In April of 1989 Pearl Sklapsky-Holben began to write her memoir, a story of her life and the immigration of her family from Michigan to Brock, Saskatchewan. Pearl is the youngest of 10 children who moved with Frank and Ettie Sklapsky to Canada around 1900.
Below is her daughter Linda Ducharme’s retelling of the story, her own words describing the settling of the prairies, and the tribulations it brought. This tale also tells of the life of Frank and Ettie Sklapsky and their children, and their life during this time.
The memoir in it’s entirety, and a great deal of additional family history, can also be read by acquiring Linda’s book “The Sklapsky Saga – The History of a Family”. If you would like a copy of the book please contact Linda, she has copies available. You can reach her at smoochsmom(at)outlook.com, just replace the (at) in the address with @. Please put “Sklapsky Saga” in the subject line. You can also contact me and I can send you additional contact information.
When they first visited Canada’s vast open prairie, European explorers found an inland ocean covered with rolling waves, wind tossed and wild; an ocean without tides controlled by the moon; an ocean bordered by the Rocky Mountains on the West, the rocky Canadian Shield on the East, to the North the barren tundra; an ocean of grasses, as high as three metres in autumn. These early white men were astounded at the broad expanse of tall grasses and fluffy fine-bladed shorter grass which came to be called prairie wool. Overhead, an inverted bowl of blue sky was sliced into wedges by flocks of wild geese, whose clarion tones provided a musical accompaniment to complete the picture.
Human Inhabitants, nomadic tribes of First Nations People, erroneously called Indians by Europeans, followed vast buffalo herds which were the mainstay of their existence. They relied on the herds for food, every part consumable being eaten, and for shelter as the hides were used for tents or tepees, and for clothing as well. The warm buffalo robes enabled them to survive the harsh prairie winters. The bones provided eating utensils and containers and the sinews, thread. Native people, ignorant and primitive in some aspects, had a far superior understanding of nature and the need to sustain and protect what was here for their use. The white people felt it was here for the taking, and only in most recent years have we become aware of the need to treat nature with care and respect. Respect for nature has been late in coming and our arrogance has caused the demise of many species.
I quote the words of a wise First Nations man, Chief Seattle:
The Great Chief in Washington sends word that he wishes to buy our land
How can you buy or sell the sky – The warmth of the land?
The idea is strange to us – Yet we do not own the freshness of the air or the sparkle of the water – How can you buy them from us?
Every part of this earth is sacred to my people
We know that white man does not understand our ways – One portion of the land is the same to him as the next, for he is a stranger who comes in the night and takes from the land whatever he needs – The earth is not his brother but his enemy and when he has conquered it he moves on.
He leaves his father’s graves, and his children’s birthright is forgotten.
There is no quiet place in the white man’s cities – No place to hear the leaves of spring or the rustle of insect wings – But perhaps because I am a savage and do not understand – the clatter only seems to insult the ears – And what is there to life if a man cannot hear the lovely cry of the whippoorwill or the arguments of the frog around the pond at night?
The whites too shall pass – perhaps sooner than the other tribes.
Continue to contaminate your bed and you will one night suffocate in your own waste. When the buffalo are all slaughtered, the wild horses all tamed, the secret corners of the forest heavy with the scent of many men, and the view of the ripe hills blotted by talking wires.
Where is the eagle?
Where is the buffalo?
And what is to say goodbye to the swift and the hunt, the end of living, and the beginning of survival?”
Chief Seattle spoke these wise words in 1855 to President Franklin Pierce.