Manitoba Historical Society
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Wapella Farm Settlement: The First Successful Jewish Farm Settlement in Canada *

by Cyril E. Leonoff

MHS Transactions, Series 3, Number 27, 1970-71 Season

This article was published originally in MHS Transactions by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make this online version available as a free, public service. As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

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In the summer of 1969, the author along with his teen-age son and three retired farmers, the Barish brothers, Sam 72, Ben 81 and Eli 88, made a three thousand mile return automobile trip from their present home in Vancouver, British Columbia to a farm community in Saskatchewan. What was the significance of this journey? For my son and myself it was a first trip to view the farm that our grandfather and great-grandfather had homesteaded back in 1889. For our tour guides the Barishes, it was the last trip 'home' together [1] to lands that their grandfather, father, and they themselves had cleared, broken and farmed continuously for three quarters of a century, a long period of Western Canadian history.

Because of the interest stimulated by that trip I have researched this history, and stand before your learned societies tonight to discuss the way of life of the Wapella Jewish farm settlement from pioneer days to modern times. The story of Wapella has not been told heretofore; it has received no more than a few lines in official publications. We are fortunate in Western Canada that our history is within living memory. Much of it still can he collected from original sources. But time is short. The surviving pioneers are in their '80s and '90s. This research has involved taped interviews with pioneers scattered over many parts of the continent, the collection and restoration of faded photographs and documentary material. In this way an important link in the early history of the Jewish people in Western Canada has been preserved.

Background to Settlement

The background and motivations for emigration of Jews from Central and Eastern Europe and their settlement in Western Canada has been covered in previous writings by Rosenberg (1939), [2] Chiel (1961), [3] Belkin (1966), [4] and most recently by Arnold (1968), [5] in a paper to your societies. These may be summarized as follows:

For years Russia had imposed severe legal restrictions on its Jews. Among these were limitations in travel and movement, cancellation of land settlement privileges, years of compulsory military service, and quotas for admission of Jews to high schools and universities. In 1881 the assassination of Czar Alexander II instigated a wave of government-condoned physical attacks, known as pogroms, on the Jews, leaving thousands dead and homeless.

These events resulted in a movement among the Jews, particularly those living in Bessarabia and Southern Russia, to emigrate and settle upon land in other countries. Some nostalgically gravitated towards the ancestral homeland of Palestine, participating in what is called in Hebrew the first Aliyah, meaning the first return to the Holy Land. This movement resulted in the founding of early agricultural colonies in that country. Others looked westward towards the land that was broadly known to them as 'America,' where they heard there was freedom from oppression, and opportunity for land settlement available to all newcomers.

Concurrent with these events was the opening of the Canadian West to immigration, spearheaded by the entry into Confederation of Manitoba, in 1870, and British Columbia, in 1871. By 1885 the promise of a transcontinental railway, linking these western provinces and traversing the vast unpopulated land in between, had been fulfilled. The active policy of the Canadian Government was to open the empty lands of the northwest to homesteading in order to consummate Confederation and to resist American encroachment. This was aided by the prolific propaganda of the new railway company, which sought the traffic of men and goods for its lines, and by colonization companies who were granted large tracts of land on which to place settlers.

By these means Western Canada became the new homeland for many different ethnic and religious groups. The Jews were very much a part of this story. As Robert England (1936), [6] in his Study of Contemporary Land Settlement of Western Canada has pointed out: "It is not commonly recognized that Jewish settlers were amongst the early settlers of Western Canada and that their settlement predates the German, Ukrainian, Doukhobor, Russian and Hungarian settlements."

Difficulties on the Canadian Prairies

The propaganda reaching the prospective immigrants invariably failed to spell out the primitive and hostile conditions of the Canadian northwest of those days. These included: long and severe cold winters with snow storms and blizzards; a short, hot growing season; vast undeveloped spaces, lack of communication and consequent isolation; sparsity of almost all amenities; other hazards to farming such as frost, hail, drought, wind, rust, grasshoppers, and various vagaries of nature. In those early days there was a lack of technology and practical experience to cope with farming problems in a northern climate. As a result, many early homesteaders did not stay long on their farmlands.

Special Difficulties Faced by Jewish Farmers

All pioneers faced these problems. But the prospective Jewish farmers had additional handicaps. They came with virtually no farming experience; in Russia they had been prevented by law from owning land. Thus they had been forced into occupations of unskilled laborers, petty tradesmen, or small shopkeepers. A few had agricultural experience but this was generally limited to the job of overseer for an absentee landlord, a role hardly relevant to Canadian conditions. Other ethnic groups who came to Canada had been farmers all their lives. They had labored as peasants on other lands and now had the opportunity to work their own land.

In Canada each farmer was a free enterpriser, aiming to acquire enough equipment to run an independent operation. But for the Jewish refugees who arrived inexperienced and without funds it was almost an overwhelming task. By contrast their neighbors on the farm were generally of Anglo-Saxon origin, often second generation farmers whose parents had pioneered in Ontario. Life was easier for them because they came with a background of experience and sufficient capital to purchase good equipment and animals. Gradually the Jewish farmers, by trial and error and with the help of their non-Jewish neighbors, learned to produce a livelihood from the land. However in days when wheat sold for 25¢ a bushel, it was a painfully slow process to build up sufficient capital to run a successful farm operation.

Significance of Wapella Jewish Settlement

What is the significance of the Jewish farm settlement at Wapella, Canada, founded in the 1880s?

Despite the almost insurmountable difficulties, this was one of the early farming efforts, which demonstrated on a small scale that Jews, given the opportunity and desire, could return to the land. Eventually a number became capable farmers. This same phenomenon on a greater scale has been confirmed by modern Jewish farmers in the State of Israel.

The Wapella Jewish settlers migrated on their own and quietly went about their business without financial aid from Government officials or Jewish organizations. Not until 1901 when a large part of their crops was killed by frost did they receive outside assistance. Twenty-seven Wapella settlers applied to the Jewish Colonization Association, an organization set up to assist Jewish farmers in various parts of the world, and received loans, which they repaid in full within 17 years. [7] Conversely the fact that the Wapella farmers enjoyed a considerable degrees of success is undoubtedly owing to their private enterprise. Other settlements organized and financed by philanthropic societies often were bogged down in official 'red tape,' and sometimes lacked the individual initiative to succeed. An earlier attempt at Jewish settlement located just thirty miles south had failed, partly for these reasons.

The Jewish community of Wapella was never large enough to maintain its own communal institutions other than Jewish religious services. They shared with other groups the facilities of schools, commercial and farm organizations, social and fraternal societies, and other facets of rural life. The Jews always had some involvement with the general community and thereby adapted much more quickly to the new environment than a group set apart. Yet their tenacity to survive as an individual group has been characteristic of the Jews in their adopted lands for the last two thousand years, and was an early manifestation of what Gibbon (1938) [8] was later to call the "Canadian Mosaic," whereby Canada has been populated by a large number of ethnic groups, each of which has maintained its distinctive history, customs and traditions.

The Wapella settlement became the forerunner of some dozen Jewish farm settlements that were established later on the Canadian prairies. Wapella served as an excellent training ground for new immigrants and young Jewish men desiring to become farmers. Several each year hired out as farm workers to established Jewish farmers at Wapella, with a view to becoming independent farmers in other settlements. Second generation sons of Wapella Jewish farmers, some of whom graduated from the newly established Agricultural Colleges of Manitoba and Saskatchewan, became progressive modern-day farmers, and were employed to teach their skills to the new farmers of later settlements.

Beginnings of Wapella Settlement [9]

In 1888 Abraham Klenman [10] migrated from Bessarabia and landed in Montreal with his family, including his son-in-law Solomon Barish. [11] Both Klenman and Barish had some limited agricultural experience in the old country; Klenman had overseen an agricultural estate while Barish had farmed in the Russian-Jewish colony of Dombroveni. Although 57 years old at the time, Klenman resolved to go west and settle on one of the homesteads offered by the Canadian Government. [12] To a displaced person 160 acres for $10 looked like an inviting prospect. He could not foresee the hardships that would have to be endured in pioneering the virgin Canadian prairie. Klenman was destined to be the patriarch who led his followers to the promised land. He agitated effectively among his Jewish immigrant neighbors, with the result that by the fall of 1888 he and another man were appointed to travel west and find a tract of land suitable for the settlement of a number of Jewish families.

Stopping off in Winnipeg they had a cordial meeting with Mr. L. A. Hamilton, the Dominion Commissioner of Immigration. He sent them to Deloraine, Manitoba in the company of an official of the Department who could speak German, a tongue akin to the Yiddish [13] spoken by the Russian Jews. They did not take up land in that district, as the soil was too light to attract farmers accustomed to the fertile black soil of Bessarabia. They were then advised to travel farther west, and were offered homesteads within a radius of four miles from the little village of Regina. Here again they were not attracted by the unforested prairie plain, which contained a heavy gumbo clay soil that baked easily in dry weather and was sticky in wet weather. Having no money to buy lumber they decided to settle in a bush area in order to make use of the trees for buildings. The trees also provided fuel for the settlers' own needs, and a commodity that they could sell in the towns to purchase other provisions until a grain crop could be harvested. Furthermore they knew that in the bush country the necessary water supply would be available near the surface, while on the plain it is attainable only at considerable depth. Ultimately the penalty paid for settling in the bush country was the enormous amount of labor and time required to clear the land.

While in the neighborhood, Klenman heard that another Jewish farmer, John Heppner, had settled the previous year northeast of Wapella, a town on the Canadian Pacific Railway line, then in the Northwest Territories but now in the Province of Saskatchewan, located 20 miles west of the Manitoba border. Heppner. a Russian Jew, travelling the usual route via England, had been financed by Herman Landau, a prominent Anglo-Jewish financier who was also C.P.R. representative in London. Landau in his official capacity with the railway was eager to attract European settlers to its large Canadian land holdings in the northwest; also as a philanthropist he was seeking to find a refuge for Russian Jews. Intending to show by the example of Heppner and a few others that Jewish farmers could succeed, he hoped to persuade a large number to follow. Klenman was naturally attracted by the presence of another Jewish farmer. Finding the land forested and with a fertile black soil, he decided to settle in the vicinity of Heppner's farm.

A further obstacle stood in the path of the Jewish settlers. They needed a compact tract of land, not only to satisfy the need for mutual help and comfort in a strange country, but also for religious reasons. The Russian Jews of those days were to a man religiously orthodox. Their religion was a daily way of life. To conduct, a Jewish service requires a minyan [14] that is a minimum of ten adult males. In the days of slow oxen and prairie trails a distance of even a few miles apart was unsuitable. Their religion also forbade working animals on the Sabbath; so they had to walk. Their requirement was difficult to arrange since the odd-numbered sections had been granted to the C.P.R., [15] leaving only the even sections open for homesteads. With the inducement of a considerable number of settlers in mind, an unusual concession was made whereby the Government and Railway agreed to interchange sections so that the Jews could have adjacent farms.

Klenman took up his homestead and started to build a log house with a straw roof. He was accustomed in Southern Europe to a longer summer season. The Canadian winter had set in by the time he had hand-dug a cellar. So he covered it with poles and put straw on the top, with a square hole in the roof and a ladder for entry. Klenman lived like a prairie gopher during the first winter in what was virtually a hole in the ground. On completion of the house in the spring his wife and family came from Montreal.

