A wreath laying ceremony, commemorating the 64th anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, took place at the St. Michael’s RC Cemetery in Manfred (located between Ponoka and Bashaw on Range Road 224, south of Hwy. 53) on Sunday, Oct. 25.
Despite the frigid temperature, a group of about 17 people gathered to pay their respects and to acknowledge this important event in Hungarian history, as well as to honour the first Hungarian settlers in Alberta.
Those in attendance included the recently appointed Ambassador of Hungary to Canada, Her Excellency Dr. Maria Vass-Salazar, Lacombe-Ponoka MLA Ron Orr, Bryce Liddle, deputy reeve, Ponoka County, Barry Stotts, St. Michael’s Heritage Society president, Anna Szenthe, president of the Canadian Hungarian Heritage Inc., Alexander Szenthe, Hon. Consul of Hungary to Alberta, and Dr. Gergely Bodnar, Hungarian Consul from Ottawa.
The Hungarian Revolution of 1956 was an uprising for freedom from the Soviet Union, beginning Oct. 23 and lasting until Nov. 10.
The event was organized by Julianna Stein, of the Canadian Hungarian Heritage Society.
“Let us remember, of those Hungarians, who came to this country and to this land, and made a home for themselves,” said Szenthe.
“They endured harsh weather. Let their determination and love of God be an example for us who live in Alberta.”
“It’s good to see that even these times of COVID challenges, and various things, we can still find ways to celebrate our cultural heritage and honour those who came before us to this great land,” said Orr.
“We are come together and recognize the lasting impact … Hungarians of all walks of life rose up and stood behind them against oppressive Stalinist-Marxist regime and fought for the ability to think and speak and to live free which is what Alberta is all about especially.”
“It’s very cold, but my heart could not be warmer to see this heritage, to see the memory of the Hungarians settled here,” said Ambassador Vass-Salazar.
“As Ambassador of Hungary to Canada, it is a great honour and privilege for me to visit Bashaw and to remember and pay tribute to the memory of the first Hungarian settlers who came to Alberta,” she said.
“I am truly privileged and touched to see the legacy of these first Hungarian settlers and the importance of their contribution to development of Alberta.”
Hungarians immigrated to Canada in four major waves, starting with 8,000 prior to 1914. After the revolution in 1956, about 37,000 Hungarian refugees came to Canada (thecanadianencyclopedia.ca).
Dozens of Hungarian immigrants settled in the Manfred area in 1895.
The original St. Michael’s Catholic Church, adjacent to the cemetery, was built in 1910.
The Hungarian crucifix, prominently featured in the St. Michael’s cemetery, which dates back to 1918 or 19, is the only one of its kind in Alberta, says Stotts.
Various Hungarian heritage societies are working with the Catholic church and Ponoka County to have the cemetery be declared an historic site.
Stotts lives five km south of the cemetery, and has been the president of the St. Michael’s Heritage Society for four years. His wife is Hungarian, and is a descendant of Hungarian settlers buried in the cemetery.
Municipalities can now declare sites in their jurisdiction historic sites, but the society is currently working with the Catholic Church to define who is able to be buried in the cemetery, says Stotts.
The property is currently owned by the arch diocese of Edmonton.
“There are some little issues to work out,” said Stotts.
“It’s still an active cemetery.”