great grandfather’s sister. After the death of her second husband, Christiane Wörmke Thom Schlievert and her son Gottlieb Thom emigrated to Canada in 1871 to join her son Christian Thom and her sister Louise, Mrs. Wilhelm Moldenhauer, in Wilberforce Township. Gottlieb Thom married Johanne Krüger Groves the widowed-sister of the Rockingham tanner Friedrich Krieger we heard about earlier. Another brother, Franz Thom settled at Northcote in Admaston Township.

The second connection is my great-great uncle, the Rev. HEINRICH GEORG GUSTAV SCHMIDT. He is not on my Rockingham German list, but his name appears repeatedly in marriage registrations for Rockingham Germans. Moreover, several of his grandchildren married the descendants of Rockingham Germans. Rev. Schmidt was a native of Löcknitz, Kreis Randow, Pomerania which is about 10 km west of the current Polish border. He arrived in Canada in 1861 and settled in North Algona Township where he married my great grandmother’s sister Marie Fünning in 1866.

I don’t know when he became associated with the Evangelical Association or when he became a minister — but in the late 1870s he took his family to southern Ontario. They were enumerated in 1881 at Ayton which is north of Kitchener-Waterloo. He identified himself at that time as a “preacher of the Gospel.” In 1891 the Schmidts were back in Renfrew County living in Wilberforce Township, but in 1901 he was a widower and farming with two sons near Madawaska in Lyell Township at Cross Lake.

Recently, as part of an Opeongo Readers’ Theatre performance, I read the words of the late Tom Murray from an interview conducted in the 1970s on the “old days” in Barry’s Bay. Murray explained how on a Sunday, Rev. Schmidt would walk ten miles from Cross Lake to Madawaska for a service, then to the Bark Lake schoolhouse on what is now Skead’s Road for another service, and finally on to Barry’s Bay for a service at 8 p.m. On Monday morning, he would be back on his farm, behind the plough. Murray considered Schmidt the founder of Cross Lake near Madawaska. A glance at the patent map for Lyell Township shows that, indeed, Schmidt received one of the earliest deeds for land there. And, judging by the names of his neighbours – Frank Thom, Allen Wasmund, Wiliam Buder, William Lenz, Charlie Marquardt and Frank Rogge – it looks like Schmidt may have been recruiting for the settlement when he was hatching, matching and dispatching Germans around Rockingham, Letterkenny, Rosenthal and Palmer Rapids.

Well, you’ve just been bombarded with a lot of information, names and dates. Hopefully you have heard something you will remember about Renfrew County German history, the history of Rockingham, the history of your own family or the family of someone you know. If you are of German descent, perhaps you will develop a thirst to learn more about your family, your heritage and your culture.

We have some work to do then. For a variety of reasons most Renfrew County German descendants have lost most if not all of their language and culture, and Renfrew County Germans have not received the historical attention that a group of its size and influence warrants. My goal is to change that, and I hope that the facts and stories I shared today might help to generate a greater awareness of the courage, hard work and dedication to family and community that are the real legacy of Renfrew County Germans.

Today I highlighted six of the thirty-one German families whose address was Rockingham. If you would like to learn about the other twenty-five families, or if you want to view a print version of this podcast, please visit my blog – Prussian Hills Blog. If you are interested in Renfrew County German history and genealogy, please consider joining the Renfrew County Germans group on Facebook.

Auf Wiedersehen.

Armistice Centennial

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, I took a look through the family album and pulled some photos from that time-period.  


A few highlights.


My grandmother Agatha Kitts is posing with her future brother-in-law Jack Billings. Jack Billings was 46 years old and described himself as a “bushman” when he enlisted in 1916. According to his medical exam records he had the axe scar to prove it. 


Valcartier, Quebec in 1916. Jack Billings is second from the right. Jack sailed from Halifax in September and went straight to France with the 38th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. 


Jack received his Distinguished Conduct Medal from the Prince of Wales on Parliament Hill, Ottawa in 1919. He was also awarded the Belgian Croix de Guerre. These medals were for heroism in battle at Douai-Cambrai. After the war, Jack was a game warden in Algonquin Park. He and his guide were found dead in a ranger cabin in 1926. Foul play was suspected.

Leaving or returning? Jack’s younger brother Basil Billings with his siblings on the platform at the Barry’s Bay Station. Basil enlisted in 1918 at the age of twenty. A gunner with the 74th Battalion of Canadian Artillery, Basil contracted Spanish Influenza shortly after arriving in England and was in hospital when the war ended. He went overseas again in World War II.


Jack and Basil’s first cousin Gordon Billings enlisted in 1915. A telegraph operator, he was assigned to the Second Signal Corps. He was injured in battle and his left arm was amputated at the elbow.

Spit reunites Ottawa Valley family after 164 years

Today many Christians mark All Souls Day by honouring their deceased relatives and friends. In writing this piece I hope to pay respect to all of my deceased ancestors and relatives, but especially those who in life were divided from their loved ones by religious intolerance.


When Irish immigrant Ellen Daly married Andrew Gamble in Gloucester Township in 1854, her family disowned her for marrying a Protestant and leaving the Catholic Church. Shortly after, her parents – Martin Daly and Fanny Forde – and most of her siblings left Carleton County to take up land in Brudenell and Sherwood Townships along the Opeongo Line.

All Ellen’s descendants knew was that she had come from Ireland with her parents and siblings and that she was disowned by her relatives who subsequently moved to the Eganville area. As a matter of fact first cousins Laurie Pollack and Holly Woermke had been looking for information on Ellen Daly’s family for years without success. Then Holly spit into a vial to complete a DNA test through Ancestry. When she got her results which included me, her first impression was that she was related to her husband, Terry Woermke. (He is my third cousin from Pembroke.) However, when she looked at the family tree I have posted on Ancestry, she saw my descent from Martin and Fanny and wondered if my great-great grandfather Martin Daly (the younger) who settled at Hopefield was Ellen’s brother. She contacted me.

The rest, as they say, is [family] history.


Holly Trappitt Woermke, her first cousin Laurie Sparks Pollock and me. We share common Daly ancestors and discovered one another through Ancestry DNA. We met last night to exchange family information and had a great time. A road trip to Brudenell, Hopefield and Barry’s Bay is planned.

Back in the early 1980s when I first started doing family research, I interviewed Daly relatives like Norah Landon and her niece Anna Mary Ewing whose grandmother and great grandmother, Ann Belkwell, was Ellen’s sister; Sister Adele Cuddy whose grandfather Michael Daly was Ellen’s brother; and Mildred Gilroy whose grandfather Thomas Daly was Ellen’s brother. My notes from that time reveal that they knew of three Daly sisters who, they whispered “had married Protestants.” According to Anna Mary Ewing, one was a Mrs. Henderson who lived in the Madawaska area; another was a Mrs. Gamble connected to the Ottawa department story Murphy-Gamble; and a third was a Mrs. Bolton.

So far Anna Mary’s information has been reliable. Back in 2000, Daly cousins Tom and Shirley Connolly found the marriage of Mary Daly (daughter of Martin Daly and Fanny Forde) to James Henderson in1865 at the Arnprior Presbyterian Church. I subsequently found the Hendersons in the 1871 Census returns for Nipissing South/Madawaska East. One sister confirmed. DNA evidence between Holly and me and several other Daly relatives from the Barry’s Bay area confirm the second. Now Laurie, Holly and I, along with other Daly cousins, can work together to find Mrs. Bolton and her descendants.

