Home Town or Home Community:
YESTERYEAR: the Lozinsky Family History (1907 – 1985)
Up to the age of 14 I lived on a farm in the parklands of east-central Saskatchewan. The last ten of those 14 years make up the gist of this narrative, which is by no means boring. Bear with me and read on. You will not be disappointed!
A Miniature United Nations
Our district was settled by immigrants from Norway and Sweden, Ukraine, Poland and Russia, Slovakia and Hungry, England, Ireland and Scotland. We had farmers who came from France, Quebec, Holland and the Red River settlement. Our village even had a Chinese restaurant. Racial tolerance was observed by most. Intermarriages took place, especially among the Protestants. The Ukrainian and Roman Catholics also intermarried. After all, we had 6 different churches.
My grandparents were pioneers in the truest sense of the word. Both of them were immigrants from the double village of Jastrobetz-Hannusivka in that part of Western Ukraine in the pre-WWI period where Austria reigned supreme. Born as Austrian citizens with Austrian passports (Russia ruled Eastern Ukraine then), my mother, with her younger brother and sister and her parents, Jacob and Euphemia Kozakewich took the train from Lviv, Ukraine to Hamburg, Germany, boarded a ship to Halifax. Off the coast of Newfoundland the ship was caught in a field of icebergs for two weeks. The ship’s fog horn sounded almost continuously. Upon reaching Halifax they took a railroad colonial coach to Rossbum, Manitoba. This was way back in 1907. The next year my grandfather Jacob scoured the newly-formed province in search of good land and a heavy stand of timber. He acquired a quarter section of land for $10.00 south of Sheho, SK brought his family to Yorkton where he purchased oxen, a wagon and supplies and followed prairie trails to Sheho. By 1912 he and his entire family became naturalized citizens, that is, British subjects, as Canadian citizenship did not come until 1949. As he lay dying in the hospital in 1938, my grandfather predicted the exact day and hour of his death, as did his father, Andrew Kozakewich in Ukraine decades earlier!
My father was born in the Ukrainian village of Velyki Ochi, now called Vielki Oczi, in Poland.
At age 17, he went looking for work in 1907. He got a job digging coal in Germany. He injured his leg inside a coal mine, recuperated, and in 1911 left for Canada. He worked on farms of Ukrainian-speaking Mennonites, on the railroad, anywhere there was work to be found. He met my Mother, and after a whirlwind courtship of one week, they got married because Lent was approaching. This was 1918. My father was 28 and my mother was 18. They both caught Spanish influenza and nearly died.
Searching for Water
My parents went farming near Ituna. Over the course of her 40 year marriage with father. Mother bore 13 children, five of whom died as infants. Mother took these deaths in stride. When asked how she felt about them she replied, “Boh dow, Boh uzhow, ” or simply, ‘God gave. God took away.’
Theirs was a pioneering spirit, forced by necessity. They had to make do with what they had or manufacture their own items. So my father made tiny coffins for my deceased tiny siblings, and had them buried by the Redemptorist Fathers in Ituna. The wooden crosses that he made and placed beside the graves decayed, and were not replaced. To this day our family does not know where their tiny graves are located in the cemetery. Our family moved to West Bend, SK looking for a farm with water. It was 1932, well into the Depression Years. By this time drought had set in and the soil was drifting. In the dead of winter, hauling water for the livestock from a nearby lake, my father, on more than one occasion, tipped over the steel barrels full of water as the horses pulled the sled up to the water trough.
Again looking for a farm with a well, he finally located one north of Kelliher. This farm had 2 wells which never dried up! The family moved to the next farm by driving the livestock, poultry and swine on the municipal road for some 20 km. This was 1938 and I was half a year old. In 19471 remember father coming home from town with half a wagon load of apples from Ontario which were shipped West by train. I think the apples were free, and we had apple pies until those apples ran out or decayed. I can’t remember which came first.
As I can recall, the earliest impressions of my life on our farm in the early 1940’s, some 16 km north of Kelliher, SK were hot summers and cold winters. I remember snow banks 9 to 10 feet high in which we made tunnels. One winter morning in 1948 or 49 our thermometer dipped to minus fifty-two degrees below zero, Fahrenheit. That morning we saw a mirage in the northern sky, just above the horizon. It was the village of West Bend, SK where I was born a decade earlier. Its grain elevators were upside down, as were the rest of the buildings. Although that village was about 20 km away from our farm, the mirage image seemed magnified because my father identified its buildings quite easily.
