‘It seemed so natural to do all those things’

From our April 2014 issue

By Peter DurksenBreslau, Ont.

In March 1947, my parents and my younger siblings took a two-week holiday to visit relatives by train in British Columbia. My two older sisters and I, then 10 years old, were left at home on the farm southwest of Foam Lake, under the care of a neighbour’s teenage daughter.

During the day we went to school, as usual by horse and toboggan. Mornings and evenings, my 13-year-old sister and I were to do the chores: cleaning the barn and feeding the six dual-purpose Shorthorn cows, several yearlings, and three horses, all tied in stalls.  Things were quite normal the first week.

To clean the barn, we pulled the stone boat backwards into the barn, forked the manure onto the stone boat, and harnessed one of the horses. Then we hitched the horse to the stone boat and took it to the coulee several hundred yards from the barnyard. During the second week, things got interesting.

The first morning that I entered the barn, I saw a newborn white-faced calf standing by one of the cows. The next five days were the same, each day, one more calf. Getting the Shorthorn-Herford cross calves to nurse was no problem, they did that on their own.

When my parents were to arrive home at the end of the second week, I made the five-mile trip to town with the team and sleigh to get them from the station. When I proudly told dad about the calves, he said, “I guess I miscalculated by one week.”

I’m not sure if he had miscalculated or if he was confident that I could handle the situation should it arise. That’s the kind of father he was, teaching or allowing me to do many farm tasks at a very young age: raking hay with the team, cultivating the summer fallow with the tractor, trapping gophers, and skinning rabbits.  It all seemed so natural to be able to do those things when you were only halfway through elementary school.

Needless to say, it was a great pleasure for me to take my son and two grandsons to Saskatchewan during the 2005 centennial year. We toured Rosthern, Frontier, near the beautiful Cypress Hills, Leslie, and Foam Lake – all places where father had lived after fleeing communism and coming to Canada in 1924.

As father used to say to me, “Be thankful that you live in Canada, it’s a great country.”

Peter’s grandsons, Conor James Peter Durksen, standing, and Matthew Martin Meston, on the binder that they found in 2005 on the farm near Frontier where Peter was born in 1937.