We know that Martin Daly and Fanny Forde arrived from the village of Killeen, Newtown Daly, County Galway, Ireland about 1849 and settled in Gloucester Township with at least three daughters — Ann, Ellen and Mary — and all of them married Protestants. The eldest, Ann, however, remained Catholic, and her children with Hugh Belkwell were baptized as Catholics. The Belkwells joined the Daly siblings along the Opeongo Line.


Martin Daly (1825-1901) and Mary McManus settled along the Opeongo Line at Hopefield in Sherwood Township. Martin arrived in Canada with parents Martin and Fanny (Forde) Daly and at least seven siblings: Ann (1820-1875) who married Hugh Belkwell, Joseph (1822-1888), Michael (1834-1909) who married Margaret Murray, Ellen (1835-1916) who married Andrew Gamble, Patrick (1837), Thomas (1839-1932) who married Margaret O’Grady, and Mary (1840) who married James Henderson.

It is hard for us to understand the religious intolerance that separated families in this way, but it was not uncommon even fifty years ago. I have found several examples of it in the various Irish and German branches of my family, and I should note that Protestants rejected children who married Catholics too. While it caused great emotional pain for individuals and families, it is part our history and, I believe, knowing our history – even the unpleasant parts – is very important. Family historians and genealogists often discover stories like this and nowadays DNA science provides more opportunity to unearth even more startling skeletons. I say, “bring it on, who wants a boring family tree?”

What’s most important, though, is to have an open mind and realize that we are part of larger and more-complex families than we imagined. In doing so we realize how connected we are to others and perhaps we can even heal some of the hurts and divisions of the past. I know I am looking forward to working with Laurie and Holly and our other Daly relatives to expand our family circle.

No lederhosen please, we’re Prussian: Oktoberfest and Renfrew County Germans

This is a piece I wrote for my “Porch Views” column in The Madawaska Valley Current. I tweaked it a bit and added more photos and a list of place names so readers can locate the places mentioned on a modern map. Please note that I have used ae, oe, and ue instead of the a, o and u with umlauts for all surnames and place names.

I also received some interesting comments on the version published in The Current. To view these visit


My dad and I used to tour Renfrew County visiting German settlements and pioneer cemeteries. Now it’s a tradition for me. This year I jokingly referred to it as my “Oktoberfest” tour to make a point. Valley residents may think Oktoberfest is an expression of local German heritage, but the beer festival which began in Munich in 1810 to celebrate a royal wedding is Bavarian and dirndls and lederhosen have little to do with most Renfrew County Germans.


My dad, Roy Woermke, inspecting the remains of a root cellar on his grandparents’ former farm at Woermke in Sebastopol Township in 1987. Carl Woermke originated in Krining, Kreis Soldin, Brandenburg and his wife Ernestine Weiland came from Schwackenwalde, Kreis Arnswalde, Brandenburg. Carl and his brother Gottlieb arrived in 1876 following their sister Louise Hildebrandt and aunts Christiane Thoms/Schilievert and Louise Moldenhauer. Their step- mother and half siblings would follow after the death of their father in 1882. Woermke in Sebastopol was named after Gottlieb’s wife Berthe Jahn Wörmke its first post master.

According to the 2016 Census, 22 percent of Renfrew County residents reported German ancestry. Closer to home, the percentage was 47 percent in North Algona Wilberforce,
41% in Brudenell Lyndoch and Raglan, 25 percent in Killaloe Hagarty and Richards, and 19% in Madawaska Valley.

Most of us are descended from emigrants from the provinces of Brandenburg, Pomerania and West Prussia in the Kingdom of Prussia who arrived in Renfrew County between 1858 and 1900.


Caroline and Friedrich Mundt at their North Algona Township farm on the shore of Golden Lake (now the Weckworth farm). Caroline arrived in Quebec City in 1866 from Neuendorf, Kreis Greifswald, Pomerania with her mother Caroline (nee Ruehs), sisters Marie (Mrs. Rev. Heinrich Schmidt) and Wilhelmine (Mrs. Brown and St. Amour) and brother Michael. Friedrich and his sisters Wilhelmina Rogge and Emilie Jahnke were from Baerwalde in Kreis Neustettin, Pomerania.

A little history and geography

Until the formation of the German Empire in 1871, “Germany” was a generic term applied to the territory covered by four kingdoms, seven grand duchies, four duchies, seven principalities and three free cities. Two of these kingdoms were Bavaria and Prussia.  The Kingdom of Prussia consisted of thirteen provinces stretching from what is now Kaliningrad, Russia in the east to the modern French border in the west.

Prussia’s heartland was the Province of Brandenburg, capital Berlin, which was home to a Slavic minority known as the Wends who had their own language and folk culture. Part of the Province of Pomerania was ruled by the Swedes in the 1600s, but it was almost entirely German with Catholic Kashubs near its eastern border with West Prussia. Yes, West Prussia was east, but it was west of East Prussia, and it had a large Kashub population.  In Brandenburg the common language of the German people was variants of Plattdeutsch (German of the northern lowlands), but Hochdeutsch was the language of government and education. Prussia’s state religion was the Evangelische Kirche a blend of Lutheranism and Calvinism created by royal edict in 1817.


Wilhelm and Louise Boehme (née Friedrich) lived in Combermere. Wilhelm was a master tailor from Tauer, Kreis Cottbus, Brandenburg.  His wife was born in Canada, but her parents were from Nelep, Kreis Schivelbein, Pomerania. Known as “Tailor Boehme” he drowned in 1912 in the sinking of the Mayflower on Lake Kamaniskeg. Photo courtesy Lynne Yantha.

Place of Origin database

This year I started compiling a place of origin database for German immigrants to Renfrew County between 1858 and 1900. I am drawing on immigration agent William Sinn’s list of Prussian settlers from 1860, the “saddlebag” register of births, marriages and deaths compiled by Lutheran missionary Rev. Ludwig Gerndt, and provincial marriage and death registrations. I compare that information with data from Hamburg passenger lists and Brandenburg emigration records. Once I have a specific location, I look it up on the online version of Meyer’s Gazetteer which lists every place name in the German Empire circa 1912. The final step is to find the current name for these places because West Prussia was ceded to Poland in 1918 and in 1945 the parts of Brandenburg and Pomerania east of the Oder River were ceded to Poland. At that time German residents who had not been killed or fled ahead of the Red Army were expelled.

20181022_075234 (1)

Reinhold Hildebrandt’s parents lived at Gross Mandelkow, Kreis Soldin before emigrating in 1882 and settling in Sebastopol Township. Three of Reinhold’s brothers settled in Barry’s Bay. Photo courtesy Beverly Glofcheskie.

I would love to find the gut (estate), dorf (village) or stadt (town), kreis (county) and provinz for each immigrant, but sometimes I have to settle with only the province or kreis.

