(A) “Mrs. Schoen, could you tell us under what circumstances you arrived at Tomslake?”
(S) “Oh, we just had to leave Czechoslovakia because we were against Hitler. So we immigrated to Denmark where we stayed for a half a year, in Odensea. From there we came to Tomslake via England. It was in the middle of June. It was pretty cold, and I still remember we had to wait at the railway station.
The first sight of Tomslake was where the old Gundy Ranch is now. So the next day we all got on a wagon — it was a hayrack — and we loaded all our utensils; a washbarrel, a boiler, and three cups, three forks, three knives, three plates. That was all with us on the hayrack. So we started out from Tupper, and I still remember a friend of ours standing on the wagon holding things down because the road was full of holes and everything was always jumping.
So we came to the Gundy Ranch and here we were told to fill our mattresses — it was just a huge sack that we had — to fill with straw to sleep on it. But we didn’t have any straw, so we had to get moss. So we stuffed it, and it was so heavy we couldn’t even lift it. But the Superintendent, I think it was Mr. McArthur, he came and he helped us and he laughed.
Then we loaded onto another wagon and came to the North Group, as it was called. That’s now across from Neubauer’s, where old Mr. Mazanek now lives.”
(A) “In other words, the settlers were divided into groups.”
(S) “Yes, there was the East Group, the North Group…so we came to the North Group. It was in the middle of the night and we lived in a tent with four families to one stove, and you had to go in the morning and get some firewood to cook.
I think three days we were in the tent. Then we got a so-called Block-house. It was built from logs, but you could see out all the way around. And at night there was a thunderstorm and it poured in at night because the roof leaked.
So we stayed there another two weeks. Then we came out to Springhill, where now old Mr. Gebauer now has his farm. And here there was a tiny shack…in Europe it was called a woodshed. We moved into these little houses [with] green boards when the sun was shining. Oh it was cold. You didn’t have to open a window, because it was drafty enough all the way around.
And it was quite interesting too, but only for us. I’m telling you honestly, we were young at the time [and] we took it more or less as an adventure. But our old people who came over — it was just heart-breaking for them. If you don’t have anything. But we took it.
We had long nails going from the inside where you could hang your saw. So it was well organized! And if somebody came to see you, you had to go to your neighbor and say, “Oh gosh, could you not lend me your coffee-pot, because I don’t have one if somebody comes.” You only had three cups.
(A) “In other words, when the settlers left Europe they left with the bare minimum and as you say some people didn’t even bring a coffee-pot over.”
(S) “No, no, no — I had to leave my place in five minutes, and at the time Walter was six years old. So I had two suitcases, that was all I had. We came to Canada with five dollars, but that’s all we had.
It wasn’t easy but we saw it and we took it like that, because we thought if we stay in Europe…, a war is coming; just as sure as we are talking here now, you and I. And even in Denmark — we could’ve stayed in Denmark, but my husband said no — if we are going we are going. We were not surprised to come to Tomslake because we were told — it’s like we say in German “uhrwelt,” — there’s nothing here.
But the hardest part here was not to have water. We sometimes had to go for a pail of water twenty minutes, in the bush with two pails. Or to the Tate Creek and back to Springhill which took nearly a half a day. And if you weren’t lucky you stumbled in the bush and spilled it and had to go back! That was one thing.
It was really different from the old country; because even if you knew a little bit of agriculture… the climate and the circumstances in Canada were so different from those your attitude and habits and [you had to] re-adjust yourself to the new surroundings.”
I think we were fortunate in the settlement that nothing really serious happened with all the horses and the animals — nobody was used to it but nobody got hurt. And the kids! Walter walked to school five miles every day, over the hills and you never knew, something could happen sometimes.
