Bradlo - An Immigrant's Memories
By Rudy Bies, Ontario, Canada
The name Bradlo is not unique to Slovakia. Northern Ontario also had a small community named Bradlo. How did this name find itself there? The story is what legend and folklore are made of. In the 1920's and 1930's, Canada was looking for agricultural settlers for Western Canada. The country was in the midst of the great depression. There were few jobs to be found in the big cities and fewer jobs to be found in Europe. Waves of immigrants from all over Europe arrived in Canada looking for work and a better life. Once in Canada, they formed small communities around lumber camps, in rural areas, at mines, and in the big cities. Many of those communities no longer exist, and most of the original settlers have died, their contributions live on through their descendants.
During the 1920's and 1930's, many young Slovak families from all over Slovakia set out for Canada. They left their villages, their mountains, their forests, their glens, and their families to chase a dream in search of bread.
Many of these Slovaks did not have the opportunity for an education in the old country. Arriving in Canada there was little chance to learn English. Language classes were not provided as for later groups of immigrants. The men and women had to go to work. As some of their children learned English at school, they came home to teach their parents. It took longer to learn the new language. One woman said that at the time she felt "so simple" because she could not speak English.
Without established support groups, social nets such as welfare or relief, and without extended families to fall back on, these young immigrants faced a tremendous challenge and sometimes felt overwhelmed. Competition for the type of work that they could do was fierce. As in all hard times some people were looking for scapegoats to blame. These immigrants were resented by some people. Pride kept many from writing home to say how bad things were. To survive, a good work ethic and a strong character were essential.
To avoid the soup lines of the big cities, many of these immigrants looked to the last frontiers that Canada was opening. Northern Ontario was one such area. In 1930, a Slovak Roman Catholic priest in Montreal arranged for a handful of unemployed Slovak men to leave for Northern Ontario to what later became Bradlo.
Word of this colony spread, and soon some sixty Slovak families found themselves in the dense, hostile forests of Northern Ontario just outside of Hearst. The climate was harsh. The summers were hot and infested with blackflies. The winters were brutal. Anna Hucko Bies, one of the first pioneers, said, "These were not farms, just bush," describing her feelings when she arrived at her husband's homestead as a 25-year old bride with her infant daughter Olga. The men came first to build the initial cabin, and usually their wives and children followed within a year. Those that brought wives and families did better than those who did not. It took two people to succeed. To meet the terms of owning their own land there were many obligations to satisfy. Within five years they had to clear 16 acres, put up a house and barn and dig a well. They also had to live on the land for a minimum of five years. To survive was no mean feat. Their first livestock were goats who could live on tree leaves as there were no grass meadows for grazing cattle. Fields for pasturing livestock and growing crops were made by clearing the forest. Trees were cut down with buck saws and stumps uprooted by horse and hand. All the family members were involved in this backbreaking task.
When they needed homes for their families, a church for their spiritual needs, or a school for the growing number of children, the immigrants built them from logs with their hands. There was no welfare. People made money for basic needs by cutting an allotted quota of pulpwood. Men would go to the lumber camps for lengthy periods leaving their young wives at home with tiny infants to manage the homestead. Young mothers carried their children on their backs as they worked in the fields or tended to the livestock. It was a hard life as there was no electricity or the conveniences of today's appliances. People did not have automobiles. If they had a horse they would use it to go to the nearby town 8 miles away for supplies; if not, they walked and carried supplies home on their backs.
There were tragedies - young mothers dying in childbirth, children dying in infancy, the accident causing the death of a young father in his prime,
Anne Bies Siska painted Bradlo pioneer Anna Hucko Bies looking at the Hrdak Home, the first Slovak home built in Bradlo by a carpenter named Hrcak Whom Pohorela GEMER. Ironically, it was also the last house left in the colony. and a big fire in 1934 burning their church to the ground- that pulled them together; to pray & hope.
Many a kind doctor tended to their medical needs and took no payment at all or accepted pay in produce, such as eggs. It was a hard life but people helped each other. They built a community hall for dances and social events. They made their own music playing the accordion and the fiddle. They celebrated births of children, christenings, special church services, school concerts and harvests. They had some good times together singing, laughing and dancing. They worked hard and they respected education.
They built a vibrant community and one day were asked to give it a name. They named it Bradlo because it symbolized their dream, and their new beginning in Canada. Bradlo is near Kosariska in Slovakia and the burial site of a Slovak Hero Dr. Milan Rastislav Stefanik. A mathematician and astronomer, he became a General in the French
Army during WWI. Along with associates, T. G. Masaryk and E. Benes he became one of the founding fathers of a then new country named Czechoslovakia and died tragically in a plane crash in May 1919 just when his fellow Slovaks needed him the most.
Most of those first settlers are no longer with us. By their example of hard work and respect for education, they instilled their work ethic and character in their children. From those humble beginnings some 60 years ago, the Bradlo Slovaks of Canada today continue to contribute to Canada and the USA through their descendants. They were not disappointed with Canada. v (Copyright Rudy Bies (C) 1995)
SH&FSI member Rudy Bies wrote this article based on a life story written by Anna Hucko Bies and talks with Maria Sevc, original Bradlo settlers. Maria is still alive but resides in Toronto. Anna Bies was the last homesteader to leave Bradlo in 1957 and died in Hearst, Ontario in 1991. Rudy's sister Anne Bies Siska is continuing to research the history of the Bradlo community.
NOTE: This article apeared first in Slovakia, a Slovak Heritage Newsletter, Vol.9, No. 3 - Fall 1995. Used with permission. Copyright © Rudy Bies, 1995.