Audio Part 1:
Audio Part 2:
INTERVIEWER: Mr. Schoen, I do not know the background of our Sudeten settlers at Tupper and since I need an account to put with an article concerning their success with the livestock industry, I would like you to tell me about it, and how it happened that they came to Canada when they did. Back before 1918, your country was a part of Austria, right?
WILLIAM SCHOEN: Yes, that is right. To make something clear, the name Sudetenland came much later. We were German-Bohemian. [Bohemia] was one of the Crown Provinces of Austria, until 1918. At that time the Treaty of Versailles separated Austria and the Republic of Czechoslovakia. Czechoslovakia was like an island in German-speaking surroundings, Germany and Austria. We (German-Bohemians) were just in the middle. In that period of inflation and depression, the chief industry was based in the German-speaking areas of so-called Sudetenland, so we had the most unemployed people who could not get any work. They were easy prey for the fanatics and anarchists of that time. We must admit also that the Czechs did not always do their best on our behalf. I personally cannot blame them. They also had a bad situation. You cannot expect, in a period of twenty years, that they could reform or build up a nation and a very good democratic society. That neglect was used by Hitler as a reason to take over. We have really no reason to complain, neither I, nor my family. I had quite a bit to do in the Czech government. We always had quite a bit of discussion — in German, mind you — in committees. Then Great Britain and France and Italy came up with that deal at Munich in 1938, to “keep the peace forever”, as they said at that time.
Chamberlain was premier of Great Britain. He was the key figure. He was not alone, of course. He had to get approval, even from U.S.A. I think the leaders didn’t want a war at that time because they weren’t prepared. That was the most important consideration.
INTERVIEWER: Otherwise there would have been war before that. Why were the Nazis angry at Czechoslovakia? Was it on account of your leader?
WILLIAM SCHOEN: No, it was all just propaganda. You know that Germany, under Hitler, had planned a war for a long time. They did not build the Autobahn (what we would call a countrywide freeway) just to please their own people. Oh no! It was just for transportation of an army! They were pushing east — it was necessary. Czechoslovakia was a highly industrialized country. We had areally good supply of arms and war material.
INTERVIEWER: You were making it, weren’t you?
WILLIAM SCHOEN: Yes, yes! In big plants, factories. That was really important industry for Hitler. If he could get a hold of that stuff and break Czechoslovakia as a power, that would be a real plus for him. Also, we were a democratic people — Social Democrats, Christian Democrats, or whatever, were all against Hitler. We had either to go into concentration camps or move out. So we moved out. We were lucky enough to get out — through Poland, mind you. We couldn’t go through Germany.
INTERVIEWER: You must have known what was going on. Did everybody know?
WILLIAM SCHOEN: Oh yes, we knew. For instance, I was in a position to work with the (Czech) army, people in the town where I was located. I knew exactly what they were doing. They called me in quite often. I myself had two hundred men under my command, just to be prepared in case war broke out or in case our army started shooting to prevent trouble from coming to the boiling point so that Germany had a good reason to take over. People are just harmless, usually, just wanting to make a good living and have some income, so (after Munich) they had to bend down against the Czech government according to the pressure from England, France, etc. So we (the Democrats) had to back down, and Hitler took over. We had to go.
INTERVIEWER: How long did you have to get out?
WILLIAM SCHOEN: We knew about it. For instance, I myself informed all my people. “Be ready at any minute for the last call to go.” We hadn’t much, except a suitcase packed. They took my wife and Walter out — I wasn’t even at home. I couldn’t look after my own people — I had other duties. I was involved in defense. I knew they had got out but I didn’t know where they took them. It was my friend, (who took them). You see it was already war, almost. We had certain duties. We had bullet holes in our windows. We just lived — but the soldiers said, “You don’t have to worry about your family. We are looking after them.” So I felt safe.
INTERVIEWER: Did you get out by Italy?
WILLIAM SCHOEN: No, we got out via Poland. You see, the occupation went by stages…..Silesia was the last to go. We were about the last to go. As long as the Czech army was there (in Sudetenland) I was protected.