Between 1888 and 1892 some forty Jewish families took up homesteads in the Wapella District. Most had followed Klenman from Montreal. Some had begun farming in North Dakota, but finding that bald prairie inhospitable, moved north into Canada. Others had been construction workers on the railway. Most of the settlers were from Southern Russia and Bessarabia with a sprinkling of Rumanian, Galician and Lithuanian Jews.

Meanwhile Klenman's son-in-law, Barish, had stayed in Montreal, working in a cigar factory to support his family. But he was not well, and the doctor advised the fresh air of the country to prevent consumption. Sending his family out ahead to live with Klenman, he took training in Chicago to become a shochet [16] (ritual slaughterer) for fowl, at the request of the Wapella community. At first the settlers had to feed off prairie chickens. This posed no problem to the gentiles, who simply shot the birds. But the Jewish religion forbade shooting; so the Jews had to trap the chickens live and to shecht [17] them in the religiously prescribed way. In 1892 Barish landed in Winnipeg with $100 cash, which was sufficient to pay his fare out to the farm and to buy a team of oxen, a plough and a wagon in order to begin farming.

This ends the first chapter in the development of the Wapella Settlement. During the lifetimes of Abraham Klenman, Solomon Barish, their sons and daughters, the Jewish settlement at Wapella flourished. Several other families who came at the beginning also remained for many years. By means of excerpts from taped interviews with the pioneers, a selection of photographs and documents, I intend to trace the other chapters in the history and social life of the Wapella Farm Settlement.


The following narrative is a composite of several taped interviews that the author has held with the pioneers, [18] or in a few cases, personal reminiscences put down in writing by them. The author has done only a minor amount of editing to ensure continuity and flow, since the flavour of the life and times is best transmitted in the words of the settlers themselves.

Why They Came

Do you remember any discrimination against Jews in Russia?

"Oh yes, there was discrimination in the big city where we lived - no doubt about it. In our city we had big shipbuilding, and they went on strike. So they used the Jews as scapegoats and had what they call a 'pogrom,' with armed bands roaming the streets. My father closed his store, shutters and all. But he wouldn't leave the place - he had his gun, he had it loaded. He said if anybody breaks through here he's going to get as many as he could before they get him. But nothing transpired." - William Leonoff

What was the inducement for your father to leave Russia and come to Canada?

"He always said that he wouldn't want his children to live the type of life that he lived. The government was corrupt. A Jew had no chance whatsoever. And he said he doesn't care what he's going to do - if he has to carry stones - he's going to go to 'America' as we all knew of it at the time, and they came to Canada. As a matter of fact, although he was a short man and never did any physical work before this, his first job when he got to Winnipeg was in building the subway under Main Street, working with a pick and shovel, and a wheelbarrow. He also helped to build the Royal Alexandra Hotel." - William Leonoff

Do you recall why your father came to the farm?

"The only thing I know is that my father, (Levi Pelenovsky) came to the farm through an uncle. He wrote to Russia: 'Come to America because the government gives 160 acres for $10. And you can plant all the tobacco that you want.' Father was a tobacco dealer - he had a plantation in Russia. I can always remember he brought on the ship some seed-a great big bag of seed. He comes to the farm and it's 40 - 50 degrees below zero. This is a joke-who could grow tobacco? Then the poor fellows what did they have to do-cut scrub and dig stones." - Fanny (Pelenovsky) Brotman

When were you actually on the land in Wapella?

"In 1891 or '92 - of course we were just kids at that time. My dad (Solomon Barish) came from Bessarabia, on the border between Rumania and Russia, and landed in Montreal. In Montreal a new immigrant with a family of small children had to do something. So the Jewish people there got him a bill of goods from some wholesale. And they took him out to the French district to peddle. He had to carry that pack on his back, and he couldn't speak English or French. So he tried it for one day, then dropped the pack and hitch-hiked back to town. He was a lover of land, and of course he made up his mind he was going out west to farm." - Ben Barish

"The reason I left my homeland was that the Jewish people did not have the same rights as the Russians had. Their laws made me mad because the Jews were not allowed to occupy themselves at farming. They foolishly thought that a Jew did not have the ability to farm. Then I had to go into the army. So instead I thought it would be better to prove that a Jew could be a farmer just as well as a Russian could.

I realized my ambition in Wapella, Canada. I started in 1888 alone and with no experience, uprooted trees, cleared bush, and broke up the land. Eventually with the help of my wife and son I became a 'big' farmer, work three quarters of land, have lots of cattle and horses, and full equipment from a needle to a threshing machine. I have made the land one of the most fruitful farms in the District, and have proved that a Jew can be a farmer just as well as anybody else." [19] - Harry Jacobson

"When my father first came here he had a subcontract with the contractors that were building the railroad in this district. He would bring out provisions, walking behind a team of oxen from Winnipeg to Fort Qu'Appelle. Then, after he had delivered the provisions, he would buy cattle around the district and walk them all the way back to Winnipeg. It would take him a month to come out and a month to go back. In 40 degrees below zero weather he had to sleep among the cattle to keep warm." - Gordon Kliman

"My father (Alter Kaplun) was one of the original settlers. They worked on the railroad and when they got to Virden they heard you could get land for $10 a quarter. So they quit the job and came out here to homestead. Father had been a Cossack in the Russian army and was an expert horseman. My mother came out with my grandfather (Kalman Isman), an early homesteader, and my dad married her on the farm. I've still got the marriage certificate. That little log cabin they built in 1895 was their first home after marriage." - Barney Kaplun

Conditions When They Arrived

"Wapella [20] and Moosomin [21] were our towns." - Becky (Pelenovsky) Kahn

Do you remember what Wapella looked like when you arrived?

"Sure I remember - there was nothing to look at. The village of Wapella, 8 miles from our farm, consisted of the C.P.R. Station, (Fig. 1) the Queen's Hotel, one store, a blacksmith shop, and a few houses with just a handful of people. Moosomin was larger but farther distant. Rocanville and Tantallon came years later, after 1903 when the branch line went through." - Becky (Pelenovsky) Kahn; Fanny (Pelenovsky) Brotman

"We didn't have money for food so we lived off prairie chickens. We used to trap them alive; and father who was a shochet would kill them that's how we got our meat. Some people hunted rabbits and deer, but for we orthodox Jews our religion forbade shooting of animals for meat." - Sam Barish

"I went threshing in the fall for a Christian neighbor. I worked for six weeks with my oxen at wages of $35 a month, but in the end did not collect a cent.

In the fall everything had to be prepared for winter, because in the winter you were often snowed in by drifts and couldn't go anyplace. I prepared wood for market and logs to build a small pole shanty.

The winter was very cold, but we had no sleighs and no warm clothing. We drove about half clothed in wagons until the snow stopped all travel. There was very little money for no work could be obtained in the winter. So we lived very economic.

There were only two settlers between my farm and Wapella, 15 miles distant. Once when I was just 4 miles out on my way home from Wapella a blizzard started. The blizzard was so bad you could not see your hand before you. I could not turn back in case I would not find the road again. I got home safely, but later learned of two other men who were also on the way from Wapella that night. One froze to death and the other froze his legs so badly that they had to be cut off at the hospital." - Harry Jacobson

"They were pioneering days and we went through plenty, don't worry. I was the oldest child, a girl of nine when we came. I had to help my dad with everything outside, stook and stack, make hay, put my foot up on the saw and saw wood by hand all winter long." - Fanny (Pelenovsky) Brotman

Clearing Land and Hauling Wood - A First Living

Can you describe the prairie land in the early days before it was cultivated?

"In our area there was no clean land-nothing but bush and heavy poplar trees. That's what they call the parkland belt. It runs, roughly speaking, from the south-eastern tip of Saskatchewan in a northwesterly direction through the Province. To the south of that for the most part is prairie country. The bush land took a lot of work to clear. Our dad and oldest brother Eli spent the whole first summer clearing 10 acres of land. Mind you, the soil beneath was a black topsoil over a clay subsoil, good for farming." - Ben & Sam Barish

"To make the land out of bush you cut the scrub down by hand using a scrub scythe with a long handle and a big blade. For trees, you dig the dirt around the roots, get a young kid to climb the tree, and hand him up a logging chain to tie up 10 to 15 ft. above, and have the oxen pull the tree down. Then they would cut the roots, cut off the branches, and pull the tree out of the way. In the summer time between that and making a living was grim." - Ben Barish

"We had nothing before the crop came in, and even then this provided only one annual income, which was very small until sufficient land could be cleared. So the only means of earning a living was to cut wood and haul it to town for sale." - Sam Barish

"In the winter when father used to go and cut logs in the bushes, he would have to wear gunny sacks around his feet-then put on big rubbers over that. When he came home they were so cold with the snow and ice that we'd actually have to tear away the overshoes from the gunny sacks." - Ada (Barish) Silverton

"But Wapella was very small. A half dozen loads would flood the town. So we hauled the wood to Moosomin, a larger town, which was 25 miles away from the farm by prairie trail-there were no roads. Since the wood had to be cut by hand and the oxen travelled very slowly, 1 or 2 miles an hour, it took two days round trip to prepare and sell a load of wood. So the best you could do with really hard work was two or three trips a week. The wood sold for $1.00 or if you were lucky $1.25 a load, in cash or in trade for groceries. It wasn't much, but that's how we made our living." - Ben & Sam Barish

What kind of wood was this?

"Just poplar for the most part, used for fuel in town. They shipped it out to some other towns as well." - Sam Barish

How did you cut it?

"Just through 'elbow grease' and swinging an axe. You'd cut it down, trim it, and load it up. You couldn't sell green wood and couldn't wait until it cured; so you had to pick out trees that had died and were dry. They were pretty fussy in those days-it had to be nice straight stuff, and it had to be all pretty well the same length-in full lengths. You didn't measure it with a rule, but it had to look good; otherwise they wouldn't buy it." - Sam Barish

Tell me about the trip to Moosomin.

"The Jewish farmers travelled together in groups. Three or four farmers would prepare their loads of wood during the day. After supper they would set out and travel all night, because they couldn't afford to lose a day's work. They would carry along a bundle of hay to feed the oxen and some bread, or potatoes, in their pockets, for themselves. During the winter it would be 30 degrees below zero or maybe colder. They would stop to build a fire on the trail to warm up and to bake the potatoes. Arriving in Moosomin in the morning, they would have plenty of daylight to sell or trade the wood, and be home the next night. R. D. McNaughton, General McNaughton's [22] father, was the big merchant in Moosomin at that time, and he used to take anything and everything you had in trade for groceries." - Ben & Sam Barish

"I remember as a kid, when I sold the wood for $1.00, I couldn't put the oxen into a stable and pay for a hotel room, as that would take all the money. So the fellow who ran the stable let me tie them outside, and I had a bundle of hay with me to give them to eat. And he let me sleep on the floor in the office by the big pot-belly stove. I took off my coat, put it on the floor, and lay down and slept there. That's how we were pioneering.

