by Russell W. Terichow
In his later years, Russell W. Terichow (1906-1982) wrote down his memoirs of life on the Canadian Prairies in the Teens and Twenties. In frank and simple style, he depicts the adventures and pleasures, hardships and tragedies, and everyday life of his boyhood at Buchanan, Saskatchewan. Readers will enjoy the rich details and vivid memories of those early years when Doukhobor pioneers settled the Prairies. This excerpt, taken from his memoirs, is reproduced by permission.
History & Roots
I wanted to write a long time ago, but kept putting it off. So now I broke the ice. Here goes. Born in the now province of Saskatchewan – then in the Northwest Territories on the 4th day of April, in the year 1906, in the village of Troitskoye about 2 miles south of the village of Buchanan. This is one of the villages that our people settled in when they came to Canada from Russia in 1899. As I understand there were over 60 such villages in the area of Buchanan, Canora, Veregin, Kamsack, Pelly and Arran, these two being near the Province of Manitoba.
The reason our people had to move away from Russia, which is the country of my parents and theirs, is very long to write it all, but I will try in short form to write what I know and what I was told. Our religion was watched very closely during the years our people lived in Russia, from 1731 to 1898. This is a close as I can make it. In the early 1700s our religion broke away from the Greek Orthodox Church and from then till 1896 our people were moved from one place to another in Russia. The Orthodox Church thought they could break this new religious philosophy, but this could not be done. As time went on, things began to change.
Russell W. Terichow & brother Larry in the 1930’s
In 1896, our people decided that by the writing in the Bible, “Thou shalt not kill” that this Commandment, being one of the 10 Commandments, should be fulfilled, just like the rest should. So, the people got together and on June 29th, my grandfather, Larion Fedorovich Terekhov, like a lot of other men that had guns, brought them out onto a field where there was a load of dry wood, they piled all their guns up and set fire to the wood and all the guns burned. There they got into a very big encounter with the Cossacks. They were whipped till the blood ran down into their shoes. Many were imprisoned -so was my grandfather. It took time, but the courts sentenced them to life in Siberia. About 70 men were sentenced and as spring started, all these men were chained together and marched from the Black Sea in southern Russia to Irkutsk in Siberia. Some of them died on the march. Most of them made it. That must have been some trip or march, as they were all vegetarians. This made it hard to get the right food. So, some of the men started to cook, after the government supplied the food. Some time the meals were very, very watery.
After they got to Irkutsk, they were all placed in different places. My Grandpa got a job in a flour mill where he worked until they were released from jail. All of the men were sentenced for life, which meant life, no parole. This worked very hard on some of them. Where Grandpa lived, there happened to be a very good family and they had a daughter, a few years younger than Grandpa, and I guess they got to like each other. So, Grandpa wrote a letter home explaining everything and Grandma and the rest of the family, which was 2 girls and 2 boys, and I suppose some older folks close to the family, decided to write Grandpa and let him marry the girl and start a new life in the new country. Not much use him wasting his life – and so he married her.
Now comes the big one – 1905. The Royal Family of Russia had their first and only boy who was to be in line for the throne. The Tsar of Russia that year released all religious and political prisoners. So Grandpa and his new family of two boys and his new wife decided to move to Canada while the moving was good, and they did. It must have been very hard for Grandpa to meet up with Grandma and his family in Canada, which he did. As I understand, he got a job in Brandon, Manitoba with Canadian Pacific Railroad. He worked there until 1913 when they both got homesick for Irkutsk and they decided to go back for a trip – which they did. In 1914 war broke out, then the great revolution, and that finished Grandpa and Canada. He was not able to come back to Canada. He passed away in around 1928. I remember my father and myself went to see them before they left for Russia. I remember playing with the boys. I often wonder where and what the boys are doing now.
My father was William L. Terichow, and my mother was Mary Parfenkoff. I cannot say that I can remember her. I was two and a half years old when she passed away, but it seems just like a dream that I remember her lying in bed being sick. That is all I can remember.
Our village was about 1/3 of a mile long with houses on both sides of the road. The houses were built quite close to each other. I remember the village. We had a flour mill, which was run by water, at the south end of the village. There was also a big granary. I remember once or twice a year the Royal Canadian Mounted Policeman used to make his trip on horseback through what we called “our” country. When somebody would see him coming into our village, news traveled fast and all of us kids would hide under the big granary till he rode away. Then we would come out — we were really scared of the police. Until today as I sit and think of what those men lived through – it was something to write about. I had seen them come into our village in the middle of winter, the poor horse’s nose was covered with a sack to keep its nostrils from freezing solid. Just think of the poor man sitting in the cold saddle all day at 40°, 50° or 60° below zero. These were tough men and they had big territories to police. A far cry from today’s motor car and motorcycle police.