Although there were eight of us children on the farm the oldest one, Anne was already out working, sending father the much needed money to pay for our three quarters of land of 480 acres, almost a section. Sister Pauline, age 16, simply left home and took off somewhere for one reason or another.. This was in 1941. We later learned she married a Manitoba boy and they went to Hawaii. My two older brothers found work in a lumber camp near Carrot River, SK around 1946. Nicholas, age 17, used a double-bladed ax to cut trees while Michael, age 15, was hired as a cookie or cook’s helper. Nicholas found work with the CNR in Transcona in 1947 and Michael followed him to Manitoba soon after. Katherine found a job at Fort San where she contracted TB and became a patient there instead of an employee. When she was discharged she, like my sister Marion, joined Anne in Winnipeg. That left Freddie (Theodore) and me at home. Freddie, nicknamed ‘King’ from the comic book hero King of the Royal Mounted, later left for Winnipeg.
One evening in 1949 Freddie brought our attention to a red streak of northern lights stretching across the sky in a south easterly north westerly direction. Mother (Maria) remarked that a war was about to begin. Her prediction was correct. In 1950 the Korean War broke out! Mother knew what she was talking about. She said that on the night of January 25-26,1938 the sky was illuminated with fiery red northern lights. The following year WWII broke out in Europe! Horses did everything, supplying our transportation in summer, pulling a democrat or a wagon, and in winter pulling a sleigh or a closed-in cutter with a tin, wood-burning heater inside. They pulled the plow, the harrows, the seed drill, the binder, the wagon rack for hay and sheaves and the stone boat. Surprisingly, we did not ride horses to school but walked there some three km away. One winter father, mother and I were coming home from a wedding. Father, still ‘happy’ from the celebrations, decided to come home via our cow pasture. He drove our closed in cutter over a block of salt for cattle and overturned the cutter. The door on the little firebox opened by the jar of the cutter as it hit its side on the frozen ground and glowing embers fell out. One such ember fell on mother’s face and burned the bridge of her nose.
My father was a well-digger and a well-cleaner, too. One day a neighbor asked him to clean out the well as it was dry. Father was lowered into the well with a lit candle with him. If the candle went out then he would not descend further, as he did not want to be suffocated. He cleaned up the bottom of the well until his small shovel hit a rock. He could not pry the rock out, so he called for a small iron bar to be lowered to him. When he pried that rock with the bar and moved it, water started pouring all around. By the time he tied himself to the rope to be hoisted up he was waist high in water. It seemed that he removed a rock that covered a spring or an artesian vein. Then another neighbor asked him to build a cribbing for his well as its walls were caving in. Father built two wooden cribbing sections, square rather than round, and with the help of neighbors and a log tripod with a pulley and ropes, he lowered the cribbing into the enlarged well hole. The neighbor requesting the cribbing was leaning on one of the tripod poles, looking into the well, watching the cribbing go down into the water. Upon impulse I went to another location to get a better look. I glanced at the neighbor and to my horror I saw the log tripod tip over. The neighbor fell head first into the well, did a complete somersault and landed sitting on top of the floating cribbing in an upright position! He was hauled up by ropes and he died that same night from internal bleeding. He was in his ’70s. I was 6 years old at the time. That image was burned into my brain forever. It was my first escape from death.
As we had no power or telephone or running water we improvised. Father was a jack of all trades but a master of none. He even had his own blacksmith shop. He fixed and repaired everything. In 1947 we finally got a gasoline tractor with big steel wheels. It was called a McCormick Deering 15-30. The numbers meant it had 15 horsepower on the draw bar and 30 horsepower on the pulley. A year later we got a 1928 Model A Ford. Then came a quarter ton Ford pickup truck and Ferguson tractor and finally he traded in the truck for a quarter ton 1951 Ford pickup truck. I well remember sitting on the McCormick Deering tractor on the floor behind brother Michael as we were tilling the summer fallow. The large spiked rear tractor wheel hit a rock and threw me off the tractor into the path of the approaching huge steel discs that were turning up the soil. To this day I do not know why I was not run over by that heavy disc tiller and sliced into pieces. But I do know that the heavy rear steel wheel passed over my ankle. Nothing happened since the soil was soft and my leg sank into it, with the wheel harmlessly passing over it. That was my second escape from death.