Currently I have 706 names in my database, and it is far from complete, but some important details are emerging:

  • 96% of German immigrants to Renfrew County came from the Kingdom of Prussia.
  • 43% hailed from the Province of Brandenburg with most from the following kreise: Cottbus, Arnswalde, Friedeberg and Soldin.
  • 38% originated in Pomerania but the greatest numbers came from four kreise: Neustettin, Saatzig, Schivelbein and Belgard.
  • 11% were natives of West Prussia especially the kreise of Deutsch Krone, Flatow, Berent and Marienwerder.
  • 4% came from the Prussian provinces of Silesia and Posen.

Chain-migration, relationships and mobility

There is clearly a pattern of chain-migration. The earliest immigrants like Brandenburgers Martin Buderich, August Schroeder, J.G. Weber and Wilhelm Luloff must have encouraged family, friends and neighbours to join them. Pomeranians followed in the footsteps of Johann Boldt, Friedrich Schutt, Carl Sommers and Christian Wasmund.

20181016_203513 (1)

Harvey Schutt’s parents Christie and Annie ran a general store in the community which bore their surname in Raglan Township. Harvey’s great grandfather Friedrich Schutt arrived in Wilberforce Township in the Spring of 1859 from Wackerow, Kreis Greifswald, Pomerania. Harvey’s grandmother Wilhelmine Krueger was born in Buessow, Kreis Friedeberg. Photo courtesy Howard Schutt.

Another thing that is becoming obvious is the kinship between Renfrew County German families. Some family ties pre-dated immigration; others were made in Canada. For example, the Wendish folks from Kreis Cottbus (a kreis is an area about the size of a Renfrew County township) likely had kinship ties before emigration. After they settled in Renfrew County they intermarried with Germans from Prussian and non-Prussian territories. I encourage Renfrew County Germans to complete ancestry DNA tests to discover unknown links especially since many documents in the old country were destroyed or lost in the wars. I recently found Weiland and Klingbeil relatives that way. They are descended from my great-great grandfather Heinrich Weiland’s brother Ludwig who left Neuwedell, Kreis Arnswalde and settled in Wisconsin.


Eunice, Ron and Clifford Lisk at their farm in Hagarty Township in 1941 or 1942 before Cliff went oversees in World War II. The Lisk family is Wendish and originated in the village of Drachhausen, Kreis Cottbus, Brandenburg. Photo courtesy Brad Lisk.

In my research I have also noted that individuals’ birth places in the marriage register might not be the same as the place of origin on the passenger list, or that siblings might have different places of birth. This reveals more movement than we might expect of our ancestors, but If he was an arbeiter (labourer) or a landsmann (tenant farmer) the prospective emigrant may have moved around to find work on estates or farms.


The Brose family at their Lake Dore farm on Lake, Wilberforce Township in the early 20th Century. Ernst Brose arrived from Mueckenburg, Kreis Soldin in 1871 with his parents Wilhelm and Ernstine (Krueger) Brose.  His wife Marie Woermke  arrived from Krining, Kreis Soldin 1882.

Back to Oktoberfest

Don’t get me wrong, I am not against Oktoberfesting. I enjoy the beer, the food and the music. For many years I celebrated with friends in Kitchener-Waterloo, and this year I spent a very entertaining evening at the Killaloe Lion’s Oktoberfest. But, I am aware that Oktoberfest is not part of my cultural heritage.

But what is my cultural heritage as a descendant of Germans from Brandenburg and Pomerania? While I have a pretty good handle on the history, I don’t know much about the culture and I am the second generation in my family unable to speak German. I am not alone.

Most Renfrew County Germans have lost most if not all of their language and culture. My grandfather, who spoke no English until he attended school and was married in a German-language ceremony in 1913 used to say, “Two World Wars took care of that.”

Brenda Lee-Whiting noted in Harvest of Stones that Oktoberfests for “people of German descent (or those who wish they were)” signaled a change in attitudes. Non-Germans were getting over suspicion and resentment, and Germans themselves were less reluctant to self-identify and promote their heritage. Even if wasn’t theirs.

Oktoberfest and the Bavarian care-free attitude may be more palatable than the stereotype of the serious, disciplined Prussian. Nevertheless, it’s time for Renfrew County Germans to explore their past, pool their knowledge, establish a cultural centre and discover the language, food and traditions of their ancestors.

Places They Left: Then and Now

The following places were mentioned in the above article or in the photo captions. They are only a small number of places mentioned in my database. As I continue to add to add information to my database and research Renfrew County German (RCG) families, these lists will expand. 


Kreis Arnswalde:
The city of Neuwedell is now known as Drawno, Choszczno County in the West Pomeranian Voivodeship of Poland. Hartwig, Klingbeil and Wieland are current RCG surnames with a connection to Neuwedell.

The village of Schwackenwalde is now known as Chlopowo, Choszczno County in the West Pomeranian Voivodeship of Poland. Middlesteadt, Tabbert, Wieland and Wilkie are current RCGG surnames with a connection to Schwackenwalde.

Kreis Cottbus:
The villages of Drachhausen and Tauer are still in Germany. Kreis Cottbus no longer exists: they are in the District of Spree-Neisse in the State of Brandenburg. Budarick, Okum, Kruger/Krieger and Schimmens are current RCG surnames with connections to Drachhausen. Boehme, Buder, Kelo, Lehman, Lisk, Melcher, Woito/Waito and Yourth are current RCG surnames with connections to Tauer.

Kreis Friedeberg:
The village/landed estate of Buessow is now known as Buszow, Strzelce-Krajenskie County in the Lubusz Voivodeship of Poland. Krueger/Krieger, Riskie, Scheel, Steinke, and Wolfgram are current RCG names with connections to Buessow.

Kreis Soldin:
The village and landed estate of Gross Mandelkow is now known as Bedargowo, Choszczno County in the West Pomeranian Voivodeship of Poland. Hildebrandt and Kargus are current RCG names with connections to Gross Mandelkow.

The village and landed estated of Krining is now known as Krzynki, Choszczno County in the West Pomeranian Voivodeship of Poland. Bredlaw, Quade and Woermke are current RCG names connections to Krining.

The village and estate of Mueckenburg is now know as Mozydlo.  Brose is a current RCG name connected to Mueckenburg.


Kreis Greifswald:
The estates of Neuendorf  and Wackerow are still in Germany. They are in the Vorpommern-Greifswald district of the Mecklenburg-Vorpommern state.
Mahs is a current RCG surnames which has a connection to Neuendorf . Schutt is a current RCG surname with a connection to Wackerow.

Kreis Neustettin:
The city of Barwalde is now known as Barwice, Szczecinek County in the West Pomeranian Voivodeship of Poland. Jahnke, Mundt and Roggie are current RCG surnames with connections to Barwalde.

Kreis Schivelbein:
The village and landed estate of Nelep is now known as Nielep, Swidwin County in the West Pomeranian Voivodeship of Poland. Brash, Frederick and Ziebell are current RCG surnames with connections to Nelep.








Railway Station History: Read the Script of Meet Me at the Station

Barry’s Bay’s historic Railway Station has certainly been making news in the last year. People who live, have lived, have roots, who visit, or have visited the Madawaska Valley are expressing renewed  interest in this cultural treasure. That is because it is “everyone’s” station.

In the age of rail, railway stations were vital to the economic and social life of the communities in which they were located. Even the modest clapboard structure in Barry’s Bay was a symbol of civic pride, a locus for economic activity, a link with the world beyond, and a meeting place. I think it is important to remember that our station served these functions for the nearby villages, hamlets and isolated farms which were not located on the rail line.

