Countdown to IPM '17 - The Ringgenberg family's Switzerland-to-Walton story
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
While nearly 20 local landowners are coming together to jointly host the International Plowing Match in a few weeks, it’s the Ryans and the Ringgenbergs who are at the centre of it all.
Jack Ryan and his family will be playing host to tented city, but it’s Albrecht and Annelies Ringgenberg and their children who will be donating their land for the all-important RV park this September.
The Ringgenbergs have been members of the Walton community for over 15 years, making their way to Canada from Switzerland in 2000.
They immigrated to Montreal, which eased the transition as many of the members of the family already spoke French in Switzerland.
Both Albrecht and Annelies were born in villages, Leissigen and Mollens respectively, that would be considered to be in the German region of Switzerland. However, both of their families eventually moved to the French region of the country, which is where the two would eventually meet. (The northeastern part of Switzerland borders Germany and Liechtenstein, while it borders France in the west and Italy in the south. Those regions of the country contain a high volume of native speakers of the bordering country’s language.)
Albrecht came from a region of Switzerland where there was very little crop land, so his family ran a dairy farm. Throughout his childhood, Albrecht said he remembers helping to make hay and do chores in the barn, alongside his two sisters, until he was old enough to take on some of the farm’s more complicated and advanced tasks.
Annelies was also born in the French region of Switzerland on a mixed-farm operation that incorporated some crops, as well as some livestock. As one of eight siblings, Annelies said they all helped out on the farm in those days.
When Albrecht’s family bought a farm in Montricher, a community less than an hour’s drive from the Swiss-French border, they were in search of a better life.
Albrecht said that his parents owned small parcels of land all over Leissigen and with the economy at the time, it was becoming hard for them to make a living, so they moved to Montricher where they could buy one large farm and improve their lives.
Little did Albrecht know, however, that he was moving to a community that neighboured the family of his future wife.
The families knew of one another, Annelies says, as they were both German-speaking families in the French region of Switzerland, but they had never met. Then, one day, one of Annelies’s brothers went to a concert with both his sister and Albrecht, who met Annelies that night and the two hit it off. Albrecht was 29 at the time, while Annelies was just 18.
Albrecht and Annelies married in 1985 and they lived on the farm Albrecht shared with his parents in Montricher. They have four children, all of whom were born in Switzerland. Nadine was born in 1986, followed by Elise in 1987, Caleb in 1990 and William in 1995.
A few years after William was born, Albrecht and Annelies began considering a move to Canada, which would uproot the entire family from the only world it had ever known.
Albrecht said that in the 1970s and 1980s a lot of Swiss families made the journey to Canada, so much so that a book was even written about it. So, the country was on their radar, but they hadn’t given it much thought until the late 1990s.
Albrecht and Annelies would travel to Canada two times before deciding to make the move. First, the two of them travelled to Alberta and British Columbia as part of a farm tour through a Swiss agricultural magazine and then later they would return with their two daughters, visiting friends in Quebec and taking in some of the sights in southern Ontario.
When they came to Canada for a third time, this time it was for good. While they had briefly considered landing in Alberta, Albrecht said he always knew that Ontario was where the family wanted to be due to its rich, productive soil.
Having said that, the Ringgenbergs didn’t head straight for Ontario. They took a rather indirect route for their journey that would eventually end on Canada Company Road just south of Walton.
They immigrated to the country by way of Montreal, but then bought a van and trailer and travelled across Canada for the next two months.
First they went east, all the way to Prince Edward Island, before coming back through Montreal, southern Ontario and then through western Canada all the way to British Columbia. The Ringgenbergs reached Vancouver and then came back east, venturing south into the United States to visit dairy farms in Wisconsin en route to Ontario.
Upon returning to Canada’s most populous province, the family contacted a real estate agent who had advertised in a Swiss newspaper and had been their first contact in regards to the potential of buying a farm in Canada.
While the Ringgenbergs searched for a home, they lived at a local campground, but ran into problems when, without a permanent address, they would be unable to enroll their children in Seaforth-area schools.
The Ringgenbergs spoke very little English upon immigrating to Canada, so that made the transition difficult, Annelies said. While that part of the process was tougher than she anticipated, she says that their Walton-area neighbours made life easier with their warm welcome.
They would eventually rent a house from the Gubelmann family, their new neighbours, after they bought a property on Canada Company Road just west of North Line. The property didn’t have a house on it, so they had to build their new Canadian home from the ground up, which took over a year and a half.
They quickly made friends with area families like the Gubelmanns, who are also Swiss immigrants, the McGavins and others they would meet at Walton’s Duff’s United Church.
“The people here are very nice and friendly,” Annelies told The Citizen in 2003. “The McGavins helped bring us into the community.”
When they were interviewed in 2003, members of the Ringgenberg family were in the midst of preparing to file paperwork to officially become Canadian citizens – a process that cannot begin until new immigrants to the country have been in Canada for three years.
The Ringgenbergs say that Walton residents have been extremely welcoming over the years and they’re very proud to be members of the community.
Farming is Albrecht’s passion and in the years since the family has been in the community, the family has expanded its dairy operation to include 580 acres of workable land, approximately 100 acres of which will be used to stage this year’s International Plowing Match RV park.
It was Brian McGavin who first approached the Ringgenbergs about being part of the match. The Ringgenbergs say they weren’t always familiar with competitive plowing, something that they said isn’t very popular in Switzerland.
The Ringgenbergs’ first brush with a Huron County Plowing Match was when their daughter Nadine put her name forward as a Queen of the Furrow contestant. From then on, members of the family would attend local matches and then eventually IPMs.
As Albrecht has become more familiar with the concept, he says he has come to appreciate plowing matches as a celebration of all things agriculture and a positive experience for those in the community.
As for this year’s IPM itself, both Albrecht and Annelies say that they hope those who attend the match will find themselves more connected with some of the province’s farmers by the time they leave.
“People are so disconnected from their food now,” Annelies said. “If there are no farmers, there’s no one to grow their food.”
Albrecht agrees, saying that farming has always been his passion, so to show that world to as many people as possible has to be a positive experience.