Esterház-Kaposvár, Saskatchewan

1886
Location: Immediately north of the Qu’Appelle Valley in southeast SK, 5 1/2 km south of present-day Esterhazy. Rural Municipality of Fertile Belt No. 183. Township 19, Ranges 1 & 2, W2. 50.605002 N, -102.085467 W
See also: Hun’s Valley MB; Békevár SK; Otthon SK.

Esterház became the second colony after Hun’s Valley MB to be established under the direction of Paul O. Esterhazy, a.k.a. Count Esterhazy (1831-1912) during his employment as special agent for Hungarian immigration to Canada (1885-1887). Esterház (later known as Kaposvár) served as an important transitional shelter for subsequent groups of Hungarian immigrants who arrived in the Canadian Prairies up to the 1920s. Its success helped pave the way for further Eastern and Central European settlement in the Prairies, and the foundation of Esterház-Kaposvár is now recognized by Parks Canada as a national historic event. However, little remains of the colony other than an impressive stone church which continues to serve as an important spiritual site for descendants of the pioneer settlers.

Named after a historical seat of the Esterhazy family, Esterház was founded by some 35 families of predominantly Magyar ethnicity. The colonists had been provided with free transportation from Toronto to Winnipeg, and Esterhazy secured a loan of $25,000 on their behalf to build houses and purchase farming equipment and cattle.

Postal map of Esterhaz colony 1887
Postal inspection map of the Esterhaz colony, 1887
Source: National Archives of Canada

In addition Esterhazy negotiated to have both even-numbered and certain odd-numbered adjacent sections of land available for his settlers. Ordinarily, those odd-numbered sections would have been reserved for the future use of railways. However, if they were available to settlers, then a more compact settlement pattern resembling the villages they were used to was possible. Early colonists initially situated their frame houses close to their neighbours’ homes in clusters of four at the centre of each section.

While the almost immediate establishment of a post office indicated a promising future for the settlement, problems soon emerged. Another group of about 60 settlers recruited by Esterhazy left Pennsylvania for the North-West without his instruction. Meanwhile, a prairie fire destroyed much of the colony’s supplies making the absorption of the 2 approaching group impossible. Esterhazy stopped them from going to the colony during the winter months and instead found them temporary employment at a mine near Medicine Hat. However, the Hungarians felt that they were being taken advantage of by the contractors at the mine so they left for the immigrant shed at Medicine Hat. At about the same time, a number of Hungarian families destined for the west arrived in Montreal penniless, having been swindled of their money by a steamship agent in Hamburg. Finally, the exceptionally cold winter of 1886-87 proved too much for the majority of the Esterház colony’s settlers who lacked adequate shelter, food, winter clothing, timber and hay. They left for the immigrant sheds of Brandon and Winnipeg, and later returned to the United States. Even though these events were largely beyond Esterhazy’s control, his employment with the Department of Agriculture was terminated. Nonetheless, Esterhazy continued to encourage Hungarian settlement in Canada from his residence in New York.

The Esterház colony was saved from total collapse with the arrival in the spring of 1888 of more than twenty families from Hungary. By the end of 1891 all debts had been paid off and the Hungarians, numbering around 350, were portrayed as model settlers in a government report. Correspondence between settlers and their relatives and friends in Pennsylvania and abroad encouraged the growth of the farming settlement. By 1904 at least 125 homesteads had been taken up in the Esterház district and the population of the colony reached 900. Hungarians formed the majority of the population, though there was also a large Czech and significant Slovak presence. In fact, the establishment of a second post office in 1891 (Sec.4, Twp 19, R1, W2) pointed to solidifying ethnic boundaries within the district. The new post office named “Kaposvar,” after a city in Hungary with large Esterhazy estates, was situated in the predominantly Hungarianpopulated eastern section of the settlement with the original post office named “Esterhaz” (Sec.2, Twp.19, R2, W2) becoming increasingly seen as an integral part of the growing Czech colony (the Esterhaz post office was renamed with a Czech place name in 1903). Kaposvár quickly became associated as the first Hungarian colony, and the Esterház place name faded in importance after a new railway station (1902) and village (1903) to the north of the colony were named “Esterhazy” in honour of the “Count’s” colonization work.