Since 1894, the Railway Station in Barry’s Bay has been vital to the entire Madawaska Valley. Imagine the commerce taking place on the platform or in the siding one hundred years ago. Outgoing freight would have included turpentine from the plant in Barry’s Bay, corundum from the mine in Craigmont, logs, lumber, livestock, milk and eggs from sawmills and farms in Sherwood, Jones, Burns, Raglan, Radcliffe, Lyndoch, Bangor, Wicklow, McClure, Herschel and Monteagle Townships. Incoming freight saw farm implements, machinery and equipment, tools, automobiles, furniture, clothing, household goods, food and medicines and mail destined for businesses and individuals in the aforementioned townships. Socially and culturally this was the meeting place for anyone doing business or travelling to or from the Madawaska Valley or beyond. Folks from Purdy, Bell’s Rapids, Halfway, Hopefield, Barry’s Bay, Paugh Lake, Bark Lake, Combermere, Hardwood Lake, Schutt, Rosenthal, Wolfe, Jewelville, Latchford Bridge, Wingle, Palmer Rapids and Quadeville all came and left through the station.

The Railway Station’s function has certainly changed, but it is still vital to the cultural, social and economic life of the Madawaska Valley.

Last year, I was approached by Anya Gansterer, Danielle Paul, and Bob and Cathie Corrigan to work on a play commemorating Canada’s 150th Anniversary of Confederation and highlighting the Madawaska Valley’s Railway history.  Consequently, I had the opportunity to write, direct and act in Meet Me at the Station.  The play is an historic walk which starts at the Station and highlights several nearby historical sites. Set about 1946, it features characters who were real people who frequented the Station. (Descendants and relatives of many of these characters were present for the performance.) As the great grandson, grandson and son of people whose lives and livelihoods were closely connected to the Station, I was pleased to have this opportunity and the privilege to work with a great group of actors and musicians. Meet Me at the Station was performed on Friday August 11, 2017 to a crowd of about fifty people.

I hope that you enjoy reading the script and viewing the photos taken by Cathie Corrigan, John Olsen and Sheila Lorbetskie.

by Mark Woermke

(in order of appearance)

Hobo (Ken Ramsden) — A tramp, riding the rails, but also a talented musician, dressed in shabby, dusty clothes and a damaged straw hat. He is carrying a fiddle.

Travellers & Musicians (Ish Theilheimer, Chantal Elie-Sernoskie, Fran Pinkerton)

Gwen Billings (Julie Kitts) – A young woman working as the freight clerk at the CNR station. Practical and sharp-tongued, she is dressed in a skirt and blouse and carries a clip board and pen.

Mr. Fox (Terry Newcombe) – The station agent. He is middle-aged, anxious about the time and his work, but also interested in getting away for a few minutes. He wears spectacles a white shirt and vest and an arm band. He carries a pocket watch and in a later scene, an order hoop.

Bailey Adrain (Liam Gansterer) – The delivery man from Combermere. He wears a long-sleeved shirt, trousers and a newsboy-style cap. Bailey is friendly and helpful.

Jim Billings (Warren Heubner) – Another delivery man, but from Barry’s Bay. Jim also works at his family’s business, the Balmoral Hotel which is across the track from the station. He wears a white shirt with the sleeves rolled-up and dark pants..

Mickey Gaffney (William Enright) – The brakeman who hails from Madawaska. He wears a CNR jacket and cap. He is happy to chat with his friend Bailey and the group.

Arthur Rumleskie (Joseph Afelskie) – A local boy caught playing near the caboose. Art is barefoot and wearing overalls without a shirt. One day he will become a local railway historian.

Leonard Gutoskie (Benjamin Afelskie) – Another local kid. He is also barefoot and wears overalls without a shirt. One day he will become a station agent and work for the CNR.

George Woermke (Mark Woermke) – The Section Forman. George has worked on the CNR line for many years. He is kind and friendly with the kids,;likes to tell jokes; and talks easily with the group. He smokes a pipe, wears work pants, a shirt and vest, gum rubbers, and an old fedora. He carries a sledge hammer.

Henry Maika (Ivan Barney) –The Section Man. A labourer who lives nearby. He is friendly too, but has to get home to his wife who keeps tabs on him. Henry wears striped overalls and a railway cap.He carries a lunch kit.

August Pick (Michael Lorbetskie) – A labourer at Conway’s Mill. He wears work pants, suspenders, a straw hat, and carries a red handkerchief. He is friendly and talkative.

Alice Wernham (Danielle Paul) – Recently arrived from the city. She is a scaler for a local lumber company. She doesn’t know many people yet. She and her husband are boarding at the Balmoral Hotel. She is business-like and curious about her new environment. She wears a sensible skirt and shoes, a blouse and a hat.

Maxie Yarascavitch (Bob Corrigan) – The bartender at the Balmoral Hotel. Maxie wears a white shirt with sleeves rolled up and dress pants. Maxie is friendly and knows many railroaders.

Stasia Dunnigan (Johanna Zomers) – The proprietor of the Balmoral Hotel. She wears a fashionable dress, makeup and earrings. Stasia has a flamboyant personality, and she is very hospitable and generous.

SCENE 1 – The Station

At the station. The Hobo is seated on the baggage cart which is loaded with crates and boxes. He starts playing his fiddle, and then Gwen comes out of the station, with a clip board ready to tally the incoming freight.

GWEN              You again? Didn’t I put the run on you earlier? Go on! Get outta here! (She stomps her foot and the Hobo retreats to a distance.) There’s lots of work to be done around here. I have to check all of these parcels that just arrived on the train, and Bailey Adrain will be here any minute to pick up the shipments for Slim Coulas and Rosie Zilney. And, if Rosie doesn’t get those silk stockings she’s been waiting for, there’ll be hell to pay! Chasing tramps away is the last thing I need today. (Suddenly, she notices the crowd, pauses and addresses them.) And how can I help you folks? Don’t crowd the platform.  (She pauses and waits for them to leave, but they don’t.) Well, if you’re not going to move for me, I’d better get Mr. Fox. (She goes inside.)

FOX                  (Coming out the door.) Well, hello folks. How can I help you? I am the station agent here in Barry’s Bay.  My name is Fox. What brings you here today? A railway historical tour? (He checks his watch.) Well, this is a very busy time as you can see (gestures to crowd at the market), but I wouldn’t mind slipping away from the office for a few minutes. (He opens the door and shouts into station.) Gwen, I’m just going to a little walk with these nice folks! (Addresses the crowd again.)  She’s a great worker, that Gwen. She was one of the women hired just after the War started due to all the extra work and the shortage of men. She sure keeps us in line at the station. Guess she learned that over there (he gestures to the Hotel). Her people, the Billings, run the hotel. It has provided lots of accommodation and meals for railroaders. It’s also the only bar in town, so a lot of the men end their days there with a few pints. My wife and family and I live upstairs over the station. Some nights the beverage room gets awfully noisy and often, there are fights.  Anyway, follow me and I’ll take you on a little tour. (Mr. Fox leads the way while the Hobo trails behind playing his fiddle.)

MMS- Gwen Billings - aka Julie Kitts

Julie Kitts as Gwen Billings, CNR freight clerk.

