Pearl Sklapsky-Holben Memoir – written April 22.1989

This young couple was poor, working hard to make ends meet, renting places to live in, and working for different farmers. Dad would work in lumber camps in the winter, leaving Mom to raise the little ones. She was a good seamstress, and patch-worked many quilts for the wee ones beds. Dad had gotten her a Singer sewing machine before George was born so that was a big help with making the little garments for the family.

A third son John was born but lived only two months. The doctor could not find any cause of death and said he must have smothered in the bedding, but we would call it a crib death or SIDS, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, and not understand it much better than back then.

Another son was born on Mom’s birthday in 1905, and they named him Virgel Stewart after her brother Stewart. Thelma followed Virgel, being born in July of 1907. Lottie and Hilda were well pleased to have a baby sister and were a big help to their mother. Mother taught all the children to help one another and to help out in the house. They all had their chores.

The next baby was a wee boy named Fred Martin arriving in 1909 and known as Fritzi. Mother nursed all her babies, hence I guess the healthy hearty babes. Lottie used to josh Mother about rocking and nursing the newest baby and in a sing-song voice telling them to:

“Lottie wash the dishes, Frank you can dry. Hilda you can sweep the floor. George you carry in some wood, etc.”

Thus they all learned to be neat and tidy and of service to their family.

It was about this time that Dad’s brother-in-law, Elmer Federspiel, married to my Aunt Lillian, decided to go to Canada, where he’d heard a man could get land cheap. When he returned, he was thrilled over the prospects and advised Dad that was the way he should go, a young man with an upcoming family, especially with four boys. That would be best for them as they could get their own land and be farmers on their own instead of merely being a hired hand for someone else. Canada was a new land with more prospects for young people. Uncle Elmer had taken land in the Stalwart area. You could get one hundred and sixty acres of raw prairie for very little and the cost of transportation minimal. The Canadian Northern had the rail franchise through this portion of land in Saskatchewan.

Uncle Elmer was bringing Aunt Lillian and the family to Canada the next spring and he asked Dad to come with him and help look after the settlers’ carload while he and Lillian took the children in the passenger car. He was bringing a plow, seed, and livestock such as a cow, a horse and chickens as well as household effects.

The prospects looked very rosy. A quarter section of virgin prairie, with no trees needing to be pulled, merely remove the stones and break up the land. What could be easier? Under the provisions of the Dominion Land Act enacted in 1872, homesteads were available; one hundred and sixty acres of Dominion land per head of the family, either a British subject, or one declaring the intention of becoming one. All you needed was to put ten dollars down, and clear ten acres, build a house and live six months in it, and the following year, clear another ten acres and spend six months there. Do this three years and the land was yours. Patent was issued when the patentee could swear under oath and in the presence of two neighbours, that these requirements had been fulfilled. Preemptions were available to a homesteader in good standing, enabling him to obtain land adjacent to his homestead, for three dollars an acre, and six month per year residence in each of the next six years from the date of homestead entry, and the cultivation of an additional fifty acres, on the homestead or the preemption. This was a wonderful, new country of wide open spaces, land almost free for the taking, and prospects for a great future for the children.

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