I remember one time I was coming home, it was 40 degrees below zero and I couldn't keep myself warm. Even the oxen were shaking their heads and blowing their noses, we were facing such a strong wind. I was afraid to lay down on the sleigh to sleep in case I'd freeze to death. So I kept awake by walking after the oxen. I couldn't keep warm following the oxen because they were too slow. So I had to go back half a mile and started running to catch up to them-that's how I warmed myself. Then we came to a neighbor about four miles from our place. The oxen being so cold ran with their tongues into the house. Mrs. Pelenovsky came out and got hold of me and said: 'You're going to freeze to death - you can't go home, you're going to stay overnight!' I said: 'How can I stay here overnight, my people will think that I froze to death?' So I wrote a little note to tell dad that: 'I'm staying over at Pelenovsky's house.' And I tied it to one of the oxen's horns and let them go home. The oxen got home, the dog started barking, and father came out. When he saw the oxen but didn't see me around, he figured Eli must have frozen on the trail. So he started out after me. But my brother who was unhitching the oxen to get them into the stable, saw the note on the horn and called father back." - Eli Barish

"Before Passover [23] the Jewish farmers got together to cut a big load of wood. They delegated my uncle (Mr. Jacob Goldenberg) to go into town, sell the wood and with the proceeds to buy a bag of flour, in order that they could bake matzos [24] for the Passover. And my uncle went to town it took several days with the oxen-and sold the wood. But he was very absent-minded - his head was always in the clouds. So he turned around and came back without the bag of flour." - Marge (Edess) Silverman

Buildings - (See Fig. 2 Typical Wapella Homestead)

Do you remember living in a sod house?

"Oh definitely. We lived in a log house and the roof was covered with sods. The house was plastered inside and out with clay, then whitewashed for appearance. We got lime for the whitewash by burning limestone gathered from the fields over hot wood fires. The house was built in parts starting in 1895. Originally it was just a one-room house. As the family grew we put on additions. We already had lumber with which to build a kitchen lean-to. Then we knocked off the sod roof and built an upstairs with bedrooms, having a shingle roof on it. Later we built a verandah around the front and side. We lived in this house until it caught fire from the stove and burned down in January 1917." - Ben & Sam Barish

How did you build the house?

"Before we got married, Sam (Brotman) and I built the house. And his brothers and sisters used to come and help us. We cut down poplar trees for logs and chinked the cracks with mud. We'd make a plaster out of a mixture of the clay, straw and manure from the cattle. And we mixed it with our feet - it's surprising I've lived that long! (91 years - 1971). Later on when they could afford they had horses to do the mixing - but not at the beginning. And you'd put the log down, then you'd put the plaster, then you'd put the log-until the walls were built.

It's surprising that place stood. We were on that hill and used to have very bad storms. I remember one day we had a cyclone that took roofs away, that took homes away. And our home stood there-it didn't touch one window. But what I claimed then and still do - we had the Sefer Torah [25] at our place. My husband Sam was away to Wapella, and I took my baby Manny and held him in my arms. I remember it (70 years later) just like it was yesterday. I'll never forget. I sat down near the Oren Kodesh, [26] and I always thought it protected me. Nothing was damaged. My dad's roof was taken off. Miles away you found pieces." - Fanny (Pelenovsky) Brotman

"For the roof we used poles covered with sods. You would select an area of solid ground and plough furrows in strips. Then you'd take an axe and cut the sod into squares, load them onto a wagon, and hand them up to someone on the roof who laid them side by side like you would lay brick. Then you would take loose dirt and throw it on top to fill in the cracks. Then we'd sow grass on top so the rain would run off and the sod wouldn't erode. The houses were warm, and the roofs were satisfactory as long as it didn't rain. But when it rained heavily for a couple of hours the rain started to seep through. Then we would place cans all over the place to catch the water, and would have to move under a dry spot." - Ben & Eli Barish

"I remember the roof of the sod house caved in on us one night during a rain storm. Father had been in town to buy groceries. But he had left a sack of flour on the wagon, having forgotten to unload it before going to bed. However, during the night it had started to rain. He awakened, and remembering the flour, he hurried to bring it in. Within seconds after he went out the roof fell in. I remember in the excitement of us getting out from under the debris, one of the youngest children was overlooked for a time before being discovered missing. How lucky we were that we came out of the incident without a tragedy." [27] - Norman Wasserman

"The house that grandfather (Klenman) built originally was covered with straw. In the old country there were experts who built straw roofs that drained better than the sod. The Jews weren't experts like the Russians because they weren't allowed to have farms. However grandfather had worked for a Poritz, [28] and he saw how the Russian peasants covered their roofs with straw. They didn't put it through a threshing machine, which would break the fibres, and they cut off the heads of grain. They interlaid the round straws in such a way that they shed more rain than the dirt, which absorbs the rain. To prevent removal by wind, they stitched the straw securely by using strips cut like leather from the bark of a willow-like tree. So grandfather built a straw roof. But he couldn't bind it as well as the Russians did. He put poles on it to hold the straw down, in order that the wind wouldn't take the roof off." - Ben Barish

"For the Passover the community had to bake matzos; they couldn't afford to send away for them so the farmers made a 'bee' together in grandfather's house. They used a long, wide board to roll out the dough. I remember as a child, 1 was measuring out so many cups of flour in the dish, and another child so many cups of water to make the dough. They had to keep three stoves going to bake the matzos-it was so hot. And a spark fell out and landed on the straw roof, which took fire, burning out the whole of the house. The fire was caused because they didn't have brick chimneys, just pipes through the roof." - Ben Barish

"And I was in the fire - just a baby in the cradle. And they started carrying out whatever stuff they had. Finally they realized that the baby wasn't taken out. There were sparks falling down on the cradle and the bedding was smoldering. I was so little and was covered in a shawl folded in four. And when they opened it up there were holes burnt out just like somebody had shot through it. We had the shawl for years afterwards. I guess I was covered so well I couldn't burn. But mother said, the moment she came out with me the ridge pole collapsed. Had it happened just one step sooner she would have been demolished with me." - Ada (Barish) Silverton

All the early farm buildings, barns, stables and granaries were built in a similar fashion. The techniques of building these white-washed, mud-plastered log buildings were brought over by the Jews from the old country. The sod roof was North American practice. After 1910, lumber was more readily available, and was generally used for buildings.


I suppose you didn't have much furniture?

"Who needed furniture? We were looking for something to eat. You can't eat furniture. When we went to bed each one had a certain corner. We put hay on the mud floor and we all slept on the floor." - Eli Barish

"The house was a great big room. The stove, the bed and everything was in that room. Every one of the farmers had it that way in the beginning. We had one big room upstairs too, where we put the children's beds. But it was too cold to sleep there in the winter." - Fanny (Pelenovsky) Brotman

How did you heat the place?

"Just wood stoves with long pipes through the ceiling. The heat would come up through the pipes and warm the bedrooms as well. The longer the pipes the warmer you could keep the house. In winter, we would have to put logs in every two or three hours during the night. In the early years they put a pipe through the roof, with stones around the pipe so the straw wouldn't take fire. Later we built chimneys out of burnt brick. When we built the new house in 1917 we put in central heating." - Ben Barish

"For cooking we first had a box stove. Later we had a fancy nickel plated wood range, with a top warming oven, which was already considered modern." - Ada (Barish) Silverton

When did you get electricity and plumbing on the farm?

"In the old house lighting was by coal-oil lamps. But when we built the new house we had our own electrical generating plant in the basement. We didn't get rural power until the 1950s. Before 1917 there were only outhouses but in the new house we put in modern plumbing." - Ben Barish

Did you bring anything from the old country?

"My mother brought quite a few things from the old country. Brassware - the candlesticks there are from my mother and from her mother before. They are way over a hundred years old now. She also had copper pots and shteshels [29] an iron tea kettle and so on. What we didn't have we bought in Montreal, then in Brandon-a few pieces of cutlery, tin pie plates, and dishes. For 25¢ you could but a pot. As Jews we had to have three sets of dishes: flayshig, [30] milchik, [31] and pesachdik. [32] We would take them to the slough to wash." - Becky (Pelenovsky) Kahn

What about tables, chairs?

"We didn't have a lot. At first most of the furniture was just homemade. I can remember sitting on benches at a long board with logs used for legs. Later they bought a few kitchen chairs. And if we didn't have enough chairs we sat on a wooden grocery box. When we built the new house we bought some furniture - not very expensive furniture. Chairs, rockers and tables made of wicker were popular at that time. We bought a table from one of the English settlers, made of solid rosewood. The handwork on it was beautiful. This would have been a real fine antique today, worth a lot of money. But we didn't realize its importance. When the glue had given away over the years, instead of repairing it, I made a workbench out of part and sawed up the remainder for firewood." - Barney Kaplun; Becky (Pelenovsky) Kahn; Sam Barish

Water Supply

How did you obtain your water?

"There were many sloughs in the bushes. We had a lake on our farm, one and a half miles long; the stock would drink out of the lake. In the winter time this would be frozen over. So we would drive them down to the lake and cut a hole in the ice 2 to 3 ft. thick. We would pull the water out by pail, and build a trough of snow out of which the cattle would drink." - Ben & Sam Barish

"For the house, we first started to dig a well, but we didn't find water we didn't dig deep enough. So in the winter we melted snow. There was a neighbor who had a well, and we hauled water from there in a barrel by means of a little flat stone boat. Later, when we had time we started digging a deeper well, piece by piece, with a pick and shovel-all handwork. One of us worked at the bottom of the well, and another stood at the top to turn the windlass by hand. We removed all the dirt this way. When we got down to 40 ft. we came across a huge stone that we couldn't dig out. So we decided to blow it up. But the blasting cap exploded in my hand like a report from a shotgun. It took the flesh out of my thumb, and I was laid up for several months. In time we got the stone blown, the pieces out, and we dug down deeper to 60 ft. There we found a spring in gravel layers." - Ben Barish

How did the water taste?

"Very good. Spring water is the best water-far better than they had in the city." - Ben Barish

Did you sheet the sides of such a deep well to prevent the danger of caving?

"We dug the well without any sheeting. Looking back, I suppose we were foolish. But we didn't know any better in those days. Afterwards we made a crib out of 4 in. strips of timber, and put tin around the sides and top to prevent contamination. Then we put in a pump, which we pumped by hand. Now with electricity you just have to press a button and it starts pumping the water.

Afterwards we dug another well at the barn to the same depth. In the basement of the new house we built a large cistern to store soft rainwater for washing.

The depth of water varied from farm to farm. Now Jacobson, one of the farmers 6 miles north, dug a well and came across hardpan only 8 ft. down. He punched a hole with a crowbar and the water came shooting up. He had tapped a spring in a gravel layer." - Ben Barish


What did you eat?

