John FERENCE JR.
I was born on April 23, 1921 in a village called Merola, situated in the northeastern part of Czechoslovakia, close to the Polish border. The land was very rolly and poor which made it very hard for the people to grow even enough food to live; they had no future. In the summer the people would work on the small plots of land that they owned and grow the most essential food for survival. This consisted of wheat, oats, barley, flax and vegetables, mainly potatoes and cabbage. As there was no electricity, there was no refrigeration or freezers, therefore they raised this food that was easy to preserve. Also they grew fruit and dried it for the winter.
As for recreation, there was practically none. On Sunday morning, the people would go to church as they were all very religious. In the afternoon, they would gather in one home with some musicians to play their violins and the others to dance on a plain dirt floor which was very nicely leveled and packed. In the winter the ladies would gather in one or more homes with their spinning tools and would spin linen from the flax to make their clothes. They would also make their own flour from the wheat by turning a special kind of rock with a handle on it over another type of rock. They would use this flour mainly for cooking or mix it with bought flour, which turned out some very delicious food. They also made most of their own medicine from herbs and roots of different types of plants and most of them lived quite contented, healthy and strong.
My father and mother were labouring on the small plots of land that were allotted to them. It was getting smaller and smaller with each generation, so one day in the winter of 1926, my father made a great decision. He was hauling logs to a small sawmill and stopped to rest his team for a small climb. After resting, his team couldn't start to pull the load, so he heaved his shoulder to the log and moved the load. He decided there and then that if he was stronger than his team, it was no place for him to try and make a living.
That same winter, he heard that a lot of emigrants were going to Canada. He could buy a large piece of land for only ten dollars, so with borrowed money for his ticket, he left his wife, two sons and a daughter to make a home for them in the new country called Canada. He worked in different parts of Alberta, on farms, on the railroad, in coalmines and in bushcamps for three years and managed to pay back his ticket. With a small down payment of $30.00 he bought a quarter section of land which was improved with a four-roomed bungalow and a barn. By that time the homesteads that he could have bought for ten dollars were all taken up and only a few of the poor ones were left. In the meantime, my mother was struggling to make a living for her three children with my dad's brother, her sister and the neighbors for help. My sister died with pneumonia the following year which was quite a shock for mother. Although, as I mentioned before, the people in the villages lived quite happily, because they were close to one another enabling them to share their sorrows and happiness.
Christmas and Easter were always big occasions as we had six weeks of Lent before Christmas and seven weeks of Lent before Easter. During the Lent period we were not to eat any meats or fats from animals and only oils from vegetables and nuts. Therefore, the meals for these occasions really were delicious.
I started school at six years old in a neighboring village which was two and a half kilometers away. I walked there with the rest of the children from our village for two years. I remember one morning in winter when there was about a foot of fresh snow. My mother fixed my lunch and gave me a letter to mail at the other end of the village on the way to school. The understanding was that if no one else was going to school that day, I was to come right back. When I got to the post office, I knew no one else was going but I was determined to go. That day my teacher pointed me out to the class and said that I was the only brave boy to come from our village. This made me very proud.
While I was in my second year of school, my mother got word from my father in Canada that he had a place for us, if she could manage to get enough money for the ticket. My mother sold all her belongings and with that she managed to buy the tickets and by June 5, 1929, her brother with a team of horses and a wagon took us to the train. We were off to Canada. We had passed all our medical examinations but when we arrived at Warsaw, we had to have more examinations. However, the passport officials told mother that they had no proof that my father had a place for us and until that time we were to go back home and wait. My mother then went to our Czechoslovakia Consul with the explanation that she had no place to go back to. He advised the Polish government to look after us until they got definite word from my father. In those days, mail service was slow so finally after almost three weeks, they got word. We were ready to move but had to have another health examination and found that my eyes needed treatment which took another couple of weeks. After my eyes healed up, my brother came down with pneumonia which held us back for another couple of weeks. By that time the boat that we were to go on had left and so we had to wait another couple of weeks for the next one. With all this waiting it was August and we were still in Warsaw, Poland.
While on our trip from Warsaw to Danzig, there was a train robbery and even our luggage was stolen. Later it was found cut open in a nearby field. There were also professional pickpocketers. These professionals would cut a moneybelt right next to a person's sleeping body without waking him up. Another quite vivid incident in my memory is while our ship was docked at one of the ports in England to pick up more passengers, the dock was so packed with people that one lady with a bouquet of flowers was accidently pushed off the dock and into the ocean. All her flowers floated on the top of the water but immediately a sailor with a rope dived in after her and rescued her.
We were twelve days and nights on this ship without seeing land. There was nothing but sea gulls, water and large fish. There was a lot of seasick people which kept the nurses and doctors quite busy. On the twelfth night of our journey, our ship docked in the middle of the bay in Halifax. Most of the people crowded the deck to see the beautiful lights of Halifax which was something we had never seen before, but best of all I was just glad to know that we were close to land.
