Hungarians hold a special place in their hearts for settlers who came to Canada to build a new life.
To honour their dedication a special celebration was held March 17 at St. Michael’s Catholic Church west of Bashaw close to where dozens of Hungarians settled in the late 1800s. Along with hundreds of attendees, many from Hungary, there were also special dignitaries: Hungary’s Secretary of State, Arpad Potapi; Ambassador to Canada, Balint Odor and Gyula Kadar, Chief of Cabinet for the state secretariat office.
The commemoration was partially organized by Anna Szenthe, who spoke on the strong love of Hungarian’s settlers to Canada. “It’s definitely a big day for us.” said Szenthe.
“It is really close to the 1848 revolution and freedom fight; March 15 is when we celebrate that,” she explained.
Despite a slight chill in the wind, attendees joined together and were warmed by each other’s spirit and celebration of the early Hungarian settlers. Many took in the names of the people on the gravestones and had a brief look at the church, although it’s not structurally sound for tours.
Along with some speeches were prayers and recognition from Hungarian dignitaries, plus representation from Lacombe-Ponoka MLA Ron Orr, and Bryce Liddle, deputy Reeve for Ponoka County.
History is an important part of the Hungarian government’s focus. Szenthe said the government wants to preserve its history and heritage.
“For us Canadian-Hungarians in the country, we really appreciate the first settlers who came here,” said Szenthe, adding that they showed how hard work pays off.
For Ambassador Odor, the first thing that came to his mind when taking in the church and cemetery is that the land reminded him of Hungary. “I can imagine that for the settlers who arrived here that it reminded them of home,” said Odor.
Despite the early struggles of growing agricultural products, the settlers found a way to make it happen. “They were successful in doing it. They were persistent.”
Szenthe translated questions and answers for Secretary of State Potapi. For him, being able to celebrate Hungarians’ heritage is important.
“The Hungarian government puts an emphasis on every Hungarian even if they don’t speak the language any more,” said Potapi.
That heritage is an important part keeping the spirit alive.
As far as the relationship between Canada and Hungary, Ambassador Odor feels it’s strong. “Foundations of the bilateral relations are very solid.”
“A very important part of this is the common heritage,” Odor added.
Settlers not only escaped Communism in those early days, but they also contributed to the Canadian economy. The two countries also have a strong relationship in trade.
The Secretary of State has toured several settlements and helped with plans to celebrate the 1848 revolution.
Hungary’s Chief of Cabinet Gyula Kadar takes a look at the gravestones at St. Michael’s cemetery where many Hungarian settlers were laid to rest.
Hungary’s Ambassador to Canada, Balint Odor, speaks to attendees of the St. Michael’s Catholic Church commemoration on March 17.
Attendees listen as prayers are said in Hungarian during the celebration at St. Michael’s cemetery.
Photo by Jeffrey Heyden-Kaye
St. Michael’s Catholic Church is an ideal backdrop to the hundreds of people who attended its commemoration March 17. Dignitaries included Hungary’s secretary of state, ambassador to Canada and chief of cabinet.
Photo by Jeffrey Heyden-Kaye
Hungary’s Secretary of State, Arpad Potapi and Ambassador to Canada, Balint Odor pay their respects at the obelisk at St. Michael’s cemetery during a special commemoration to remember early Hungarian settlers.
When St. Michael’s Catholic Church was rebuilt in 1955/56, it gave parishioners more modern amenities with heat and electric wiring. Photo submitted
This 1910 photo shows St. Michael’s Catholic Church consecration when it was finally built. The church and cemetery were built on five-acres of land donated by Janos Mraz. Photo submitted