He left at half past seven in the morning and he came back at five o’clock in the evening. And in the wintertime it was so cold. But that was another fortunate thing — we didn’t have a thermometer, so you didn’t really know how cold it was. That saved us a lot of worry for the kids. The kids didn’t have a good time, but I think they enjoyed it, and still Walter says it was nice and they had fun. If you ask Miss Hinke, she was the first teacher, she said the kids were well behaved and they were at the school every day. They didn’t have to wait for the school bus, they had to go and they went. And the first winter we went to night classes too. Oh? That was Miss Stikne, she was the first [night school?] teacher. She couldn’t speak a single word in German and we couldn’t speak a single word in English. It was her first year teaching in a school — so she was afraid of us, and we were afraid of her. But we really made progress, she was really good, she showed us in movement how to do it. But the weather was not with us. It was forty below and imagine to go in the night in forty below, five miles one way to school. We came home and the cup was frozen on the table. Another big thing that we had to learn to live with was a kerosene lamp. Nobody was used to that.
I say we never had to suffer from hunger, we had food to eat, but not the right things to eat. Sometimes if you asked, “Oh, could we not have a chocolate bar for the kids?” “No there aren’t such things in Canada.” So I don’t know was it the management, or they wouldn’t give it to us.”
[Interviewer’s note: “Mrs. Schoen is not implying that the chocolate bars were the right food, rather she is emphasizing the restrictions placed on the settlers by the Settlement Association. Also, neither Mrs. Schoen nor the Editor knew that sugar was rationed then and candy was in short supply.]
(A) “About how many families came over?”
(S) “In Springhill there were sixteen. I’m not sure how many all together. But my husband could tell you — he has everything written down — how many families came, how many single persons, etc. And the second year, the first ones started to leave from the factory.
So, we lived one winter… Oh, in the fall we got our houses a little bit winterized, as you say it here. We insulated the walls with sawdust, and put in a second wall, and even a ceiling; we didn’t have a ceiling in the house, it was all an open shell. So, when the winter came we did that. But the main blessing was the Alaska Highway. If that would not have happened, I don’t know how some people would survive.”
(A) “Why is that?”
(S) “You couldn’t buy anything. Because what money we got from England — that was… we got ten dollars, ten dollars! But not cash, that was for buying groceries. You went to the store, so they wrote it down and that was all. We got two dollars and fifty cents cash a month! And from that you had to buy nails and everything. And so when the Alaska Highway came and they took our husbands[as workers] … so that was another thing, because the women at home were obligated and had to look after the farm. After this they [inspectors] came and looked if you kept everything well — otherwise you would lose your farm. But with that moment when the husbands were out … sure it was a burden on the women and the children at home, but that way a little more money came in. And you could buy something and get machinery; because we had a half a wagon and half a sleigh, how could you work that way?
” And nobody… maybe some had at home [Czechoslovakia] a goat, but no cows or horses or the like — that was all new. And the far reaching thing was you had to go for a cow at three o’clock in the afternoon and look for it, because it was in the bush. That was…, everything was new to us. And the climate, that was another thing that was against us.
But otherwise the Canadians, the old-timers, were very nice to us; they helped us a lot. But there were Germans here — they didn’t even talk to us, they didn’t even talk … yes, that’s true. Because they said, “Oh…,” at that time Hitler was the Big Boss in Germany and so we were the Black Sheep. We had to leave from there, so they were always against us. But it didn’t bother us — we had learned to live with it. And later on we even…, Some had a gun, a .22, we had to give that up in the war because we were, I don’t know how you say it [in English], “Fiendliche Auslander.” We weren’t really…shall I say welcome — they didn’t trust us. It was funny but it didn’t bother us very much.
In the fall, some men went out to the farmers to help with the harvest and here they learned quite a bit. And some farmers were really nice. There were three old farmers my husband worked for. They brought my husband home and we got some vegetables, fresh cauliflower or something like that. They were always nice to us. And if we would’ve had more connection with them, we would’ve learned maybe quicker.
[Interviewers note: “After the word “quicker”, Mrs. Schoen was again searching for words to explain herself. I shall attempt to translate for her. She feels that by listening to everyone else, about how to do the work, plus holding to the European ways, they would have learned quicker if they had worked with the Canadians more and adapted to their methods.”]