"We had plenty to eat after the first few years. Nobody starved. We grew vegetables. We raised chickens for meat, and we had eggs. We had cows to milk, and we had our own butter and cheese. We baked our own bread. There were fish in the rivers, and wild berries in the bushes. But there weren't any luxuries. When we had tea we didn't have coffee; when we had coffee we didn't have sugar." - Becky (Pelenovsky) Kahn; Fanny (Pelenovsky) Brotman

"The Barishes' father used to shecht fowl-geese, ducks and chickens for the whole community. I used to get on a horse and go down to the Barishes to have the chickens killed. I'd put them in a sack, with an opening just for their heads to stick out, so they wouldn't get choked. My father had a great big beautiful white horse-I loved horses. We didn't have saddles and we didn't straddle-a lady had to sit on one side like on a davenport. I also would go all alone to Wapella to get groceries." - Fanny (Pelenovsky) Brotman

"At first, we Jews had no meat at all other than fowl. There was no local shochet for killing cattle. We had to order kosher meat from Winnipeg or Brandon. In the summer this was impossible, as it wouldn't keep. After enough Jewish farmers arrived in the area, they brought a rabbi out from Winnipeg, who knew the correct veins to cut for kosher meat. And each farmer would butcher an animal and have the beef through the winter time." - Sam Barish

"We used to order a dollar's worth of meat from Brandon, which would last a whole week. And all the free stuff they would throw in with the regular meat - those little organs - liver, milz, [33] lung and heart." - Ada (Barish) Silverton

"Later, when we were already established, my father used to go to Wapella and would bring for the winter 2 boxes of apples, 50 lbs. of sugar, prunes and dried apples. Everything was cheap. The flour (a lower grade) cost $1.75 a bag; eggs were 8¢ a dozen; butter was 10¢ a pound. When dad went to town one time and bought tomatoes, I put my hand in the bag and thought it was an apple - a spoiled apple when I bit into one ." - Becky (Pelenovsky) Kahn; Harry Jacobson; Ada (Barish) Silverton

"Our mother died when we were quite young, but I remember she used to make cottage cheese for the winter. And she'd put it in those wooden candy pails they used to have years ago. Then she'd freeze it. And she'd fill one with butter. She would make jam of all kinds - pails full. We would go on the prairie and pick all kinds of fruit. There were raspberries, strawberries, gooseberries, saskatoons - everything you wanted. You'd milk them just like a cow. You couldn't beat the taste. We would get the most beautiful raspberries among the trees, where the big ones grow just like jungles. Strawberries grew by the bushel. During strawberry season our feet would look blood red from walking in the bushes. If we wanted to have spending money for Wapella Fair we'd pick a pail of strawberries and sell it for 35¢." - Becky (Pelenovsky) Kahn; Fanny (Pelenovsky) Brotman

"We had our own garden. We grew everything that you want to buy: potatoes, carrots, beans, radishes and so on. And we stored these in the root house in the winter time. My mother used to supply not only ourselves but the whole community. When town people came to visit you'd entertain them by showing your garden. Mother would take them around. She was so proud of the rows of onions and cabbages and everything else she grew. She wouldn't let anyone leave without taking home a big bunch of vegetables." - Ada (Barish) Silverton


What did you do for clothing in those days? Did you make your own or buy it?

"I don't think they came with anything, just the clothes they were wearing. " - Barney Kaplun

'Believe me, times were pretty tough, and we didn't have what the kids have now. Mother used to buy a piece of material and sew the clothes herself. And they would be handed down from one child to another until they were worn out." - Fanny (Pelenovsky) Brotman

"I didn't get to start school until eight years old. The teacher asked my older sister when was I going to come. My sister replied that I couldn't go vet because I didn't have any shoes (to walk the 3 miles to school). I was so embarrassed that she would tell the teacher. A pair of shoes cost only 90¢. Those were the hard times we had." - Ada (Barish) Silverton

"We had only one pair of shoes. On yom tov [34] we would walk to services barefoot, carrying our shoes so as not to dirty them. And we put them on as we entered the house." - Marge (Edess) Silverman

"As children we went digging what we called 'snickaroots' (Seneca roots). They had a very wonderful smell. We took the top leaves off, washed the dirt off the roots, and dried them in the sun. Then we sold them in Wapella or Moosomin for maybe 50¢ a pound, as they were valuable for use in medicine. But we'd have to collect an awful big bunch to make a pound. With the money I used to buy prints to make dresses." - Ben Barish; Fanny (Pelenovsky) Brotman


Did you have a synagogue and rabbi?

"We didn't have a synagogue, but we used to hold services in a house at whoever had a two-room house, so we could hold services in one of the rooms. The men from the old country were all pretty well educated in Hebrew; [35] they could read the Torah and conduct a service. In our settlement the Jewish farmers were located in three groups, and each one had a separate minyan." - Ben Barish

How did the Jewish people travel to services, since they weren't permitted to ride on the holy days?

"Those who lived nearby would walk. But those who lived several miles away would ride over before the holidays. They would stay over two days on Rosh Hashanah [36] and they'd come the day before Yom Kippur." We didn't have enough beds, so they slept on the floor. And we would have to cook for everyone. In the early years before they had their own service, people used to come from Oxbow, 100 miles away, as well as the Jewish people coming from nearby small towns. So we had to divide them among the farmers." - Fanny (Pelenovsky) Brotman; Becky (Pelenovsky) Kahn

Grandfather Edel Brotman qualified as a rabbi in Galicia. He landed in Montreal in 1886, and in 1889 he and three of his oldest sons took up homesteads at Wapella. He acted as farmer - rabbi of the settlement performing religious services and marriages - some of the earliest Jewish services in what is now the Province of Saskatchewan. He was fluent in seven languages, and therefore was also employed as an immigration agent in the District.

"One day, hauling wood to Wapella, my father Edel Brotman fell off his wagon and broke a leg, temporarily incapacitating him from farm duties. While convalescing he decided to see the 'world.' Travelling by train from Wapella, he got as far as San Francisco, where he was offered a pulpit." - Ray (Brotman) Hyman

But this was the 'gay nineties', the heyday of the Barbary Coast. And to the orthodox religious mind of the day this seemed a veritable Sodom. He felt this was no place to bring up his four young daughters. So he returned to the farm - perhaps a shortsighted decision by present-day standards.

When you got married was there a rabbi to perform the service?

"Oh yes. We were married right under the sky [38] on the 25th of December 1898 - and it was about 50 degrees below zero. The rabbi was Edel Brotman - my father-in-law. He was well read in the Torah. He wasn't so frum, [39] but he was well read in the Torah!" - Fanny (Pelenovsky) Brotman

In orthodox Hebrew practice, a Ketubah [40] is drawn up between the father of the bride and the groom. Fig. 3 shows such a marriage agreement handwritten in Hebrew, which was drawn up on the farm. The agreement is between Kalman Isman, the father of the bride, and Alter Kaplun the groom. The English translation is as follows:

Translation of a Hebrew Marriage Agreement

Let it go up and let it grow like the good manna from the good Lord.

And let it be said it is a good match. He who found a wife found good.

He will give a good name, and more, to these words of the marriage agreement and the covenant that was agreed upon by the two sides.

That is between the single man Mr. Jacob Israel the son of Eliezer who is known by the nickname of 'Alter', on his part, and between Rav [41] Klonim the son of Zeev who is known as 'Kalman', on the part of his daughter, the virgin Miss Bat-Shevah, [42] which is the second party, as she said 'yes' with her own mouth.

The above-mentioned single man will marry with mazal tov [43] the virgin Miss Bat-Shevah mentioned above.

With chupah [44] and kidushim [45] according to the laws of Moses and Israel.

One will not hide money from the other; they will share their possessions equally.

And the master, the father of the bride mentioned above, will give his daughter a dowry of one cow before the chupah.

He will also clothe her with clothing appropriate to her position.

And the wedding will take place with mazal tov and at a good time, God willing, on the first of the month of Elul, [46] which is coming upon us with good tidings.

And the expenses will be carried by Rav Kalmin the father of the bride. And all that was said above was accepted by the two sides, and will be certified by their signatures.

And will be enforced with monetary penalties and excommunication. But the monetary penalty will not cancel the excommunication, and the excommunication will not cancel the monetary penalty, from the groom and from the father of the bride, over all that was written here clearly.

And whatever was done today, the second day, [47] the third of the month of Shevat, [48] in the year 5655. [49]

And all these is "signed, sealed, delivered and witnessed."

Such marriages, arranged under strict parental control, seem old fashioned and repressive by today's standards. The Jews of that time believed that 'arranged' marriages were more stable than marriages 'for love.' They said people who 'play at love' are unstable, and in the end marriage crumbles. Offspring of the marriage referred to above are still farming at Wapella 75 years later.

Was there religious discrimination?

"We had no problems with our Christian neighbors as far as religion was concerned. They accepted our way of religion as our right. We didn't interfere with their religion, and they didn't interfere with ours. We did no farm work on Saturday our sabbath, but would work on Sunday instead. When we were working together with our Christian neighbors on threshing crews, in order to observe our sabbath, we would hire a man as our substitute.

However in 1921, after we had followed for years the practice of observing our sabbath but working in our fields on the Christian sabbath, one day a Mounted Policeman came to the door with a summons issued on complaint of one or two intolerant persons that we were in violation of the Lord's Day Act. The action went before the authorities. Our case was eloquently pleaded by Mr. Bert Talmay, a Christian neighbor. He remonstrated the plaintiffs, in an open letter in the press, that if they were as faithful Christians as the Jews were true to their religion, there would be no complaint. In the end the case was dismissed. And we were never bothered again by such an incident for the remainder of our years on the farm." - Sam Barish


Did you receive any schooling on the farm?

"Very little; when we first came to the farm there were no schools. I was thirteen years old when the school was built (in 1898). My oldest brother Eli was lucky; he went to Grade 3 when we were in Montreal. I just had one or two grades, and learned to read and write mostly by practising myself. Later, schools were built every 6 miles, and my younger brothers and sisters went to Grade 8. Much later one or two years of high school were taught in the country schools.

Even when there were schools we weren't able to go continuously. One reason was that they couldn't carry on school in the winter time. It was too cold and the snow drifts were too high to get through. Another reason was that the parents desperately needed our help, as they couldn't afford a hired man. There were no fences. They had a few cows that couldn't be allowed to run at large for fear of damaging the crop. So we had to herd them. Many a time as a kid I was out herding in the rain and wind. I was barefoot, using a grain bag as a hood, one corner turned into the other, with my back turned into the wind. My brother and I would take turns; one day I would go to school and the next day he would go. We walked as we had no means of driving. If the parents had a team of horses at all they needed them to make a living." - Ben Barish

"I remember as a young girl my brother, sister and I used to milk 8 to 10 cows. Then we walked 3 miles to school. Before I got there I was pretty well worn out. They'd have to hold onto my arms to help me get there.

One winter day dad needed the sleigh to go to Wapella, so my brother and I had to take the buggy. We drove with just one horse and it was very, very cold. We tied the lines around my back so we wouldn't have to hold them and freeze our hands. We kept crying 'Come on Jessie' to hurry the horse along so we wouldn't freeze before getting to school. The teacher came out and said: "Don't come in, the stove fell over and you have to go back.' I started crying, because I could hardly get there and she wanted us to go all the way back. Then she said: 'Come on in and just keep running around the school to keep warm.' Well, I was so stiff I couldn't even run. So she took us over to a neighbor and I stayed there in bed for a few days to recover." - Ada (Barish) Silverton

What was the country school like?

"It was a little one-room school that held only about 25 to 30 children. And there was a big barn where we put our horses if we came in the winter time. The little schoolhouse was the happiest place in the world. We were so full of life playing baseball, football and all kinds of rough games. In the summer time during recess we'd go outside and would all dance-we were crazy about dancing. We didn't have musical instruments, but someone would have a comb with a little paper on it to make music and we'd have a very good time." - Maggie (Wasserman) Brownstone; Fanny (Pelenovsky) Brotman

"But we studied well-the teachers were very strict, and when you were in school you could hear a pin drop, it was so quiet. Nobody would talk back to the teacher - wouldn't dare. I loved learning. To us it was a holiday going to school - not like now a days." - Maggie (Wasserman) Brownstone

What subjects were taught?

"The subjects taught were reading, writing, spelling, grammar, arithmetic, geography and history-just the basic things you could get along with." - Ada (Barish) Silverton; Barney Kaplun

Did they teach you about agriculture?

"I don't think it was ever mentioned." - Barney Kaplun

Did you have men or women teachers?

"In our school there was only one teacher who taught all grades. We had all women teachers. I don't ever remember a man teacher. The town school would have three or four teachers. Our teacher, Miss Ada Blanche Jenner, who came from Nova Scotia, was a wonderful teacher. She would branch off from the lesson and teach us certain things of life that I still remember. The inspector came twice a year and would give us a spelling bee.

