of Alberta

David Harder fonds

Accession 2021.016

Title and Physical Description

David Harder fonds. – 1915-1918. – 2 cm of textual  records

Administrative/Biographical History

David Harder was born 6 December 1891 in Friedensfeld, Sagradowka, the son of Kornelius and Katharina (Janzen) Harder. When he was five years old the family moved to Suworowka in the Caucasus.  After his marriage to Helena Toews in 1912, members of the extended Harder family, including David and his wife, moved to Siberia.  They first lived in the village of Schoensee in the Slavgorad Mennonite settlement where David bought a farm, but soon turned it over to his younger brother Jacob.  He was more interested in carpentry work.
In 1914 David was drafted and joined the Forestry Service.  That program had been greatly expanded to include not only work in forestry camps, but also on fire brigades and with the Marine Department, building, repairing and maintaining marine facilities and working on river boats and barges carrying freight and supplies.   David, together with other Mennonites, worked mainly on the Ob and Chylum rivers, or their tributaries, in west central Siberia.  From December of 1915 until November of 1918 David kept a diary, written in cursive Gothic German script.  It is contained in three notebooks.
In 1917, while on leave, David Harder bought a second farm, again together with his younger brother, Jacob.  They did the farm work together, but David also continued work as a carpenter.  He also did maintenance work on a flour mill for Russian owners.
In 1923, the family sought permission to emigrate to Canada.  After waiting several years they were granted the required visas and left on 28 October 1926.  They travelled from Moscow to Riga, Latvia, in a boxcar with two other families.  In Riga tragedy struck the family.  David had become ill on the journey and, upon arrival in Riga, collapsed while moving baggage.  He was taken to the hospital where he died on 7 December 1926.  His wife and four children were quarantined in Riga until July 1927 because one of the children had trachoma.  Before they left Riga, Helena gave birth to a son, Jacob, on 3 June 1927.  She continued her journey to Canada as a widow with five children.

Custodial History

Helena, David Harder’s widow, brought the diaries along to Canada.  After Helena’s death the diaries came into the possession of David’s son, Jacob D. Harder, who, as noted above, had been born in Riga after his father’s death.  Jacob Harder, with the help of other family members and friends, transcribed and translated the diaries.  Rhonda Harder Epp, Jacob D. Harder’s daughter received the diaries after her father’s death.  Rhonda and her sister donated the original diaries and the English translation, to the archives of the Mennonite Historical Society of Alberta in 2021.

Scope and Content

The fonds consists of three notebooks in which David Harder wrote about his experiences while serving in the Forestry Service during World War I.  Also included is the English translation by Jacob D. Harder, with assistance from other family members and friends.

Source of the Acquisition

Donated by Rhonda Harder Epp and her sister, granddaughters of David Harder and daughters of Jacob D. Harder


See also Accession 2003.022, Jacob D. Harder fonds, which contains additional information about the Harder family.

GRANDMA #217267