Coming to Canada

by Bubby/Auntie Bessie

Not too long ago I found "Cherkasse"* on a map of Russia.   Cherkasse is the town my parents came from.   When I was a child I heard wonderful stories about life in the "old country".   At the same time they complained about how difficult life was here.   I asked, "Why did you leave the old country if it was so wonderful?"   This is what they told me:

My mother's father had been a soldier for twelve years and he would have had to go back into the army to fight the Russo-Japanese war. He now had eight children and no desire to fight for "Tsar Nicolai."   My father's family left because five of their six children were boys and three of them were of age to be taken into the army.

In 1904 my grandfather left for the new world, accompanied by my mother who was then fifteen years old.   They sailed on the "S.S. Cedric."   All I remember hearing about that voyage is how seasick my grandfather was the whole time.

My grandmother remained behind to sell their house, dispose of their possessions and to give birth to another child - a girl.   In 1905, with six girls and three boys, she set sail on the "S.S. Canada" to join my grandfather and mother in Montreal.   In the meantime, my grandfather, who was a tailor, had found work for himself and my mother in a suit and cloak factory.

My father came to Montreal in 1905, and his father, who was a painter and carpenter, found work painting houses.   My father and two of his brothers worked with him.   In 1907 my mother, aged eighteen, and my father, aged twenty-one, were married and I was born in 1908.   My grandmothers each gave birth to another child after arriving in Canada.

At about this time, a Canadian Committee was established by the Jewish Colonization Association, and the Baron de Hirsch Institute lent immigrants money if they wished to buy farms and form a colony.   Both my grandfather and my father bought farms in Ste. Sophie de Lacorne,** Quebec.

Unfortunately, the land was not good for farming.   They tried to grow potatoes and tobacco but the earth was sandy and rocky.   I remember seeing bundles of tobacco leaves hanging from the rafters in the barn and there was a strong smell of tobacco.

My father and his father did not keep their farms for too long, but my mother's family stayed on for a number of years.   As the children became old enough, they went to the city to work and they gave up trying to be farmers.

Summers were very hectic.   People rented rooms for holidays and there were more people than there was room for.   However, it meant a little extra money.   Life was not easy; every bit of water had to be drawn up from a well.   A wood burning stove was used for heating and cooking, lamps and lanterns for light.   Outhouses and commodes were toilets.   A horse and buggy was used for transportation and a cow and some chickens provided them with milk and eggs.   They were young and resourceful, and life in the country was so much better than in the old houses in Montreal's downtown area, where they could never get rid of the dirt and bugs.

Eventually they sold the farm, but they missed Ste. Sophie very much, so they bought a corner lot there, with a very old farmhouse.   It was near a stream, where we bathed and washed clothes.   I think back and wonder where we all slept.   There were not too many rooms, but a large attic held the older children.

My mother and her sisters and their children, as well as brothers' children spent many happy summers in Ste. Sophie and we still talk about our adventures.

Editor's Notes:
*Cherkasse or Cherkasy; about 200 km. southeast of Kiev, along the Dnieper River.
**Ste. Sophie, a small town about 80 km. northeast of Montreal.

Painting by Bessie Sager
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