My father was one of the first in the village to learn English and he got a job working in a hardware store in Buchanan for Mr. Moore. I remember him coming home from town to our village on a bike and he used to put it away in a sheep shed for the night. After my mother passed away my father took out a homestead – or maybe while my mother was still alive. Anyway, I don’t know where he got a team of oxen and a plow. Well there we were breaking virgin soil. That was some work. The weather was hot and dry. The flies and mosquitoes were very bad. So bad, that many times the oxen would run into a slough with the plow and all to get away from them. Then Dad would go into the water and get them out. My job was to look after our lunch, which was bread and some cheese. We had to get our drink from the slough. You put a clean cloth on the water and drank sucking the water through the cloth.
Plowing with oxen.
The country was full of gophers and squirrels so I had to hold onto our lunch at all times or it would be gone in short order. We had to do so much plowing and fencing and building before the government would give you your title for the 160 acres for $10. I guess the work on the farm was getting pretty hard for Dad, so he got his job in the hardware store with Mr. Moore. He decided to sell the farm and he sold it to Mr. Charles Barnes. That was the end of our farming. This seems to me about all I can remember about our farming. I remember we had to get up at daybreak and stay in the field till nearly dark. At dinner time Dad would unhook the oxen and hobble them. “Hobble” means you tie their front feet together so they can’t run away, yet they can graze. My job was to see that they didn’t go away too far as Dad ate his lunch and maybe took a little nap. It was hard work. Most of this work was done by two men. One would lead the oxen and the other would hold the plow, but Dad had to do it alone. He had to steer the oxen with lines, and that was some job. When the flies got real bad, the lines didn’t help very much – the oxen just went for the water. This is about all I can remember, as my next move was to my Auntie Bartsoff in Yorkton.
My Auntie took me into their home for a few years. That was in Yorkton, Saskatchewan. I lived with them till Dad married again. Living with Auntie and her family was alright for me. Their family was Russell, 2 years older than me; Alex, 1-1/2 years younger, and cousin Mary, 4 years younger. So I kind of blended in quite well with them. Uncle John Bartsoff was a very strict man. Very exact. We all had some bad days with him. May he was too strict or maybe we were too rough. This I will not dispute. I remember us three boys sitting across the table from him. He used to have a yardstick with him, and we dared not talk or laugh at the table. There is nothing wrong it as I see it now, but at that time I thought it was terrible. Good or bad, I owe them a lot, and I would have loved to repay some way, but I couldn’t because nobody told me when Uncle or Auntie passed away. I will wrote more about Auntie later
In 1910 my father married again to a lady, my stepmother, Pearl. At that time, we had already moved away from the village to live in Buchanan. My father built a house in town. This history I don’t remember very well; only when Pearl passed away from a heart attack. Dad had been up north of Buchanan on a threshing outfit. He was a fireman that year. He had quit working in the store. Pearl’s family lived about one and a half miles east of Buchanan and, as I understand, she and I went to her parent’s place on Saturday to the bath house as was the custom. Anyway, we had our hot bath and she went to bed and that ended her life. Sunday morning we found her dead.
This about ends his and my life with my first stepmother. Again my Auntie Bartsoff took me in. Again I went to live with them in Yorkton. By the way, I will never forget a scare we boys got one day in the winter time at a little lake a few miles from town. Cousin Russell, Alex and myself and George, a friend of ours, decided to go to the lake to skate. When we got there we found that there were men there cutting ice for somebody in town. Anyway, they had cut out a square of about 50 to 60 feet and the ice there was very clear. No snow on it at all. We were told by the men working there not to go on the clear ice, but boys are boys, and we started to get closer and closer to the clear, clear ice. And as one of us would skate or slide over it, you could see it bend. Anyway, it came. George just went too far and down he went, through the ice and under the water. We could see him but couldn’t help him. Anyway, he managed to work his way back to the hole and by that time one of the men that was cutting ice ran over with his ice cutting saw. He pushed it toward George and this was the way George got out. We took him to the shack where the ice cutters ate their meals and kept warm, dry clothes. After an hour or so, we started for home, not knowing what would happen to us when we got home. Well, we got a good talking and George’s mother decided that we were trying to drown him, which was not so. Anyway, we didn’t go to that lake any more.
The two years passed by very fast between 1910 and 1912, when Dad got married again. That was his third marriage – this time to Mabel Sookorokoff. I remember when these people came from Russia in 1912. I remember when they unloaded in Yorkton, at the Grand Trunk railway, and later on they moved to Canora where Dad met my new stepmother. And so early in 1913 I moved back to Buchanan.
