THEODORE (FRED) MAKSYMEC
by Lillian (Maksymec) Palinka
As an ambitious young lad, Theodore, my father, saved every hard earned penny to make his way to a strange land -- Canada. This move brought him heartache and anxiety. Heartache because he was leaving his beloved mother and father, three sisters and four brothers in the Ukraine. Anxiety because of venturing forth to an undeveloped foreign land.
Father came to Canada in 1911, at the age of nineteen. He docked in Halifax. From there he travelled by train to Vermilion to live with Aunt Lahanky. In Vermilion, he found a job at the coal dock. He worked a twelve-hour day for twenty-five cents a day with only Sunday off.
After four years father set forth to buy some land around the Elk Point district. He bought the homestead from Mr. Hroyluko Kuszneryk in 1915-- S.E. 36-55-7-W4. There were seven cultivated acres. He also bought a plow, two horses and a wagon. The first year the tax amounted to $11.25, which was 7 cents an acre. While father worked in Vermilion he met Annie Poloway.
Grandfather and Grandmother Poloway came from the village Capeche, county of Zalischuku. They gathered their five children and boarded a ship at Hamburg and travelled thirteen days and nights before landing at Halifax in 1912.
The reason for this abrupt decision was that a prophet came and visited Grandfather Poloway. He said "If you have an opportunity, leave this country and go to Canada. You should do so because the day will soon come when there will be blood shed in the Ukraine." Another reason was that, because they were poor, they worked for a landlord day after day with very little pay. What money they received they exchanged for food and firewood. These were very scarce in the Western Ukraine. The children also worked long days, hoeing potatoes and other vegetables. Grandfather Poloway sold his house and lot and so had enough money to pay for the trip.
They crossed the ocean in a second class ship. Most of the family were sea sick. From Halifax, they travelled by train to Vermilion. Mr. Kolba, an old friend who came to Canada earlier, met them. They stayed at his place for one week.
From there, the family moved to Slawa district. Mr. Kolba gave them a bag of wheat bran, which the family ate three times a day for one week. With the help of his brother, Grandfather Poloway built a log cabin and both families lived there through the winter. Grandfather went to North Battleford to work on the railway and daughter Annie (my mother), who was sixteen years old, went to work in a hotel at Vegreville. After mother earned some money, she gave Grandfather Poloway $5.00 towards buying land and to help support the family. Grandfather came home with $10.00. With the $15.00 he bought a homestead and two oxen in the Meadow district, because the land in Slawa district was very poor.
After they moved, mother went to work in the Vermilion Hotel in the kitchen. She worked there two years, receiving $12.00 a month. Most Saturdays she walked home twenty-six miles. Every pay cheque she brought home she gave to her parents to help buy whatever was necessary.
In Vermilion, Annie Poloway met Fred Maksymec (my father), and on June 4, 1916, the couple were married at a church northwest of Derwent. The bride, groom, the bride's
Annie and Fred Maksymec, married June 4, 1916. Best man Jacob Podhaniuk, bridesmaid Matruna Poloway.
parents, the best men and the bridesmaids went to church by wagon. The wedding reception was at Grandfather Poloway's. Grandfather brought out whiskey and Grandmother brought three koluchui (round bread). This was the tradition. The parents would bless the married couple with health and prosperity before the couple could enter the house. First, grace was said, then the feast began. The meal consisted of borsht, porohy, headcheese, boiled meat and cabbage rolls. For dessert they were served stewed prunes. The three-man-orchestra played from noon Sunday till the wee small hours of the morning for three dollars. Family and friends danced till early morning. The dancing wore out the clay-filled wood rail floor, so next day the floor needed to be filled with the clay plaster. The donations at the wedding were $23.00 and several hens. After the wedding, Dad and Mother drove with a team of horses to their homestead eight miles south of Elk Point to begin their new way of life in Canada.
On the homestead was a one-room log cabin with a thatched roof, clay plastered walls and clay plaster-filled rail floor. The floor needed to be filled in with clay plaster every week end. Mother whitewashed the walls while Father went about doing other work around the homestead.
The wedding money was used to buy necessities, such as a cast iron stove, tub, coal oil lamp, some dishes, staple foods and some boards for making a table, bench and bed. The mattress was made of straw covered with jute. The pillows and quilts were filled with fowl feathers.
They both worked to dig up a small patch of land to plant vegetables such as potatoes, beets, cabbage, beans, carrots, garlic and millet.