Mr Fox

Terry Newcombe as CNR Station Agent Mr. Fox

IMG_0102i The Hobo - aka Ken Ramsden

The Hobo, played by Ken Ramsden, leads the group to the Corundum Sheds.

SCENE 2 – The Corundum Sheds

When they get close, Mr. Fox shouts to Bailey and Jim who are standing by the “Heritage Walk” sign having a conversation.

FOX                  Hello Bailey, hello Jim! How are you fellas today?

BAILEY             Gidday, Gidday!

JIM                   Just fine Mr. Fox. It’s a dandy day, eh?

FOX                  These folks are here on a tour to learn how the railroad contributed to the development of the Madawaska Valley. What can you lads tell them?

BAILEY             Well let’s see now. I’m not much good at talkin’ to groups, you see I’m just a delivery man, but I’ll give ‘er a try. I’m Bailey Adrain from Combermere, which is just down the road and at the end of Lake Kamaniskeg. And this is my friend Jim Billings from Barry’s Bay.

JIM                   I do some of the deliveries here in town.

BAILEY             And he’s one of the Billings family who runs that hotel over there.

FOX                  (Interrupting.) I’m going to leave you people with Bailey and Jim here. (Checks his watch.) There’s no end to the responsibilities of the station agent. Bye now.

BAILEY             See ya later Mr. Fox!  (Turns back to group.) Alrighty, where was I? Well, to my right is C and D Murray’s General Store. They’re brothers. C stands for Charlie and D stands for Dan, but the locals say it means Cement and Dynamite. And you can buy those things there too. To my left are the corundum sheds. Since this second big war started, they’ve opened up the mines again at Craigmont which is just a ways past Combermere. Corundum, I’m told it’s a crystal which is almost as hard as diamonds. It’s mined, crushed and packaged in cotton bags about one foot long. God, those little bags are heavy. They are delivered here by truck, but in the first war, it was brought by boat up the lake from Combermere. The corundum is stored in these sheds until a boxcar or two can be loaded and then it’s shipped to Ottawa by rail.
Speaking of boats, did you ever hear about the Mayflower: the boat that sank right here in Lake Kamaniskeg. It was big news in 1912 rivalling the Titanic. That was the easiest way for passengers and freight to get to Combermere back then since there was no highway and the road was pretty rough.  Anyway, in November 1912 the boat sank when it hit a sandbar in a storm. Six passengers, two crew and the captain drowned, but three travelling salesmen survived by clinging to a coffin.

JIM                   That’s right! That event even made it into Ripley’s Believe It or Not – “Dead Men saves Three.” There’s a real nice painting of that in the hotel over there (gestures) done by a local feller by the name of Frankie Ritza. Maybe you can stop in later and take a peek – and maybe a have a pint or two! Several of the victims – and even the corpse – arrived on the train. The live ones had their last meal at the hotel.
You know lots of people have come and gone through the station over there: J.R. Booth the famous lumber baron; Mackenzie King was here back in the 1920s, and Governor Smith of Vermont passes through regularly on his way to his big estate at Victoria Lake. We also see big shots with the CNR who have cottages on Aylen Lake and rich Americans who have compounds and cottages on Kamaniskeg near Combermere. We even have a Russian Baroness who recently moved to Combermere from Harlem in New York City. She is starting something called Madonna House.

BAILEY             Well look at that (Bailey points to the caboose.) There’s a train in the siding. I’m goin’ over to see if my friend Mickey Gaffney is in the caboose. He’s a brakeman, you know.

JIM                   I’d better head back to the hotel. Nice meeting you folks! See ya later Bailey.

BAILEY             (To Jim) See ya later Jim. (To the crowd) Come on, follow me.
(He gestures to the group to follow him, and the Hobo follows, playing music as they walk.)


Liam Gansterer as Bailey Adrain and Warren Heubner as Jim Billings address the crowd as the Hobo (Ken Ramsden) looks on from far left.

SCENE 3 – The Caboose

As the group approaches the caboose Mickey waves and calls to Bailey.

MICKEY            How’s she goin’ Bailey?

BAILEY             Tip top, my friend, tip top. This fine group of people here wants to know about how important the railway is to us. You’re the man to talk to them, I figure.

MICKEY            Pleased to meet yez. Yah, I guess I do know a lot about the railway, since it’s in my blood. My father was a railroader and he settled in Madawaska in the early days just after old J.R. Booth completed this rail line in 1894. Then it was called the Canada Atlantic Railway. Next it was called the Grand Trunk Railway and now it’s part of the Canadian National Railway system. Me and my brothers all work for the railroad as engineers and brakemen. After they shut down the big round house at Madawaska, we made Ottawa our home base, but we pass through regularly on the trains, and we all have cottages at Aylen Lake.
You know, it’s a damned shame how things have changed. When I was a young lad, Madawaska was the divisional point between Ottawa and Depot Harbour. There were lots of freight trains carrying wheat, logs, corundum and passengers through here. Madawaska was booming and it was even bigger than Barry’s Bay. Two schools, three churches. Then two things happened: they built a power dam on the Madawaska River at the mouth of Bark Lake which flooded the village of Madawaska; then the CNR tore down the round house. (He glances at his watch.)
          Anyway this train is in the siding right now because it’s westbound and it’s meeting an eastbound freight train in just a few minutes. (Sound of a train whistle.) Oh, I hear it know at the mile board.
 (Suddenly Mickey is distracted.) What the hell! (He jumps down from the caboose and chases the boys Arthur and Leonard away from the caboose. One was hiding underneath and the other was on the roof). Go on ya little buggers! Get out of here! Are you trying to get yourselves killed or something? (Arthur and Leonard jump when he shouts, and run away to hide behind the crowd.)

MICKEY            (Looks at his watch.)  All aboard! Next stop Madawaska! Oh, there is Mr. Fox with the order hoop. Even though it’s not round it’s still called a hoop. There are two sets: one for the engineer and the other for the conductor in the van. The orders are on that yellow paper tied to the string. They provide instructions for the next leg of the journey. (As he says this, he holds onto the railing and hangs off the caboose as Mr. Fox walks by with the order hoop. Mickey catches it on his arm. Mickey disappears into the caboose. There is the sound of a train whistle and the hobo continues to play.)

ARTHUR          Hey everybody? Are you from the city? My friend Leonard and I have never been further than Pembroke.

LEONARD        Almost every day Arthur and I come here to watch the trains and the people who work on them. Sometimes, like today, we even climb up on the boxcars and cabooses. We know we can get in trouble, but it’s worth it.

ARTHUR          Yah, we love them trains. I wanna be an engineer or a section foreman when I grow up. My dad used to work on the section at Opeongo Forks about half way between here and Madawaska with old George Woermke who’s the foreman here now.

LEONARD        I hope I can be a station agent someday like Mr. Fox. Say, if you want to learn more about the railroad here in Barry’s Bay, come with us. (The boys lead the group to the bunkhouses. The Hobo follows, playing music.)


Mickey Gaffney,  the CNR Brakeman, played by William Enright

IMG_0060 - Joe & Ben Afelskie

Local young lads, Arthur Rumleskie and Leonard Gutoskie (played by Joseph and Benjamin Afelskie) have a great interest in trains and the railroad.

