Austrian ambassador visits Ottawa Valley farm

Eganville – It was a glorious fall day with a farm tour, schnitzel and apple strudel on the menu when Her Excellency Sylvia Meir-Kajbic, the Austrian ambassador to Canada, visited.

“Many of the Austrians who came to Canada came in the 50s and 60s,” she noted on Sunday afternoon at the Hirnschall farm on Wilber Lake near Augsburg. “You find them all over the country.”

She said she was proud to see how the Austrian immigrants had distinguished themselves in wonderful ways across the land. Thanking her hosts, Josef and Elfriede Hirnschall, she noted he is well-known in Austria for promoting German-language poetry and culture.

Enjoying the beautiful day in the Valley, she said it was a wonderful experience to be in the area.

“I thank you for this wonderful feeling of harmony which is one of the most important feelings of this country,” she said. “Diversity is not just a word. It is part of this country.”

Mr. Hirnschall, known as “Canada Joe” by many in his native Austria, divides his time between the two countries. At 80, he noted he has a love for both countries he calls home and was delighted to have the ambassador visiting, as well as local dignitaries. Guests included not only the ambassador and an entourage from the embassy, but Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke MP Cheryl Gallant, Renfrew County Warden Peter Emon and Bonnechere Valley Mayor Jennifer Murphy. Well-known local fiddler Ray Chapeskie also provided entertainment.

“This is a little international gathering,” he said.

A lover of history and culture, he pointed out in 1867 when Canada was formed, Queen Victoria was on the throne and Johan Strauss composed the Blue Danube Waltz.

Mr. Hirnschall said the farm he lives on in the outskirts of Augsburg dates back to the 1840s.

“In 1843, people started to clear land,” he said. “100 years before I was born. People were hard workers to come here to get new land in this beautiful land of Canada.”

The local area was settled by Germans, many of whom came from the northern part of the country, hence the two Lutheran churches in Augsburg, he said.

“They made a beautiful country which is home to so many people,” he said, noting he is privileged to be a dual citizen.

Mrs. Gallant, who presented Mr. Hirnschall with a coronation pin during her visit, said it was good to hear about the connections Canada has with European countries.

“And the part of history you shared with us and the connections Canada has,” she said. “Thank you for welcoming us all here.”

Warden Emon said it is a great opportunity to focus on the richness of the local history.

“A diverse place, but we have a natural curiosity about our neighbours,” he said.

Getting to know neighbours has always been important to Canadians, as well as welcoming them, he said.

“It is much easier in rural Ontario to do that,” he said.

Being interested in neighbours and talking to them is important, the warden said.

“It doesn’t cost you anything to express an interest in them,” he said.

Mayor Murphy, who was also joined by Councillor John Epps, said it was an honour to welcome the ambassador to the township.

“I am so glad you came when it is so beautiful out,” she said.

The County of Renfrew has a special relationship with Europe, she pointed out. During the floods paramedics from Saxony came to teach sandbagging techniques.

“We have paramedics going to Austria next year,” she added, saying this is an amazing partnership.

Debbi Christinck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader