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(The Life and Times of Jacob Zacharias)
by Neil Zacharias


    "Foda" was born April 26, 1856 in Nenosterovick*, South Russia; a village near the Dnieper River. His parents were farming. It was a very good farming district. They used to grow a lot of watermelons and then cook the year's supply of syrup from them. The only thing I know about his activities as a child is that they enjoyed skating on the Dneiper river. He got married quite young, at 18, on Dec. 10, l874. In 1876 my sister Mary was born in Russia. That same year they moved to Canada during the summer months. In Sept., 1876, his wife died, and in April, 1877, he married my mother. His first wife was an adopted child; her parents were John Klassens. Their farm was next to ours and they were our very dear grandparents. They were always so good to us. He was a very stout and very jovial man. So we really had three grandparents.

    I don't remember anything about my mother's parents. But Foda's parents I remember quite well. They lived in a small house on the same yard on our farm. Grandfather was quite a tall man. I remember him coming over, how he would pick me up and hoist me to the ceiling. Foda's father died in 1899 and his mother died in 1900. She stayed with our parents after grandfather died.

    The reason for leaving Russia was on account of freedom of religion. As you know, the Mennonites do not take part in military training and Russia had compulsory military service. Canada offered them freedom, including their own education system, and teaching the German language in the schools.

    The journey took six weeks from Russia to Manitoba. They crossed England to Liverpool, and landed in Montreal. Then by rail into the U.S.A., and west to the Red River. There they took a river boat along the Red River into Manitoba. They settled in a village 12 miles west of the Red River. They called it Rosenfeld (field of roses.) The nearest town was Emerson, 35 miles S.E. on the American border. The nearest forest from which to get their fuel for the winter was 35 miles west, on the Pembina mountains. There were about 15 families in the village, and during the first winter, two or three families would share a small hut, built of sod. They took up their homestead around this village. There was a small lake, a ½ mile long and at high water about 800 feet wide. Foda took up a homestead bordering this lake, called Buffalo Lake. I guess he wanted his boys to have the opportunity of having the pleasure of skating and we certainly did enjoy it. We all had a pair of skates; the dutch style - with curved steel runners fastened to wood and tied on with string. Foda used to skate with us. During the spring thaw a lot of water would come from the Pembina mountains and the lake would overflow and flood a lot of farms.

    Foda was the teacher in the village. The first years they paid him $35.00 a year, and he furnished the school room in his house. They also plowed 10 acres and seeded it with wheat on his farm. In 1894 they moved out of the village to the farm.

    In the late 1890's Foda started to read the New Church doctrines. When the Mennonites found out, Foda was told that he was not welcome in the Mennonite church any longer. But most of the friends kept up associations with my parents. Foda had two brothers and two sisters. The brothers and one sister, Mrs.Wiebe, kept up the relationship as before, but the other sister and her husband broke off completely for awhile. They lived in a village about 20 miles away. Parents went to see them during the winter months. When they came in, his sister, Mrs. Penner, said, "I will put your coats close to the stove to keep them warm, because you will want to go home right after dinner," and Foda said, "No, we are not going back to-day; we are staying for night." But they did not eat with them in the same room. They set a table in the kitchen for parents where they had to eat alone.

    In the early 1900's people started to go west. Some to the Rosthern district, others to Herbert, and some to Alberta. Rev. Klaas Peters, the New Church minister, advocated to settle in Alberta; he said the Herbert district was too dry. Through the influence of Mr. Peters, Foda decided to go to Alberta. In the spring of 1906, Foda, Jacob and John ([Paul Zacharias'] Dad) went to Lethbridge, Alta. Foda bought two sections of C.P R. land near Lethbridge. In those days 1280 acres was a large farm. They were going to build a house during the summer months, and more after the crop was harvested in Manitoba. Foda bought a team of horses, a wagon and loaded it with lumber, to get an early start in the morning. (I can imagine what a sleepless time Foda had that night!) At the breakfast table in the morning Foda said to the boys that he had changed his mind during the night, that he was going to sell what he had bought here, go to Herbert and build a flour mill. Just imagine - he could not speak or write English, and no business experience. How he managed to get the estimates of the cost of the whole operation, where to go to get blueprints for the building and the machinery, must have been verydifficult at times. Well, they built the house that still stands there, and in Sept., 1906, we moved in there.

    I think it was New Year's day, 1907, when Uncle Jake blew the steam whistle for first time. It was a very loud whistle, and Uncle Jake blew it regularly, morning, noon and evening. Now the milling business had started. Foda learned the milling trade from Mr. Hamilton. John - [Paul's] Dad - was at the business end. There was no elevator at the time, so they were not buying grain to ship. It was all hand work, no big scales to weigh the load and dump it. The farmer brought it in bags, 2 bushels to the bag, lifted them onto a ledge, and [John] would take them and pour the wheat into a hopper and weigh it. They had a small hand scale to test the wheat: if it weighed 64 lbs to the bushel, they would get 40 Ibs of flour per bushel, and the bran and shorts, and pay a certain amount for grinding it. It was all hard work those days; we even pumped a lot of water by hand for the steam boiler. Henry could not work in the mill because of his rheumatism. Martin was grinding the feed grain for the farmers. He did not like the job, so in 1909 he went to work in a general store, By that time I was 15 years old, had finished my college education (grade 1 to grade 8 in three years), so I took over Martin's job. By 1910 [John] had decided what his occupation was going to be, and he enrolled at the Menn. Edu. Institute in Altona, Man. That was the end of Foda's dream. He sold his flour mill. When I think back now, Foda must have had many very trying times, but the firm belief he had in divine providence helped him to overcome the disappointments, for I have never heard him complain.


* A transcription error. Probably Neu Osterwick, a village in the Chortitza Colony, was meant.


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