(S) “When we came it was the first transport, there was nobody around here. The old Gundy Ranch we were told had had farmers, but they left. There were six hundred acres under cultivation on the Ranch and we had to work there, and you had to work on your own place too. But not with a bulldozer like they use now [but]] with an ax, and it was very hard. And I think that’s why so many people are sick and worn out. I still remember the old Canadians said to work slowly — it’s not so easy. You think you have to do everything in a short time, like in the old country, but you lose in the long run.”
(A) “This is true, you cannot replace these values.”
(S) “No, no, not in such a short time.”
In Tomslake there was too much frost, so we always had a frozen harvest, or it was under the snow. I still remember one year, we called it that “Sorgen Feld”; it rained and we had two acres left. We went out to get it off with a scythe and I wore my rubber boots; sometimes you went down to the knees and had to get your rubber boots out; that was the only grain we had.”
(A) “The few animals and machines that you did have, were they loaned to you and then you had to buy them or…What was the arrangement with the machinery?”
(S) “No, we got that… I think it was thirteen hundred pounds from England because England felt guilty about letting Czechoslovakia down. So we got that money, but not in cash. That went to the Canadian Colonization Association to settle us. There were two supervisors, one a Mr. McConnell — oh, he wasn’t a friend of ours. But Mr. McArthur and the others they were very nice to us. They were understanding because you can’t expect everything from people coming from…I think there wasn’t a farmer in our group.”
(A) “There wasn’t a single farmer among you?”
(S) “No, no, there were doctors and office men and factory workers. We didn’t have an idea about farming. So that’s why I say we were really fortunate that nothing happened because if you don’t know animals. There were many funny things, and there were many times you could cry. Now when you think back it rolls out like an old picture book. You had to melt snow for the animals, you had to cut fire wood, and all that stuff.”
(A) “Can you remember when you first had to milk? I imagine this must have been something you people had never milked before.”
(S) “I was fortunate [because] my parents lived on a farm in the old country, so I knew a little bit about that. But there were times of tears and laughter; and sometimes I think the animals were smarter than we were, believe me. I still remember one lady said, “Oh,” she was milking, “I have to run and give my cow something,” and I had a cow in Springhill who drank her milk herself. I came in the morning and she had foam all around her mouth and the milk was gone. So we made a halter with nails in it; that worked for a few times, but later on she went to a tree, and it was the same thing.
(S) Oh, yes, milking was quite…, No, I can’t tell you that on the tape.”
(A) “Why not?”
(S) “No it was really…it’s true, if you want it, it’s fine.
So we didn’t have a barn and no nails. There were some trees and they were used to build a shelter. And a settler, who is now in Ontario, made wooden nails. So we had a little bit of a shelter to put the cows in — in the old country we had to put them in, you didn’t leave them out, but it didn’t have a roof. At that time there were always two men who had barn-duty, and there was one lady who said, “You know if we could get something on top of this… we could always put the manure up.” So they put old board and trees on top, and every morning they just shoveled everything up. And they said “Oh, when this dries we’ll really have a good roof.” It was well meant. But the weather was against us. There was a huge pile on the roof and it started to rain, and rain, and rain. And in the morning; I don’t have to tell you what happened. They all… the cows and the ladies had SOMMER SCPROSSEN, freckles. Each lady went in, took that dear animal and brought it out. And it just poured in. That was our first barn.
The first fence we had, oh it was made from real thin sticks, and the cows were just laughing. We put them in and they just went out again.
After this we got pigs, that was another thing. And one morning we got an order — we have to bring pigs to the boar, twelve we had to bring. So the wagon came to the fence and we counted–1,2,3,4,5,10 are [sic] on. So we took them to the boar; and when we got there we had not sows…, we had all… how do you call it.” “Male and female.” “We had all males! So they laughed, and we had to take them back. And so that happened. We always had such troubles; because if you’re not a farmer… if they say you have to bring ten pigs, you bring them. That was another funny thing.
But I think you only remember now what you did wrong. It was, like I said, for us young ones more or less an adventure. But it was really, really hard for the old ones. We had to dig holes to get water for the animals, in the marsh but that’s fine in the summertime, but when the frost came… it all collapsed.”
(A) “Once you were established, and going reasonably well, did you just sort of subsistance farm; in other words you didn’t sell any grain or anything like that until much later on.”
