First birthday celebrated on Atlantic Ocean

From our March 2014 issue

By Frank SopracolleGoodsoil, Sask.

Early in 1930, immigration arrangements were nearing completion for the undertaking of a lifetime. Our family trip to Canada started in mid-March with a train ride to Hamburg, Germany.

My parents celebrated my first birthday onboard a ship in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. We were travelling with a few other families from the Tyrol area and it was comforting to have others who shared a similar adventure.

After disembarking at Saint John, N.B., we travelled by train for three days first to Winnipeg, then on to St. Walburg, Sask. which was the end of the rail line at that time. There were quite a few German-speaking families in St. Walburg.

Mom and I stayed with the Carl Erhardt family, who operated a boarding house, while dad went to find our new land. After a brief regrouping and orientation, dad and the four men who came with us walked to what is now Goodsoil, in search of a homestead.

A homestead consisted of a quarter section of land, which was 160 acres entirely covered with bush. The homestead cost $10, but the catch was you had to clear 10 acres within the first 3 years and then you’d get title.

This was called proving up and it ensured that not only you cleared the land but that you actually stayed (and survived) for 3 years.

After arriving here my parents made contact with Ralph Seewalt and Karl Maus. These men had homesteaded in 1928 or 1929 and knew where there was still land available.

After picking the land beside Bousquet Lake (where I still live today) they walked back to St. Walburg. After a brief rest, they walked on to Turtleford, the location of the nearest land office, paid their $10 and signed the necessary legal papers.

After regrouping in St. Walburg, the trek north started in earnest. On the way north they met the Sonntag brothers going south looking for work.

Later, the story circulated that my parents were carrying all their worldly possessions on their backs, which included me. On looking back that was quite an accomplishment.

When we arrived at Bousquet Lake we built a shelter under a huge windfall. This was a tree that was broken about 10-feet up and the tree was resting on the stump.

My parents leaned logs and smaller trees against this windfall and filled the cracks with dry grass, which was abundant in the area, and this is where we lived for several months.

During this time the first shack was built. Some of my earliest memories are of mom and dad working together, cutting firewood with a 3-foot crosscut saw that had a handle on each end. After my dad split some of the blocks, I remember helping carry the wood into the house.

I was an only child until the age of five and my parents relied on me greatly to help out. Over the next 10 years, six sisters and two brothers were born. We were no longer alone!

Our first real home was a log building made of round logs with cracks filled with moss and mud plaster. We had a wood burning cook stove, a coal oil (Kerosene) lamp, a homemade table, and bench beds in one medium-sized room. Mom and dad had a small bedroom for themselves. It was cozy and very rustic but it was home.

To say that I grew up in primitive conditions is an understatement. Luckily wild game was plentiful, so too were rabbits and grouse. Somehow, we managed to survive.

Our nearest neighbours were my Uncle Frank Klocker, who was an expert hunter and trapper, then there was John Eberharter, August Todt, and Frank Arzbacher, who all came across from Austria with us.