A seniors story - Schmidt family built new life in Canada


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Submitted Photos
Kurt and Frances Schmidt Family. Back L to R: Ken, Faye, Russell, Donald, Leona, David. Front: Kurt and Frances.

Wayne Hildebrand
Neepawa Banner & Press

Thirty three years ago my job took me to a beautiful village along the Grass River called Waldersee, Manitoba.  The village is located about one hour north east of Neepawa.  Over time I got to know some of the area farmers with last names like Schmidt, Rossnagel, Single, Schultz, Dilk, Bohn, Mitchler, Oswald, Klassen, Mauthe and Marohn.  I always wondered how a cluster of German immigrants homesteaded and established a German named village near the eastern boundary of the Rural Municipality of Glenella.  I decided to ask Kurt Schmidt, who was born 92 years ago at his home farm in Waldersee.

Kurt’s father, Fred Schmidt, was a drafted 17 year old German soldier in World War I.  He was captured by Western Allies and sent to a prisoner of war camp in France.  When the war ended, new country boundaries were established in Europe.  The Schmidt family land ended up in Poland.  If they wanted to retain their German citizenship, they had to leave. Combined with soaring inflation in 1920 and the Polish government demanding Fred join the Polish army, the Schmidt family decided to immigrate to Canada.  The Schmidts were related to the Rossnagels, who had already homesteaded in the Waldersee area, so Waldersee was their destination. Family connections brought many German settlers to the area.  It took ten days for the Schmidt family to cross the ocean, and two weeks to get from Quebec to Winnipeg.

The Rossnagel and Oswald families were some of the first pioneers in the Waldersee area around 1896.  They helped name Waldersee, which comes from the German words Valt and See, meaning forest and lake.  They bought their homesteads for ten dollars; 160 acres of swamp, bush and native prairie.  They had to build a fence around their hay stacks to keep the moose, elk and deer from eating their hay, and the mosquitos were so bad they would stampede the bison.

Fred and Rosalie (Prellwitz) Schmidt, along with Fred’s parents, Johann and Martha, arrived in Waldersee in 1924.  They bought a 320 acre farm from Karl Siegel who moved to Tenby. Mr. Siegel built coffins and Mrs. Siegel was a respected midwife, so “they had both ends covered,” joked Kurt.

Fred and Rosalie had six children; Ursula, Erwin, Kurt, Herbert, Richard and Victoria.  Kurt was born in 1926.  It was the beginning of difficult economic times and the drought of the 1930s was upon them.  In 1930, Kurt’s father could not make his mortgage payments, and they lost their farmland.  However, they continued to rent the land.  In 1940 they bought back the land that they lost.  “In the 1930s we did anything we could to earn money,” said Kurt.  “We sold horsehair and cowhides, picked Seneca root, and skinned out jackrabbits, weasels, and squirrels.   Jacob Single’s Waldersee Store would take it all!”  The Glenella and District “Tracks of Time” history book indicates Single’s Waldersee Store took in over 75,000 rabbit skins in the late 1920s and 1930s.  The added benefit of rabbits was they were good to eat.  “One of our neighbors boasted she could cook rabbits 50 different ways,” said Frances Schmidt.

Germania School was Waldersee’s first school.  It opened in 1899.  As settlement grew, two schools provided education to the Waldersee settlers. Germania School was renamed Herriot School and a second school opened called Cory School.  “I could not speak of word of English when I started Cory School,” Kurt said.  “In the summer I took German School at the Waldersee Lutheran Church to learn how to read and write in German.’’  When Kurt’s father became ill, he had no choice but to stay on the farm and work when he was fourteen years old, completing grades nine and ten by correspondence.  Kurt completed grade eleven at Glenella Collegiate.

Kurt met Frances Buschau from Plumas when Frances was teaching at Cory School and boarding at the Schmidt’s home.  They were married in 1950 at the Waldersee Lutheran Church.  “The service took forever,” said Frances.  “The service was in German for the older folks, and then we repeated it in English.”  Kurt and Frances have six children; Ken, Faye, Russell, Donald, Leona and David.  “They all have jobs, are doing well, and we are very proud of them,” said Frances.

Kurt and Frances have been involved in community affairs throughout their life.  At 92 years of age, Kurt is the oldest male in the Rural Municipality of Glenella.  Frances (88 years old) enjoys quilting for the Victoria Quilts cancer support program and sewing for the Children’s Hospital in Winnipeg.  “We have seen a lot of change,” said Kurt.  “Much of it was good, but our community, like many, is disappearing.  On my land alone I have cleaned up 6 yard sites, there isn’t much left in Waldersee, and our church congregation is down to 25 people. On the bright side, Waldersee has been a great community to live in and raise our family.  We still live in our own home and we are about to celebrate our 68th wedding anniversary.  We have been blessed.”