SCENE 4 – The Bunk Houses

George and Henry are standing by the bunkhouses as Arthur and Leonard lead the group to them.

GEORGE          Gidday lads. How’re ya now? I heard Gaffney putting the run on you just before those trains met. You’re always getting yourselves into something. (Pauses) This is new — you have quite the crowd following you today.

LEONARD        George, these people want to know more about the railroad and railroaders.

ARTHUR          Ya, you’ve been with the CNR for a long time. You can tell them lots.

HENRY             (Nudges George.) Yah, I guess between us, George, we must have over fifty years of service with the railroad.

GEORGE          More like sixty, Henry. (Chuckles) Well where should I start?

ARTHUR          Tell them about how you started with the railroad, George. I always like to hear that story.

GEORGE          Well, then. I started as a section man in the spring of 1904. The previous winter, I was fourteen and my father sent me to work in the lumber camp. I was way back in Algonquin Park up near Stonecliffe. It was damn hard work, awfully lonely, and there weren’t too many Germans there – mainly French Canadians and Irishmen – and my English wasn’t very good back then. Christmas Day, I was so lonesome, I cried all day. In the spring when I got home, my father took all of my wages. I left home the same day and went to work for my brother Charlie who was the section foreman on the Grand Trunk at Golden Lake.

ARTHUR          Tell them about Opeongo Forks and Madawaska and how you came here to Barry’s Bay.

GEORGE          Well for a while I lived in a bunkhouse at Golden Lake, like the ones that are here (gestures). Just simple single iron beds. With sheets and a grey woolen blanket (gestures) provided by the railway. Each man had a chair like this one (gestures) and a box under his bed for his things. We heated the bunkhouse and cooked our meals on a coal-stove. After I got married to a Golden Lake girl, I bid on the foreman’s job at to Opeongo Forks and we had a better house to live in.  That’s where I first met Henry here and your dad, Art. By the beginning of the first war, I was foreman in Madawaska. I eventually became road master. We had our own place there, just east of the river and raised our family in it, but when the government built the Bark Lake dam we were flooded out, so I transferred here. That was in 1942. My wife and I are happy here and I get along well with the men (points to Henry) who are either Polish or Irish – there aren’t too many Germans here either. You know, when we were buying our house from Jack Etmanskie, the Polish priest told him not to sell to Protestants and Germans.  Anyway, we get along just fine now. I can even talk German with some of the older Polish folks.  (Checks his pocket watch.) Well, I’d better get over to the station, before the end of the day, so I’ll leave you here with Henry Maika. Henry’s a great worker, but he gets awful dirty on the job. When he gets home, his wife makes him wash up outside and change his clothes in the outhouse before entering the house. (Addressing the boys) Isn’t it about time you lads went home – your mamas are goin’ to want you home for supper. (He turns to the crowd and tips his hat.) Nice meeting you folks. Enjoy your stay in the Bay.  (The boys leave and George heads back to the station.)

HENRY             Well, I guess you’re stuck with me now. Follow me. (Henry leads the group to the Water Tank. The Hobo follows playing music.)

MMS - George Woermke - aka Mark Woermke

Section Foreman George Woermke, played by Mark Woermke, always has a few stories.

IMG_0081 Henry Maika - aka Ivan Barney

Section Man Henry Maika, played by Ivan Barney, is long-time railway worker.

SCENE 5 – The Water Tank

When the group gets to the water tank, Henry begins to speak.

HENRY             Well, here she is, Barry’s Bay’s very own water tank. We pump water from the creek in that gully just over there beyond the station, so that the steam engines can fill up. It’s also very helpful for the villagers who can draw water from it in case of a fire. You know, it’s not in its original location. Just a few years ago they moved it from the east end of the station. (He starts to chuckle.) I can tell you a funny story. Did you meet Gwen at the station? Well when they were getting ready to move the tank one of the Bridge and Building crew was working on the roof and fell in. One of the other workers ran into the station yelling “Ernie has fallen into the water tank!” Well I guess Ernie might have still been drunk from the night before when he was out drinking and carousing with Gwen’s boyfriend Roy – who’s another clerk at the station. Guess the two lads got pretty smashed and Roy stood her up for a date. When Gwen heard about Ernie’s mishap, she said “Leave the sonofabitch in there and let him drown!” (He chuckles.) Yup, that sure was a funny line. (He see’s August walking towards them.)  Oh, here comes August Pick walking from Conway’s Mill. (Henry check’s his watch.) That’s good timing, because I have to get home to my wife. (He calls out to August) August, will you take these nice people and show them the spur line?

AUGUST           Sure! I’d be happy to do that. (Henry leaves and August leads begins to walk with the group towards the next stop. The hobo follows along playing music softly so August can be heard.) Well gidday folks, I’m August Pick and I have been working for lumber companies all my life right here around Barry’s Bay. Last number of years I’ve been working for Jack and Tommy Conway who have a mill down at the lake. (He gestures towards the lake, then stops. By now they have reached the next stop, the Spur Line).

MMS - August Pick - aka Michael Lorbetskie

August Pick, played by Michael Lorbetskie, is heading home from work after a hard day’s work at Conway’s Mill.

SCENE 6 – The Spur Line

AUGUST           (August points to the imaginary tracks.) This track is a spur line that runs down to the lake. Lumber from the mill is loaded on the flat cars and then shipped out to Pembroke or Ottawa or Montreal. Conway’s have that mill now, but it used to be owned by the Omaniques and the Murrays. You know, over the years, there have been lots of lumber-related industries in this town – MacLaughlin lumber was here in the old days; J.R. Booth built the railway and brought his lumber through here; and in the early 1900s there was a turpentine plant here. There are also smaller lumber mills around here like the Daly’s at Opeongo Forks and the Chapeskies down here on the lake. (He turns to a young lady who is approaching and carrying a bag of licorice.) Oh, here comes Alice Wernham. She’s quite the gal. She and her husband Gordie just moved here from the city and are living at the hotel. They BOTH work for Mill Valley Lumber in Toronto. (He leans toward the crowd and almost whispers.) Folks around here can hardly believe it: SHE is a scaler. (He turns to her speaks very politely.) Hello Mrs. Wernham! How are you today?

ALICE               Hello August! Finished work for the day?

AUGUST           Yes, ma’am. At sixty I can still pile lumber as good as anyone else down there at Conway’s.

ALICE               You’re probably stronger and work harder than many of those young layabouts I’ve seen down there. I’m done for the day too. I stopped in to Fitzgerald’s store (She gestures across the street) to pick up a little treat for tonight. Gordie loves his licorice. I’m just heading back to the hotel for supper. The meals there are great and Mrs. Dunnigan and the Billings family are really good to us, but I am looking forward to the day when Gordie and I can build our own home. You know we just bought some property down on the lake near Combermere.

AUGUST           (Winks at Alice.) Well if you’re going to the hotel, maybe you should have a nice cold beer before supper.

ALICE               That’s a good idea, August, but Gordie is still working, and I can’t get into the beverage room without a male escort. (She teases August.) Unless, you would like to be my escort.

AUGUST           (A bit flustered.) Oh no, I er, uh, couldn’t do that. You see you’re a married lady … and, uh,… well Annie is expecting me home for supper, so I’d better get a move on. (He leaves.)