Life to me at that time meant very little as long as I was fed and had clothes to wear. That I had. The people in and around our little town of Buchanan were very good to me. I remember very well when I started school, coming home from school, and after school some good-hearted lady would ask me into her house and giving me something to eat or drink. That went over very nice with me. But sometimes, it didn’t go over very good at home, as I wouldn’t be very hungry at suppertime and that wasn’t very good, as my new mother tried hard to feed us with good food, and she was good at that. She was a very clean woman, and a very good cook. She was also a very good hostess.
I remember when winter would set in and people had no place to go, we used to have our house with company just about every night. There were no picture shows in town for the younger folks, so we had to stay home and read or whatever. Maybe just cut out pictures from Eaton’s catalogue. This maybe sounds funny, but there is a lot of fun to cut out what you want and make up a house or a barnyard or whatever. Then when the winter really closed in and the sloughs and lakes really froze, it was skating. We had a slough in Mr. Buchanan’s field that was surrounded by a willow bush and after the slough froze and we had our heavy snow fall, the whole town would go out and clean off the snow making a figure-eight and then build a big fire in the middle of the slough and somebody would bring a gramophone and play some nice skating music. The place would be full of people skating. Just imagine – 25° to 35° below zero with no wind at all, a nice moonlight night, out on the ice with a hundred or more people skating. These are the things to remember and to think how some young folks live in the big cities now. They are missing a lot. Sure they have the ice and ball fields but it is all there for them. They don’t have to make it up for themselves. That is as much fun doing as using it after it is done.
This is also how we made our hockey rink and curling rink. You can see we didn’t have very many hockey players in the big timers, but we had a lot of fun. We made our own curling rocks. We froze water in pails to make a rock and used them for curling. They didn’t last too long because if they would bump hard they would chip and pretty soon you didn’t have any rock left to curl with.
Our skis were home-made — a couple of 1x4s with a bit of tin bent up on the end and a piece of leather nailed on in the middle for your shoe and a couple of broken broom handles and warm clothes, and you were away. We would go for miles and miles if the weather wasn’t too cold – maybe 15° to 25° below. Sometimes if there was a little wind with the temperature, you would freeze your hands in your mitts and your nose and ears. Then it took a good hard rub with snow to get the blood going again. Sometimes we would watch for the farmers going home from town after shopping. Then we would hook up to their sleigh and have a good ride for a mile or two and then walk back home. That wasn’t too good. Sometimes the farmers would get their horses to a good fast run just when we wanted to unhook. Then we would be hooked up for maybe another 1/2 mile, and by the time we would get home we would be cold, tired and hungry.
So went our winter sports. There is a lot more a person could write about, and of course, Halloween must not be forgotten. We children would go in packs of 10 to 15 and tip over nearly every outhouse in town and if we had a little snow, we would get a sleigh, a big one, and have a bunch of toilets in the middle of the main street. Then next morning, the people would be out looking for their outhouse. We thought it was funny, but the people didn’t. A lot of toilets were broken as they fell over on the frozen ground, so people got smart. They moved the toilet a couple of feet ahead and when the boys came to tip it over, they fell into the hole. It wasn’t that bad as everything was frozen, but its bad enough. There were sometimes even people trapped in the toilet as it was tipped over that that wasn’t funny, as a person could freeze in there if he or she wasn’t heard when this was done. Then somebody really got it. Our folks always seemed to know what bunch were where. We were not very glad to see Halloween over. There was no trick or treating.
Winter fun on the Canadian Prairies.
The only fun we had was what we made ourselves. Living in the country as flat as your table for hundreds of miles anyway you looked. The only place we had to slide was at our flour mill in Buchanan. When the mill was being made, the company brought in a steam shovel and dug a hole about 20 ft deep by 50 or 60 feet long for water, as the mill was run by steam and water was needed there. So when we got our first snowfall, we used to go there and slide down on cardboard cornflake boxes or any other large packing box we could get from the stores. As you can imagine, when the shovel dug the deep trench the dirt was piled up on the banks and it made quite a hill. After sliding down for a while, your rear-end felt kind of sore as you could feel every little bump as you went down. So we had to stay away for a time until we got more snow. That helped a lot.
Our next door neighbor, Mr. T. 0. Thompson, was quite a man. He was the first one to have a car in town. He had a Buick and an Olds in about 1914 or 1915. Anyway, he at one time made a snow mobile. It was very crude by it worked. It traveled about 3 or 4 miles per hour, but nothing would stop it, snow or otherwise. He had a 3 or 4 horsepower 1 cylinder engine on it. He had a wooden pulley about 20 inches in diameter with railroad spikes in it driven by a flat pulley, and a flat belt by this engine, with skis in front and rear. We had a lot of fun on this machine. It was water cooled, so when it got too hot, we would put more snow into the cooling system, and away we went again.