INTERVIEWER: The Czech army let you go then?
WILLIAM SCHOEN: Oh, they even helped us. For instance, I had army papers — I still have them in the house here. Wherever I went I had only to show them, and the gendarmerie and the army and any policeman had to help me. They even had to supply me with cars and stuff. — whatever I needed.
INTERVIEWER: And yet you were leaving the country?
WILLIAM SCHOEN: Yes, even with permission. But I could go anywhere I wanted, inside Czechoslovakia, but you couldn’t stay. With all these people (refugees) coming to Czechoslovakia – and of course we knew it must come to a war – so we went out.
We had really good support from England. They helped us get visas and that sort of thing. I had proper passports, but also they organized transportation. We got visas to Poland.
Then we went from Poland to Denmark. We stayed there for about half a year. Walter was a small boy. To protect him, I said to my wife, “We’ll go as far away as possible.”
So we applied to go to Canada. So we went directly from Denmark via England, where we stayed just a few days. Only long enough to get the tickets and find a ship, then we moved on.
INTERVIEWER: How long did it take you to do all that? You spent quite a long time in refugee camps — didn’t you — a year or so?
WILLIAM SCHOEN: Oh, no, no.
INTERVIEWER: Walter went to school (in Europe) didn’t he?
WILLIAM SCHOEN: Always, no matter where we went. Walter went to school, in any language. He went to school on Czechoslovakia, then when we went to Denmark we sent him to school there. You know how children are — the children picked up quite a bit of the Danish language. Then, about the end of May, we moved to Canada.
INTERVIEWER: Were the rest of the refugees coming to you (from time to time) or did you always move in large numbers?
WILLIAM SCHOEN: First we in our area (in Sudetenland) were lucky. Through my connections in the army, they helped us. For instance the last train from V..?…gaard was not supposed to leave before I gave the order to do so — until I got all my people together. (Some of them are still living in Tomslake). I waited until all my people were on that train and then we moved out.
INTERVIEWER: Were you all Social Democrats?
WILLIAM SCHOEN: Not all, but Democrats, anyway. At that time I didn’t ask. We even had a few Communists. Whether I believed in their ideas or not, I could not leave them in a concentration camp. They were human beings like I am, so I gave them the opportunity to come out.
INTERVIEWER: How many did you bring out?
WILLIAM SCHOEN: Oh, at that time, I think about three hundred. Mind you some went back. If they had no arms as I had, they might go back. They would be put in jail for a short time, but they didn’t get any beatings — at least I hope not.
INTERVIEWER: Do you regret coming out, now?
WILLIAM SCHOEN: Not at all. My family is proud to be Canadian. They gave us an opportunity. Nothing can ever change that. I don’t want to go back, even for a visit. I might run into some of those old people. I don’t want to start that old thing boiling again.
INTERVIEWER: There were — and are — some differences of opinion in Tupper weren’t there? Was it just personal?
WILLIAM SCHOEN: That is a different matter all together. For instance some weren’t ready to be farmers, but that was the only way to be. We couldn’t choose. We had to get out — that was all there was to that!
INTERVIEWER: You didn’t have much money, did you?
WILLIAM SCHOEN: We didn’t have anything! For instance, I got my salary up to the end of 1938, but you couldn’t take anything out. We were told to send it — that it would be transferred later — but we never got anything out of it.
INTERVIEWER: How did you live?
WILLIAM SCHOEN: Well, we got a few dollars in Denmark, in Danish crowns, and I changed them, but when we came to Canada, I had five dollars in my pocket.
INTERVIEWER: For the family?
WILLIAM SCHOEN: Yes! Then when we got to Tupper, we again got a little which was supposed to be our money — from the “Czech Fund”. It was supposed to settle us, but we couldn’t get it. It was given to the two Colonization agencies, the Canadian Colonization Association which settled the people in Saskatchewan, and the C.P.R. who settled us here in Tupper. We had a choice — to go either to Saskatchewan or British Columbia. We decided to come to B.C. because we could start from the beginning. If you take something that somebody has left, you never know what conditions will be.
