MoM 100: Grandfather and grandson bond on tour

July 25, 2023
John Longhurst | Special to Canadian Mennonite

Henry Funk (left) with his grandson, Alexander, at the train station in Jasper, Alberta. (Photo by John Longhurst)

Henry Funk (left) with his grandson, Alexander, at the train station in Jasper, Alberta. (Photo by John Longhurst)

“How else can a grandfather spend so much time with his grandson?”

That’s what Henry Funk, 77, of Hague, Saskatchewan said about participating in the “Memories of Migration” tour with his grandson, Alexander, 15, of Winnipeg.

The two are on the third leg of the tour, from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan to Abbotsford, B.C.

Funk brought Alexander along to pass along the story of how his father came to Canada from the Soviet Union with his family in 1923.

Due to an eye condition, his father, then just 11 years old, was left behind in quarantine when his parents and siblings sailed away to Canada.

“He was left with a distant relative,” Funk said, adding his father thought he’d never see his family again.

But four months later he made the trip himself and was reunited with them in Saskatchewan.

“He arrived in Rosthern on his 12th birthday,” Funk said.

His memories of that time before leaving the Soviet Union included feelings of fear as the family repeatedly had to flee bandits.

“His father had died when he was small, so he was considered the head of the family,” Funk said.

Among the memories were when bandits showed up at their house and demanded food and shelter. “They had no choice but to offer it,” Funk said.

His father also remembered playing on a haystack one day when a bandit came by and ordered him to get off it. “He pointed his gun at my father, saying he would shoot him if he didn’t obey,” Funk said.

His father always considered himself fortunate he escaped unharmed. But physical harm isn’t the only kind of harm, Funk said. “They were harmed in other ways. It’s naïve to say they weren’t when they were facing men with guns.”

Although he considers himself a pacifist, Funk said he understands why some men back then took up arms to defend their families.

“I won’t judge them,” he said. “I haven’t had to live what they went through.”

As for Alexander, hearing those stories is a reminder of the blessings he has received from growing up in Canada.

“Those were horrible times,” he said of what his ancestors went through. “I’m glad Canada was willing to help them.”

Being on the tour has given him a chance to get closer to his grandfather. “It’s awesome spending time with him and learning my family’s story,” he said. “It is making that history more real to me.”

His grandfather agreed. “All I can say is God works in mysterious ways,” Funk said of how both he and Alexander are able to enjoy safety and freedom in this country.

That, and his own commitment as a pacifist to live at peace with all, “as much as we can.”

After reporting on the first leg of the tour (from Quebec City to Kitchener-Waterloo, Ont.), Winnipeg freelance writer John Longhurst is blogging about the third and final leg (from Saskatoon, Sask. to Abbotsford, B.C.).

Read John's previous posts about the tour:
MoM 100: Remembering a mother reluctant to talk about those times
MoM 100: Pregnant tour participant has new appreciation for great-grandmother’s journey
MoM 100: Sängerfest ‘extraordinary’ for conductor
MoM 100: Tommy Douglas and Mennonite mutual aid
MoM 100: Using technology to bring Mennonite history to life


Henry Funk (left) with his grandson, Alexander, at the train station in Jasper, Alberta. (Photo by John Longhurst)

Author Name: 
John Longhurst
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Special to Canadian Mennonite
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