ALICE               (Laughing as she calls after him.) That’s okay August. I was only kidding. (Turns and gestures to the crowd.) I know! Why don’t all of you be my escorts?  Let’s go! (She leads the way to the Balmoral Hotel. The Hobo follows playing music.)

MMS - Alice Wernham - aka Danielle Paul

Alice Wernham, played by Danielle Paul, recently moved from the city. She boards at the Balmoral Hotel and works as a scaler for a lumber company.

SCENE 7 – The Balmoral Hotel

Alice leads the group to the yard outside the hotel. The bartender Maxie Yarascavitch is leaning against the building having a cigarette. He shouts to Alice.

MAXIE              Hello Mrs. Wernham! Come up on the verandah out of the sun. It’s hot and you’ve had a long day. Scaling is a hard job for a woman.

ALICE               I can see how busy you’ve been Maxie. You know I’d like a beer, and all of the fine-looking gentlemen in this group are going to be my escorts. They’ve been having a tour of Barry’s Bay’s railroad history today, and I bet they need a drink as badly as I do.

MAXIE              Well, we get a lot of railroaders in the beverage room. Section men, station agents, clerks, engineers and brakemen, almost everyone who works on this line has been to Billings’ Balmoral hotel to stay the night; have a few drinks (or maybe more than a few); eat a good meal; or even have a good dust-up with some of the local lads. Oh, here comes Stasia, I mean Mrs. Dunnigan. She’s the grand lady of the Balmoral – her father, old Josh Billings, built this hotel in 1890. Now she can tell you lotsa stories about the station, the town and the hotel –even some that would be fit to print!

STASIA             Maxie, the men’s beverage room is filling up. Jack’s going to need a hand behind the bar! (She notices the group.) Well hello there! Welcome to Barry’s Bay and to the Balmoral Hotel – “A Home Away from Home.” I guess you’re the folks Gwen told me about – here for a railway tour. This hotel was here before the railway, because my dad knew that Booth was intending to put a station here. Before that he had a “stopping place” a bit further up the Opeongo at Bark Lake. Old J.R. Booth himself stayed here a few times. Lots of our guests come in on the train and we sell lots of meals, beer and spirits to railway workers. Guess you could say we’re like Barry’s Bay’s Chateau Laurier – a luxurious hotel right across from the station. (She laughs and leans mischievously toward the group.) Have you heard of Brother Andre and the shrine in Montreal? Well we’re a shrine too. Yup, Barry’s Bay’s very own shrine, right here at the Balmoral. You see there’s an old lad who hobbles here on his crutches every afternoon. After a few stiff drinks, he gets up, leaves his crutches behind and walks home. (She stops when she notices the Hobo walking towards her. He picks up a fiddle which is lying on a table. He begins to play.)  If you’ve been riding the rails and need a free meal, go to the kitchen door and the cook, Mrs. Burchat, will fix you up with a hearty supper. (He walks away playing. She cocks her head, listens to him and shouts) Hang on there! You’re a damn good fiddler. If you come inside to play, I’ll chord on the piano and we can show these people a real good time. Any step dancers in the crowd?  It’s been a long day, come on in and have a cold drink, a bite to eat, listen to some Ottawa Valley music, dance, and, if you’re too drunk to go home, you can spend the night.”

MAXIE & ALICE Come on in! Join us! Stay a while!”

(Mr. Fox has wandered over from the station.)

FOX                  Well that’s the end of our railroad tour. I hope you’ve learned a little about the role of the railroad in our little town. (He checks his watch.) I have to get back to work, but I hope you take Stasia up on her offer! … (Mutters to himself) Sometimes I wish I wasn’t a Baptist.

Mr. Fox walks back to the station. Maxie, Alice, Stasia and the Hobo enter the hotel. The Hobo continues to play as they enter. In the distance, there is the sound of a train whistle.


13 Maxie Yarascavitch - aka Bob Corrigan

Bartender Maxie Yaraskavitch, played by Bob Corrigan (at left), welcomes Alice Wernham and the audience at the Balmoral Hotel.

14 Stasia Dunnigan - aka Johanna Zomers

Stasia Dunnigan, played by Johanna Zomers, welcomes everyone to the Balmoral Hotel. Her father built the hotel in anticipation of completion of the railway in 1894.

15 Stone Fence Theatre Musicians

The Hobo (Ken Ramsden) and Travellers and Musicians (Fran Pinkerton, Chantal Elie-Sernoskie and Ish Theilheimer) sing “Billings’ Hotel” from the Stone Fence Theatre hit Here Comes the Train.

2017 - Meet Me At The Station

The entire cast of Meet Me at the Station, August 11, 2017


Christmas in Prussia

Berlinchen Stadt Kirche

The Evangelische (Lutheran) church in Berlinchen, Neumark (Kreis Soldin, Brandenburg), Prussia where my great-great-grandparents were married in 1842. They may have attended Christmas services there. This town is now known as Barlinek, Lubuskie Voivodeship, Poland.

The following link takes you to an article from 2011 in which two elderly ladies recount their childhood Christmases in East Prussia.

East Prussia was further east than the parts of Brandenburg and Pomerania where most Renfrew County Germans originated, but I would think these traditions would be close to those of our ancestors.

Humour on the Highway

20171121_195235 (1)The material I’ve been posting to my blog has been pretty serious so far.  Here’s something to lighten the mood.

I have no idea how many times I have done the drive to Barry’s Bay since I started teaching in Ottawa in 1989. I have driven it alone, with friends, with college or university students returning to the Valley for a weekend, and even with hermits heading for Madonna House. I have tackled the trip in all kinds of weather: rain showers, snow storms, brisk fall days and luminous spring afternoons. I’ve blown one tire, hit one deer, had some great conversations, a few good arguments, and I’ve always been able to find something to laugh about along the way.

A few Fridays ago, I was alone, but there seemed to be a bit more humour than usual.

I usually fuel-up in the ‘Prior, but that day I still had some gas in the tank and I didn’t want to cut short the great conversation I was having (on speaker phone) with my Newfoundland-friend.  At the ‘Frew,  I stopped at McEwen’s. After a few pleasant words with the lady filling my tank, I went in to the shop to pay. The clerk was engaged in conversation with an older gentleman who was checking some lottery tickets. When she passed him a pen to sign them, he spoke loudly and rapidly: “Dat’s a moytie foin pain, Missus.”

“I’m sorry?” she replied.

Again, rapid-fire.  “Da pain, moy dear. Ouy’d loik one loik dat moyself. Where’d ya get such a noyce pain?

“I don’t understand, sir.”

He raised his voice thinking she might be deaf. “Da pain! Where can Oy get moyself one?”

“Are you in pain, sir? Should I call 911?”

That’s when I jumped in.  “He’s asking about the pen. Where can he get one?” Then I turned to the older fellow: “What part of Newfoundland are you from?”

“Sout Shar, bye, Sout Shar. Tanks for da translatin’!”

As soon as I got back in my Element, I called my Newfie friend to share this story with her and her “mudder.” It was rich and had to be shared with friends from “da Rock.”