Everybody loved the teacher. She was an important person in the District. Her salary was $480 per year, and she taught for the whole year except for a short vacation. She lived board and room at one of the farmers close by the school. Everyone was honoured when the teacher came to visit. She would come over to our place for dinner quite a bit because we were several children. We were very friendly and corresponded for years afterwards." - Ada (Barish) Silverton

"At our school the children did the janitor work. I remember one of us used to walk to school early in the morning to light the fire in order to heat the school before the rest of the kids arrived. We'd also carry the water and sweep the floor-all for 10c a day. Each farmer put in a day's roadwork to keep the roads open, and was taxed $5 a quarter of land per year to pay the teacher's salary." - Barney Kaplun

What languages did you speak?

"Our people spoke Yiddish. I couldn't speak English until I started school. But gradually as we grew up and went to school we learned the English language - not perfect but good enough. So when we were talking to our folks we spoke Yiddish; then the moment we turned to a brother or anyone else we talked English. We could speak Yiddish but with a mixture of English words in it." - Ben Barish

Was there a Hebrew or Yiddish teacher on the farm?

"No! The only teaching I received was from my grandfather Klenman. When he got to be an old man he didn't do any farm chores, so he would teach Hebrew studies to prepare the boys for Bar-Mitzvah. [50] The Jewish residents payed him to board kids at his place during the week, and would take them home for the weekend." - Ben Barish

Was there any discrimination at school?

"We were the only Jewish children going to this school, and the gentile children were curious about us. During Passover we had different food and they'd like to look in our lunch box. The used to make a little fun of us at first, but we were soon accepted as equals." - Ada (Barish) Silverton

"We lived near English neighbors-real English from England-and they were very lovely people. They tried so hard to 'Canadianize' us. They used to give us books and papers. And their boys would take us to school." - Becky (Pelenovsky) Kahn

"In the 1950s they quit using all of the country schools entirely. They gravelled the main road that leads into town, making it an all-weather road. Now they take the children into town and back by buses. We walked 3 to 4 miles to school. Now the children of the people who bought our farm have to walk only about one-quarter mile to the main road to meet the bus. But their mother has to take them down with the car; otherwise they don't have time to eat breakfast." - Ben Barish


What did you do for recreation?

"On Saturday, our sabbath, the people from the old country wouldn't drive of course. So they used to walk and visit from place to place. The fun was just visiting and talking with neighbors. The people were very, very friendly in the country - much more than they are now, especially in the city. But at that time there was really a wonderful feeling towards one another." - Sam Barish

"The boys and girls would tie up a rope between the trees and go swinging. In the summertime we'd dance on the prairie. We had a lake at our place, so we had a row boat. When people came visiting we took them out in the boat on the lake. And of course we went horseback riding." - Fanny (Barish) Segall; Ada (Barish) Silverton

"In the winter we drove a sleigh and went from farm to farm picking up people. We took two small sleighs, attached a plank in between them like a bobsled, to go riding in the hills. One fellow would steer, while the sleigh would carry 6 to 8 people, whoever could get on. We skated on the beaver ponds, lighting a bonfire to keep warm while we put on our skates. We would have to shovel loads of snow off before we skated. There was also quite a bit of skiing in the early days, because with skis you could travel any place over the snow." - Barney Kaplun

"People had social gatherings where they would play cards, and square dance. There were contests with violins. I remember when Phil Brotman and I bought violins. We studied up a few little pieces for dancing and we had a fine time. We made people happy. They would pack a lunch and wouldn't get home until one or two in the morning." - Eli Barish

"We took part in plays on religious holidays. We had a Purim" play - I can still remember the words. I was Esther Malcah (Queen Esther) and Eli Barish was the king. There were no radios at first, so we had to make our own entertainment. After we got radios we would listen to the programs after supper when the chores were done and you were a free man." - Fanny (Pelenovsky) Brotman; Ben Barish

"We built a new barn in 1912. It was customary in those days that whoever built a barn had to give a barn dance for the whole community. In order to get up to the barn loft we got somebody's discarded steps from an old building. We hired some fellow to play the violin - that was the only music available. You couldn't very well get a piano up in the barn loft. I remember it was summertime with nice weather and we had a wonderful time." - Sam Barish

"Early in the century, when the girls were of school age, an agent came and persuaded dad to buy a piano to be paid out. I think we paid $400 or $500 for it. We took lessons from a piano teacher in the district. She came from England and was too poor to have a piano, but she was a good pianist. We used to go 4 miles in a buggy to bring her to our own house, then we'd take her back. So we travelled 16 miles in order to take a lesson. She charged a dollar for the three of us." - Ben Barish; Ada (Barish) Silverton

Doctors and Babies

Did you have doctors on the farm?

"My brother Ben had surgery on the farm when he got this terrible attack. At that time we had electric lights. The doctor came out from Moosomin and brought a nurse. They operated on brother on the dining room table. He had a perforation of the bowel, which was a very serious operation. I nursed him for several weeks afterwards." - Ada (Barish) Silverton

What help did women get when they had babies?

"Women had babies naturally. My son Manny was born on January 25th, 1900. It must have been at least 40 degrees below zero when I started to labor. There were no telephones (until 1913). Uncle Phil took a sleigh with a horse-at that time we already had sleighs. And you can imagine how long it took to drive to Wapella and bring Dr. Macdonald out.

But when Rose was born she came so fast before the doctor arrived. I didn't have my mother so your mother (Rose Brotman), who was a girl then, came and stood with me. She was petrified - she had never seen a baby born. I kept saying: 'Just see that the baby shouldn't drown'. I knew enough for that because this was my second baby. Some women can cut the navel but I didn't know enough.

Later when I lived in Wapella my third child was born. There was only one doctor. He was drunk as a lord, and they couldn't even wake him up. So there was a midwife." - Fanny (Pelenovsky) Brotman

"My mother (Raina Barish) was a midwife. She used to take nearly all the babies on the farm in our neighborhood. The doctor told the women: 'If Mrs. Barish can come, you don't need me'. She never lost anyone so I guess it was okay." - Ada (Barish) Silverton

"My mother was on her way from the farm to have her baby in the city. But on the way I was born prematurely - a 7 months' baby - at Mrs. Sam Brotman's house in the town of Wapella. The Doctor had given me up for dead. But the women put me in the warming oven as an incubator, and watched over me, and I survived." - Marge (Edess) Silverman

"It wasn't pleasant, but the people who came from the old country didn't know any better. So they put up with it. In later years we had pretty good doctors around. But they didn't have the medicines we have today, nor the trained nurses. The people seemed to survive, and they were healthier than we are today." - Ben Barish; Barney Kaplun

A Helping Hand

Did the farmers cooperate in their work?

"Most of the work in those days was done helping each other. If a farmer needed help all he had to do was say to his neighbor: 'How about a hand?' When he finished his work he would come down and give you a hand. There was cooperation then - it was really wonderful compared to what it is today." - Sam Barish

As Jewish farmers did you get help only from the other Jews?

"From the gentile people just as well as from the Jewish people. They were a good group in our District. There was an occasional anti-semite, you might say. I don't think it was anti-semitism. It was more a bit of jealousy, because we were three boys on the farm, and we used to get a lot of work done. We weren't lazy; we put everything we had into it. In those days, if you didn't work you just didn't get anything; and those who were lazy were left behind. It wasn't like nowadays, where you can find other things to do that don't require work." - Sam Barish

"Our father, Solomon Barish, became a Freemason in the early days. Meetings were held in Wapella on Friday nights. Father rode by horse to Wapella before the sabbath but, after sundown when the meeting was finished, the sabbath had already arrived. Being an observant Jew, he wouldn't work the horse by riding on the sabbath, so he led him by foot the 10 miles home. The other Masons, all gentiles, on observing father's plight, changed the meetings to Thursday night to accommodate the one Jew in their lodge at that time." - Eli Barish

"I think we had more fun in those days than they have now because everybody was more sociable-they mixed. Today you're so busy you haven't even got time to see the next door neighbor." - Barney Kaplun

Early-Day Farming

"We started farming in Canada, and we didn't know much about farming here. My grandfather was an agricultural man. He was working as an overseer for some large estate in Russia. He was always on horseback. But farming in the old country and farming here were quite different. There the peasants worked for the landlord. And farming was done by hand. Any equipment was owned by the landlord. While, in Canada, each farmer had his own farm and operated his own equipment, as an individual unit. This was a new idea for our group who came from Europe. We weren't familiar with private ownership, nor with the equipment." - Eli & Sam Barish

''I remember one time my grandfather was ploughing and the plough wouldn't go into the ground. He was sitting on the plough thinking that the plough should go in; but the plough didn't go in. He pretty nearly cried. Then a gentile farmer passed by and he said: 'What's the matter Mr. Klenman?' Grandfather said he doesn't know what to do with the plough. 'Well,' the neighbor said: 'You didn't set it. There's a guide here, you see, that you can set to plough deep or plough shallow.' So that was fixed up and he started ploughing. When the younger generation grew up, then of course it was different. They already understood these things." - Eli Barish

Were the gentile farmers better off and more experienced?

"It all depended on the situation. Quite a few of the homesteaders were remittance men from England. They were young men, sent out to make a new life for themselves; and they were sent maintenance money. A good many of the people in our area came from Ontario. Their parents had been farmers a generation or two before, like our children would be now. They came with some money and experience, which of course made it much easier for them. They had horses and better equipment. But the Jewish farmers came penniless, and it was hard to build up with nothing." - Sam Barish

Did you get any help from the government or others?

"Not at that time. The only thing the Canadian Government did for you was give you a homestead, with the understanding that you'd live on the land for 6 months a year for 3 years. Also you had to break a certain amount of land. Then you'd get a clear title. If a man had a family, a quarter section wasn't very much, so they gave you a preemption-the privilege of buying another quarter at so much an acre. Dad bought that for $300 with the help of the Baron de Hirsch Fund''' to be paid out in crops later on." - Ben & Sam Barish

"In the early years, there was a frost that cleaned up all of the crop. My grandfather said: 'Now what are we going to do we're up against it'. So I remember we had a meeting with all of the Jewish farmers. 'Well', they said, 'we must have some Yiddisha [53] people who can help us.' We found out that there was a fellow by the name of Baron de Hirsch who was assisting Jewish farmers. And we applied to him. Sure enough they sent a man down who took the names of the farmers. They told us we could go ahead and buy what we needed and they would foot the bill." [54] - Eli Barish

"I remember when we drove oxen. When people tell me I'm from the horse and buggy days, I tell them I'm farther back than that. I come from the oxen days." - Ada (Barish) Silverton

Why were oxen used?

"We used the oxen because we couldn't afford to buy any horses. They were good for breaking land. They were very, very slow but very strong. So we used them up to the time we were able to raise some additional cash and trade them in for a team of ponies at $50 apiece. Two oxen were strong enough to break land, but 3 or 4 horses were required to do the equivalent work. The horses, of course, were much faster. We could then make the return trip to Moosomin in a day instead of 2 nights and a day.

I can remember using a horse and an ox - quite a team. The horse would be way ahead and the ox way behind. As time goes on you gradually increase and progress. Eventually in the 1920s we got a steam tractor. Then it was different again. A tractor can do what two teams of horses can." - Eli & Ben Barish

What was the original farm equipment?