The next day, two little tug boats brought our ship close to the docks. We put our feet on Canadian soil on the 24 day of August. The next day we boarded a train and for the next four days and nights we travelled across Canada which was very tiresome. We were getting lonesome for our country and the people we left behind. Finally as we were nearing our destination which was Armistice, Alberta, we were looking out for a four story farm building and not a four room house. When our train stopped at Armistice, there was no one to meet us except a mailman with whom we c9uldn't communicate. We didn't know a word of English but mother showed him her passport and fortunately a couple of my father's neighbors boys had come for mail in a model A car and were willing to take us to our farm. The reason father didn't come to meet us was that he thought we got lost on our trip as even then it usually took less than a month to make the trip and here we were almost three months. As these boys were driving us through the bush on this rugged country trail, we were getting more and more disappointed by the minute and even more so when they stopped at our farm. There was another family rooming with father and he was out helping his neighbor to stook. These boys went to get him but they told him that they were taking him to the show in St. Paul which he refused. However, with a little coaxing they got him to agree and on the way they turned into his farm yard. But who should he see but another woman with two boys, probably some boarders for the winter. After looking a little closer, he recognized mother and there was a very happy reunion.
Our days to come were very long and lonesome, especially for mother while father would be away from home working to make an extra dollar. Even thdugh our neighbor was not too far away, we couldn't speak each others' language. That first year, I thought she'd cry her heart out, especially the long nights that winter.
Mother always had enough flour and sugar in her pantry from which she could turn out some very delicious pastries; and the rabbits that would fill the farm yard by the hundreds during the cold winter nights, made delicious meals. The winter wasn't that cold and the wood was plentiful and free to burn so it kept mother and me quite busy for most of the winter. We cut it by hand and always had a year's supply ahead.
Our church services were few which mother greatly missed, but father had a sermon bible and together on Sundays, we would go through the church sermon. Gradually this faded away and now we mostly try to live by the golden rule "Do unto others as you would they do unto you".
I remember one other incident during that first winter when my father got up one frosty Monday morning and said he was going to walk to St. Paul, fourteen miles away. That night he did not return nor we didn't hear from him during the whole week but before going to bed each night we would kneel around the table and pray for his safe return. Finally on Saturday night he returned quite well and said he had been working for a farmer near St. Paul for one dollar a day. He was able to buy one hundred pounds of flour.
The following summer was better as dad stayed home most of the time and mother and I and my brother would help him picks rocks and roots which even today is still quite a chore although it is more mechanized.
I started walking to school which was three miles away but I managed to learn some English and mother would learn from me. With a little broken English she was able to communicate with our neighbors. The next year, three of our neighbors from Czechoslovakia came over and settled near by, therefore, they could visit and tell each other stories.
In this land of plenty, we prospered even through the hungry thirties. My parents were used to hardships and nothing was wasted.
I managed to receive my grade eight diploma of which I was quite proud and later on found myself a Ukrainian girl named Sophie Choma, to be my wife. We also started out in life as our parents did, only with a few more conveniences.
Our parents, as well as us, do not object to what ethnic group this generation associates with or marries. Here in Canada people are from all over the world and there are good and bad in all races so, as the saying goes, love thy neighbor.
SITTING, Left to Right: Sophie and John Ference, Jr.
STANDING: Shirley (Gozlolko) Walter, George, Janet.
John and Sophie at Mirola, Czeckoslovakia in 1972-
John was born at Mirola in 1921.
Although I didn't communicate with any of my aunties and uncles in Czechoslovakia, I always had an urge to visit them while they are still alive and that way I could get to know their children, my cousins. After almost forty years, Feb.19, 1973, my dream came true; my wife and myself left for a month to visit. This time our trip did not take three months but less than thirty hours. The ride was wonderful and my relatives met us with a hearty welcome home. We also were fortunate to witness my cousin 5 wedding which was quite different from what I remembered in 1929. A wedding used to be a big celebration which would last from three days to a week and now it is just a plain ceremony performed by the Justice of Peace. Later, like it is here, there is a big supper with music and dancing till two in the morning.
Our trip was very exciting and educational as I have quite a number of cousins and most of them are fortunate enough to own a small car and so there was always someone to drive us from one relative to another. This way we managed to see quite a big part of the country. We spent a day and a night touring the High Tatras, where in 1970 the world ski championships were held. Also we were not limited in taking pictures; in fact, we were made quite welcome by the guards at the customs immigration office. They told us to take all the pictures we wanted and to show them to our Canadian friends and tell them that the people there are not the kind that grow horns. We visited my birthplace which I recognized very little as all the buildings had been burned during the last world war. With my uncles, we stayed in a couple of villages which I also didn't recognize. They told us that all the buildings had been burned by the German soldiers during the second world war and now are rebuilt. Now they have electricity and paved roads all through the country connecting the villages and also have buses at different intervals during the day and night for transportation. However, we noticed that the young generation is moving out to the cities and only the older people are left, and when they pass on, the home is vacant. It amazed us that there are so many people in such a small country and every one is working and yet they say they are short handed. However, most of the work is done by hand labour and the people seem to enjoy working. They always have plenty of vodka, brandy and their famous Povzant which is a brand name for beer, meaning a lovely pheasant on the label. In the cities and also the bigger villages they are cleaning up the old buildings and in their place building high rise apartments. The schooling there is almost free for anyone wishing to learn and the children seem to be very highly disciplined. I didn't know what to say when a young lady (second cousin) with three years of university training to be a doctor insisted on lacing up my boots!
We also visited some of their hospitals where they treat people for many different types of ailments with the mineral water coming out of the ground like a spring. They also drink this water instead of the water from the tap at the apartments. Also their china stores were crammed with their lovely heavy crystals of all types.
We were fortunate to be there on March the eighth, as that is when they celebrate Mothers' Day. The impression we got is that the people think very highly of the mothers as everyone celebrates with parties, dancing and gifts.
Although we enjoyed our visit very much and are hoping to go back later for a longer period, it was good to be back home in Canada.