I was still laughing as I descended the hill into Eganville. As I was passing the garden centre that sports the rainbow flag and where I bought some amazing plants last June, I glanced at their sign and almost lost control of my vehicle. As an attention-getter for their fall plants, a green-thumbed wit had written, “Check out our tight asters!” Hilarious. I laughed and hoped it had an effect on the fundamentalists who pass through the “Jewel of the Bonnechere.” I am sure they shook their heads and said brief prayers for all the lost souls like me who found that sign funny. Remind me. Who has the tight-asters?

Just outside of Eganville my phone rang, and I noticed it was my Polish carpenter-friend who was doing some work on my kitchen. I put him on speaker. “Gidday sir!”

“Can I ask you to undertake a mission of mercy for a friend?”

I responded cautiously. “Well, that depends. Who is the “friend” and what does it entail?”

“Could you stop at the Reservation in Golden Lake and pick me up some chewing tobacco?”

I was silent for a few moments while I considered his request. First, I was surprised. I had no idea that my friend had such a filthy habit. I wondered if my kitchen job was pushing him to the edge. Secondly, I had never purchased a tobacco product in my life. Did I want to lose that innocence? (At my age, there aren’t too many things of which I am innocent.) Remembering that there were still key jobs to be completed in the renovation, I responded positively. “Of course, I will do that for you.”

“Great! Thanks! Don’t go to the first smoke shop which is on the left. Go to the second shop, on the right. It has a drive-thru.”

I was incredulous. “A tobacco drive-thru?”

“That’s right. If you have cash, just drive up to the window and ask for “Red Man Chewing Tobacco.”

“WTF? Red Man Chewing Tobacco?” I am not a big fan of political correctness, but this was making me uncomfortable. “Is this a joke?” I demanded.  “Are you setting up your “patromem Niemiecki”? (That’s Polish for ‘German boss.’) Is this some kind of misplaced revenge for Bismarck’s kulturkampf?”

No,” he assured me.  “It’s not a problem. They don’t mind selling that tobacco. It’s a popular brand — even with that name.”

So, I agreed. I bought my first tobacco product at a drive-thru at Pikwakanagan First Nation. I even took a picture of the chaw.

The rest of that journey was uneventful and I arrived home smiling.

What are MV Councillors Really Saying?

This is a copy of my Letter to the Editor published in The Valley Gazette on November 8, 2017. I was astonished when I read the articles to which I responded. It is becoming increasingly obvious that in terms of recreation, development, history, arts and culture, and tourism, Township Council has caused a “derailment” which is not going to be cleaned up anytime soon. (Pardon the railway metaphor.)

Thanks to Staff Reporter Riley Maracle for two important articles which appeared in the November 1, 2017 edition of The Valley Gazette. These reports – MV recreation and community development coordinator discussed by committee and Finance and administration committee deals with expense claim from HRTO hearing — stemmed from the Madawaska Valley finance and administration committee meeting which occurred on October 24.

These articles reveal that, sadly, the taxpayers of the Township of Madawaska Valley are represented by a dysfunctional council. This is quite eloquently revealed in their own words.

Speaking about the hiring of staff for the Railway Station, one councillor seemed hurt and surprised. “For all the good, we are trying to do, there is an awful lot of outraged people out there that are trying to hold our feet to the fire.” Forgive me, but I fail to see the good. The recreation and community development co-ordinator was sacked and the South of 60 Gallery co-ordinator/Railway Museum curator/Tourism Information Manager’s resignation was announced by Council as if she too had been fired. Some councillors’ attitudes and actions toward the railway station have been hostile. So, it should come as no surprise that MV citizens who can see the link between arts, culture, heritage, tourism and development would be contacting their elected officials, posting on Facebook, or writing letters to the editor.

Another councillor also mentioned the “public outcry” about the station. When I met this councillor on the street a few weeks ago, I asked why the municipal environment was so toxic that they could not keep key staff. Her comments echoed her colleague’s – they were all working very hard. Her comments then, were similar to her words from the October 24 meeting: “Everyone and their brother [is] pitching in.” Guess what folks. If you could keep a staff, you wouldn’t have to pick up the slack. This councillor’s other comments about staffing at the committee meeting sounded desperate: “hold the fort” and “stopgap.” Even the CAO wants to “buy some time.” Interestingly, the CAO referred to a report on the matter of staffing which he submitted to council “five or six weeks ago.” Why has nothing come of that report? Has the council created a crisis that it is now incapable of, or uninterested in fixing? What will another year of that do to the Madawaska Valley’s economic development?

The beleaguered mayor obviously wants to see some resolution to this matter, but even her comments reveal problems. She saw the one-on-one meetings the CAO is planning to have with councillors as “a good opportunity,” but added “no large voice will overpower the situation.” Is that the problem with council? Is there a “large voice” that dominates and pushes an anti-culture, anti-arts, anti-heritage, anti-local, anti-tourism, anti-development agenda? Our elected representatives should be reasonable, competent and able to resist that kind of pressure.

The finance and administration committee approved a claim for expenses incurred by a councillor who attended a Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario hearing in Ottawa. We do not know the specifics of this case or why the councillor appeared at the hearing, but it is clear that a complaint has been filed against council as a whole or against one or more councillors. And, since the indemnification bylaw could cover a councillor’s defense costs in legal proceedings, his or her expenses (hotels, meals, mileage), and any settlements to be paid to the claimants, it is safe to say this will not be the only time tax dollars will be spent on this case.  The councillor making the expense claim was very clear. He didn’t “want to do anything wrong” and wanted to ensure that “they do everything right.” That’s good, because, clearly, someone has done something wrong. How else could the Municipal Council of the Township of Madawaska Valley (and by extension the taxpayers who will foot the bill) become embroiled in a Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario hearing?

I think my favorite quote from these articles was the following: “Every time that something is done like this, there are consequences and costs, and I think it is important for people to know that.” How true. The citizens of the Township of Madawaska Valley will be living with the consequences and costs of this council’s short-sightedness, inaction and dysfunction for a long time.

What’s in a Name?

Prussian Hills Blog has three functions: sharing my musings on local issues; promoting the history of Renfrew County (especially, but not exclusively the history of German-Canadians); and encouraging genealogical research among the German families in the County.

My blog title requires some explanation. I chose Prussian Hills Blog  for three reasons: because I am a proud resident of Barry’s Bay along the Opeongo Line in Sherwood Township; because I am the descendant of Prussian nationals (but ethnic Germans) who started arriving in Renfrew County in the 1860s; and because I hope to highlight the experience of Renfrew County Germans.

Starting in 1857 groups of immigrants from the Kingdom of Prussia began arriving in the Ottawa Valley.  While they were Prussian subjects, these settlers were Germans, Wends and Kashubs. All three ethnic groups (and there had already been some intermarriage between them) began arriving in Canada and Renfrew County at the same time.  They made the trans-Atlantic journey from Hamburg on the same ships. To the Canadian authorities, they were all considered Prussians.

In the early 1860s a provincial surveyor referred to the rugged area along the Opeongo Line west of Brudenell in Sherwood and Radcliffe townships as the “Prussian Hills” because many of the settlers there were from Prussia. In fact, they were Kashubs from Prussia and not ethnic Prussians, but this was a subtlety lost on the Upper Canadian surveyor.

So, with apologies to my friends Johnny Kashub (David Shulist) and the Wilno Historical Society, who might accuse me of perpetuating an error, I am confident in my choice of name and happy to introduce you to the Prussian Hills Blog.