Father would get up at the rise of the sun to start plowing the field so they could sow some grain. While Father was plowing with the walking plow, Mother would walk behind and tilt over the furrow so it would not fall back. The sowing was all done by hand. A sack with straps sewn to each side
was partly filled with seed. The sack hung on the shoulder in such a way that it was easy for a hand to reach for the seed.
Every evening and morning Father and Mother would never be too tired to kneel down and thank the Lord for food, also that they were able to work for themselves.
A chicken shelter was needed so Father and Mother dug a pit about three feet deep and eight feet square. This was so that it would be warm in the coop during winter. Rails were used for rafters, which were covered with sod. The roosts were also made of rails.
A well was dug by hand down in the valley quite some distance from the house. This made carrying water a very strenuous job. To ease the strain a shoulder yoke was improvised with ropes on each end of the yoke the length of the arms. The person getting the water would tie the buckets on each end of the rope and put the yoke on the shoulders. This distributed the weight and took the strain off the arms. To draw water from the well a shadooff was used.
Bread baking called for an out-door oven. To build one, a rail frame six feet long and four feet wide was made, filled with well packed clay plaster. The arch was made of braided willows, which were pushed into the clay plaster to stand along the rails. The arch was about one and a half feet to two feet high. The willow arch was filled with clay plaster until the wall was five to six inches thick. A small hole was left in the back for the smoke to escape. The front had a large opening, which would be covered with a door made of boards when the bread was baking. The clay plaster would take several weeks to dry properly before a fire could be made in it. If not properly dried, the plaster would crack up and crumble. When the oven was ready, a fire was made about 10:00 a.m. to make the oven hot enough to bake the bread at 1:00 p.m. Ashes were scraped out with a long handled tool. The temperature was tested by feeling the heat with one's hand. This oven would hold as many as twelve loaves of bread at one baking. Um! The wonderful aroma of home-baked bread would spread over the whole farm yard.
Father bought two cows, and milk, sour milk, butter and cottage cheese became available. The cows and horses would wander about because there weren't any fences in those days. So, to enable the homesteader to find his livestock, cow bells were hung around their necks. Each cow bell had a different sound so that each homesteader could distinguish at a distance which were his cattle or horses. It certainly was a big chore to walk several miles before any cow bell could be heard. Bringing the animals home was also hard work because they would be mixed with other stock and to separate them took a lot of effort. Even when separated, the cows would often take a notion to run in the wrong direction. Small corrals were built to keep the cows in the yard during the night.
During the winter months, the cows and horses were kept in a thatched roof log barn. The stock was fed straw, slough hay and a little oats. Many times snow had to be melted for the stock because of shortage of water.
During the summer months, Mother and Father were always busy cutting trees, pulling tree stumps to clear the land. The trees were utilized for fire wood.
Preparations were being made for the first baby's arrival. Baby clothes and diapers were hand sewn. A little cradle was made from boards, which was suspended by four braided twines from the ceiling. A small mattress was made and put in the cradle, covered with a sheet. This cradle served two purposes: to rock the baby when crying and to keep baby warm because the cradle was about four feet off the floor. As the arrival of the baby drew near, a midwife was called upon to aid mother with the baby.
At harvest time the grain was cut by sickle and scythe, then tied together with grain stocks which were twisted close to the heads of the grain and twisted again after a sheaf was formed. The sheaves were then stooked so they would dry. Later they were hauled into a stack and threshed with a flail. The grain was then winnowed and put into large two and a half bushel sacks. Some of the wheat would be taken to the flour mill in Vermilion and milled into flour and bran. Some bran was cooked as a cereal.
As more land was cleared and more acres plowed and sowed, a binder was purchased. While Father was cutting grain, Mother would take the small children with her and stook. After supper Father would stook until dark. When the sheaves were dry in stooks, they were hauled into a stack. These were later threshed with a threshing machine. Frequently, Father would hire Mr. Lindbloom to thresh. Many times this was done in winter because of the long waiting list of customers.
The family was increasing. Construction was started on a new house. A cellar was dug, then footings were poured. Uncle Mike Poloway helped with the erection. The roof was shingled with cedar shingles. The walls were clay plastered, then walls and ceiling were whitewashed. This was done every spring and fall.
The house was heated with a cookstove in the kitchen and a cast heater in the next room. Coal oil lamps were used for light for many years. Later Aladdin lamps were used, which gave a much brighter light.
Homesteaders en route to Vermilion from as far as Bonnyville would stop for the night during the cold winter months. On several occasions, Dr. A. G. Ross stopped in for the night, after making house calls in the Derwent and Meadow districts. It would be much too cold and too late for him to go back to Elk Point. Often Indians stopped in for the night and many times asked for a hand-out of bread and eggs.
