(Note: subsequent to writing this I was made aware this article was taken from a book called “Memoirs of Hillsburgh”. I’ve since sourced and purchased the book. Below is my original post.)
I found a photocopy of the following write-up in some genealogy files I was sorting through. I’m not sure where it was originally published but if you think you know please let me know. It was written by Mrs. George E. Krepps (Lottie Sklapsky), eldest daughter of Frank and Arletta Sklapsky.
There are lots of things one could write about in those years with the Sklapsky family. It couldn’t be otherwise with a large family.
This is written by Mrs. George E. Krepps in memory of her parents, Mr. and Mrs. F. J. Sklapsky who have passed away,
“Gone from sight, but to memory dear”
Frank J. Sklapsky Family
Frank Sklapsky came to Canada in the spring of 1910, and worked at Stalwart, Sask., for his brother-in-law, Elmer Federspiel. That fall he filed on his homestead, the S.W. 17-28-19-W. 3rd, at the Saskatoon Land Office. He often told us of his trip to Brock, how the train travelled so slowly, that they could get off and throw stones at the gophers. He said there was a lady with her baby on the train, and the baby got hungry at Fiske, so he and another man got off the train. He milked a cow, the other man went to the store, got some ginger snaps and gave them to the baby. He said he never did see the milk strained, but the baby didn’t mind, at least it stopped its crying. I will never forget the stories he used to tell of that first year here in Canada. He went back to Merrill, Michigan, that fall, stayed all winter, and in the spring of 1911 he came back to Brock, broke up some land, and built a house, then worked for others. After harvest at Stalwart was over, he went back to Merrill to get his family ready to come to Canada. This was very exciting, what with leaving school, mother packing and storing things away till she could come back for them, which she never did. Early in the morning of March 22nd, 1912, we were on our way to the train by horses and sleigh. There were father, mother and eight children; (we didn’t call them “kids” then), Lottie, Hilda, Frank, George, Virgel, Thelma, Fritz and Norman, who was only three months old. We arrived at said station, family real happy but poor. Mother was not happy, as she had never been more than a mile from her folks all her life; it took all the courage she could muster. All at once there was a train whistle, and we made one mad dash out through the door, only to find it was a freight. Well, we settled back on those old benches again, as we didn’t dare to move. When father said “set”, he meant “set”. The next train was ours, and an aunt who was with us said, “Gosh! do I have to kiss you all again?” I said “No sir!” and got on the train. Mother hadn’t seen me, and of course she thought I had been left. The ride to Chicago was not bad, but the next train was for settlers, hard seats which made into beds at night. The first night was terrible, but the next night we were so tired we could have slept on the floor.
We kids kept looking for “the line“. Everybody kept saying, “when we cross the line” so naturally we thought there would be a line to see. We sure thought old people were funny, and they thought we were crazy to look for a real line. When we got almost to what the people called “The Horse Shoe”, there was a broken rail. There were thirteen cars on that train, and seven of them went down a forty foot embankment. You guessed it, we were in one of the cars that went down. It was early in the morning, and mother had taken Fritz to the wash room. As the first one in was the lucky one, the rest of us were asleep, when “bang” we were standing where our heads should have been. Poor dad was helping people out of the windows. When we couldn’t find mother, he sent me to look for her. On my way I saw a man caught in one of the sleepers, with just his head sticking out. It gave me such a scare that I forgot about mother, but dad got him out all right. There was no one killed, but some were hurt. My sister Hilda was picking glass out of her feet for a month afterwards. Hilda had found Norman all rolled up in a bundle, and when I got out of the window, there was Hilda fighting with a strange woman who was so excited she thought Norman was her baby. You can bet Hilda won the fight, she had lots of practice on me. We were stuck there for a day, then a train came and took us to Winnipeg, where we stayed for a week in a place for settlers. There were people of every nation there. We did our cooking on one of the big stoves in the kitchen. There again Hilda showed her pioneer spirit, as one had to watch one’s cooking, or else somebody would take your dinner, or your cooking pans. We arrived at Stalwart in April, where dad got together a car load of settlers’ effects, oxen, plow, wagon, feed and flax to seed his first crop in Canada. He shipped all his things to farm within that car from Stalwart to Brock. He and Frank, George, and George Krepps came with the car. Mother and the rest came by passenger train. Mother used to say that dad gave the government ten dollars to file on his land, but the boys said that the government just bet dad he would starve before the three years were over.
He hauled the lumber for the homestead from Craik with horses and stayed one night at Zelandia. The house was two storey, 16 x 24. The first barn was built with lumber he got in Brock.
Dad met mother and the family at the train with the oxen and wagon. Needless to say, the boys didn’t ride far, it was to slow for them, until the coyotes started to follow them. At first they thought they were dogs, but dad told them different.
The first crop was flax; it was beautiful. We kids tried to pick some of it for a bouquet, as we had never seen flax before. Also we missed the flowers so much, as we used to pick them wild in the States. Dad used to get up at four o’clock in the morning to work the oxen before the sun got too hot, then he would either pick stones, or if it were too hot he would play games with us, or just rest until four o’clock, when he would start to plow again. Fritz sure liked those oxen. He would lie down beside them and talk to them. Of course he was only three years old. One day mother heard him say to one of the oxen whose name was Patty, “Patty give me some of your gum. You don’t need to chew it all the time.”
