Recent History – 1999
Aug. 3, 1999, By Kelly Henschel, Daily News Staff
Tomslake looked a lot different 60 years ago. The small community about 30 kilometres east of Dawson Creek was an untamed wilderness when more than 500 refugees from the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia arrived in 1939. Six decades later, some of the original Sudeten pioneers and hundreds of their descendants and friends gathered in Tomslake to celebrate and to remember.
“We’re really impressed with the turnout,” says Laurel David, chairperson of the 60th anniversary committee.
The event had been in the planning stages for about a year, she says, and featured a social evening, pancake breakfast, and tours of the old buildings still in the area. On Sunday afternoon a short ceremony was held to honour the original Tate Creek and Tupper residents, and to unveil a memorial plaque on the museum grounds.
Many people come to Tomslake looking for relatives who came over in 1939, and the committee wanted to do something to commemorate the pioneers, David says.
“Everyone who came here to Tomslake is on that plaque, so that’s part of the heritage,” she says.
“This memorial is a reminder of the past and a reference for the future,” says committee member and Master of Ceremonies, Art Seidl.
Visitors came to the event from as far away as the western prairie provinces, Toronto, Texas, California and even Germany.
Herta and Reinhold Prizezeik and Herta’s sister Trude Tackaberry made the trip up from Calgary.
Herta and Trude came to Tomslake in 1939 when they were 11 and nine respectively.
“I think for us it was sort of an adventure,” Herta says, but she also remembers the tensions of pre-war Czechoslovakia and the looming take-over by Hitler which caused them to flee.
“One day my mother came and got me from school – it was September- and there was a truck waiting and off we went,” she remembers.
“We just left everything standing the way it was.”
While Herta and Reinhold actually met in Calgary, he also came to Tomslake as a young man of 19. His first impression was an eye-opener he says.
“Oh boy!” he laughs. “Nothing but trees! I was a city boy and had never held an axe in my hand before and never handled a team of horses, so it was rather strange.”
Long-time Tomslake resident Joe Schoenstein was 14 when he first laid eyes on Tomslake, and has been there ever since, farming and working with the department of highways. Looking around at all of the people, he says name tags are very useful.
“It’s pretty hard when you haven’t seen some of these guys in 50 or 60 years!” he chuckles.
He wouldn’t trade his life in Tomslake for anything he says.
“I like it here. I wouldn’t go back to Europe.”