Interview by Nona Stauffer, 1974
Mr. Sidor Cembrowsky came into the Clayhurst district in the fall of 1930, arriving shortly after Mr. John Ewoniak. Prior to 1930, he had made his home in Shandro, Alberta, working for farmers and at whatever job he could get. As he said, “You couldn’t buy a job for fifty cents.” This was his reason for coming to the Peace River country, and being young he was full of confidence as well as not being afraid of hard work. Antoine Posterment and John Kucher, with his mother, came into the district at about the same time as Sidor. They all squatted on land, later to be known as their homesteads. This gave them all squatters’ rights till the government put the land up for filling for homesteads. As mentioned before, John Ewoniak had come into the district first and was living on his land. John Ewoniak’s home was a real refuge for these new pioneers.
After staking out his land, Sidor returned to Shandro to help with the harvest in the fall of 1930. He returned to Clayhurst right after harvest was completed, bringing with him a team of horses, a wagon and a brush-breaker (used also as a plow). Through the winter of 1930 and into the late summer of 1931 work was begun on a two-storey log house on J. Kucher’s land. As Sidor said, “Antoine, John and I worked and lived together, with John’s mother to look after us”. It was also possible, Sidor told with pride ‘to break 12 acres on my own land’. He just made you feel every accomplishment, no matter how large or small, was wonderful and the way life was meant to be.
Mr. Bill Ewanchuk brought a carload of freight up in the fall of 1931, and was good enough to bring a cow along for Sidor. In the early fall of 1931 Sidor returned to Shandro to help with the harvest, returning to his homestead the same fall. Before returning to Clayhurst he was troubled with pains in his side and he feared appendicitis. While worrying, he asked the advice of many people and here is the remedy given him by an old timer in Willingdon (a small town near Shandro). “Go buy one pound of Epson Salts and one pint of Castor Oil. Mix the two together and drink”. This Sidor went out and bought and took it all back to Clayhurst, where he mixed it and drank it all at once. Believe it or not said Sidor, “I never even went outside”. Needless to say he was forced to return to Edmonton and have his appendix removed!
As I listened to Sidor tell me of all his trips to and from Clayhurst and Shandro, the thought came to me as to how he was traveling. He told me, “we just hiked to the nearest Railway Station and rode the rails”. These trips could take up to five or six days, depending on the conductor. If it was a passenger train and he caught you without a ticket he would pull the whistle and put you off regardless of where it was. Then you walked to the next town. The freight trains were the best, as no one bothered you and there were so many traveling in this manner. There was one time, Sidor remembers, “there were two hundred or more of us looking for work and found ourselves stranded in High Prairie, Alberta. As the town could not afford to feed us and there just was no work, a soup kitchen was set up. After everyone was given a meal, a freight train pulled in and we were ordered to grab it and leave”.
After his operation he went home to Shandro for Christmas, and this is when he met his wife, Annie, formally Annie Russ of Shandro. She likes to tease him about how nice and short her name was and she traded it for one with ten letters in it. In February of 1932 they were married and promptly began plans to leave for Clayhurst. Sidor got in touch with John and Antoine and it was decided to lease a boxcar together, thereby cutting down the expense. When they were planning what would go into this boxcar, it was all done with care so they could work together. This was to prove out to be a great benefit to all, as many different items could be brought. They all took wheat into Vegreville and had it ground into flour, bringing 120 bags with them or a total weight of 2,400 lbs. Along with the flour they also brought sugar, rice, salt, etc. Then they loaded household furniture, 2 sleighs, 3 wagons, 6 horses, 1 cow, 3 or 4 geese and a flock of chickens. I asked Sidor how he brought his wife, Annie, back. He said, “by regular passenger train, even with a ticket, no more riding the rails”. When asked how long it took to reach Clayhurst on this trip, he said, “Oh, around two weeks, it was a real quick trip”. His wife and I had to chuckle at this, when you think in terms of how quick you can make this same trip to-day.
When they reached Pouce Coupe by rail and had everything unloaded, they hitched up the horses and loaded the sleighs. Then began the numerous trips it took to move it all to Clayhurst going by Rolla Landing, crossing on the ice and into Clayhurst. There were just too many trips to remember. When asked what life was like after that, they said, “it was so nice and so much easier, there was no more traveling”.
I asked Mrs. Cembrowsky how she felt about her new life and here is what she told me. “As we had just been married before leaving Shandro, the whole [Clayhurst] district had got together to put on a surprise wedding reception. This was put on in the traditional Ukrainian style, serving all of our many festive dishes and such a supply of cakes and cookies it was hard to believe. They made me put on my wedding dress and Sidor his suit, this truly was just like a real wedding”. From that time on, “I just felt part of the district and still do to-day”.
“All the new pioneers and settlers were greeted into the district in this manner and we all had such good times together through the years”. She went on to say, “Bill Ewanchuk always played on his harp (one he had made himself) and dancing went on for hours, even days, along with an ever-ready supply of home made liquor”. In those days they worked hard and played hard.
Mr. & Mrs. Cembrowsky lived in the district till 1966, at which time they moved into Dawson Creek. They hold the distinction of being the first couple to be married in the district of Clayhurst and having the first baby boy born in the district. He was born in 1933 but passed away at three months of age, making it the first death in the district. Then they had the first girl born in the district in the year 1934, and named her Pearl. In 1958 when British Columbia celebrated the Centennial year, Pearl was sent a medal for being the first girl born in Clayhurst. The district of Clayhurst put on a big celebration in her honor and her family’s.
As our interview drew to a close, I asked for a funny story. Mrs. Cembrowsky said, “I remember one Easter Party when all the community gathered at our place and many relatives from out of the district came. Maybe in all there was forty or fifty people and we danced and feasted for three days. Many a time you could look out and find many of us skipping, walking on stilts and swinging.”
These were the times they wished to remember and just to listen to them both tell of the early years made you wish you could have been part of the early pioneer days in the district. For them, as Sidor said, “we came in prepared for the type of life that was ahead of us and we didn’t really suffer very much”.