Excerpts from Our Pioneers – Baltic-German Immigration in Alberta

Excerpts from Our Pioneers – Baltic-German Immigration in Alberta prior to World War II

By: M.F.Kuester

Edmonton 1977 – Canadian Baltic Immigrant Aid Society (C.B.I.A.S.), Edmonton Alberta

Unknown, Marina von Behr, Paul von Behr, Meta von Medem, Dagmar von Medem (behind), the rest unknown

Unknown, Marina von Behr, Paul von Behr, Meta von Medem, Dagmar von Behr (behind), the rest unknown | source: family archives

Brief mention should be made at this point of a Baltic German who arrived in Canada in 1926, although he did not, as far as in known, live in Alberta, instead settling in Manitoba. This man has done much after World War II to help Baltic-Germans in coming to Canada, and in getting themselves established. He himself was instrumental in the founding of the Canadian Baltic Immigrant Aid Society (C.B.I.A.S.). Although all of this work was carried out in Ontario, no history of the Baltic Germans can be complete without mentioning his name.

Paul Balthasar Baron Behr was born on January 6, 1892, at Mitau, Kurland. His family dates back to the 12th century and before, when the name appears as “Ursus” and “Bero” in the Nekrologium of Lüneburg. The earliest ancestor of the clan is considered to be Hugold, brother of the Bishop of Verden (1152-1162). Their estates were near Ebstorf in the District of Uelzen, Province of Hannover (1235), but soon after they moved from there, and Ulrich von Behr (1371-1406), established the Baltic family when he moved to the “Lifflenden”. His brother-in-law, Johann von Münchhausen, was Bishop of Oesel, employing von Behr as “Stiftsvogt” on the island. (127) His sons Ulrich and Johann acquired large land holdings in Kurland, where the family found itself established from then on. (129)

Paul’s father was Alexander Baron Behr, born on August 1 1842, at Daguhnen, and died on May 12, 1906 at Mitau, the son of Theodor Baron Behr (1805-1872), and Caroline Baronesse Rönne (1807-1872). Paul’s wife was Meta Gräfin Medem, born September 15, 1894, at Elley (Lat. Eleja), parish of Sessau in Kurland, the daughter of Paul Graf Medem of Elley, and Helene, Princess of Lieven. (130)

Paul Balthasar von Behr served in the Russian cavalry as Staff Captain and moved to Germany after the war. In 1926 he came to Canada, his wife following a year later. Paul von Behr first worked on a farm near Gretna, Manitoba, south of Winnipeg, near the American border. Gretna had been a settlement of the Volhynian-Germans since 1898, and at the turn of the century was dubbed “the German capital of Manitoba”, with 85% of its population German Mennonites at the time of Baron Behr’s arrival. (131) It was a hard year; Baron Behr suffered in an accident on the farm and lost his job. He went to Winnipeg and, unable to speak the language, turned to the German Lutheran pastor for help. When Meta von Behr arrived, they opened a small bakery business; buying bread from the large bakeries and selling it door to door. At the same time, they worked a small farm. After five hard years, Paul von Behr accepted the post of Chief of Police for Tuxedo, a suburb of Winnipeg. (132) This position, in which he was very popular, with its steady work and an assured income, carried the family through the depression years.

In 1940 Paul von Behr moved to Hamilton, Ontario where he worked for an insurance company, while Meta von Behr obtained a position in Ottawa, censoring letters during the war. Paul von Behr followed her, obtaining employment in the same office. When the war ended, they moved to London, Ontario, where Baron Behr was hired by the Federal Government as an income tax investigator. It was during that time that the first post-war Baltic-Germans, the “Musterknaben”, arrived. With his influence and connections, he was able to secure jobs as well as credit, lodging, etc., for the newcomers. His home was open to them day and night, and his family remembers these exciting days and long evening in London very well. In 1952 the von Behrs moved to Kitchener, Ontario, where Meta von Behr worked for the Lutheran World Relief Organization, a position which gave her the opportunity to help many German immigrants, and Paul von Behr again started selling real estate for the Great West Life Assurance Co. They remained there until Paul von Behr died on August 30, 1972 in Montreal.(133)

Paul and Meta von Behr had two daughters: Dagmar and Rita Marina.

Dagmar Baroness Behr was born on July 1, 1919, at Rostock, German. She grew up on an estate in Klein-Gischow in Mecklenburg, but in 1931 followed her parents to Canada. She attended school in Winnipeg and then worked for physicians in Winnipeg, Montreal, Ottawa, (London and Vancouver). In 1951 she married Frank Devick, a rancher of Swiss-English parentage. They own a ranch near Kamloops, B.C., with 500-600 head of cattle. Although Dagmar grew up here and considers herself completely Canadian, she also is at ease among Baltic-Germans and enjoys their company. Since 1952 the Devicks have given Baltic and German boys the opportunity of living and working on their ranch, and they come from as far away as Germany to do so. Dagmar and Frank Devick have three children: two sons, Arthur and Paul, who work on the ranch, and one daughter, Marina.

Rita Marina Baroness Behr was born on December 10, 1920, at Misdroy on the island of Wollin, Pommerania (Pol. Miedzyzdroje on Wolin). (134) In 1929 she followed her parents to Canada. After attending school in Winnipeg, she worked for the R.C.A.F. in Montreal during the war and later also in real estate. She is married to Boyd Ferris, and engineer for the IATA (International Air Transport Association) and then United Airlines. They live in Montreal. According to Mrs. Dagmar Devick, there were two other Baltic-Germans in Manitoba before the war, a von Renteln and a von Kügelgen, who married a violinist, Miss Walberg-Leyland, but nothing further is known about them. [edit – see comment below: Waldemar von Kügelgen, 1898 – 1980, who married Valborg Mereta Leland, of Kenyon, MN. Waldemar died in Berkeley, California, where he lived with his second son’s family.]

127. The overseer of an ecclesiastical foundation
129. v. Mühlendahl, p.29. (pg. 68 in 1973 ver.)
130. Gen. Handb. D. balt. Ritterschaften Vol. II: Kurland, 800-804
131. Lehmann, p. 70, 155, 158
132. B.T.C., no. 35B.
133.B.B., no. 10 (288), 1972, p. 9.
134. In Misdroy the Baltic-Germans established a boarding school patterned after Birkenruh. One well known graduate is Prince Claus von Amsberg of the Netherlands