"A single-furrow plough, a harrow, a small seed drill. You had to walk behind everything-hang on to a plough all day long. I walked behind that plough for ten years. Then they came up with a double-furrow plough, which you could ride on, for use with horses. And when the steamers came into existence, there were 6 or 8 ploughs in one unit to turn over a wide strip of ground all at once." - Barney Kaplun; Dave Isman

"My uncle Harry Klenman operated the original farm of grandfather, then later moved to farm near us. He got involved with the steam engine and that was his 'baby.' He got started when he hired out to fire the steam engine of one of the gentile neighbors. He was a big man; he pushed the straw in and saw that the steamer got water. A man worked steadily from 4 o'clock in the morning till 9 o'clock at night, pushing straw into the engine to provide enough steam to turn the threshing machine. You fired it either with straw obtained from the threshing operation or with wood. Those who were able to afford it used coal. But we could only afford straw, or would cut small sticks of wood for it in the winter when we had the time.

Uncle Harry fell so in love with the steamer that, at the first opportunity, he bought one, in 1910. He had the first steam threshing outfit among the Jewish people. That outfit got terrific use for 30 years, operating until 1940. They threshed for 3 months steady in the fall-helped each other. They threshed all the Jewish work and all the gentile work with a crew of 18 to 24 men. On Klenman's death in 1955, this engine was placed in a museum of old tractors in Rocanville. He was such an excellent steam engineer, and took such good care of the steamer, that today it runs almost as quietly as it did originally." - Sam & Ben Barish

"In the late 1920s and early '30s they did away with the steam tractors entirely and started using gasolene tractors. With the steel wheels, when you hit a stone you got an awful bounce. So they developed the modern rubber-tired tractors, some practically the size of a locomotive." - Ben Barish

What types of crops did you grow?

"Chiefly wheat, oats and barley; and then in later years we started growing flax. When the branch railway line went through in 1903 it was all put in by horses and wagons, so that we had a good market to sell oats to the contractors to feed their horses. But wheat was the chief source of a living. Originally it sold for 25¢ a bushel but later increased to 50¢." - Ben Barish; Barney Kaplun

What variety of wheat did you grow?

"Red Fife" was the first one that I can remember. When my brother Harry came back from studying at college in 1908, he grew a field in competition and got first prize for it. This was a good milling wheat but was late-maturing and subject to frost. Afterwards, varieties were developed, which were earlier-maturing and better yielding.

The lines of wheat were improved remarkably during the years, particularly after the first World War, through research by the experimental farms and the universities. "Marquis" was the best milling wheat we ever had, but it was subject to rust. In 1915 we had a 60-bushel crop. In 1916 we had just as heavy looking a crop, but we only thrashed 20 bushels to the acre of very light-weight wheat. This was the first bad rust year, when spores blew up from the central states. So the scientific people came up with a number of new varieties. Some like 'Thatcher' were good and some not so good. But none of these had a run like "Marquis" wheat, in terms of both length of time and quality. This variety is still grown in areas that are not affected by rust." - Sam Barish

"Fall and Winter were the times when we hauled the grain to town. Now with trucks, all-weather roads and different products it is done all year round. We hauled the grain with a team of horses hitched to a wagon, or a sleigh when the snow was deep - 50 or 60 bushels in a load. At times the snow drifts would be as high as this house. The Jewish farmers generally travelled in a caravan of several wagons. In the early years before there were any fences, if we left the grain in the wagon overnight we would have to keep the dogs out to guard it from being eaten by stray horses." - Ben Barish; Ernie Brotman

"In those days, as soon as a town was formed, an elevator was built to take care of the grain. This was privately owned by someone who had sufficient capital. In our area the first elevator was started by one of the farmers who came from Ontario. In World War I times Max Heppner, son of the first Jewish settler, had an elevator in the town of Wapella. In later years the farmers began to organize more and developed cooperative elevators." - Ben Barish

Mixed Farming

"Farming in our area was strictly a mixed-farming operation. That is we had stock as well as crops. You couldn't rely on grain alone because of the danger of hail or an early frost. So we started to raise horses, cattle and sheep. The Jewish farmers, on account of religious reasons, wouldn't raise pigs that to them were tray f The land in our District lent itself particularly well to mixed farming. There were areas of low-lying poorly drained land unsuitable for cultivation. There was all kinds of feed in such sloughs in the bushes where the hay would be 2 to 3 ft. tall." - Ben Barish

When did you have cattle and horses?

"Shortly after the first year we bought a cow, which was the means of providing milk for the young children, and butter. Eventually as nature takes its course the cow has a calf. If it was a little steer calf we kept it for a year, then sold it to get some money. And if it was a heifer we kept it for breeding. As time went on we built up a herd in that way.

I remember the first newborn calf that we had. We couldn't keep it in the barn, because it would freeze to death in the cold. So we built a big box in our one-room house, and we kept the calf in the house for a few days until it got filled out a bit. Then we made a special corner in the barn for calves and kept it there.

The same thing happened with horses. By 1910 we began to make progress - had lots of horses and lots of cattle. The horses sold well - after World War I a well-matched team brought $800. But I remember in the depression the cattle sold for only $10 a head for a 500 lb. steer." - Ben Barish

Motor Power

"In 1915 dad bought our first car, a McLaughlin, which sold for $1500 at that time - a very high price. But we had been raising colts, and had more than we required. So we traded in some horses for half the cost, and made up the other half from cash that we raised out of a bumper crop that year. But the roads were very rough, especially after a rain. Most of the people were driving horses and wagons with large wooden wheels that formed ruts. And the car would drop into the ruts. It wasn't until the 1940s that they started to grade and gravel the roads." - Ben Barish

A New Generation of Farmers

You were probably the member of the family who had the most agricultural training.

"I only went as far as Grade 9. That was all you could take in a country school. Even when I was going to school I was working on the farm all my spare time. So when I finished school I went right back into harness and worked on the farm. Then in 1906, when Manitoba Agricultural College opened, my brother took a 2-year course. He came back with a lot of new ideas that we didn't know anything about before. And he was very enthusiastic to have me go. So I went to the University at Saskatoon shortly after it opened up, being one of the early students there. The sum total of the entire student body in all faculties couldn't have been over three hundred. Being a farmer, of course I took Agriculture. It was a diploma course for those boys who intended to go right back to the farm." - Sam Barish

Were you able to introduce onto the farm what you learned at University?

"After Harry and I had taken our courses, it gave us a lot to think about and an incentive for making changes that were of real benefit. The very first improvement was to get into a better line of livestock both in horses and cattle. We relied on the horses for our power and the cattle for our revenue. So we had to improve the livestock to the point where we would have a reliable animal that would have a ready market.

Before this time we had just any kind of cattle-just cows that were bred in the field of unknown ancestry. They were all mixed breed - all colors of the rainbow - just a bunch of mongrels. At the University, of course, we had the three beef breeds: Hereford, Shorthorn and Aberdeen Angus. They were all good specimens. After seeing the real finished animal it really impresses your mind-you just can't be satisfied with the things you had. So we bought a little herd of Angus cattle - two cows in calf with an 8 months' old bull calf. From that we built up a nice herd of black cattle. We had about 125 head, which was the maximum we could keep for the size of our pasture.

We raised Clydesdale and Belgian work horses. My brother Ben had a team of Percheron 'grays.' For saddle horses, we raised Palominos, and bought a coal-black purebred Kentucky horse that was very swift for use in rounding up both cattle and horses.

Dad also wanted me to keep sheep. The most we had was about 50 ewes, and sometimes we had as many as a hundred lambs. It was just a sideline, as we didn't go into it heavy. But it was good experience. There is something about working with animals that gets you interested; and you do a lot of work where you wouldn't do it otherwise - almost like raising a family. You have to give care to them at the right time, especially sheep." - Sam Barish

Did this keep you busy during the winter?

"Well we were never idle - there's no doubt about that. With all the stock we were just as busy in the winter time as we were in the summer. In the summer the stock were out on pasture, but we had the crops to handle. In the winter we had to stable the stock. And that meant hauling in feed, watering, and cleaning barns." - Sam Barish

Crop Rotation and Fallowing

"In 1882, a Scotsman, Angus McKay came out and bought a large tract of land near Indian Head. And he went into farming on a very large scale. He bought a bunch of horses and ploughs, and broke up the prairie soil that had been unbroken prairie up to that time. He got a few good crops to begin with. Then they hit a dry spell for a few years, and it put him right out of business. They found that they had to conserve moisture and had to give the land a rest every 2 or 3 years. The fallow idea originated then.

In the early years, our system of following was a three-year rotation grow one or two crops, then fallow the land, leaving it idle to kill weeds and conserve moisture. Later on, when we had a lot of livestock, we had to change the system to provide feed for them. We couldn't depend on the slough hay, which was the main feed for animals in the early days. We had to grow hay of a much better quality - like Brome-grass mixed with a legume, Alfalfa. The animals would put on more beef with that feed.

So we would seed the hay with the grain. The first-year crop was a grain - either wheat, oats or barley. The second-year crop was hay and Brome seed. The third year we cut hay or used the field as pasture during the summer. This system provided the hay for the stock. The other benefits were that it put fibre, and nitrogen from the legumes, into the soil more or less continuously thus improving the quality of the grain crops. By that time the original fibre, roots and grass, which had been growing in the wild state, had been worked out of the soil. When that happens the soil bakes very hard and cracks open. The moisture evaporates much faster out of the cracks. Without fibre you also have water erosion, and the better part of the soil washes off. In the early days water conservation was natural because there was profuse growth. Runoff wasn't fast like it is now in the open fields. Originally there were no fertilizers at all except barnyard manure - in limited quantity. So this system also provided nutrients to the soil. That's what we learned at university. We were the first to start it in our locality and they're all doing it now." - Sam Barish

Farm Experimentation

Did you get advice on what to grow?

"Since the University was established in the Province, they have given a terrific amount of advice on proven experimentation. They pass on to the public anything of real value, through farm papers or directly if you come to the University.

The Extension Department would send out varieties of samples to test on the farm to see how they would work out in the field. I would report the rainfall and all conditions that were concerned with that piece of experiment. By gathering and sorting such information from many others throughout the country, the University was able to recommend certain types and varieties for certain districts. What might not be good here might be good somewhere else.

The problem is to get the farmers to come and take that information. A lot don't do much reading. Farmers are reluctant to accept something new unless they are jolted by a real setback. The University of Saskatchewan have a 'Farm and Home' week, where they have men qualified to speak on all varieties of farm topics - they have lectures and show slides. They want every farmer to come there and give every encouragement possible. There is no charge; the only expense is a matter of about $50 for fare and hotel. The C.P.R. would even give a reduced rate. I went almost every year; but very few others from our area had gone there. You would also meet farmers from every area of the Province and you'd compare notes. I never came away without some information that more than paid for my expenses." - Sam Barish

The Dry Thirties

How was your area affected in the dry 1930s?

"In the dry '30s it was bad. There were approximately ten dry years in a row. For most of those years we didn't make expenses-the crops were that poor. Where as a rule before, an average crop was between 20 and 25 bushels an acre, in the dry years we were able to harvest only about 2 to 5 bushels per acre. The higher spots would be so dry that there was nothing. But in the lower ground there would be some moisture, and stalks containing some grain would grow. But you would have to run over the whole ground with the machinery to catch the patches where there was some growth. There was the further problem of grasshoppers. The insects that normally kept them controlled couldn't survive the dry years. But the grasshoppers were able to live by eating the crops." - Ben & Sam Barish

Well, what happened? Did the government or others help you?