All in the group were young people — from twenty to forty — so we took the choice. “Let’s go, and all start the same.”
We had to get used to the climate and working conditions.
INTERVIEWER: The first time I saw some of your men, it was in haying time, they were wearing lederhausen — shorts. The mosquitoes were so thick, that I felt sorry for those men! Their bare legs ….
WILLIAM SCHOEN: Not only that, but your body would react differently. I myself got sick at that time. Those mosquito bites! You’d scratch them! But you got used to that kind of stuff. But also we had other difficulties – improper food and so on.
What really helped us was the Alaska Highway. Then we earned at least some money. It was only two hundred and fifty a month in a voucher that we could take to our store at Tomslake. They (the colonization society) had for us at that time an account of $1,500 a family, but out of that they had to buy for us livestock, machinery etc. (The families had no control over this money).
INTERVIEWER: You had tried to go to other countries, hadn’t you? Such as Australia?
WILLIAM SCHOEN: Yes, even Russia. I had been introduced in Czechoslovakia, through the army, to a Russian officer who could speak German. He personally invited me to come to Russia, but I declined. I knew this propaganda stuff! Also the U.S.A. was really loud about taking immigrants, but they just weren’t taking any. My brother-in-law tried so hard to get us in. He could prove that he had enough money to keep us. He even bought a bigger house, just to have room for us, but they wouldn’t let us go down to the States. Nothing doing!
INTERVIEWER: Was it your choice, or did the States say, “No”.
WILLIAM SCHOEN: The States said NO. The war had broken out (in Europe) and they wouldn’t take us.
INTERVIEWER: Just because you spoke German?
WILLIAM SCHOEN: It could be, but just the same – they hollered about how helpful they are but nothing doing! Now Canada said, “We’ll take you people, but you all have to start farming. Of course we did it. We had a hard time all right, but I still say we enjoyed it. It was an opportunity to start a new life.
INTERVIEWER: Then, the land you got — we felt sorry for you because we knew that several ranches had failed there. We knew that the crops froze there every year. We felt that you hadn’t a chance to succeed. The next thing we knew, you were raising stock. You didn’t have to ripen your grain. My husband was working for Hydro at that time, and was one of those sent to assess the potential for use of electricity by all those who had applied for rural development. He told me that there wasn’t another district around here except Rolla, that wanted electricity when they realized that they had to build up a load to justify building of lines. He told me that the new Sudeten settlers were looking forward to milking machines and other loads to make a line pay. He said, “The Sudetens are going to get a line first.” Of course the veterans and older settlers out around Sunset Prairie were angry, but we understood that the Sudetens were progressive, and would pay, so you got the first line.
WILLIAM SCHOEN: I was at that time President of our Farmers’ Institute. We pushed for it. We were told that we had to have so many power poles to the mile. There were some places where there were few settlers, but we were closer together, which undoubtedly helped, but we pushed.
INTERVIEWER: Some of the other settlers even came to our house to protest, but Mr. Calverley explained that they must get together to ensure that there were a certain number of electrical outlets, to earn the right to have a line built. So your people got the first rural line outside of the old established villages. Next you established a dairy industry to accomplish that.
WILLIAM SCHOEN: Also the hog industry. You need so much electricity for heating water, etc., during the long cold winters.
INTERVIEWER: How did you find out about all this? You weren’t farmers.
WILLIAM SCHOEN: In one way that was good. Some had a little experience in the old country but on a small scale. The feeding system was different also. In the old country you feed potatoes to pigs for instance. I myself had little experience, so I went to the farmers here, not to the colonization organization to ask for advice. Now the superintendents who settled us, I think, thought, “All these Sudetens will leave anyway”, so they didn’t bother. But when we made connections with the farmers, they were our help. The Farmers’ Institute came later. When we went out stooking or working for farmers, they told us how to do things. There was one farmer I used to go to, and he came quite often to our place — his name was Suffern. He would say, “Now look, watch me, and do it as near as you can — like this. Then change a little if it doesn’t work.”
