While most people will never leave much of a global or historically significant legacy, for many there is a hope that you as an individual might be remembered when you’re gone, even if for a few generations. My own family has had success in our little Winnipeg suburb; voted “The Greatest Transconian,” Paul Martin was a local celebrity revered for his incredible service to the public. As war veteran, city councilor, town mayor, speaker, founder of The Transcona Museum, he was involved in almost every aspect of life in Transcona. When he died, hundreds attended his funeral offering stories of the impact he made on their lives. His son, Peter Martin, equally dedicated to the legacy of his father, is my mother’s cousin by marriage and we see Peter frequently at major family gatherings. While my own life is insignificant by comparison, pride in being a part of this familial legacy has encouraged me to participate in it by volunteering with my grandparents at the Transcona Museum. This steeps me in my own families narrative, always hoping to learn a little bit more each time I go in.
As of September of 2017, my studies have gained me the position of program assistant for the University of Winnipeg’s German-Canadian Studies department and while assigned to surveying the Provincial Archives for anything on German-Canadians and German immigration to Canada, my hopes of uncovering even more about my family came true in an unexpected way.
While I knew that part of my family had a significant history in Transcona, I also knew that my grandmother’s side of the family actually came from German ancestry; once or twice removed, I was never really sure, and my Grandma was never clear about it, because her parents had died when she was sixteen years old. But I knew I was German in some way, so I was excited to know that I had some general relevance within the scope of the research I was going to be doing for the Chair in German-Canadian Studies.
Bringing me even closer to my research, I had the unexpected surprise of finding a copy of “The Gussie Family Reunion August 1995” in the Provincial Archives’ Library while there on assignment. It is an unpublished, coil-bound book that was probably donated by my grandmother’s own late sister, Joyce Gussie, detailing the lives and history of my grandmother’s family. It includes histories, autobiographical pieces (including, in a nice bit of symmetry, Peter Martin), poems and photographs—even including a very young me! The opening pages tell a story of August Gusse, married to Adela, whose parents “were of pure German ancestry” despite their own birth in Russia. Because of political turmoil during this time, they decided to follow thousands of other German nationals to Canada. In 1909 they left Russia seeking freedom promised in Canada on the S.S. Ottawa and came to settle in what is now Beausejour, Manitoba.
What I found most interesting about this are some of the missing pieces of history regarding my own family; my grandma’s parents are so elusive my mother couldn’t even recall their names. They and their German ancestry have seemingly been lost to distant memory. But there, on a ship ticket, is great-grandfather Edward Gusse. This archival find was an emotional moment. It is incredible to consider my family ancestry to be of historical significance located in my own city’s provincial archives.
Alexandra Granke, German-Canadian Studies, The University of Winnipeg