by Rudy T. Bies P.Eng
Bradlo had its beginnings during the time of Canadas severe depression of the 1930s . It was a unique Slovakian village among the Finns, the French, and the English of the area .
Dr. Margaret Arkinstall a Doctor who along with her Doctor husband Bill provided much of the medical care to the Settlement during the 1930s made the following comment about Bradlos first Settlers .
"They were brave souls who left their Native Land to begin life anew in a strange rugged country. They are a part of the rich Heritage that is Canada and their contribution must be remembered ."
And their contribution will not be forgotten. On July 5, 1997 the Ontario Heritage Foundation will unveil a Historic Plaque in Hearst to commemorate the Bradlo Settlement. It is by happy coincidence that July 5 is also the Feast of the Patron Saints of Slovakia, St. Cyril and St. Methodius. It is believed that this is the first time that a Slovak community has received formal recognition from a Canadian Government agency.
Bradlos Last Slovak Settlers
I would now like to tell you something about the last of the original residents to live in Bradlo. Although The Post Office closed on August 11, 1944 Slovaks continued to live in Bradlo until 1969. I was born there in 1938 and was a student at the school in the last year of its operation . Because I was young when many of the first settlers left I did not remember most of these people . I watched the last families pull up roots taking with them my friends to distant places .
One by one the remaining families left. The Wydarenys in the early 1950s, the Bunskos in 1949 , Jaroslav Nadvornik in 1950 , the Sevc family in approximately 1954 , John and Anna Bies my parents left in 1957 when I did.
Left behind were the bachelors who gradually disappeared . Karl Dedina left in approx 1958 . Mike Gula died in Bradlo in approx. 1960. and Matej Marcinak left in 1969.
Of the original settlers only Maria Sevc is alive today and lives in Toronto. I did not contact her until 1995, forty one years after she left Bradlo for Toronto.
THE LAST SLOVAK FAMILY AND THE LAST SINGLE SLOVAK IN BRADLO
The last Slovak family left Bradlo in 1957 to live in the nearby town of Hearst. They were my parents John and Anna Bies ,and were from the Myjava region of Slovakia --Hrasne, and Hodulov Vrch respectively. The last single resident left Bradlo in 1969 He was Matej Marcinak who died in a nursing home in Kapuskasing in 1970.
He was from Velka Udica-Povaska Distryca , Cz. ( Slovakia) . Matej Marcinak had a wife and family in Slovakia but they never joined him in Canada and was known to us as one of the bachelors .
Jan Bies and Matej Marcinak came to Bradlo in 1932 while Anna ( Hucko ) Bies arrived along with her daughter Olga in 1933.
While growing up in Bradlo I spent countless hours with my brothers , sisters and friends rummaging through the items left behind in the old abandoned log homes . We would imagine what these people were like and how they looked by the things that they had left behind. The utensils, the magazines, the buildings and the amount of land cleared . These images were enhanced by the many stories that our parents would tell of those good old days. Over the past two years some of those lost faces have surfaced from old photographs made available by Bradlo descendants .
The Elias family was known to us by the creek that ran through the back of their farm. The Benko ( Tapajna) homestead impressed us by its huge buildings and the barn with its enormous tin roof a luxury by the standards of those days . The Svos family was known to the younger ones as the Gravel Pit but older Bradlo kids would have remembered the Svoss by the store and dance hall.
The favorite recreational spots for the Bradlo boys of my generation were the Gravel pit on the Svos farm , the Elias Creek and the now abandoned German prisoner of war camp known as camp # 1 about two miles in the wilderness from our farm . These places because of their remote locations gave the boys a sense of adventure , for rafting , muskrat trapping, and partridge hunting .
We spent hours rummaging through the remains of the prisoners treasured belongings at this abandoned Prisoner of War camp. My first visit to that camp took place when our teacher Catherine OHara arranged for a Class excursion to the prison camp site by the Lumber companies railroad . There is today a photograph of that excursion . To get to the Camp after the rail tracks were removed was a challenge as the old railway ties made of round logs were spaced apart just far enough to make normal walking impossible for young boys . It was necessary to hop from tie to tie.
Our late father Jan Bies told countless stories of his adventures as a boy , an adolescent , a teenager and finally as a soldier in his native Slovakia. He talked often and fondly of his mother and of the hardship that his fathers early death had inflicted on his family.