These were some of the ways we spent our time in the small towns in the Canadian prairies. Of course there were concerts put on by churches and other groups. The town hall would be packed full of people. No charge. Everything was free. We also had picture shows. Maybe once or twice a year a man would come from Yorkton or Kamsack and put on a picture show. I was lucky as I sold tickets and so I got in for free. Some other kids didn’t have any money, so they couldn’t come in. After the show started, I would go and play the old Victor phonograph when the film would be changed, or when the film happened to tear.
There was also the Christmas Concert. That was something everybody looked forward to. Our whole school put on some plays, as our school was from grade one to grade twelve, and every room put on a play. There were only 4 rooms in the school. So you see, there were 3 grades in each room, so there was a lot of talent to draw from. Things like these are very hard to forget. Once you lived through them, its funny a person don’t seem to mind the cold long winter.
I remember seeing the Royal Canadian Mounted Police come into our town every year between Christmas and New Years on horseback. I know it was cold because the horse had the sack over his nose and I don’t know how the poor Mountie didn’t freeze sitting in that cold saddle with his legs in the open, even if they had Buffalo coats and chapps. Their coats would be white with frost, but a job is a job and they did it.
A person really had to live in that country to see the beauty and harshness. Storms were so bad you couldn’t see two feet in front of you, and then in the evenings the moon would shine on the white snow. And it was white, just mirror-like. In the evening you could see the Northern Lights. They would play up so clear you could hear the crackle as they made beautiful colors. This is something people living in the south never see. So you see, there is something beautiful in the north. Sometimes we would see mirages. That was something. You could see towns miles and miles away that you ordinarily would not see. They would play up so nice you could nearly count the buildings. This did not happen too often — its all in the weather.
Springtime and Summertime
Spring was something we all looked forward to as spring came and the snow started to melt. That was really nice. The people would go for walks for miles on the railroad tracks as they were dry to walk on. We used to go about two miles west of town to the water tank that supplied the steam engines on the railroad at that time. The river would be overflowing, the fish would be going upstream to spawn and pretty soon after most of the snow would be gone up would come the crocus and the gophers and ground squirrels would come out. That was a sure sign of spring. But before I forget as I have already, I must go back to the cold winter.
The winters were very cold. Our big lake was 12 miles south of town. It used to freeze up to three feet deep; that is, the ice would be three feet thick and as it froze, its ice would raise in the middle of the lake like a nice hill, maybe twelve to fifteen feet high. The pressure built up as it froze harder and then when the pressure built up to a point where it could stand no more, it would burst. It was like a cannon shot. It was heard all around the country, and then afterwards everybody would go to the lake and bring home the ice. You see, the ice would be broken into small chunks and it was put away in special buildings and covered with sawdust that keeps the ice from melting. It lasted all summer. The town we lived in had no water to be able to use. So we had to melt ice in the summer and snow in the winter for use in the house. That is why all this ice was put up in the winter time, and of course, we had rains in the summer and people had large galvanized barrels to catch the rain water for washing. Believe me, water was not wasted. Every drop counted.
As spring came along, winter seemed to be forgotten. Everything came to life. The flowers, wild ones, came into blossom. The leaves appeared on the trees. All the wildlife reappeared. Pretty soon the farmers started the work in the fields, plowing, discing and seeding. Just a couple of weeks after seeding was done, the fields started to turn green with the crop coming up. Most of the town people would be in their gardens, putting in their needs for the garden greens. This may sound funny to you when you read this, but this is true. You couldn’t buy any greens in the stores, summer or winter, such as cabbage, lettuce, radishes, cucumbers, green onions, cauliflower, or any other vegetables.
The only vegetable there was for sale was onions. The fruit was plentiful – oranges, lemons, grapefruit, and apples. In those days, apples came from Eastern Canada in big barrels – about 200 lbs. So a lot of people used to pair up and get maybe 3 or 4 barrels of different kinds and then divided them. Boy, what a treat that was when you went to the cellar from those apples. I can smell the apples now.
Now, back to the spring, summer and so on. As the ground really warmed up, and everything started to grow, the birds started to come back. As cold as it was, the sparrows were with us all winter, but in spring, the crows, meadow larks, hawks, robins, ducks, slough snips and other birds and water fowl came back and, of course, we then started to look for their eggs. We would be gone all day on Saturday, come home tired and hungry, but we thought we had a good time. Then as spring got older, summer came along and then summer holidays. No school for two months. Boy, what a treat. Some of us would stay at home, some would go and visit their relatives, which I used to do every year. I will write more about my trip later.