Since we had no electricity or refrigeration to preserve our food, father built an ice-house which consisted of a rectangular pit dug in the ground, about 8 feet wide and 12 feet long and 6 feet deep, with steps going in. The pit was covered with a roof and 2 gabled sides, and then a shed with its own roof and four walls was built over the entire roofed pit. So the ice-house really had double insulation, the inner roof to keep the cold in and the shed to keep the spring and summer heat out. One of my many jobs was to fill the ice-house with snow early each winter. Now, mother had a place to freeze the meat, and in the spring and summer time, to preserve the milk, cream and eggs. The snow in the ice-house lasted until mid-July.
The Second World War
I remember in the early 1940’s when soldiers, really neighboring farm and village boys in uniforms, were visiting my sisters when they were on leave. I remember Mounties in patrol cars from the Ituna detachment chasing draft-dodgers on motorbikes about our country side. I remember ration coupons being used by my mother to buy scarce commodities such as tea, coffee, sugar and other meal ingredients. Meat, eggs, milk, cream, flour and vegetables were no problem as we had livestock, poultry and a huge garden on our farm. Mother even made her own white cottage cheese, and we all took turns making butter.
WWII was being fought far away across the oceans, but trainer planes from the Dafoe Air Base near Leroy, SK used the huge black roof creamery in our village with its painted white lettering of KELLIHER CREAMERY COMPANY on the roof as a marker to turn around and fly back to their air base. Later, I learned that Big Quill Lake near Wynyard was used by the Dafoe Air Base bombing crew for target practice.
The Dieppe Raid August 19,1942
My uncle, my mother’s brother, signed up as a soldier in the Canadian Army in 1940. He was working in Ontario at the time and he enlisted with the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry. After taking basic training in boot camp, his outfit was shipped off to England and they really did nothing but drill until the Allied Command decided to find out the strength of the German armed forces on the Continent. One day my uncle found himself leaping out of a landing craft into the waters of the English Channel off the coast of Dieppe, France on August 19,1942. When his unit secured a bridge in town later that day my uncle was felled by 4 bullets from a German machine gun. His commanding officer erroneously reported him killed in action and this message reached Ottawa. A funeral was held for him back in Ituna. In reality my uncle was taken to a hospital by the Germans where he recovered and then he ended up in a prisoner of war camp. One day a German officer asked the Canadian prisoners if they knew anything about Massey Harris farm machinery. My uncle spoke up and said that he did. The officer took him to the Kommandant of the camp. When the Kommandant asked him where he came from, my uncle replied that he was born in Sheho, SK but his family moved to a farm near Ituna. The Kommandant replied that he, himself, came from a farm near Wynyard, Saskatchewan!
I have never met an older farm person who did not like harvest. First came haying. Horse-drawn mowers cut the tall grass which dried into hay. Then the hay rake piled the hay into piles which were later picked by farm workers with pitch fork unto a hay rack on wheels and delivered to the haystack, which to me resembled a large loaf of bread in shape. When we built a large barn with a hay loft or attic, the hay was pitched in there to keep it out of the rain and snow.
Before the age of grain combines, the horse-drawn grain binder was the thing. This huge machine gobbled up the standing wheat or oats, swallowed it, and vomited sheaves unto a collapsible side carrier fork. Then we kids put 6 or more of these sheaves upright into a bundle, bunched them together at the top to shed off rain or snow. This bundle was called a stook. It was back-breaking work. I began stocking at age 8.
Our family got excited when the threshing machine was pulled to our farm by a tractor. It was set up for threshing by lining up the tractor drive pulley with the operating pulley on the thresher and connecting the two with a long, wide belt. The long, hollow pipe which threw out the straw, was turned by crank to blow the straw with the prevailing wind. I remember the men and their teams of horses and hay racks who would travel with the thresher and bring in the sheaves off the field and feed it into the ever-hungry thresher. I also remember the teamsters’ huge appetites, and the smoking, the joking and story-telling that went after dark. Baloney sandwiches ruled the day, as did hot coffee and tea. Mother served hot coffee or tea on the hottest days. It sounds strange, but the men’s thirst for water was quenched after they finished perspiring, while cold water made them thirstier! At our place mother served generous portions of meat, potatoes and gravy, supplemented with pyrohi, or perogies and cabbage rolls, as well as borsch. I even served as a field pitcher and sometimes as a spike pitcher, throwing the sheaves into the yawning mouth of the feeder on the thresher. At first, when I was younger and smaller, my job was to shovel grain away from the granary window where the grain spout poured the wheat in. That grain dust was something else.
Gardening was different. It was more leisurely. We only hurried if a passing rain cloud threatened to drench our dug-up potatoes, carrots or beats. Since peas and beans and cucumbers and onions were continuously being picked and eaten, there was not much left to gather by early fall. The potatoes were all bagged in grain bags while the pumpkins awaited Hallowe’en or being turned into pies.