One day in May of 1956 we were working on the spring seeding at the farm when a letter arrived from Europe bringing news of my fathers mothers death . She had already been buried. There was a sadness about dad as he told us the news .We just carried on working. I know that dad was disappointed. He had I am sure hoped that he could one day return triumphantly home and make his mothers life better. Like many other Slovak woman of her time his mother had worked as a nanny in the USA at the turn of the century. Her husband could not pass the medical exam that would have allowed him to join her in the USA so she returned to Slovakia. I did not feel the sense of grief that I should have at the loss of a Grandparent . That part of my life will never be complete.
I have never been to Slovakia nor have I ever see my grandparents in person but I have constructed in my mind an imaginary picture of my fathers home in Hrasne and the family that he left behind. Had father not taken the initiative to come to Canada , my brothers, sisters and I and would have had a more difficult time to become Canadians.
Many times father recounted in minute detail his journey to Canada . It was an exciting experience for a young and adventurous twenty three year old man. He talked about that journey across the Atlantic on the C.P.R. Steamer called the Montnairn, the sea sickness, the ice burghs and the triumph of passing that last hurdle, the physical examination in Antwerp while being processed by the Government of Canada Immigration . This allowed him to board the vessel for Canada . Families had been broken up when a member , sometimes a child was turned back to their country of origin because they failed the medical examination. Needles to say these new immigrants faced this last hurdle with a great deal of apprehension. The Montnairn left Antwerp on May 4, 1927 and arrived in Quebec on May 13 1927
Three experiences during his first three years in Canada had a profound effect on him and he recounted these frequently to his children and grandchildren .
In 1927 dad had been recruited by an Agent in Europe to work in Western Canada as an agricultural worker. When he arrived at a remote Western Canadian town , to his horror the employer that was to greet him at the train station did not show up. Dad became quite distressed and his agitated behavior drew the attention of an R.C.M.P. Police Officer. The policeman who could not communicate with my father because dad could not speak English , took him to a restaurant where there was someone who could speak my fathers language. When dads predicament was understood , the police officer proceeded to telephone various local farmers until he found one that could give him a job. Dad never forgot this introduction to Canada.
After working on the farms in Luseland Saskatchewan and in the Edmonton Alberta areas during 1927 and 1928 dad headed east to Montreal were there was a small Slovak community of newly landed immigrants. He obtained his drivers license in Montreal on December 13 , 1929 and spent a very enjoyable winter in Montreal. The address on his drivers license was 3823 Colonial Street Montreal . He told endless stories about that winter of 1930 in Montreal. The Burlesque theaters, the movies with Charlie Chaplin , the restaurants etc. However work did not materialize in Montreal so father looked to Western Canada once more. He must have left in the spring so that he would be on time for the seeding season. Among the money order receipts that were found in his passport there was one from Luseland Saskatchewan dated June 30, 1930. He made a brief stop in Toronto and stayed for a short time with some Slovaks on Wellington Street in the Spadina Area. Work was not to be found in Toronto so dad continued on to Luseland Saskatchewan this time joining the army of unemployed men that were then riding the rails of Canada in search of work . At this point father was joined by his brothers Pavel and Michal .
The employment conditions in 1930 were the worst yet. Dad was riding the rails back to Northern Ontario from Western Canada in search of work when he learned about the Slovak Settlers at Bradlo. He loved to tell this story .
" It was November he would say and it was cold. At Sioux Look Out a sympathetic train man allowed several of the men to sleep in a box car loaded with coal. The box car that my father and those men were in was shunted of by the train crew in Hearst and left there much to the surprise of the men when they woke up. The C.N.R. policeman in Hearst would not allow these men back onto the train so father spent several days wandering around the town. It was either at the Chalykoff or the West Store that father met several Slovaks from Bradlo and he became aware of the Slovak colony."
Ironically these Slovaks had left Montreal in the spring of 1930 to homestead in what later became Bradlo. Those men were Catholics and my father was a Lutheran. My father had not been aware of their departure for Hearst while in Montreal. It was my father that told us that those first Slovak settlers in Bradlo had been sent by a priest from Montreal . After working in Kapuskasing for a short while he found work at a Hydro Electric Project in Fraserdale Ontario . To get this job dad and his brothers camped on the outskirts of the campsite along with hundreds of other unemployed men. Finally when dad managed to get a job on the project he sneaked his brother into the bunkhouse where he hid him under his bunk until he got him a job in the camp . He smuggled food from the kitchen dining room in his pockets to this brother under the bed. Coffee he joked was not possible to bring him this way.