(S) “No, you couldn’t — you had to buy grain; because from twenty acres you didn’t get very much, if you have to feed the cows and the chickens… we had a little bit of mixed farming.
Yes, about the streets. I remember the first night we were on the North Group; the next day another group was to arrive at the station at Tupper Creek, so we decided to go and meet them. And we were told… it’s impossible, you can’t go and meet them [because] the road is impossible. We didn’t believe that, that was unlikely, because in Europe any road or street could be walked on. So we took our rubber boots…, and I think we walked a mile, and we had to turn around — we couldn’t make it. That was the transportation set-up from one settlement to the other or from our settlement in Springhill, because we had to get our groceries from the Gundy Ranch, that was the main store. So you had to drive with horses… you drove through the trees or just through an open space so that the way from Springhill to the Ranch was at least three times as long as it is now.”
(A) “There wasn’t a road as such?”
(S) “It wasn’t a road at all.”
(A) “You drove where ever there wasn’t anything in the way?”
(S) “There was only a road from Tupper to Pouce Coupe.
And the first Christmas, oh we would go see Pouce. So we went by sleigh — we put some straw in the sleigh and we went. And I think I bought for eighty cents — that was the first Christmas present for Walter — a domino set. It was fine in the winter time, but in spring and if it rained a few days… the horses sometimes were in the mud up over the knees, or the wagon was stuck. Sure the Supervisor had a car, but how often we had to pull him out. Because roads…! You couldn’t have a road. There was a preacher he came — he lost his rubbers, you didn’t even know you lost them, because you had just to go on in the mud. There was absolutely no road. I was in Canada for four years when for the first time I went to Dawson Creek. And I was at Leo’s Shoe Store, and across the street, an American tractor was stuck in the mud. So I said to Leo, I’m going back to Tomslake it’s no worse there than here in Dawson Creek. There was mud all over. It was really bad.”
(A) “Did you people in Tomslake build all the things that are there, there’s a church and library and such things?”
(S) “Yes, that was all built. There was an old community hall, log building, and that burned down. For the first few houses we had a few Canadians as Supervisors, but other than that it was built by our men.”
(A) “And it was all built by hand?”
(S) “All built by hand. I say that was really hard… everything. Only plowing, that was with tractors, but otherwise we didn’t use the tractor. There were four or six who operated the tractors.
And the fires that was another problem we had. Because that upset the whole settlement, when you heard there’s a fire around. So we’d all run out; but what could you do. There were old stumps under the grass that burned for days; that kept us on the go all week. And we were worried stiff if it comes nearer. We had two or three years when it was really bad with bush fires. Even if the Supervisors said nothing could happen, we’d take the plow and run a furrow and plow it under and watch it. But that frightened us if there was fire all the way around. And the kids too — sure for some of them it was fun. But I can still remember there were some tears too. But we all came over and said we’d never do so much. I at least said, no, I don’t want anything more than what I absolutely need. But I think we want anything more than what I absolutely need [sic]. But I think we all threw that overboard, now nearly everybody has more than they had in the old country.”
(A) “Were some of you under the impression that you would soon be going back to Europe, and therefore this was just sort of a stopgap, and you’d put up with it?”
(S) “Oh yes, there were people like that too.”
(A) “Do you remember about when Tomslake got electricity?”
(S) “That! We were here sixteen years. Oh yes, I remember that — that was a day I don’t forget at all. Because we were to get it in spring. So we had everything wired and I said I have no desire for anything except a record player, so I can have some good music. So we had that all ready, standing in the living room and waiting for the day we’d be connected. So I said this I’ve got to see. So, three times they said next week, and next week never came, and I said I want to see that. And the fellow from the Power Commission came and said, “Yes it’s too late, you’ll never see it.” So the first thing I did was put the record player on, in the evening; oh it was so nice, we had light.
We had a big horse in the barn, and he could switch the light on. So sometimes the neighbours said, “What was happening on your yard last night, the light was burning?” “So we found out our horse could do it with his behind. He rubbed his behind and switched the light on.”