The Volga Germans
The Germans who left
their homeland to settle in the Volga valley did so at the invitation of the
Russian Tsarina Catherine in July 1763. By the end of 1767 German settlers,
coming primarily from central Germany, had organized more than one hundred
colonies along the Volga River near Saratov. By 1869, the German population in
the Volga region would exceed 250,000.
The colonists had left
their homes in Hesse, Rhineland, the Palatinate, Saxony, and Württemberg to
avoid religious persecution and high taxes, and wanted to escape from the
devastation of the Seven Years' War which had left them in extreme poverty. There
was also a dire shortage of land.
The colonists were
promised freedom of religion, certain tax exemptions, some free land and cash
grants, exemption from military service, the right to use their own language,
the right to build their own villages, churches, and schools. 
Initially, the German
immigrants suffered great hardships. In 1767, a law was enacted that forbade
them to engage in any craft other than agriculture—a clear violation of the
laws put in place in 1764. The climate, Tartar raids, general homesickness, and
the Russian government's failure to deliver seeds on time made life very
difficult; many emigrated back to Germany, to the Baltic provinces or to
America. By the end of 1767 German settlers, coming primarily from central
Germany, organized more than one hundred colonies along the Volga River,
near Saratov. A century later, in 1869, the German population in the Volga region exceeded
The first good harvest
occurred in 1775, and from then on the colonists' fortunes rose. Closed German
villages were established. The Empress authorized the building of a church in
each colony, paid for by the government and repaid by the colonists.
Volga Germans—like all
other German emigrants to Russia—were deeply religious. For them, the church
was the center of the colonist's intellectual world and sustained their moral
standards, language and ethnic character.
Between 1763 and 1768,
approximately 8,000 families totalling 27,000 people—mainly of Hessian
descent—immigrated into the Volga region. Here, on the hilly side (right bank
of the Volga) 45 colonies were founded, and on the meadow side (left bank of
the Volga) 59 colonies were founded. The settlements were laid out strictly
along religious lines: 
The system of inheritance
(in which the youngest son inherited the farm), the abundance of children, and the
privilege of being allowed to buy land were all factors which led to the
founding of numerous daughter colonies. At first, these were set up in the
neighborhood of the mother colonies in the Volga and Black Sea region, but
beginning in the final third of the 19th century daughter colonies were also
established in the northern Caucasus, in the Urals, in Siberia, Kazakhstan, and
central Asia. The last settlements were founded in the Amur region as late as
1927-28. Altogether, 440 daughter colonies were founded in the Volga area. 
deteriorated for Germans in Russia at the end of the 19th century due to the
abrogation of certain privileges previously granted by the Russian government,
North America became the new promised land. Canada and the U.S. issued their
own invitations to settlers and sent recruiters to Europe. Just as the Russian
government had attracted Germans with free land and special rights, the governments
of this New World made similar offers less than a century later.
With the First World
War, hostilities against the Russian Germans broke out. Under the Bolsheviks,
they were persecuted for their religious beliefs. The churches were closed in
the period between 1929-1931. Religious services were forbidden, and most of
the pastors and church sextons of all denominations were arrested and deported.
A "Worker's Commune
of the Region of the Volga Germans" was established in 1918 and was home
to half a million Germans (two thirds of the total population of the Volga
Republic were German). By 1924, it became the first autonomous ethnic region of
the Soviet Union. Even in its first ten years, the Volga German Republic
developed its industry and to a large extent mechanized agriculture. The
Republic of the Volga Germans played a leading role in the introduction of
modern production methods in agriculture in the USSR. 
Beginning in the school
year 1938-1939, the official language of instruction in all schools was
changed to Russian or Ukrainian. At first the change only took place outside of
the Volga German Republic, but by 1939 all German districts were dissolved.
Many Germans were deported to Kazakhstan between 1927 and 1933. According to
the 1926 Census, only 379,630 Germans remained in the Volga region in contrast
to the 650,000 in 1914.
With the outbreak of WW
II, all Germans became enemies of the state. Germans were considered to be a
"fifth column" supporting the Nazis. In 1941 the "Autonomous Socialist
Soviet Republic of the Volga Germans" was abolished and all the Germans of
the Republic (ca. 340,000) were deported to Central Asia, Siberia, and
Kazakhstan. Many young men were drafted into the Russian army, and the young
women were used as domestic servants in the cities.
In 1955, the Soviet
Union released information about the whereabouts of more than a million Volga
Germans and granted them belated amnesty. By the mid-1960s, the government
admitted responsibility for the persecution of innocent people and declared the
actions of 1941 as null and void.
Settlement in Alberta
Volga Germans from the
villages of Dreispitz, Huck, Norka, Pobochnoye, and Shcherbakovka came to Alberta
in the mid-1890s, settling in the Calgary area as well as west of Edmonton in
Stony Plain and Glory Hills (they had come from the village of Norka). Both areas attracted
additional immigrants from the Volga in the following years, for example, in
the vicinity of Trochu, Beiseker and Duffield.  Reformed Church Volga Germans
also settled near Mellowdale (1897) in the Barrhead area.
settlement map," http://www.rollintl.com/roll/grsettle.htm. Accessed on
March 12, 2004.
 "Who are the
Germans from Russia?" http://feefhs.org/frgcdcwt.html. Accessed on March
 "A People on the
Move: Germans in Russia and in the former Soviet
- 1997" http://www.lib.ndsu.nodak.edu/ grhc/history_culture/history/people.html.
Accessed on April 4, 2004.
 Lehmann, Heinz, The
German Canadians: 1750-1937. Immigration, settlement and culture. Translated,
edited and introduced by Gerhard P. Bassler (St. John's, NF: Jesperson Press,
1986), p. 118.
1. "The Volga
Germans. A brief history," http://www.lhm.org/LID/lidhist.htm.
settlement map," http://www.rollintl.com/roll/grsettle.htm
3. Excellent reading:
"A People on the Move: Germans in Russia and in the former Soviet Union: