Poloway, Peter and Sophie


by Alice Miller

Pete and Sophie Poloway came to Canada in May, 1912 from Stanyslaviv District, Zalischyky, Republic of Poland. Sophie was thirty-four years old and Pete was thirty-nine years. They had three daughters; Mary (Link), Marie (Miller) and Alice (Miller). They landed in Halifax and travelled by train to Winnipeg where they met some neighbours from their home village. Advised by their friends to go west to get a homestead, they travelled to Vermilion where they met Mr. Worobec from the Slawa district. He took them by team and wagon to their homestead where they built a Borday. It rained so much the children had to sleep UNDER the wooden bed (made of logs with a hay mattress) to keep dry. They had sheets of coarse linen and feather quilts (perena) brought from home. After repairing the roof with more sod, they lived there for a year before looking for another homestead with less sand.

Sophie and Peter started walking to the Meadow district (near Landonville) wet and hungry. Some farmers such as Mrs. George Terry were very good, feeding them and packing food. It took two weeks walking to find NW Sec. 22 R-6.

Pete bought two oxen from Mr. Worobec but had to work it out as there was no money. Mrs. Worobec gave Sophie a hen and eleven chicks. Pete and Sophie built another Borday and settled in. Pete's brother was settled in another section just a mile away. For neighbours there were Alex Mieck, Pete and Joe Bykewich, Mike Zaharko, Fred Harashuck, the Brothersons, and Quince Birdsley.

When they were settled for the winter Pete went to B.C. work on the C.P.R. He took $10.00 with him and when her returned in the spring he brought back $10.00. A profitable winter's work! He went to work pulling stumps and plowing. That May another daughter Annie (Mudryk) was born.

A school was built next to Fred Poloway's farm. The first day of school there were eleven children, all barefoot. They made such a noise, stomping and marching around the school, that the teacher called them horses. Finally they came in and sat at their desks on the oiled floor. One day Fred's dogs started to bark and all the children ran out to see who was coming. The teacher soon put a stop to those occurrences. The next teacher was Miss Margaret Melough from Toronto, one of the nicest people we have ever known. She taught a -couple of summers, there being no school In winter. She bought presents for all the children every Christmas. I got a most beautiful doll; guess I was her favorite. She carried me to school most of the time. She boarded at Ike & Mary Brodersons. Ike and Mary had a little girl who ate fly poison and died. It was very sad. Then Miss Melough married Dr. Harry Stevens, a nephew of Dr. F.G. Miller. They had two girls. She died shortly after.


Alice Miller and her mother, Sophie Polowy.

The closest town was Vermilion, twenty-six miles away. It took us two days to get there and two days to get back with oxen (one named Frank, the other Jack, both black).

In 1918 the flu broke out and everyone was sick. Pete would harness his teams, (horses then) and go from farm to farm doing chores, chopping wood, and bringing food and water. One of the worst cases was Harry Stuparyk. He got sick and meanwhile his wife died, leaving him with two boys, three-year-old Matt and one-year-old Mickey. Pete had to bury the dead. Everyone had to wear a mask to go to town and everyone ate garlic at $1.00 a bulb.

The winter of 1920 was hard as the crop wasn't cut. The snow came too early and there was hardly any hay. Pete had seventeen head of cattle and all died but one cow named Pavona (Spiderweb). He saved Pavona by tearing pieces off the thatched roof and feeding it to her thus supplying milk for the children.

Then the crisis came and Pete had to cut wood with the help of the girls and haul it to Vermilion for $1.00 a wagon box. That year he hauled seven boxes. The next winter he hauled willow posts at $3.00 a load. I had to walk eight miles to Mr. Algot's store and post office for nails and staples.

Axle Wilmer had a threshing machine eight miles away so Pete would take a rack of bundles to be threshed for feed. Then a few farmers got together and bought a thresher and a Titan engine. The twine had to be cut by hand and the straw hand-pitched. There was a lot of excitement at threshing time especially for the children as there was lots to eat. We helped one another with no money involved and did a lot of visiting.

Marie Poloway often visited Sophie and stayed overnight just sewing and chatting. Both were very good midwives, travelling for miles around. Sophie would sometimes be away from home three days at a time helping a new mother, of course with no pay.

In 1924 Pete took sick with quinsy. His brother, Fred, came and drove by team four miles to Landonville through drifts to phone for Dr. Miller. Dr. Miller arrived late that night in a blizzard with a fast team and cutter. The horses were stabled; he warmed up, and operated on Pete, pulling seven teeth at the same time. After hot chicken soup and tea he left once again in the blizzard.

Things began to improve about this time. They had more cows and a few pigs and sold butter and eggs. It was always big excitement herding the cattle to market, usually in August. It was an open range so all the cattle were mixed but everyone knew their own bell. We would sort them out, then a buyer would come and buy them on the hoof. The farmers would gather up the cattle and start out with wagons full of feed and food for the people, some of whom travelled on foot and some on horseback. The best cowboy was Joe Byekavish who had a beautiful horse and was perhaps the only one that had a saddle.


