After years of quiet dedication to celebrating the early Hungarian settlers in the Bashaw area, the St. Michael’s Manfred Heritage Society saw their efforts come to fruition.
On Oct. 3, the society held a dedication ceremony of a new historical heritage marker at St. Michael’s Roman Catholic Cemetery in Manfred District.
The small, scenic cemetery, located on Range Road 224 south of Hwy 53 between Bashaw and Ponoka, is the final resting place of those first Hungarian settlers who came to the area in the late 1800s to early 1900s. Adjacent to the cemetery is the St. Michael’s Catholic Church, built in 1910.
Those early pioneers will now be forever commemorated with the heritage marker meant to honour them.
Dignitaries from across Canada were in attendance, along with many local residents, who are themselves descendants of the Hungarian settlers.
Guests included Hungarian Ambassador to Canada, Dr. Maria Vass-Salazar, president of the Hungarian Diaspora in Canada Anna Szenthe and Lacombe-Ponoka MLA and Minister of Culture Ron Orr.
“It is always very humbling to stand in the cemetery where one can read all the Hungarian names on the head stones and think of those who made the ultimate sacrifice and conquered the unknown,” said Szenthe.
“Bashaw is now our place of pilgrimage. A place where we can come feel our past and pay respect to our ancestors.”
The information on the marker states that Hungarian settlements are among the oldest ethnic minority communities in Alberta, with the first recorded Hungarian settler arriving in the Bashaw area in 1895.
Under the Dominion Lands Act of 1872, those homesteaders that were eligible received 160 acres of uncultivated land to clear for farming.
Ambassador Vass-Salazar also spoke a few words and expressed her gratitude for the St. Michael’s Manfred Society’s efforts, as well as the community for their support throughout the project.
“It is our duty to preserve their memory and to cherish their legacy,” said Vass-Salazar.
Orr said it’s easy to see the mark that the early Hungarian settlers left.
“The church, the cemetery, now the marker … even the farmland around us,” said Orr.
“Remember, it was uncultivated when they came, so it was one massive job making it what it is today, as beautiful as it is,” he said.
“Of course, the church is still here. Its days may be numbered, but it represents well over 100 years of memories — baptisms, babies being born, funerals, and everything in between. It is an important piece of our heritage.”
Barry Stotts, president of the St. Michael’s Manfred Heritage Society, hosted the gathering. Eszter Savanna assisted introductions.
Father Roger Niedzielski led the crowd in prayer and blessed each grave.
The interpretive panel on the heritage marker was designed by Janos Pinter from Calgary. Julianna Stien, assistant to the Honorary Hungarian Consul, developed the text and applied for a provincial grant.
The provincial government approved a grant application through the Heritage Preservation Partnership Program, awarding the St. Michael’s Manfred Heritage Society with $8,400 for the project.
Other funding was provided through financial assistance from several Hungarian societies, descendants of the original families and other supporters in Alberta.
Ensteel Industry in Calgary built and donated the marker.
Certificates from the Government of Hungry were presented to Jason Schultz who donated the land on which the marker stands, and the others who contributed to the project.
The celebration was closed with a Hungarian blessing led by Rev. Jozef Paizs of the Hungarian Presbyterian Church in Edmonton.
Following the ceremony, a reception and program was held at the Ponoka Legion.