"Those that needed it got some help. But we were fortunate enough that we were able to carry through without assistance." - Sam Barish

How did you live?

"Well, we lived. We had our own beef and our own garden. If you had $10 in the thirties you had a lot of money." - Barney Kaplun

"In 1937, a rust year, we had a crop failure. The grain was so light that you could hardly thrash it-hardly separate it from the chaff. It was mostly bran. This left us in a position where we had to make the decision, either to get rid of the livestock or buy feed to keep them. So we sold as much of the stock as we could spare early in the year, in July, because we knew that in the fall everybody would have cattle to sell, and the livestock market would turn down. The progeny sired from the purebred cattle sold for 3 to 4 times those with no breeding at all. But we made the decision to keep the purebred breeding stock in order to keep the chain going. This way we wouldn't have to start again from scratch. We sent 40 head of breeding stock to a farmer near Rivers, Manitoba, where they had a fairly good crop and plenty of winter feed. This proved a good decision, because 1938 took a turn for the better. And the calves that were born from the breeding stock that spring more than paid for keeping the stock in Manitoba for the winter. This gave us a head start in rebuilding the herd, compared to those farmers who had to sell all their stock." - Sam Barish

Modern-Day Farming

"I'm the last one of the Jewish farmers (1969); I was born on the farm 64 years ago and have been here ever since, except for a few years. I own all this land now, 1½ sections: grandfather (Isman's) farm, father's farm and my own. Of the thousand acres I have 650 acres under cultivation." - Barney Kaplun

In the old days you needed a whole family to run the farm. How do you operate now?

"Before it was largely handwork. Now it's all machinery. We don't touch the grain by hand at all. We take the seed from the granary via auger, put it in the drill along with the fertilizer; then we seed, fertilize and pack it, all in one operation. In the fall we swath and combine the grain with self-propelled equipment, put it in the granary with a motor driven auger, then store it until sold." - Barney Kaplun

How many men do this work?

"I do it all myself without help, except during seeding and harvesting. I had a hired man for 60 hours during seeding, and I'll have somebody run the truck for a week or two during harvesting. I do the rest myself." - Barney Kaplun

How does modern farming compare to old times?

"If I farmed the same as my father did I'd been broke long ago. Our method of farming has changed greatly. For example, when I started we used either a 3 or a 4-furrow gang plough. These were too slow and the labor too costly. So now we don't use the traditional plough at all. We've gone to these big one-way tillers, with a row of disk plates that cut through the soil. Instead of a 14 in. furrow, one of my tillers covers a width of 18½ ft. - makes quite a difference." - Barney Kaplun

Are you growing the same kinds of crops as your father grew?

"I'm growing similar grain crops like wheat, oats, barley and flax. But we farm a lot differently. If they got 15 or 20 bushels to the acre they thought they had a crop. My wheat this year averaged 45, my barley 55 and the oats about 80. Last year my oats yielded 100 bushels per acre." - Barney Kaplun

Is this owing to better farming methods?

"Right. Better varieties and rust-resistant grain that they didn't have; and chemicals to control weeds where they had none of that. Then we can work faster and better. With the horses you had to harness them, and could only work them so many hours. Now with machinery you step on the starter and away it goes. If you want to work you can go 12 hours a day. And with lights and two men you can operate 24 hours a day, if you are in a hurry to get the crop in." - Barney Kaplun; Ben Barish

Do you use chemical fertilizers?

"I fertilize everything - spend about a thousand dollars in fertilizer a year." - Barney Kaplun

How much do you figure it increases your yield?

"I'd say 10 to 15 bushels per acre. Then by using the fertilizer and a packer you harvest about eight days earlier. In a bad year, this time may he enough to complete the harvest before the poor weather sets in. Rain or snow during the harvest will reduce the grade and yield." - Barney Kaplun

How long does it take to get the crop off?

"This year, (1969) with good weather we swathed and combined everything in 2 weeks. You can do 50 acres a day if everything goes well. I finished September 20th, and put my combine in the shed without getting it wet. I also got all my bailing done and stacked for use as winter feed - missed all the rains." - Barney Kaplun

The overhead must be pretty high.

"That's our biggest headache. The machinery costs a fortune-yet we can't farm without it. For instance, I use my combine about 2 weeks a year. With 2 men I can combine as much as the steam outfit threshed with 24 men. But look at the difference in price of machinery. My combine costs $15,000. My total investment in farm equipment is about $70,000." - Barney Kaplun

Do you have financing?

"Oh yes. But most of us try not to finance too much, because we can't afford the high interest. It's a rough deal when you have a load of debt." - Barney Kaplun

How long does the equipment last?

"New and better equipment is developed. The equipment becomes outdated and wears out. A machinery company only guarantees parts for 10 years. By that time you run it into the bush or trade it in and buy new stuff." - Barney Kaplun

You must have to be quite a good mechanic to operate a farm these days.

"Well, we're a jack of all trades and a master of none. We don't do too much major repair work at home now, because we can take the equipment easily to town. But we do a lot of field repair work, and makeshift that you have to do in a hurry when you're operating. There is hundreds of dollars tied up in tools that you might use once a year, maybe not even that. We take the odd course, but you get to know mostly through reading and experience. Every part is marked, and if you know these marks, everything fits together without much trouble." - Barney Kaplun

You've always stuck to mixed farming?

"You can always sell an animal when you can't sell wheat. I have 75 head of cattle right now - Black Angus like the Barishes had, and a registered Angus bull. But my cows are not all purebred like theirs. They're a cross between Angus and Hereford. I like the Angus because they are good beef cattle and have no horns to fight. This number is all I can handle without help. We can't get help; we can't compete with wages in the nearby Potash mines. The young folks are able to get jobs in the cities, and the bright lights are attractive to many kids. So they left their fathers at home; and the older people couldn't handle both the livestock and the crop. Then a few years ago the Government said: 'Grow all the grain you can - we can sell it.' So most people around here sold their cattle and just grow grain. I decided when everybody is doing that I'll stay the way I am. The farmers used to say: 'Grain in the granary is money in the bank.' Now we can't sell it, and the Government won't advance you any money on grain - it's of no value. Now that there's no market for grain at least I have cattle to sell." - Barney Kaplun

What are the alternatives when there is a surplus of wheat?

"Well you can increase your herd and feed them the wheat. But you can't increase that quickly unless you buy, and by that time the market may change. We can't predict demand so it's a gamble. Even though we have luxuries compared to our parents, it's rough going today too." - Barney Kaplun

Beef is selling at pretty high prices now.

"Yes it is, but the farmers aren't receiving the benefit. We get a couple hundred dollars an animal, but it takes two years to raise them and get that money." - Barney Kaplun

Have you had any other kinds of animals?

"Yes, I've had nearly everything except goats. But it takes a lot of work. So now without help, I'm just staying with the cattle. We used to have quite a bunch of horses. Now they're gone too. We haven't used a horse to do any field work in more than 30 years. I couldn't touch this land if I had to work with horses alone. I just keep a team of saddle horses - use them once or twice a year to round up the cattle or do a little hunting. But they're worth it - I don't have to run. I still like a good horse - it's not like a farm unless there's horses on it. I would like to have a good big team just to fool around with and for show. But it's too much work." - Barney Kaplun

For the most part then people have gotten rid of their animals?

"Yes it's general with a few exceptions. Those who do want to bother, or who specialize in it, have equipped their farm with buildings and fences to a point where they can handle their livestock with a minimum amount of manual labour. But this large capital investment pays only if you have a big enough herd." - Sam Barish

"Now on the modern farm, most of us don't even bother to grow our own vegetables, keep poultry, or milk cows. Our wives may work in town my wife is a schoolteacher. The roads are good. We drive to the cooperative store in town and buy all our provisions there." - Barney Kaplun

"Many of the farmers are now living in town, but still get their livelihood from the farm. They drive out to the farm in the morning with their car and return in the evening. They just fill up their tractor with gas, oil and grease it, and are ready for a day's work. There are no other chores-no stock, no wood to cut, nothing else to do. In the winter they are completely free." - Ben Barish

In Retrospect

Do you look back fondly to your beginnings on the farm?

"Well, a lot of times you wonder how we ever went through all that hardship. I was the oldest child, a girl, and had to help dad because mother was sickly. It wasn't easy by any means." - Fanny (Pelenovsky) Brotman

But this sort of life obviously was good for you. So many of you have lived to a ripe old age.

"We had a good life. We had nothing, but we were happy there." - Fanny (Pelenovsky) Brotman

Do you feel that the Jews were as successful or more successful in farming than the others?

"The Jewish farmers weren't more successful, but they did just as well as the others, considering that they had no knowledge of land at all in the old country. But when they came here it was amazing how they got on to working the land and becoming prosperous farmers. It was very hard work for a man like my father who was a scholar all his life until he came to Wapella and later Oxbow. He developed a heart condition and eventually killed himself with hard work. But there were rich farmers in Wapella those who stayed there for years and years." - Maggie (Wasserman) Brownstone

"We grew up on the farm. We got to know the ins and outs of farm life. Eventually I had my own farm and was independent. I grew my own crops, went to work when I liked, worked as long a day as I wanted. And if I didn't want to work I could quit anytime without having to satisfy somebody else." - Ben Barish

But you really do have to work hard to survive and succeed. Nature is your boss.

"People in the city imagine that farming is terribly hard work. They always picture a farmer as being a great big husky guy. But here I am a small man weighing only 150 lbs. During my 70 years on the farm I shovelled thousands of bushels of grain, and nothing hurt me. You have to put up with a little hardship like the weather. But nowadays you can get away in the winter. And you can leave things on the farm more safely than in the city. Nobody's going to run away with them.

The older boys who were grown up when they came to the farm were more inclined to leave. They thought more about business. It seemed to them like a slow job working on the farm, because when you sow a crop you don't get the benefits until several months later. In business there is activity all the time.

In the early '20s I began to get a little dissatisfied on the farm, and had a desire to go and live in the city for a year or two, just to see what city life was like. Because, when you went to Brandon Fair or Regina Fair, you'd see people well dressed and with plenty of money to spend. So I worked in the auto-wrecking business. But the city didn't appeal to me the need to cater to the public and face competition. On the farm your competitor is right across the road, and you go across to talk to him. You're friends, working together instead of against each other, to the very last. You are far enough away so that you are not interfering with your neighbor. Whereas in the city you can't be independent because you're crowded in so close together that you are interfering with others the moment you step out of the door. So these features appealed to me, and that's why we remained on the farm. After my sojourn to the city I enjoyed the farm so much more. In the end we were satisfied that we stayed." - Ben Barish

Looking back, do you feel that your life was fulfilled as a farmer?

"Looking back, I don't think there is a finer way of spending a life. When I say finer it's not that you necessarily get the most out of life, but it's the most independent life." - Sam Barish


In terms of size, particularly compared to present-day standards, the Wapella Settlement was not large. Originally it comprised some 40 Jewish families farming probably not more than 10,000 acres of land. Forty years later Rosenberg reported that there were 13 Jewish farmers cultivating 3500 acres. [56] Several of the original homesteaders lived out their lives on the farm. Abraham Klenman lived until 1910, long enough to see his dream, at least, partially fulfilled. His younger son Harry, with the exception of serving overseas in two world wars, farmed all his life until his death in 1955. Harry Jacobson died in Moosomin Hospital in 1943. Solomon Barish died on the farm in 1944. The Barish family farmed 2½ sections. Brother Harry sold out in the depression. Brothers Eli, Ben and Sam sold their holdings of 1100 acres between 1958 and 1962, when they retired. Alter Kaplun and his wife retired in the 1940's, leaving a son and grandson in the area, who farm 1½ sections to this day.