Peter Polowy's home, his daughter Marie Miller, Tillie Chupka, and a friend 1924.

Bread was baked in clay ovens. First a big batch of dough was mixed in wooden tubs. The men would build a fire in the oven, then scrape the charcoal out and throw in some green leaves. If they curled and stayed, the heat was just right, but if they burned, the oven had to cool awhile. Then the whole family would carry the bread, usually fifteen to twenty loaves, very carefully. The bread was put in the oven on a long wooden spatula called a Kopestka. The door was closed and the bread baked for one hour. The lovely smell of bread baking could be smelled for half a mile if the wind was right. I remember when my aunt (Marie Poloway) was baking, we would stop on the way home from school and she would cut each of us a slab and butter it. It was sure good!

Sophie and Marie Poloway were good cooks. They cooked for weddings around the district, each lasting a couple of days. Of course no one paid. Everyone lived on rabbit meat, partridges and duck - if someone was a good hunter. The children used to catch young wild ducks in sloughs with a good dog. They would wade in the muddy water with their clothes on, and dry out before they got home.

The first car in the district was a 1926 Chevrolet belonging to Mike Poloway, Pete's nephew. They were so proud of it, when it went by everyone ran out to see it. I still remember the terrible noise that horn made. All the horses were so scared of it that they wouldn't pass.

There was no doctor near. Once we had whooping cough when I was about thirteen. Mother and Dad weren't home and Annie and I had to get the cows in and milk them. We couldn't stop coughing. I remembered that Mom said that in the old country they took coal oil so we took a tablespoonful each and managed to do our chores. Another time we went to church and I broke out in measles. We had a mare with a colt; father milked the mare and I drank the milk which was very sweet but didn't help the measles. They had to go away by themselves.

Once the things brought from the old country wore out there were no clothes or footwear, so they made overcoats from home spun wool with a belt which was called Serdak in black or brown. There were also sheepskin coats with long curly fur inside and the outside black with lots of embroidery on the cuffs, collar and hem. These were called Gozuk and were worn just on Sundays. Shirts and pants were home spun linen which was very coarse. The high boots called Chabote in bright colours, that were brought from home, wore out fast, so they bought Canadian moccasins making sure they were extra large to allow room for hay insoles (Vichtce) and socks of old rags wrapped around their feet (Vnuchi). It was a sight to see the hay sticking out of the sides of the moccasins.

People had plenty of parties, especially after church services at Christmas and Easter. Everyone made his own whisky or wine but there were no alcoholics. The teenagers and children never drank and women never smoked. The men raised their own tobacco, cured it if you could call it that -chopped it up, and smoked it. They almost smoked us out of the house!

The houses had no screendoors or windows so the flies and mosquitos just came right in. When they got too thick, the whole family would get branches with lots of leaves and, starting in one corner of the house, shoo the flies outside. It helped for awhile and was always done on Sunday morning. Smudges were made for the cattle and horses who would come for miles around for relief from the mosquitoes. Sometimes they would hang a pail with smudge on the wagon pole when driving to Vermilion. When the men smoked their home tobacco every fly and mosquito kept away from them. They called it homestock.

The houses had no board floor. It was rails plastered with clay, and we had root cellars under. Every Saturday the women took clay mixed with ashes and, using a homemade brush of long slough hay, whitewashed the whole floor to keep away the fleas. At Christmas and Easter the whole house was whitewashed with lime. Brooms were made from a plant called Vinichi which was brought from the old country. It had a nice smell but only grew about three feet tall so they had to bend down to sweep. Clothes were washed in the lake in the summer, on flat rocks. The linen blankets (Virata) were very heavy so they just beat them and hung them on trees to dry.

In 1935 Pete bought himself a 1928 Essex car. He asked his son-in-law, Peter Chupka to help him learn to drive. Peter Chupka shifted gears and Pete stepped on the gas. He broke down the garage door, went through and hit the log wall on the other side; but it was too strong and didn't fall down. That was the end of his driving.

There was a community hall one mile away where plays were held every Easter and Christmas. They were well acted and admission was just twenty-five cents for adults and children free. A dance was held afterwards. The set for the stage was a beautiful, very real painting of a Ukrainian village drawn by an artist from the Ukraine.

When seeding time came, Father would put about a bushel of seed in a bag and hang it over his shoulder. I would lead the way so he wouldn't seed double. It had to be very calm. All the women would start fanning grain early with hand sieves called Rishito. Everyone helped one another. Wheat was ground for flour with a stone. This was hard work.

First the grain was cut by scythe and tied with rope made of straw. Tying was the women's job. Breaking land was done with oxen and plow, but when it got hot the oxen wouldn't pull so we got three horses. Father would hold the plow handles, mother the reins, and I would follow the furrow so it wouldn't fall back - barefooted, of course.

Mother died in April 1967, and Peter Boyda died in 1945. The homestead was taken over by Peter Chupka.