Candace Barta-Bonk awarded the Order of Merit of Hungary

June 10, 2024, 9:31 am
Ashley Bochek

Candace Barta-Bonk accepting the Knight’s Cross of the Order of Merit of Hungary from ambassador Mária Vass-Salazar

Candace Barta-Bonk, the Hungarian Consul to Saskatchewan, was recently recognized for her contributions when she was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Order of Merit of Hungary by the Hungarian Ambassador to Canada.

While she was born in Canada, she feels a strong connection with her family’s Hungarian heritage. “My heritage is Hungarian. Although I was born in Saskatchewan, I have pure Hungarian roots and I am a fourth generation Canadian. I have family ties to Hungary and have always had a connection to the Hungarian community in the province, and my husband and I spent nearly a decade living in Hungary.”

Barta-Bonk says she was honoured to tour the current and former ambassadors around Saskatchewan and to the Hungarian settlements in the area.

“In 2017, the former ambassador to Hungary, Balint Odor, visited Saskatchewan on his trip. He visited the Kaposvar Hungarian settlement near Esterhazy and Bekevar, the Hungarian settlement near Kipling. I had the privilege of helping to host the ambassador at the Bekevar Church. It was very special to me as my great-grandparents were settlers who helped build the church,” she said.

“It was after this visit that the ambassador wanted to create an honorary consul position for Saskatchewan. Up until that point the honorary consul in Alberta was responsible for Saskatchewan. It was quite an honour to be asked to take on this role.”

She says there are a lot of people with Hungarian heritage in Saskatchewan.

“In Saskatchewan there are nearly 30,000 people with Hungarian heritage. Saskatchewan has the largest per capita ethnic Hungarians in Canada as well.”

She says her family were among the first Hungarian settlers in Saskatchewan. “My great-grandparents were among the first pioneering Hungarian families to settle in Canada. They faced numerous challenges, but they were tough and resourceful. Then, they integrated into the Canadian society.

“Bekevar and Kaposvar are the very first Hungarian settlements in Canada.”

She says Hungarians immigrated to Canada to farm. “There was definitely a promise of rich, fertile land, and there was a man named Esterhazy, he was the one that was in charge of the Esterhazy area. He was an agent and promoted and brought over many Hungarian people.”

Candace says her role as Honorary consul is to help Hungarian families within Saskatchewan.

“The honorary consuls, we help Hungarian nationals if they need assistance during a crisis like a hospital stay or a natural disaster. I also help facilitate cultural, economic, and social relations between Hungary and Saskatchewan. So, I often arrange visits with the ambassador or the consul general, and prominent people from Hungary. Also as the honorary consul, I assist in notarization, and authenticating documents.”

She says the former Hungarian ambassador to Canada approached her with this opportunity.

“The former Hungarian ambassador to Canada, Balint Odor, had asked if I would take on this role and it was quite an honour to be asked and I was honoured to serve and uplift the Hungarian community.

“My inauguration took place February 9, 2021. The current ambassador, Mária Vass-Salazar, and Valér Palkovits accepted my vows in a video conference as it was during Covid.”

Candace was selected for the award by current Hungarian ambassador Mária Vass-Salazar.

“I was very grateful to be nominated by the current ambassador, her excellency Mária Vass-Salazar, in recognition of accomplishments for promoting the Hungarian community in Canada, and strengthening relations.

“I am deeply honoured and thankful to receive such an award. I am proud of my Hungarian heritage and feel compelled to help the Hungarian community in any way possible, but I really truly feel the highlight should be the Hungarian community and the people of Saskatchewan who have dedicated years of effort to various projects. I believe volunteers are the foundation of any community which is truly priceless. When we all work together we can accomplish great things.”

She says she is proud of her heritage. “I am immensely proud of both my Hungarian and Canadian heritage. I cherish fond memories of family gatherings. When I was a child, we would gather in my grandparents’ living room on special occasions and my grandfather would recite poetry of Petőfi Sándor and converse with us in Hungarian, and those moments remain in my heart. It is truly a testament to the importance of preserving one’s heritage and culture.

“I feel it is important for people to know where they come from and understand their history. My hope is to make a stronger connection between Hungary and Saskatchewan.”

Hungarian ambassador proud of Barta-Bonk’s achievements
Mária Vass-Salazar, the Hungarian Ambassador to Canada, said she is proud of the work that Barta-Bonk has done.

“We appreciate Candace Barta-Bonk’s activity as honorary consul of Hungary in Saskatchewan,” she said. “Her role is important, given the fact that Canada is the second largest country in the world so our embassy tries to encompass all aspects of fostering relations between Canada and Hungary, but it’s such a beautiful, vast country, that the more honorary consuls we have in the provinces and all over Canada, the better we can accomplish our goals. Candace’s role is essential to foster relations between Canada and Hungary, and also to facilitate specific projects that Hungary, through the embassy, can work on with partners in Saskatchewan in business, cultural life, and of course a very prominent Hungarian community in Saskatchewan. Her role includes official administrative elements as well. She can take care of Hungarian citizens’ business needs in Saskatchewan to a certain level. She can provide notary support and authentication of documents, and she can work with the embassy and we can follow up with them if it’s a passport arrangement or higher, more complex administrative tasks that are required.

“She has been given the Knight’s Cross of The Order of Merit of Hungary, which is the highest award that we can give to foreign nationals. There are three levels and this is the Knight’s Cross level of the Order of Merit. I recommended Candace personally to be considered for this award because all through my experience here in Canada as the ambassador of Hungary, her work has been excellent. Her dedication, hard work, and drive in her work, and her drive to foster wider relations between Hungary and Canada really stands out.

“I have been to Saskatchewan four times already and wherever I went on an official visit, when I saw the Lieutenant-Governor and the premier and ministers in the province or when I visited the Hungarian communities, or on business visits, and one of my favourites, when I visited the Hungarian pilots who are training in Moose Jaw at NATO Flying School. On those four visits, Candace was very helpful and extremely resourceful as well in terms of arranging very useful meetings for me. As a descendant of Hungarians who settled in Saskatchewan in the 1880s, her commitment and dedication to fostering the Hungarian community and passing on the heritage to future generations is exemplary. I recommended her for this award and the President of Hungary signed the decree which officially bestows the Knight’s Cross of the Order of Merit of Hungary on Candace. I am so pleased, because she is so deserving.”

Important communities
Vass-Salazar says she believes Kaposvar and Bekevar in southeast Saskatchewan are important communities. “We are very, very proud to see the Hungarian community there thriving and those historic sites from the very early days of Hungarian settlement in Saskatchewan, and also the fact that after four or five generations it’s flourishing. I’ve seen the churches and the documents from the early days. Through Candace’s work, the government of Hungary has helped with renovations and I want to see that continue. It’s very heartwarming to see that they are preserving the language, too. It’s a difficult language but it’s part of our identity.”