The rate of attrition of the Jewish farmers probably was no greater than in the nearby Scotch and English settlements, where very few of the pioneer families remain. The trend of settlement on this continent generally has been for early immigrant groups to rise up the social and economic ladder, to be replaced by succeeding progressions of immigrant groups.

New Jewish immigrants arriving found work as hired hands with the Jewish farmers of Wapella, but had to move on elsewhere to find farms of their own. For example, a number of Jewish soldiers came out to Wapella after the end of the Russo-Japanese War in 1905. But homestead lands were no longer available in the district, land values had increased, newer and cheaper lands could be obtained elsewhere. Therefore it was no longer economically feasible to settle them in Wapella. Other larger Jewish farm settlements, supported by the Jewish Colonization Association, [57] had been established to which new pioneers came.

Jewish people have always placed a high value on education, both religious and secular. The children who were born and brought up in the settlement received only such Hebrew instruction as could be given to them by their parents. Later farm settlements had courses of instruction assisted by the Jewish Colonization Association. Then too, the secular education in the one-room country school was poor. Many of the Jewish parents wanted their children to go on to high school and university. This precipitated a move to the cities as the children reached high school age.

Originally the settlement was quite isolated, and the older boys found wives among the daughters of the other Jewish settlers. In later years there were more boys than girls, and as they reached marriageable age, the problem arose of finding wives. Some of the young men intermarried with the daughters of their Christian neighbors. But intermarriage was frowned upon by the orthodox Jews; and most of the children in those days respected their parents' feelings on this matter. Some found wives among the daughters of the Jewish farmers at Edenbridge, Lipton and other Jewish settlements that were then established on the prairies, and gravitated to these settlements. Others found girls in the cities. However, wives brought up in the cities and unaccustomed to the primitive farm life of those days, would not remain on the farm. Several men who loved the farm life and wanted to stay on remained bachelors, having no children to carry on. And as mechanization increased, there was less need for children to work on the farm. They formed part of a general trek to seek other opportunities in the towns and cities.

For these reasons the Jewish settlement at Wapella diminished in numbers. Seventy-five years after the first Jewish settler, Heppner, had arrived in 1887, the remnants of the Jewish group were almost gone. However Wapella remains an historic landmark in the story of pioneer Jewish settlement in Canada.


1. Eli Barish passed away in August, 1971 shortly after his 90th birthday.

2. Louis Rosenberg, Canada's Jews, Canadian Jewish Congress, Montreal, 1939.

3. Arthur A. Chiel, The Jews in Manitoba, University of Toronto Press, 1961.

4. Simon Belkin, Through Narrow Gates, Canadian Jewish Congress and Jewish Colonization Association, Montreal, 1966.

5. Abraham J. Arnold, The Contribution of the Jews to the Opening and Development of the West, Historic and Scientific Society of Manitoba Transactions, Series III, No. 25, 1968-1969.

6. Robert England, The Colonization of Western Canada, P. S. King & Son, Ltd., London, 1936.

7. The Jewish Agricultural and Industrial Aid Society Annual Reports, New York, 1902, p. 25 and 1918, p. 44.

8. John Murray Gibbon, Canadian Mosaic, McClelland & Stewart Limited, Toronto, 1938.

9. Louis Rosenberg, "Wapella, The Oldest Existing Jewish Farm Colony In Canada," The Jewish Post, Vol. IV, No. 37, pp. 21, 22, Winnipeg, September 14, 1928.

10. Yiddish name meaning 'small man.' Indeed he was a very short man, barely 5 feet tall. The story is told of how he rode an ox in the early years and fashioned a special ladder to mount the ox.

11. Hebrew name meaning 'son of man.'

12. The first Dominion Lands Act of 1872 provided for a 'free' homestead of 160 acres for incoming settlers. There was a three-year residence clause, and a nominal registration fee of $10. In addition the practice of pre-emption was adopted, enabling the settler to purchase an adjoining quarter section of 160 acres.

13. The language of East European Jews. Uses the letters of the Hebrew alphabet but contains a vocabulary of 70% to 75% German words, 15% to 20% Hebrew words and a sprinkling of other tongues.

14. The ten adult male Jews required for religious services. No congregational prayers or rites can begin until there is a minvan.

15. Part of the land grant policy designed to assist the Canadian Pacific Railway to finance its rail construction and operating costs. Within a 48-mile belt bordering the railway, the C.P.R. had an equal number of sections with the Government. The Government offered its sections on the homestead plan or by direct sale for immediate agricultural development. The C.P.R. was in a position to hold its sections until the development of the adjacent government sections had increased the value of the railway's lands.

16. The authorized slaughterer of animals or fowl, according to kosher requirements. He had to be thoroughly conversant with the many rules governing the preparation of kosher food in order that it would be ritually clean according to the dietary laws.

17. Verb meaning 'to slaughter.'

18. The author is indebted to the following pioneers, interviewed during the years 1968 to 1971, who have contributed the information for this section:

Farm Pioneers

Mr. Ben Barish, Vancouver, British Columbia.

Mr. Eli Barish, Vancouver, British Columbia.

Mrs. Harry Barish (Minnie Ratner), Vancouver, British Columbia.

Mr. Sam Barish, Vancouver, British Columbia.

Mr. Ernest Brotman, Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Mrs. Sam Brotman (Fanny Pelenovsky), Tacoma, Washington.

Mrs. Charles Brownstone (Maggie Wasserman), Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Mrs. Claude Hyman (Ray Brotman), Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Mr. David Isman, Kipling, Saskatchewan.

Mrs. Hyman Isman (Ethel Arenowsky), Regina, Saskatchewan.

Mrs. Harry Kahn (Becky Pelenovsky), Vancouver, British Columbia.

Mr. & Mrs. Barney (Betty) Kaplun, Rocanville Municipality, Saskatchewan.

Mrs. Peter Segall (Fanny Barish), Vancouver, British Columbia.

Mrs. George Silverman (Marge Edess), Regina, Saskatchewan.

Mrs. Joel Silverton (Ada Barish), Los Angeles, California.


Mr. Gordon Kliman, Regina, Saskatchewan. Told of his father's experiences in supplying provisions to the railway contractors between Winnipeg and Fort Qu'Appelle in 1882.

Mr. William Leonoff (husband of Rose Brotman), Winnipeg, Manitoba. Told of his early days in Russia.

Mr. Jack Lyone (brother-in-law of Max Heppner), Winnipeg, Manitoba. Operated the Heppner grain elevator in Wapella.

19. Solomon Hirsch Jacobson, Reminiscences Of My Pioneer Days. Original text of an address to the Prosperity Homemakers Club, Rocanville Municipality, Saskatchewan, translated from the original Yiddish by Harry Klenman. Edited by Louis Rosenberg, The Jewish Post, Vol. XIII, No. 48, pp. 15, 16, Winnipeg, November 30, 1937.

20. The exact meaning of Wapella is lost in antiquity. Apparently it is a Sioux Indian word used by the Assiniboine Indians (Plains Indians), who inhabited the area and belonged to the same linguistic group as the Sioux. Wape or Wapa means snow or to snow. La means to diminish. Thus I have heard these variations: 'melting snow,' 'gently falling snow,' 'turning white,' 'running water,' or 'water underneath' because of the abundance of good water at shallow depth. The C.P.R., which probably named the town, used the water at Wapella for its trains for many years.

21. Cree Indian word meaning 'crossing of the trails,' as two main fur trade routes crossed at this point.

22. A. G. L. 'Andy' McNaughton, Canadian soldier and statesman.

23. The Festival of Freedom, which lasts 8 days. Commemorates Israel's deliverance from enslavement in Egypt over 3200 years ago, as recounted in the Biblical Book of Exodus.

24. Unleavened bread. Symbolic of the haste in which the Israelites left Egypt without waiting for the bread to rise. Jews are forbidden to eat ordinary (leavened) bread during the Passover period.

25. The Jewish scrolls of the law containing the Five Books of Moses hand written by a scribe on parchment, regarded by Jews as holy.

26. Literally 'holy box.' A box made to hold the Torahs.

27. Norman Wasserman, personal letter to his sister Mrs. Charles Brownstone (Maggie Wasserman), Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, February 8, 1961.

28. Russian landlord or estate holder.

29. A pestle used to grind food.

30, 31, 32. Conforming to kosher dietary laws. Orthodox Jews use separate dishes and utensils for meat (30), for dairy products (31), and for the Passover Festival (32).

33. Yiddish word meaning 'spleen.'

34. Or Yontiff. Literally 'good day.' Used generally in referring to Jewish holy days and festivals.

35. Hebrew was reserved as the Jews' language of prayer and religious services. Being one of the oldest languages on earth, it was presumed to be the language used by God. It is now the official language of the State of Israel.

36. Literally 'Head of the year.' The Jewish New Year according to the Lunar calendar, which occurs in the fall of the year. A two-day celebration in which Jews gather together for synagogue service, prayer and feast. The rabbis held that Rosh Hashanah commemorates the birthday of creation itself.

37. Literally 'Holy Day.' This holiest of Jewish days begins just before nightfall the day before and continues with fasting and prayers without interruption from morning until sunset the following day. On this day, say the orthodox, all men stand in judgment before God.

38. The ideal place for a marriage was considered to be 'under the stars,' usually the courtyard of the synagogue. In Wapella, obviously this practice was literally followed even in the freezing cold of a prairie winter night. Traditionally the guests all carried lighted candles.

39. Religiously observant, 'devout.'

40. A marriage agreement.

41. A title that connotes a learned man.

42. Woman's name - Bathsheba, Basha, Bessie, or Bess.

43. Good luck.

44. The wedding canopy under which a Jewish marriage is performed. Made of fine cloth, usually silk or satin, held up by four wooden poles at the corners, it symbolizes the 'home,' which is considered to be life's temple.

45. Holiness or sanctification.

46. Name of a month in the Hebrew calendar conforming to our August - September.

47. Monday (The second day of the week).

48. Name of a month in the Hebrew calendar conforming to our January - February.

49. According to Hebrew calendar. Corresponds to our year 1895. Orthodox Jews date the year 1 as the time when God created the world.

50. Literally 'son of the commandment.' After his 13th birthday the Jewish boy takes on lifelong religious and ethical obligations, and can be counted as an adult in the minyan.

51. The Feast of Lots. Commemorates the rescue of the Jews of Persia from Haman's plot to exterminate them, as told in the Book of Esther. The deliverance was effected by the intercession of beautiful Queen Esther, who was Jewish, with the King after lots had been drawn to determine the date on which the Jews would he slaughtered.

52. Jewish-German philanthropist Baron Maurice de Hirsch established a fund to assist Jewish settlement on agricultural lands in various parts of the world.

53. Adjective meaning 'Jewish.'

54. Actually was a loan to be repaid in time.

55. From a Hebrew word meaning literally 'torn to pieces.' Any food that is ritually 'unclean,' i.e. is not kosher. Pork is trayf since the swine is one of the animals listed in Leviticus (11) and Deuteronomy (14) as 'unclean.'

56. Louis Rosenberg, Wapella, op. cit.

57. Established in 1891 by Baron de Hirsch to assist Jewish farmers. The affiliated Jewish Colonization Association of Canada continues its activities to this day.

* A paper presented jointly to the Manitoba Historical Society and the Jewish Historical Society of Western Canada.

Page revised: 22 May 2010

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