Hun’s Valley, Manitoba

1885
Associated names: New Hungary Colony, Hungarian Colony, Hungarian Valley, Hunsvalley. Known as Polonia since 1921.
Location: 26 km northwest of Neepawa MB. Rural Municipality of Rosedale. Township 16, Range 16, W1.   50.388935 N, -99.618857 W
See also: Esterház-Kaposvár SK; Békevár SK; Otthon SK.

Hun’s Valley was the first, at least partly, Hungarian settlement established as a part of Paul O. Esterhazy’s attempt to create a “New Hungary” on the Canadian Prairies. While Hun’s Valley did not become a lasting centre of Hungarian influence, the settlement paved the way for the establishment of the Esterház colony (see Esterház-Kaposvár) and other Magyar settlements in the Prairie West. In early August 1885, Count Géza S. de Döry (1837-1895), an agricultural expert, Hungarian nobleman and principal assistant to Paul Esterhazy, settled over a dozen Magyar and Slavic families (mainly Slovaks) there from Pennsylvania.

The group of settlers that de Döry led to Manitoba in 1885 comprised 38 families recruited by Esterhazy in the eastern mining region of Pennsylvania. The land they were assigned was spread out. The Manitoba and North-Western Railway gave up three of its odd-numbered sections (17, 21, 33) in the valley of Stony Creek so de Döry’s settlers could build their houses more closely together. The railway company also provided a $4000 loan for the purchase of agricultural implements and farm animals. During the first winter the settlers gained supplementary income cutting cordwood and burning charcoal for the railway company. In subsequent years, they traded loads of poplar cordwood cleared from their land for supplies in Neepawa. Rather than enter for homestead lands, more than half of the original group sought work opportunities elsewhere. However, the population of the “New Hungary Colony” was augmented shortly after its establishment with the arrival of a second smaller group of families from Pennsylvania. By the end of 1885, 17 colonists (43 individuals) had filed homestead entries and had begun working their land.

Within a year of its establishment the future of Hun’s Valley looked promising. A number of log houses and stables had been erected, a petition for a post office had been authorized, preparations for the construction of a schoolhouse were underway, and a village site was being surveyed. Eight additional homestead entries had been filed by 1889 at which time the settlement encompassed about 2,000 acres, only a fraction of which had actually been cleared. A land inspector noted in his report that considerable clearing of underbrush and cutting of trees still remained to be done before a substantial amount of grain and crops could be cultivated. De Döry argued in an initial report that his settlers had the hardest part of the country to cultivate but gave a promising account of the agricultural potential of the area based on his own preliminary farming achievements. In 1893, his colony consisted of 29 families, 122 people in all.

Collectively, the land under cultivation grew from just over 112 acres in 1889 to 300 acres four years later. The settlement also had 60 horses and 200 head of cattle.

To meet their spiritual needs, the first settlers constructed a small Catholic church in 1887-88. Missionary priests visited intermittently. To cope with a growing congregation, the larger St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church was built and a year later, in 1903, Hun’s Valley received its first resident priest, Fr. Ernest Kistorz. However, by then a number of Magyar as well as Slovak settlers had already left the colony for better lands further west. In fact, most of the original families gradually left after the death in 1895 of the colony’s leader, Géza de Döry. Polish settlers arrived to take their place beginning in the late 1890s. As a reflection of the changes in the ethnic composition of the farming district, the name of the settlement and its post office were officially changed in 1921 to Polonia.

Tyman (1972) gives some additional details about the colony including the settlement pattern based on government reports. Smith’s (1983) book contains information on how the settlement evolved over the course of nearly a century. Some additional information on the establishment of Hun’s Valley can be found in the works of M. Kovacs (1981) and J. Kovacs (2006).

by Jason F. Kovacs
13.05.16

References:

  • 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. 1981. From industries to farming. Hungarian Studies Review 8, 1: 45-60.
  • Smith, William R. 1983. Along the valley to the hills. Polonia, Manitoba: Polonia Centennial Committee.
  • Tyman, John Langton. 1972. By section, township and range: studies in prairie settlement. Brandon: Assiniboine Historical Society.