Father would make a trip to Vermilion to buy supplies every two weeks. It would take three days to make the round trip. Every trip was started out in good weather. Even so, many a return trip was made in stormy weather. In winter Father would dress in a sheepskin coat, woollen pants and felt shoes. When he got cold, he would walk behind the team.
Fred Maksymec’s family, 1935.
LEFT TO RIGHT: Steve, Roy, Mother, Mary, Helen, Father, Lillian, Bill and Mike.
One time he was caught in a violent thunder storm. The only time he saw which way to go was in the lightning flash. He put his team next to some bushes and ran for shelter. In the morning he found his shelter was a barn.
In 1927 the railway came to Elk Point so then trading and buying took place there. Travelling distance was short but crossing the North Saskatchewan River was a challenge in spring and fall. In winter people crossed on the ice. Later the ferry was launched to make summer crossing possible. Many times there would be a line up of teams waiting to cross on the ferry. This gave time for farmers to exchange ideas and jokes.
The hill just north of the farmyard, referred to as the Horseshoe Hill, created many problems for travellers and farmers. Whenever roads were heavy, Father was frequently called upon to help pull the stranded teams or vehicles.
In fall and spring when the ice was dangerous a cable carriage was installed to take people across the river. Father would leave his team by the river and walk from the river to Elk Point.
In season, Mother and older children would go picking berries. Often one of them would accidentally brush against a wasp or hornet nest. Everyone would run out of the bushes but seldom were they lucky enough to escape the bee stings. For cranberries, Mother and the children went up on Birch Hills. At the same time they picked hazel nuts, which were plentiful on the hills. Mother would also pick fall mushrooms and dry them, to be cooked for Christmas Eve supper.
Christmas always caused a lot of excitement. The school Christmas concert gave the parents an opportunity to see their children perform their parts. After the concert each ratepayer received some apples from the School Board.
Father and Mother observed all holidays by the Julian calendar so Christmas Eve supper was on January 6. Mother always served twelve meatless dishes to be reminded of the twelve apostles. After supper all the members of the family joined in singing Christmas carols.
Next day after Christmas dinner, Father and other church members went carolling. This was to spread peace and goodwill to the fellowmen, as well as raise funds for the church. Throughout the years, Father and Mother were active members of the church.
During the long winter nights, Mother knitted socks, mittens, made quilts. After school and on week ends, the children would help strip feathers for pillows. Every child in the family had his or her chores to do in and around the house.
Since the English language was essential in Canada, Father went to night school for three months, every second night. During the winter months King George School offered night classes in English and Mathematics. In Mathematics he learned the Imperial System of measure and weights, because in the Ukraine he was taught the Metric System.
In the time of the flu or other epidemics, everyone stayed home. Very seldom was a doctor called upon to make a house call. Mother would give hot milk with a little butter in it. This was very effective in stopping the tickle in the throat. Garlic was also used, and effective in killing the cold virus. Heated wheat or oats put in a sugar sack was a good substitute for a hot water bottle. A mustard rub was also one of the home remedies.
As the years went by, more land was cleared and cultivated and more modern machinery was purchased.
Father, Mother's sister, Steve and Johnny getting horses ready for field work.
Mike Palinka Sr. bought a threshing machine so Father joined this crew. He and surrounding farmers helped each other. The oldest brothers had the chore of pitching the sheaves onto the rack with the rest of the crew. Sometimes the boys were kept ftom school to help with the harvest.
Whenever the threshing crew came to our place, Mother would ask another woman to help with the cooking. Three hearty meals were served and lunch was carried out to field, with coffee being the highlight of the lunch break. In those days people drank mostly milk, cocoa or chicory. The aroma of coffee being made made any mouth water. The smells from the kitchen with pies and cakes being baked was delightful for the youngsters.
On June 4, 1966, friends and the original best man and bridesmaid gathered to celebrate Mother and Father's Golden Wedding Anniversary.
Mother and Father brought up eight children -- five boys and three girls: William farms the home place and an adjoining farm. Mike married Nancy Jacula and operates a store and is post master in Derwent. Helen married Fred Borutski. They live in Edmonton. Roy, who married Beverly Loose, now farms at Leduc. Steve is a carpenter, living on the home place. Mary married Nick Olinyk. She is a receptionist at the Medical Center and lives at Two Hills. Lillian married Mike Palinka, a farmer. John is a farmer in the King George district.
Mother and Father lived on the farm until the time of passing -- Father in 1969 and Mother in 1974