We had what we used to call the “Hudson Bay Section” which was owned by that company and a “School Section” which was owned by the Government. These two Sections were not broken or cleared for farming. At that time they were in their natural state. There were no big trees on them, but there were some small bushes around sloughs. That is where we used to go and pick wild strawberries and wild raspberries and gooseberries. These berries were small compared to the berries we have in our gardens now. The largest berry was about the size of a dime, and even smaller. I remember we used to buy our jam in the stores in wooden pails. At that time the pails were maybe 1-1/2 times the size of our peanut butter tins, which would be 4 to 5 lbs. Our mothers would make us a sandwich for lunch and 5 or 6 of us boys would go picking berries. You did not mix your berries. First, it was strawberries only. And then, after a week or so, the raspberries were ready. The berries would be so ripe you picked nearly all day to get your pail full, and of course, they were small, and by the time you had your pail full, it was over half juice. But the smell! You could smell the berries for a 1/2 mile away if the wind was right. Of course, gooseberries were different. They didn’t go to mush, but your hands would bleed and scratch from the thorns, but they made nice jam.
There was also the saskatoon berry. It is something like the blueberry, but much smaller. It is a very tasty berry when it is ripe. It grows on a bush about 6 to 8 feet tall – it is easy to pick. There was also the bush cranberry. This grew near the rivers or lakes. It seemed to like being close to water. This berry was picked late in the year, close to frost time. Then it was put in barrels and filled with water and froze and then in the winter time you could pick the berries and ice out of the barrel and thaw them out and then make pies or whatever. This was a real treat in the winter.
So when we didn’t go picking berries we would go to the lake for a swim, if you could call it that. The lake or large slough was about 2 miles south of town and it was a nice run to get there. There was 6 of us that used to go to this lake. Its name is Patterson Lake. The river flowed in and out in the spring runoff but not in summer time. I guess it was about 3 or 4 feet deep in the middle and it was 1/2 mile long and about 1/4 mile wide. It wasn’t the best place on earth but we had lots of fun there and getting there, too.
There used to be a rancher’s barn along the road to the lake and the people that owned it tore the barn down and the old manure pile which had been rotting for years, they put it into a rhubarb patch, and boy what rhubarb! Stocks as big as your arm and leaves like an umbrella. Anyway, we used to start taking some of our clothes off just before we reached the rhubarb, as it was close to the lake. Then as we came close to the patch we would leave our clothes on the side of the fence and we would go into the patch to pick some rhubarb. One stick would be enough and more for all of us, but no, we had to go inside the patch breaking down much more than we needed. We could have picked one stick near the fence and that would be good enough, but no, we had to go inside. Anyway, one day, Mr. farmer thought he would put a stop to this, and he did. He hid in the middle of the patch and when we got inside, he jumped us, and boy, we were like a bunch of rats. We were gone. He didn’t get any of us because he didn’t want to. He wanted to scare us and that he did very well. So, he picked up all of our clothes and put them in his buggy and took them to town. He delivered them from house to house. He knew us, all of us. Well, we didn’t go into the patch any more with the scare we got from him, and a couple of good straps at home. That old razor strap was very good medicine. You never argued with that medicine!
I used to go and visit my Aunty Bartsoff in Yorkton every summer. My father would buy me a ticket and I would have $10.00 spending money. That done me for 2 or 3 weeks and sometimes I brought back $5 or $6. There was not much to spend money on. I can still remember the first time I walked into the Woolworth’s store – it used to be called the “5 & 10” store. I bought a pocket diary and a propelling pencil with a clip. All this for 15 cents.
Getting ready to go to Yorkton to Aunt’s place was I something to look forward to. To go by train all by yourself, with money in your pocket, and to be away from home and friends for a month or so was very big. I remember every time the train would stop at some station, and there were 4 stops, I would get out and walk the platform and then get on as the train started to go, that was something.
We used to have a lot of fun at Auntie’s place. After they moved from their home in town into the country they had a very nice farm. It was there one day cousins Russell and Alex and myself went to the pasture to bring in the milk cows, and we saw a wolf go into her den. So we rushed the cows home and got some shovels and back to the den. We started to dig. We must have dug 10 or 12 foot trench in length about 2 feet deep and pretty soon as we were resting for a few minutes the mother wolf came out of the den and the three little ones after her. Well we let her go, but the little ones we got. They were about the size of a grown house cat. Well, we got them home and made a cage for them out of chicken wire. We fed them every day but we run into a little bit of trouble. Auntie had a few hens that hatched some chicks and they were running loose in the yard. Some of the chicks would come to where the pups were. They would put their head through the fence to catch a fly or whatever, and the young pups would catch them by their head and that was the end of the chick. This went on for a couple of days, until Auntie caught onto the reason why the chick count was getting smaller, and so we had to get rid of the pups. So, we had to walk to town with the pups. We gave them to a doctor that had sort of a small park there. His name was Doc Patrick. I think he gave us $1 for each pup. Kids do those things without thinking – sometimes it works out good, and sometimes it does not.