Fencing on a farm was not the Olympic sport that we know. It was putting up a barb wire fence to keep our cattle from eating up our neighbors’ hay or grain fields. Father bought a wire-stretcher, a gizmo of multiple ropes and pulleys which was anchored to a post or a tree on one end and to the fence wire on the other end. The rope was pulled several yards and the wire became tight and leaned against the prepared fence pickets to be stapled in.
Other chores we had to do was clean out the barns all winter, gather eggs, milk the cows, drive the cattle to pasture and back each day, cut wood for the winter to feed our wood-burning cooking stoves and heaters. We also pumped water for the livestock during winter, brushed and curried the horses, especially their manes and tails. We had fancy harnesses for them for Sunday drives to church or to town, as well as work harnesses for farm work. We greased and oiled the farm machinery, took out the ashes from the stove and heaters and kept the boiler on the side of the stove always full of water for dishwashing and baths. Father even bought a hand-cranked hair clipper for the horses. In the spring we would turn the crank on the iron stand and Father would run the cable-connected hair clipper over the thick winter coat of horse hair and clip it off, exposing lice colonies.
He always cut our hair on Sundays, but not with the horse hair clippers. We all took turns operating the cream separator, the washing machines, ranging from the wash board to the hand-operated, oscillating washer. When my parents retired and lived in the village, my father bought a gasoline-powered washing machine with an attached clothes wringer.
One of the chores which I never did perform was to take some eggs, walk 16 km to town, sell the eggs and buy father tobacco and cigarette papers. Sometimes, if my brothers or sisters were lucky, they would catch a ride with a neighbor driving to town. But in winter one could freeze to death. Father later died of massive cancer in his lungs, throat and mouth. That was in 1958. The cobalt bomb radiation treatment he underwent in the mid-fifties did him no good. It just burned the hair off the back of his head.
My father was one of the 3 Trustees of the rural John School District. His job was to plow a fireguard around the school building and to cut firewood for the barrel-shaped heater in school. The other Trustee was the Chairman and called and chaired meetings, but I never knew what the third Trustee did. Our teachers migrated from one rural one-roomed school to another each year or two, living in nearby teacherages, or boarded with nearby farmers. More fortunate teachers would get teaching positions in villages and towns if they were lucky. Each rural school would hold a field day for sports. The winners would go to the village and compete against the other rural schools in foot races, high jump, long and triple jump. One year teacher’s head became swollen with pride when our little school won the grand aggregate pennant for winning the most points in the various sporting events. In winter we played hockey with curved willow stems which served as hockey sticks and a tin can for a puck. Other scholars brought their own skis to school. A tall straw pile on a nearby neighbor’s farm once beckoned some of us to climb it and slide down its snowy sides. One boy came down swiftly and knocked out a front tooth with his knee which had jerked upward when he hit the ground. From then on there was no more straw pile sliding.
The other ‘sport’ was to slide downhill on the nearby road on rainy days during the rain. When one student slit the sole of his bare foot open with a piece of glass in the mud, there was no more mud sliding. I well remember one early spring day when the snow had already melted off the bare fields but the sloughs were still frozen. On my way to school I took a short cut through the fields.
Encountering one such frozen slough I went on the ice, reached the center of the pond only to break through and go to the muddy bottom with a big splash. Muddied and drenched, and with soaked pant legs and socks and mud-caked boots, I contemplated continuing to school in such a mess. And if I returned home, I would get the what for from my parents. Since I was already late for school, and knowing how strict my teacher was with tardy pupils, I stayed by that muddy slough all day and came home at what I considered to be the usual time. Upon reaching the farmhouse I quickly cleaned up and changed. My parents and my teacher never knew what happened! I was in Grade 5 at the time.
On Sundays we drove to church if there was a service there. We drove in a democrat in summer and in a sleigh or cutter in winter. Later, we drove to church and to town with our hardy Model A Ford.
As the nearest Ukrainian Catholic Church was at least 20 km away, we would sometimes attend a nearer Roman Catholic Church built by Polish settlers. When a Ukrainian church was built in the village we attended catechism classes there in summer. These classes were taught by the Sister Servants of Mary Immaculate, a Congregation of nuns founded in Zhuzhyl, Ukraine in 1892. Last year this Congregation celebrated its centennial anniversary in Canada.