In 1902 Paul Esterhazy was once again employed temporarily by the Canadian government to develop a promotional pamphlet showcasing the prosperity of the pioneers of Esterház-Kaposvár. Personal accounts and photographs highlighted their material success. The inclusion of a supporting letter written by the colony’s Germanborn parish priest, Reverend Francis Woodcutter, signalled the important spiritual dimension of the then thriving farming colony. Unlike most Catholic Hungarian parishes in Saskatchewan, Kaposvár had its own priest, one who tried to advance the development of the colony. Woodcutter was responsible for establishing a stone rectory (1900) in the colony. His successor, the Belgian priest Father Jules Pirot, undertook an even more ambitious project: to replace the colony’s wooden church with a stone church, Our Lady of Assumption (1907). In 1915, the congregation received the first of a number of Hungarian priests and Kaposvár became regarded as a centre of Hungarian Catholic influence in Canada.

Esterhaz original wooden church
Colonists beside original wooden church, 1902. Source: Pask (1986).

The farming settlement remained a strong cultural island throughout the interwar period as evidenced by the colony’s grand golden jubilee celebration. However, outmigration, especially following the Second World War, coupled with the lack of cultural institutions and an increasing rate of inter-ethnic marriage contributed to the erosion of what remained of the ethnic district. Owing to continued population loss and the growth of the nearby village-turned-town of Esterhazy, the church was closed for regular service in 1961 and with that the Kaposvár settlement in many ways ceased to exist.

by Jason F. Kovacs  (13.05.16)

References:

  • Dojcsak, G. V. 1973. The mysterious count Esterhazy. Saskatchewan History 26, 63-72.
  • Dreisziger, Nándor. 2016. Church and society in Hungary and in the Hungarian diaspora. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
  • Dreisziger, Nándor. 2004. The quest for spiritual fulfilment among immigrants: The rise of organized religious life in pioneer Hungarian-Canadian communities, 1885-1939. Magyar Egyháztörténeti Vázlatok -Essays in Church History in Hungary 3-4: 95-124.
  • Kovacs, Jason F. 2007. Sanctifying ethnic memory and reinforcing place attachment: Cultural identity, sacred place, and pilgrimage in Esterhazy Saskatchewan. International Journal of Canadian Studies 36: 245-265.
  • Kovacs, Jason F. 2006. Con artist or noble immigration agent? Count Esterhazy’s Hungarian colonization effort, 1885-1902. Prairie Forum 31, 1: 39-60.
  • Kovacs, Martin L. 1974. Esterhazy and early Hungarian immigration to Canada: A study based upon the Esterhazy immigration pamphlet. Regina: Canadian Plains Research Center.
  • Kovacs, Martin L. 1980. Hungarian communities in early Alberta and Saskatchewan. In The new provinces: Alberta and Saskatchewan, 1905-1980, eds. H. Palmer and D. Smith, 101-130. Vancouver: Tantalus Research Limited.
  • Kovacs, Martin L. 1981. From industries to farming. Hungarian Studies Review 8,1: 45-60.
  • Marchbin, Andrew. 1934. Early emigration from Hungary to Canada. Slavonic Review 13 (July): 127-138.
  • Pask, Jean, ed. 1986. Kaposvar: A Count’s colony, 1886-1986. Esterhazy SK: Kaposvar Historic Site Society.
  • Willmott, Donald E. 1978. Ethnic solidarity in the Esterhazy area, 1882-1940. In Ethnic Canadians: culture and education, ed. M. L. Kovacs, 167-176. Regina: Canadian Plains Research Center.

Images

Kovacs’ (1974) book contains early land settlement map with names of colonists and group photo of settlers.

Esterhaz-Kaposvar map
Location of Esterhaz-Kaposvar Source: Adapted from Google Maps
photo of Paul Oscar Esterhazy
Paul Oscar Esterhazy
photo of Hungarian family in Esterhaz-Kaposvar, 1902
Hungarian family in Esterhaz-Kaposvar, 1902
photo of Hungarian mounted honour guard at stone church, 1936 jubilee ceremony
Hungarian mounted honour guard at stone church, 1936 jubilee ceremony
photo of Kaposvar Historic Site
Kaposvar Historic Site Source: http://esthzy.sasktelwebhosting.com/visitor/visitor_attractions_kaposvar.htm
satellite view of Kaposvar church grounds
Bird’s-eye view of Kaposvar church grounds
Source: Google Earth