There is a lot more a person could write about, the first plane that I seen was in Yorkton. My 2 cousins and I walked to town one Sunday to see this plane. It was something to see. I couldn’t believe that it could fly until it took off. So it was back home. It got dark before we got home, but it was worth the whole day, even if we were hungry. We had something to eat before we went to bed.
I used to like to go and visit my aunt every year. Yet there is one thing I can’t understand. I didn’t go and visit my uncle Mike Parfenkoff in Canora. Why, I don’t know. When I did go to Yorkton to Auntie’s I had to take the train from Buchanan to Canora, stay over night in Canora, then take the train next day to Yorkton. That was the Grand Trunk Railway and Buchanan and Canora were on the Canadian National Railway. I used to stay over night at Mr. and Mrs. John Popove. Mrs. Popove was a sister to my step-mother, so that is why I stayed with them. They insisted that I stay with them. One time I stayed at a hotel and Mr. Popove met me on the street in the morning as I was going to the railroad station. He asked me when I came to Canora, and where I was going and I told him. He gave me a good talking to and said not to let it happen again. By the way, Mrs. Popove is brother Larry and Mike’s Auntie who now lives in Chico, California.
Of course, there still was time for more summer holidays and we made good use of them. One of my best friends was Bob Brown. His father was a cattle dealer and he used to run 30 to 40 head of cattle on a section of land he had north of town. The section was fenced and it had a small shack on it. Bob and I used to go out there on Saturday morning and we would stay there till Sunday evening. He used to ride a very nice saddle horse, a red roan color. I had a black and white Shetland pony. It was small but it was fast, both going ahead and to the side. He dumped me off a good many times. You never knew when he would stop and veer to the side and down you went. We would take a loaf of bread and some cheese and Rogers syrup with us and that what we had to eat. Sometimes we would catch a cow that had a calf and milk her so we had milk instead of water.
Just stop and think for a while what a summer holiday like that meant to me or any other boy or girl. To be able to go out into the country for a couple of days, sort of ride the range, sleep in an old shack, with the wolves all around you howling. Badgers and skunks, all you wanted to see, and more. The songs of the birds used to wake us up in the morning and we would go to bed in the evening with the hooting of the owl, or we would sit at the door and watch the fireflies just like little bulbs in the air. How beautiful it was. I just sometimes think why these beautiful things have to change. Why must a person change his way of life that was so easy and cheap and slow to live? Money was about the last thing people talked about, they just lived.
Things like that a person does not forget. How I wish a person could live these over again, with all the kicking around that I had I still would love to live my life over again just like it was. A lot of people were good to me.
Harvest time was also a lot of fun. We were back in school by that time so the only time we had to ourselves was Saturday, after you sawed enough wood to keep the house going for the week. The wood you had to saw was with a buck saw, and it wasn’t too bad when it was sharp, but when it was dull, it would be tough sawing. The wood that was bought from the farmers was in long lengths, maybe up to 25 to 30 feet long and it was a year old and it would get as hard as flint, but it had to be cut. No wood, no cooking. That was first thing every Saturday.
Then, if you were in time, you would get a pail of water from the town well. There was one well in town that the water was good enough to use. Then if you were late, the town police would lock the top of the well and you had to wait till next day. So if you used the water out of your big tank in the house where the ice was melting, and you were asked why you didn’t bring any water home, you had to have an answer. Sometime it worked and sometime it didn’t.
Fall was something to look forward to. When the farms started their harvest, the fields of wheat, oats, barley, etc. would turn golden and it was just like the ocean when we had a little wind. The field would be like the waves. A picture that is remembered for life. And then out came the farmers with their binders. The men and women came out to stook the bundles the binders cut and tied. After the stocks were up for a week or more the grain ripened just right and then came the threshing. Some were gas tractors to thresh and others were steam.
Threshing time in Saskatchewan.
After all this was done we used to go out to where the threshing machine was threshing wheat or oats. There we used to play in the straw stacks. Its funny, nobody tried to stop us as it was very dangerous. You could get in trouble very easy. You could slide down and get covered with straw coming out of the machine, but we were very lucky. Nobody was hurt. The only thing was bad was that our clothes were full of straw and dust and we scratched for a long time after that, but we went back for more. It was really nice to sit on one side of the big steam engine and watch the fireman fire the engine with straw. The smell of oil burning on the engine in places and watching the men pitching the sheaves or bundles into the separators and the grain coming out of one spout and the straw out of the blower. While writing this part I stop and reflect on today’s harvest when a family can put up their crop themselves. That is, a family of three or four instead of a threshing crew of 20 or more. Men to do your harvest – threshing only. Then there was the cutting of the grain with binders and stooking to cure the crop, and then threshing. Then you waited till the grain was ripe on the stem and then combine, and have the grain away to a elevator or store it in your granary. After harvest was over, work involved getting ready for winter, putting your garden away, and then there was wood to haul.