Our entertainment consisted of attending school and church picnics with their ball games and kiddy sports. We also had box and pie socials in our school, which also served as a community hall. Unmarried farm girls would prepare pies or cardboard boxes full of pastry, and the bachelors would try to guess which pie or box belonged to their sweethearts and bid on them. Then, of course, they would dance with their beloved all evening.
On the farm we made our own fun, whether installing a swing or floating a raft in a slough.
Our village held its sports day each summer, usually in July. Baseball teams from neighboring villages would come and compete with each other. Our village even had a small horse race track, a tennis court and, of course, the ever present pool hall, and, believe it or not, a puffed wheat factory!
My oldest brother loved to imbibe. Once, brother Michael, who lived in Kelowna at the time, decided to buy four gallons of wine—a gallon each for his two brothers-in-law and gallon for himself and a gallon for Nicholas, the imbiber. On the way to Winnipeg one of the gallons rolled against another and broke, spilling its contents on the trunk floor. Upon reaching Winnipeg Michael, ever the practical joker, declared that broken gallon was the one that belonged to Nicholas!
Going into the Future
I took my Grades 1 to 7 Grades in Johnson School. For some reason, my Father decided that I should take Grade 8 in town. I boarded with an elderly Swedish couple. The man was a stone mason and brick layer by trade. I would go with him and build and repair chimneys. His wife made yogurt, a taste for which I developed at a young age. In 1952, my Father’s health began to get worse.
He decided to retire. He asked me what I planned to do with my life, to go farming or to go to school. I had 5 minutes to decide. I was 14 at the time. When I recalled all the roots and stones I picked, all the mosquitos I swatted, all the wood I cut, all the fences I mended and all the manure I removed from the barn and spread over the fields, I opted for education. Now the die was cast. He quickly sold the farm, bought a house in town and retired. I finished high school in Kelliher and obtained BA, B Ed and M Ed Degrees from the University of Saskatchewan. In1981 I obtained a Ph D Degree in Canadian History in Munich, Germany.
I taught in Big River and in Kelliher High Schools, and in the Saskatoon Public School – a total of 29 years.
I began teaching at age 23 and retired at age 53. I have three sons, James, Tim and John, as well as a granddaughter, Sarah Lozinsky.
As a son of pioneers, I have many more anecdotes that I can tell. But in tribute to my late mother, I wish to relate two incidences that occurred to her. Hers was a difficult life. She experienced 6 major surgeries in her lifetime and nearly died from gangrene when her broken collar bone pierced her skin. As she was operated upon in the Yorkton hospital to splice a ruptured ulcer in 1979, my mother died on the operating table. In the interlude before she was revived by the medical staff she had a near-death experience. She heard angelic choirs and saw a bright light approaching her from the distance. Inside that bright light she saw her parents, her husband, all her uncles and aunts and even neighbors who had died. They were all beckoning to her to step into the light. She was about to do so when the light quickly vanished. The doctor had revived her! A week later she did not recall a single detail of that experience. It seems to me that it was wiped off her memory, telling us that we are not to know about such things ahead of time. The second incident occurred when my mother, age 85, was in a nursing home in Saskatoon. One day she told my sister and me that her deceased mother visited her that weekend. She said that her mother told her that it was time to go Home!
Mother died three weeks later!
Experiences to Last
When I was in high school I went to Manitoba to get a job during the summer holidays. I ended up working in a gravel pit, loading rail gravel cars full of gravel. My job was to bring the empty gravel car down the hill into the pit by releasing the circular hand brake and tightening it as the car approached the conveyer belt. One day the brake failed to work and I came rolling down the slope and smashed into a gravel car which was still loading with gravel. I was knocked off car and started falling unto the tracks. On the way down I grabbed a ladder rung and saved myself. This was my third brush with death. The fourth time I nearly died was in the South Saskatchewan River in Saskatoon under the railway bridge across from the Queen Elizabeth Power Station. Barely a swimmer, I joined a friend of mine, a good swimmer, for a dip in the river one summer to cool off.
He went ahead and found a ledge on the pier which was under the water. He climbed on it, dove into the water and tried to swim back to me. The current was wicked and he was swept down stream.
Being a strong swimmer he soon reach the shore and walked back to me and sat down to rest. I dove into the water and tried to find that under-water ledge. I could not, and the current dragged me down to the bottom. I prayed in my heart for help and I felt myself being lifted to the surface. When I emerged, there was my friend sitting on the shore, cleaning his feet, completely oblivious to the danger I just encountered. Eventually I learned to swim fairly well!
Written by Dr. Joseph Lozinsky
Date: September 21,2003