The Immigrant Experience

Rhonda Leanne Stock

© Copyright 2002 by Rhonda Leanne Stock


Photo of house on the homestead.

This story describes how my family came to Canada in the early nineteen hundreds as immigrants. The picture I have included shows Conrad and Christina Stock's grandson standing in front of the house on their homestead.

Conrad Stock was born March 22, 1870 in the small German colony of Katzbach in the region of Bessarabia in Southern Russia. He was the ninth child of eleven and grew up in the small village where he became a cabinetmaker and farmer. When Conrad was twenty-one years of age, he went to work on the farm of Wilhelm Schelske in Cogealac, another town in the area. It was here that he met his future wife, Wilhelm’s daughter, Christina. She was only fifteen at the time, but Conrad told her he would marry her someday. On January 6, 1896, when Christina was nineteen years old, they were married in Cogealac.

Conrad and Christina remained in Cogealac with her family until the call of the land of opportunity grew loud enough that they answered it. It was the spring of 1907 when Conrad headed for America to search out the land before the rest of the family arrived. He departed from the port of Bremen on April 11, 1908 aboard the German ship Cassel. Christina and their five children waited back in Cogealac to hear from him and clean up their affairs before leaving themselves.

While Conrad was on the ocean and Christina was waiting at home, she had an unwelcome visitor. One day, a gypsy woman appeared at her door to beg for food. This was quite common in that area and the gypsies often went from village to village to tell fortunes as well as seek for food. Christina, being a Christian woman, did not want her fortune told by this woman, but was afraid of her. Spiritual activity was common in that area of the world and she had seen enough to make her wary. The gypsy could sense her fear and turned to her, saying, “I can see that you are both angry and afraid of me. I know that your husband left for America. There will be a big accident when your husband’s ship lands, but he will not be hurt.” Christina could only wait to hear from Conrad and pray.

On May 5, 1907, the ship put into port in Galveston, Texas. As Conrad waited to disembark, he could see the throngs of people crowding onto the wooden dock to meet the ship. There were so many people on the dock that it suddenly collapsed, plunging hundreds of people into the waters beneath it. The wave created by the collapse rocked the ship where it sat waiting to unload. Conrad remembered the water turning red with the blood of the injured or killed. He was unsure how many people had perished that day, but all those on the ship were uninjured. It had happened just as the woman had predicted. Conrad stayed in Texas for a short while and actually thought about homesteading there before he decided to move to North Dakota where two of Christina’s brothers had immigrated several years before.

In the fall of 1907, Christina, her five children, and her parents, Wilhelm and Caroline Schelske, set out for America to join Conrad. When they sold all their belongings before leaving, they were faced with some difficult challenges. They could not take much with them, so it had to be sold, but they could not get any money for the goods. Once people knew they were leaving, the people took advantage of their need and paid little or nothing for expensive goods. Many items were simply given away to family because there was nothing else that could be done. They travelled on the Grosser Kurfust from Bremen in August. At this time, her youngest child was not even a year old. The trip across the ocean was long and hard for Christina. She was very ill on the ship, because many of the passengers had stocked themselves with very smelly herring. They would eat the fish and then get sick, the smell of which was more than Christina could stand. They also supplied plenty of hot chocolate instead of coffee, which Christina could not bring herself to drink. The ship itself was like a huge town, and each family was supplied with their own cutlery for the journey. Fortunately for Christina, her father was not sick at all, and he cared for the children during the twelve-day journey. At one point a huge wave struck the ship. The sailors shouted for everyone to get below the deck and they closed the hatches just in time as the impact rocked the ship. They landed in New York on August 15, 1907. Here they were almost quarantined because one of the children had an eye infection, but they were allowed to continue on and board the train headed for North Dakota.

The train ride was almost as bad as the ship had been. The mixture of people on the train resulted in an extremely noisy ride. Christina remembered one man having an accordion, which he played while others shouted and clapped loudly. But in spite of the noise, Christina was just glad they were no longer on the ship with the smells and seasickness. They had no idea what the trip had in store for them. While passing beside one of the great lakes, Wilhelm looked out the train’s window and saw another training heading straight toward them at the next curve. He immediately knew they were headed for a direct collision. He grabbed his family and they got down on their knees in the train car and began to pray fervently. Within moments, the other train had crashed into theirs, sending baggage and people flying about the car. One man near them had been hit by flying luggage and his head was bleeding. In the coach ahead of theirs, the floorboards had splintered and were sticking up in the middle of the car. Slowly their car began to lean on its broken wheel toward the lake beneath them. Panic spread like wildfire throughout the car. To the passengers, it felt like ages before the rescue arrived and they were allowed to leave the car. They had to wait for a long time before another train was dispatched to the scene and they were allowed to continue their journey to North Dakota.

When the family arrived in North Dakota, Conrad and Christina were finally reunited. They stayed with Christina’s brothers for some time before deciding to settle in Saskatchewan in the Happy Land District. Christina remembered one incident that took place while in North Dakota. She was near the cabin one day when she saw a very strange-looking dog standing a little ways off and barking at the open door. She asked one of her daughters why that strange dog was barking at them. The girl replied that it was not a dog, but a coyote! Christina had never seen a coyote before, being used to the huge wolves that walked in the forests of Romania.

In the summer of 1910, Conrad and Wilhelm, along with one of Christina’s brothers decided to head for Saskatchewan to homestead there. They headed north to check the land out, but did not bring the rest of the family until the following spring. They travelled by train to the Maple Creek area where they stayed for nearly a month. During this month they lived in a small shack, which was not sealed very well around the eaves. The children remembered waking up in the morning after a huge snowstorm to find their beds covered in snow!

The family set out shortly after that for the two-day journey to the homestead with the wagons. About halfway there, they decided to stop for the night and sleep with the wagons. The sky was looking dark and stormy, but they had no other choices. At that moment, an old man came along and saw them. He knew it was going to storm, so he invited them to stay at his home for the night. A huge snowstorm blew in and they were forced to stay there for three or four days before they could set out again for the homestead. When they first arrived on the farm, there was no house, so the family lived in a large tent that was set up on one of the hills. The tent was so big that they could fit all their furniture in it. Unfortunately, it was also too big to be set on a hill and one morning, a huge storm took the tent and everything in it. They found pieces of furniture and goods up to a mile away. The family then lived in one of the granaries until their sod house was built.

And so it was that the Stock and Schelske families set out to pioneer their portion of the Canadian West. The conditions were often harsh and unforgiving, but they never looked back. They had come to a land of opportunity where they would raise their nine children in freedom, untouched by the terror that would come upon their homeland in the years to come. They bravely forged a path so that their descendants could live in this great land and have better opportunities than they could ever have hoped for.

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