If you find out, like this, what to look for when you buy machinery you’d do better than buying from the company. Maybe the supervisors themselves didn’t even know. For instance, when I got a binder I started to clean it. The farmer cried, “Don’t do it! Don’t do it! That’s what holds it together.”
INTERVIEWER: You lost a few settlers out there?
WILLIAM SCHOEN: Yes, and only because there was not enough land to begin with.
Even if you are not a farmer, you realize when you take over an area of swamp, trees and so on, how long it needs to get a decent piece of land or a really paying farm operation, so they decided to go. The war was on — there was a shortage of skilled labour — so they went down east. The whole family generally went along.
But we — I had to go out and earn some money. The Company didn’t like it, I would have to sign an agreement that my wife would look after the farm, and feed the cattle, etc. And they came every two weeks and had a look and checked on it! So what the heck! I missed a good opportunity. An American officer came to see me, and asked me to come up to Whitehorse where they needed a foreman and carpenter for a while. “No”, I said, “I can’t go. I’ve got a farm.”
“Don’t worry about that,” he said. “I need you along.”
“I haven’t the language,” I said. “I can read plans,” I said, “but I can’t speak to the workmen.” So I declined.
INTERVIEWER: How long would it take you to own a quarter section of land at that rate?
WILLIAM SCHOEN: We were entitled to a quarter section of land, but we had to get twenty acres under cultivation. We knew that wouldn’t work out (individually) so we got together as a group and found the easiest places where we could get twenty acres cleared, cooperatively. But the funny part was that as soon as you got twenty acres cleared for one fellow, he was supposed to come to clear yours, he didn’t have time anymore! So we got stuck, and had to do our on our own. As soon as I got some money by working out, I could buy horses, and clear it then, after two or three years. We didn’t have any money to buy tractors, so it was all done with horses. One horse I got at an auction sale down at Hythe — Pattersons Auction. In wartime it was impossible to get a second-hand tractor. It was even hard to get a horse. The auctioneer said, “If you really want to get a horse, I have one on the ranch.” Now I had sixty-five dollars with me, and a few pennies, He charged me sixty-four dollars for that horse. I had a dollar left and I had to stay overnight in Hythe. Where should I stay? I couldn’t go into a hotel with a dollar. So Rev. Miller found out that the auctioneer had straw in his barn where I had intended to sleep.
“Oh, no,” he said, “you can’t sleep there.” And he took me to his house. The next morning I went home. Now that auctioneer wouldn’t leave me one dollar. No, I was wrong. Exactly sixty-five dollars he charged me for that horse!
Then on the way back, at Brainard — that old lady had that coffee shop — I went in. “What do you want?” she said.
“I have just a few pennies. I can afford only a soup, and a dime for a cup of coffee.”
Now there were a lot of travelers around, looking at that Sudeten guy, but she brought a whole dish of food, and said, “Now you EAT. Forget about that dime you’ve got in your pocket.”
You never forget such things.
Then later, I met Mr. McArthur [A.W. McArton? see footnote], “Best regards to Mrs. Brainard” he said. And then he explained.
“Do you know why you are in good standing with Ma Brainard?”
“When you bring a white mare that is the first horse on her place on that day, that brings luck.”
INTERVIEWER: I suppose you didn’t expect kindness.
WILLIAM SCHOEN: Especially from a stranger. Now we had been told, “You are all suckers. All they want is your money.” Now the C.P.R. took our money but all these people were really so helpful, at first we didn’t know it.
It is things like that which I never want to forget and I don’t want to go away from here. I just can’t do it. This is home now. We earned it the hard way, and we want to pay our tribute to Canada.
INTERVIEWER: That plaque you put up down in the park is a very fine tribute.
WILLIAM SCHOEN: That is our monument.
Footnote: Mr. Schoen probably meant Mr. McArton. The German speaking settlers often misunderstood or mispronounced English names. Mr. A.W. McArton was Assistant Supervisor in charge of livestock at the settlement at that time. There was a J.M. McArthur, but he was General Manager of the NAR and never was at the settlement. W.Schoen, March 2000