Stories of Joy - No. 9 - Challenge for education — economic crisis in 1930’s in Saskatchewan

In Canada

The central province of the Canadian West was sad. It was settled by many Ukrainian pioneers who had just barely risen above the acute poverty rim, part of the process of new immigration. Some of them had even been lucky to bank some of their savings in the thriving New York market. Prospects for their children’s future never looked better. After two decades of hard work clearing the land, plowing, seeding, and harvesting luscious wheat yields, the Yorkton district pioneer farmer, in 1929, arranged for his oldest daughter to begin high school in the city. His entire family of seven children was intellectually inclined – this was evident. There were plans for all of them.

As the young student was settling into her Grade 9 class, bad news came from New York; the Wall Street Crash took down with it a very large portion of the Canadian savings invested there. Accustomed to facing many setbacks in life, our farmer saw the bright side of next year’s crops, and all following. But by 1932, none were there. The farmers seeded, looked to the sky for rain, but little came. “A dry summer — it happens ... ” The wheat kernels were shriveled and the granaries were far from filled, even though the previous years’ leftover grain gave the illusion of otherwise. And the sad story continued, into the high mid-thirties. There was no longer any money to send the next child to high school. So the next three ended their schooling at Grade 7 or 8, and helped at home. There was hardly enough cash left to buy ‘the salt and sugar,’ so a huge garden was planted and livestock carefully tended. Gathering eggs was entrusted to the eldest to avoid even one carelessly broken. A new and big litter of piglets occasioned great family joy and raised hopes. It is true there was the occasional sprinkle from heaven, and when anyone reported even the faintest clap of thunder, everyone rushed to the window, imagining a huge downpour. All they saw were the thinly-leafed trees turning and tossing ferociously in the relentless prairie winds. On the tilled fields the top soil was drifting and piling up higher and higher. You could literally walk over the barbed wire fences separating the farms — the sand banks were that high. Thank God it was still possible to take a load of this tired wheat to the flour mill in the city and bring home the flour for bread.

In 1937 the next sibling was completing Grade 8 at the rural school. Seeing her enthusiasm for learning, her teacher seized on a great opportunity; the Department of Education in Regina was offering a high school correspondence class. She was enrolled and successfully completed the first two years. Grade 11 was much more challenging. She worked hard, had good grades. Her teacher of earlier years never lost her interest in her student. There was Sacred Heart Institute in Yorkton, a school for girls, which the Sisters Servants opened several years earlier. Yes, but none of the farmers could even think of this possibility because they had no money. It is true the tuition was a pittance, and the residence that what was available ... could something be put together? “Would the Institute consider farm produce as payment???”

The answer was Yes, and thus our student was enrolled here in the spring of her Grade 11 — two months before the Departmental final exams. Although she had worked hard at the correspondence lessons, there was very much ground not covered. Charity worked the miracle! A kind student gave her all her class notes from all the subjects “to copy and have your own.” It didn’t take long before she had her own notes, studied them carefully, and reached the level of the class! The teachers were amazed and when she scored high in the Departmentals, they were very willing to have her for the next year, “at the same cost arrangements,” for which the parents were extremely grateful.

Grade 12 was sheer delight — excellent teachers, wonderful classmates, a chemistry lab, a school choir that sang in the parish next door, good meals, with only a few household chores as was expected. But the joy of her life was the library with shelves and shelves of books, for which she always found time. She shared with her English teacher an incident from her elementary school years when she had found a way to wash the supper dishes and read a book at the same time. While her hands were in the dishpan, her eyes were on the pages of the book she had placed on a low cupboard next to the kitchen table. She brought home two or three books each week. Having time and unrestricted access to the Sacred Heart library in her last year broadened and expanded her “knowledge of many things.”

She would be a teacher, and also dedicate her all to help others as she had been helped. The Lord accepted her offering and as she spent her last weeks in this beautiful academic and spiritual environment, she felt His call to join this wonderful community of the Sisters Servants. Several years later she was on staff of this same high school wholeheartedly imparting wisdom to the next generation. At her Grade 12 graduation her parents had been so pleased and grateful to many persons along the way. They were also overwhelmed with joy when she told them of her future plans. They blessed her and said they would continue to pray for her. All her siblings were on her side and she was always most kind and gentle to those who did not have this opportunity. Over the years she helped them in many ways, and they remained a close-knit family, praise God!

Back to the index ...