Maybe this is repeating the story, but is the way it was done. Some of the poor farmers that had to cut the trees in the spring so the trees would dry up so he could haul them into town to sell for $2.50 per load, close to a cord, and this was hauled up to 4 or 5 miles. So you see how the pioneers had to live. I even had a chance to haul wood in the winter time. As young boys we thought it was a lot of fun and to make a dollar a day in the winter time (it was a lot!) and of course, when it came time to cut the long poles to stove lengths we worked at 25 cents an hour at the machine. That was your spending money.
Sometimes it was only one load of wood a day, depending how far you had to haul. We used to get 2 or 3 loads of wood in the fall, plus a couple of tons of coal. That was supposed to do a house till spring. The wood was brought in long lengths 20 to 30 feet, and after you had all your wood in your yard, an outfit would come in and saw the wood up. Then there was to split it and pile it up, so when the blizzards came you could get your wood. Some winters were very bad for heavy snowfall – up to 4 or 5 feet on the level ground. So you can imagine what big drifts we could have.
I remember we used to have a bluff at the north end of town. The trees were about 20 to 30 ft. high. When we had a good blizzard from the North, this bluff would be full right to the very top. It would be packed so hard, we used to tunnel through the bluff. It was dangerous, when you come to think of it. The tunnel could have caved in and that would have been the end of us. We must have tunneled 1/2 mile of tunnel. We packed all the snow out of the tunnel by toboggan and a box on the toboggan. A person could stand up in the tunnel.
Hardship and Change
Now, back to the Fall. The fall of 1918 was one that I will never forgot, but now as I remember some more history, I must go back to 1915-1916. At that time, my father worked as a section foreman for Canadian National Railways. So we were moved from Buchanan to Runneymede, Saskatchewan during the First World War. The tracks had to be patrolled day and night.
My life at Runneymede wasn’t what a person could call very happy. There was nobody to play with at all. The closest neighbor was 1/2 mile away, so I didn’t do very much playing with the neighbors. Our school was about one and a half miles from our place and of course, our large town was 3 grain elevators, a tool house – this is where the hand car and tools were kept for the railroad – one bunk house for the workmen and our house for the foreman. There was no station if you wanted to stop the passenger train. There was a red flag to flag the train down.
We had to go to school through the bush and one time one of the boys said they seen a bear there. Well, you can imagine how we felt about his story. There never was a bear there! We had to go to the post office twice a week to get the mail even if there was any. In short, life was not too exciting there.
We had a couple of bridges on our section, so it was day and night patrol. There were a lot of troop trains going through from Vancouver to the East coast. There were Chinese and Russian troop trains going through and boy did those trains move. The Engineer had the old engine going all it could. I remember one train with Russian troops stopped to let the passenger train go through. A bunch of us kids went to see the troops. The had a small brown bear with them. They seemed to be very jolly. Most of them were singing. There were 15 to 16 cars full of the young soldiers.
Russell W. Terichow & wife Mary (Verishchagin) c. 1930’s
We stayed at Runnymede for one and a half years. I was 9, going on to 10 then. I had one brother Johnny, that is, a half-brother at that time. Of course more came later. So we were moved back to Buchanan after our stay in Runnymede. 1918 was the year that a lot of people will long remember as the year of the Flu. That is the year my brother Larry was born in April and brother Johnny died in the fall with the flu. That was a cold winter with very little snow, but a lot of rainfall. The roads were cut up very bad with the farmers wagons hauling grain to town and when the ground froze it was really bad walking.
I remember I had to go about 1 mile from town for milk to a farm. That was in the evening after the cows were milked and it was dark by the time I would get home. Walking home on the badly cut up road with 2 cans of milk, sometime you would step into one of those ruts and spill some milk. Lucky the tins had lids on them, not too tight. I would come home with 2/3rds full of milk. Then I had to deliver the milk to 4 or 5 homes as most of the people were sick with the flu. My father and I were the only ones that did not get the flu. I felt sick one evening but the next day I was okay. After the milk was delivered, I would have to go and bring in wood, and coal, ice and what snow I could get, into 5 or 6 homes. This all had to be done after 4 pm when school ended. After the people got somewhat better they started to look after themselves. I will never forget one of our neighbors, Mr. Lunch, bought me a mackinaw coat and pants of the same material. Boy, did I ever sport around.
From 1919 until I left home in 1920 there wasn’t much more to write about. That was the turning point for me. After Johnny died with the flu, his mother was hurt very badly. She in her way blamed me for his death. As it happened, I was feeding him his dinner as she was in bed with the flu herself. After feeding him, I dressed up and went outside to carry some wood into the house for the night. As I was outside Johnny ran outside just as he was in the house – with very light clothes. Well that was the end of him. If that’s what brought this on, he got sick next day and in a few days he was gone. There wasn’t enough doctors in the countryside to help all that were down with the flu. I do not blame her for feeling the way she did, although I couldn’t have helped in any way. So every now and again this would be brought up, how and why Johnny died. I was sorry about the whole thing, but there was nothing I or anybody else could have done about it. It was very hard for my father when this was brought up. He felt sorry for me and for his wife and Larry.