After approximately six months at this lucrative job father returned to Hrasne in Slovakia in the fall of 1931. He married Anna Huckova From Hodulov Vrch on February 8, 1932 in the Lutheran Church in Kostolne . Coming back to Canada in April of 1932 he found that his job at the Fraserdale Hydro Electric project was no longer available. He went to the Slovak Settlement of Bradlo in 1932 and purchased two homesteads. One for himself and one for his brother Michael . His older brother Pavel who had returned to Slovakia with my father never returned .
At this point dad was rather discouraged as he could not make enough money to bring his wife and new daughter Olga to join him . Pride kept him from writing to Slovakia to say how bad things were. Mother meanwhile took the initiative to join her husband in Canada. She persuaded her father Martin Hucko to fund her passage to Canada. She arrived in Canada in the summer of 1933 and with the $ 70.00 that was left over from her journey father bought a horse for the farm. Those who brought their wives did better than those who did not. It took two people to succeed mom would say . My parents raised seven children in Bradlo Olga ( Stevenson) ,
Anne ( Siska ) , John, Rudy, Bill, Martha ( Quin) and Ernie . Dad died in 1976 and mom died in 1991. The minister from the Slovak Lutheran Church in Toronto had an input to both funeral services that took place in the United , and the Anglican Churches . Mom and Dad are buried in the Riverside Cemetery at Hearst Ontario. The epitaph on their tombstone is in Slovak and reads as follows .
At St. Pauls United Church in Hearst a stained glass window has been put up in their honor , and the inscription reads as follows.
In Loving Memory
THE LAST SLOVAK SETTLER MATEJ MARCINAK
Matej Marcinak was known to us as a Bachelor although he did leave a wife and son in Slovakia who never came to join him in Canada. He was a man of good humor his white hair , full figure and popularity with the children made him a wonderful Santa Claus at the school Christmas concerts. His tremendous sense of humor made us laugh forever . We learned from him a Slovak version of Ti Si Me Selnce ( you are my sunshine. ) New years and Easter would not have been the same had we not gone over to visit Mr. Marcinak at his cabin.
After delivering the Slovak verses of greetings that our parents had patiently taught us pastries and candies were our reward , along with some spirited songs and funny jokes . As we grew older the jokes and songs would get a little riskey but never went over the edge. Karl Filo and his wife Ann ( Lasan ) and Emily and Arthur Parlee when visiting Bradlo in the late 1950s had this story to tell. Mr. Marcinak they said had photos of several female pinups on the walls. He said that these were his girlfriends now as he walked around with a fly swatter and gently tapped the bottoms of these girls and would say, you behave now and chuckled .
ALL THINGS MUST COME TO AN END.
Father died in 1976. Mom lived until 1991. After mother died the family gathered in Hearst in 1992 to dispose of my parents estate. Before disposing of the house we got down to dividing among ourselves our parents special momentos . Each one of us had a favorite item. A lottery was organized to distribute these belongings and each family member drew a lot to determine their order of choosing.
It was now time to choose those special possessions that symbolized our parents lives. One of my choices was fathers passport to Canada. This passport and its enclosures allowed me to retrace fathers footsteps from the time that he came to Canada in 1927 until he came to Bradlo in 1932. In this passport was -- his first drivers license dated Dec. 13, 1929 his first proud achievement in Canada.
Then there were the money order receipts. They spoke volumes about dads generous side. He had sent most of his first money home to his mother allowing two of his brothers to join him in Canada. The dates and locations on these stubs allowed his first foot steps in Canada to be retraced .
I have come to realize that this item should have been my first choice and I hope that I will be a worthy custodian of this treasure. It is also the symbolic passport of his descendants to Canada.
After an emotional afternoon of choosing it was now down to the final choices. Only a few items remained on the table . Among them was a beat up old prayer book that had not belonged to the Family. It was not Lutheran but Roman Catholic and it had no takers. I opened the cover and saw that it was Matej Marcinaks. Mother had salvaged it from Matej Marcinaks abandoned and crumbling home in Bradlo after he had died . Mom could never see a book of God abandoned. A page was bookmarked . I opened it at this well worn page --- it was on the page of the Lords Prayer in Slovak. I t was my choice.
Only in 1996 did I realize the significance of this prayer book . This was the last prayer book to be used in Bradlo by Bradlos last Slovak resident Matej Marcinak .
On July 6, 1997 this special treasure will be presented to The Slovak Canadian National Council for safekeeping .
Rudy T. Bies P.Eng
1) Czechoslovak Passport of John Bies.