My Grandparents

This is a special post. Today I’d like to write about the grandparents I never knew: my paternal grandparents, John and Christina Job, who both died before I was born. When they immigrated to Canada, they brought with them a rich heritage.

My grandparents were some of the “Germans from Russia”. Prior to a unified Germany, countless Germans were demoralized by years of religious strife, political chaos and economic hardship. In 1762, they received an enticing offer from the Russian Czarina Catherine the Great, a former German princess. She promised Germans autonomy and farm land in Russia should they choose to emigrate there. Catherine believed these highly skilled farmers and tradesmen would promote progress leading to a more modern Russia. In 1804, Germans colonized the southern Ukraine (the Black Sea Germans).

In the 19th century an enormous increase in population with a resulting price increase of farming land was observed in Russia. This began to drive the Germans from Russia out of their adopted land (a large majority of Germans in Russia were farmers). Impoverishment, taking up land in Siberia or immigration to North America became alternatives for many of them. Many Germans from Russia settled in the American Midwest and the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. My paternal grandparents were two of those immigrants.

My grandfather was John Job. John was born on January 18, 1880 in Neudorf, Odessa, Kherson, South Russia (now Ukraine). He married Christina Hohenecker (born November 4, 1885 in Bessarabia, Russia) on October 10, 1906 in Bessarabia, Russia (now Moldova and Ukraine). Along with two other families (consisting of John’s brother Jacob and wife Christina; John’s sister Barbara and husband Henry Kaupp), John and Christina left Russia by ship on October 23, 1911 to seek a better life in Canada. The name of the ship the Jobs’ crossed on was the Abrahart.

Exactly when and where they arrived in North America has been lost to history. At best, all I could find were some conflicting notes about them arriving in New York City on November 25, 1909 on a ship named Hanover, but this can’t be correct as they didn’t arrive in Canada until 1911. At any rate, the Jobs’ arrived in southern Alberta and lived in an old shack at Irvine (a hamlet 22 miles east of Medicine Hat) that winter of 1911. In the spring of 1912 they moved to the Sandy Point area where they built and lived in sod houses for shelter.

Here, my grandfather John worked for farmers in the area the first year and, with the help of other homesteaders, broke forty acres of sod to farm the next year. My grandparents never learned English nor spoke it. In the family home the kids were required to speak Mennonite Low German (Plautdietsch). Growing up, my Dad and his siblings acquired their English from friends, neighbours and school chums.

After many years of farming the land and raising their seven children, John and Christina retired to Medicine Hat, Alberta in 1938. Grandfather John died on April 3, 1946, and Grandmother Christina died on December 8, 1964.

Grandma & Grandpa Job, Medicine Hat, 1938
John & Christina Job, Medicine Hat, Alberta, 1938

I occasionally think of these grandparents I never knew, and particularly of their emigration struggles from Russia to Canada. It must have been an incredible, lengthy, exhausting journey; I can’t even imagine it. These days, when we can fly to the other side of the world in a matter of hours, a long journey by sea is totally alien to us. It must have taken them weeks to cross the oceans from Russia. Sometimes I’ll look at a Google map and trace the route that I can only imagine they took – I believe the ship left from Odessa (then in Russia, now in the Ukraine) on the Black Sea. Their ship most likely then passed through the Turkish Straits, through the Aegean Sea, across the Mediterranean Sea, past Tunisia into the Balearic Sea, through the Strait of Gibraltar between Morocco and Spain, then all the way across the North Atlantic Ocean to North America. I’ve probably missed much of the route in my estimation, but we will never know for sure.

When I think of the life my grandparents must have had, I am humbled and remain very respectful. Creating a new life from nothing is an astounding thing. To raise seven children in the “new world”, speak no English, have no money, live in shacks and sod houses, and break the dry land with bare hands for very little profit – what a contrast to my life of a high-rise condo and comfortable living with practically every convenience. I’m not sure what my grandparents would think of our modern living: Twitter, Facebook, flat-screen TVs, modern medicine, computers, jet airplanes, fast cars…. you name it. It is an embarrassment of riches compared to what they had and what they must have lived through.

I will always remain extremely respectful of my grandparents and their struggles to create their new lives in Canada. It is unfortunate that I never met them – without them I wouldn’t be here today, and I have much to thank them for.