The first year here was a lonesome one for my mother, as every Sunday we were at my Grandma Tester’s home. If not she would have a fit, so we always went in the middle of the week, and we were at dad’s people’s home too. It was an understood thing for all our relatives to gather at these homes. Things were sure changed for us, but both mother and dad seemed to know that, so they tried to make up for all the things we missed. Each Sunday one could see mother taking us for a walk over the prairie; even the ground seemed different to us.
Dad and Clarence Federspiel made the first road south of Brock. It sure was rough. It’s still rough. We had the first well, and it was dug by dad and Clarence Federspiel in 1912. People came for miles to get water, some with horses, some with oxen, and of course if it were anywhere near a meal time, dad always asked them in. We girls used to get mad as they were always men, but never a woman, and it got tiresome washing all those dishes. We figured we had enough of our own to do, but of course dear old dad never did hear us complaining. The first year dad did a lot of plowing for other people, also picking stones. It left the family alone a lot too. I remember one time my mother holding Fritz on her lap with her apron wrapped around him, crying for all she was worth. There was blood running down his neck, and all she could say was, “He cut his throat. He cut his throat,” and it sure looked like it too. Hilda grabbed the apron off him, and saw he had scratched his chin. Poor mother was sure there would be something happen to her kids in this wild and woolly west. When anything would happen to one of us she would say, “Oh why did I ever come, why did I ever listen to your dad’s stories of such a wonderful place where everybody has a chance to show how much a man can be a man. We will all die out here in this unholy land.” After the second year she never wanted to go back to the States. She used to say to us, “Your dad always says that no one ever gets killed out here by lightning. Good reason why. There is no one here to get killed.” You see, where we came from there were lots of electric storms, and it was nothing to see buildings burning after being struck by lightning.
We were very happy when Johnny Manion left his horse and buggy at our place when he was out working. Then dad and mother could go to town and not take all day, as it did with the oxen. I remember the first Brock fair. Dad loaded us all up in the wagon and took us. It was the first outing we had here, and we sure did enjoy it too. We won a hundred pounds of flour, (Robin Hood), for the biggest family at the fair. At that time there was one other family here that was larger, Mr. St. John’s, but they were not all at the fair as one had stayed home, so we got the flour. It was all so much fun for us.
Our chickens were not laying. One day Mrs. Clarence Federspiel come over to visit and she asked mother if the hens were laying. Mother said, “No, not yet.” Mrs. Federspiel said to one of the boys, “I guess you will just have to ride them on a rail.” She was always saying funny things like that, never meaning a word of it, but boys will be boys, and sure enough mother heard the chickens cackling like all get out. She thought a coyote was after them, but it was the two-legged kind. Frank and George were behind the barn, one on the barn, the other on the ground with a pole leaning on the barn, and they were sliding the hens up and down the pole. They were going to make the hens lay!
The first horse that dad got, he bought at Jim Tingey’s sale west of Brock. She was the most beautiful horse we ever saw; a bit bowed in the back, but an intelligent look in her eye, and don’t anyone say anything different, at least not to us kids. The first time I got on her back, she threw me into the rhubarb patch that George Krepps had planted upside down, so that he had nothing to laugh at either. But I thought I was killed.
The first year they say is always the worst. At least that is what people would say to us, and I guess it is true. Before we got the well, we had to use slough water, and it was all right until the wigglers would get in it. Of course we always had to strain the water, but I never knew if it were the water or the strainer cloth I could taste. Mother tried to tell me it was my taster. It wasn’t long before we got a well though.
I always thought it took great courage for my father to bring such a large family to a strange land where there was not a doctor or a school. Well do I remember the time that two men came to our house to get dad to sign a paper for a school to be built in our district. They were Mr. Irwin Smith and Mr. Bill Smith. There were enough children in the district for it then. That was the beginning of the McCarthy School District. We had many a good time at the school, meeting all the settlers. We would be sure to see our friends there, everybody seemed to take part to make a go of it, games or what have you, it was all the same.
There were no roads, and only one house between Brock and our home, which was the Hyde house. The people from the south used to drive across our farm. They made a trail between our house and barn, and the mail carrier for Penkill would always stop here and rest his horses. Sometimes the Mounties would come in and rest on their way from Kindersley to Swift Current, or they would be just looking things over. We always found them so friendly. One time an older one came through and stopped. He looked at all us kids and said to mother, “You sure have a healthy lot of kiddies here haven’t you?” My sister Thelma thought he said “Kittens,” so she looked for the cats and couldn’t find them. She said, “These Canadians sure do tell lies, don’t they Lottie?”
Mother cooked on a little Gipsy Jewel stove with only two lids to cook on. There was on oven fixed in the pipe which looked like an oil drum, and it baked real well if one watched closely enough to keep things from burning. In later years I asked mother how she ever cooked for so many on such a little stove, and she said, “Well, when you haven’t much to cook, it does not take much room to cook it in.” I never did hear her complain about cooking for so many, as when we sat down to eat we were very seldom alone. There were sure to be others with us, mostly bachelors who liked mother’s cooking.
Bainard the youngest son bought the homestead, and is on the farm now. Frank, Fritz, and Norman are at Prince Rupert, B.C.; Hilda, Mrs. A. Hamilton lives at Burnaby, B.C.; Virgel is at Brock; Thelma, Mrs. Melvin Huckaby, passed away in Saskatoon. Pearl is Mrs. James Holben of Eston, and Lottie is Mrs. George Krepps of Brock. Bainard and Pearl were both born in Canada.