So when I came to my 14th birthday, it was the law of the land at that time that I could leave school. And that is just what happened. I just passed from 6 to 7 and on April 5, 1920, I left school. I picked up all my books and came home. My father asked me what I was doing. I told him I quit school and I was leaving home. I thought it would be best. So he gave me $10. I packed what few clothes I had and that very same day I bought my ticket to Canora, Saskatchewan. That was the big move. I don’t think my father for one minute thought of what was going on, I guess, until I left home. So, I got to Canora and stayed over night in a hotel. I didn’t want to go to the Popove’s, so that they would know what had happened. I didn’t want to put the blame on my step mother as no doubt I wasn’t doing everything that I should have to keep peace and harmony in the home.
Next morning, I phoned my uncle Parfenkoff on his farm and he came to Canora to pick me up. This was supposed to be my summer holidays as I told them, not knowing how things were going to turn out. Cousins Polly and Nettie were going to school and they couldn’t understand why I had my holidays then. Anyway, spring led to summer and summer to fall. I stayed with them after telling them that I left home. They were all very good to me. I helped with all the work that I could do – carry water into the house and would help with feeding cattle and horses and sheep, chickens, etc.
Winter came in very cold with its snowfall. After the first snow the farmers would haul into their yard loads and loads of straw from the straw stacks in the fields for feeding for the stock and feed. Wheat straw for bedding and oat straw for feed for the stock. They got hay and some grain through the day and oat straw for the night. All the chores had to be done before dark. The cattle and the rest of the stock had to be watered and that was done from a well, by hand pump. So you can imagine pumping water for about 60 head – about 1/2 hour to water all of the stock. When it was too cold they wouldn’t come out of the barn, we had to carry some snow into the barn and put it in their mangers. We mixed it with straw and that kept them going until the next day, and then warm or cold, they would drink some.
I must go back a little. I forgot to mention about my cousin Nick. The first winter I was with them, we sort of worked together. He was very good to me. To shorten my story somewhat, that very same winter as I can remember now (and maybe I am wrong) but that was when he killed himself. This is how it happened. It was after Christmas after the rivers froze over. The ice was quite thick – 6 to 8 inches, I would guess. Anyway, one day, he says to me – lets go mink hunting on the Whitesand River. This I had never done before or heard about it, so I thought it would be something to see. So, we dressed up in our winter clothes and away we went to the river which was 2 miles away. We kind of figured out that in so much time we could reach a certain place on the river and then for home as the river made a sort of half circle. So as we walked on the river everything was okay. No mink to be seen as they only come out of the water in the very shallow waters where the water runs fast, as it don’t freeze there. In a few places we saw where the mink caught fish and ate them on the shore. As we would come close to these rapids, I would get off the ice and walk on the shore, but Nick walked closer and closer to the open water and the ice got thinner and thinner. This he did a couple of times, and when he thought it was getting dangerous, he would get off the ice and walk on the shore, but the last time he misjudged and went through the ice. It wasn’t very deep, but he got wet right through to his skin, so it was hurry up to get home. By the time we got home the clothes on him were just like tin and he was very cold. After that he took sick and they took him to Yorkton to the hospital where he passed away. That was the end of his and my mink hunting.
I stayed at my uncle’s place the following year. I helped with spring plowing and harrowing as Uncle Mike did the seeding and then came the haying and summer fallowing, which I liked very much. Summer flew by very fast.
This year and most of all the summer, will be with me as long as I live. Not living with our people very much, I had a very, very good year or summer. After working 6 days a week, on Sunday we used to go to where there were two Doukhobor villages that our people lived in when they came to Canada. One was called “Blagoveshcheniye”, meaning “peaceful”. The other one was “Novoye”, meaning “new” village. This is where we all got together for the day. There was about a 20 acre piece of land that was clear and very level and the river was right below this spot. This is where we all met and played different games. There would be maybe up to 50 boys and girls there. It was 5 miles from where we lived to our gathering place.
So, by the time we got from our place to Novoye Village, there would be about 15 of us from the northeast part of that country and of course there were others from other parts of the country. So we played all day and then its back home. We had to be home about 7 or 8 pm and when we did get home, we had to go and get the horses and cattle home to feed them and milk the cows and then we had a cold supper and bed time. Boy, what a life. I never thought it would end, but it did end. But I have a lot to remember now. That life was something to live through. We had no money, but we had a real good life. I am very thankful for that short but happy life I lived through…