Interview with Frank Joseph Kambeitz (FK)
Conducted by Bob Dambach (BD)
July 2000, Leader, Saskatchewan
Transcribed by Aaron Johnson
Editing and proofreading by Peter Eberle and Reverend Marvin Hartmann
Prairie Public Collection
BD: And what is your name?
FK: Frankie Kambeits.
BD: And where do you live Frank?
FK: Medicine Hat.
BD: In Alberta but we are not in Alberta now where
FK: We are in no mans land. Well I lived about two
miles south of here.
BD: And did that town have a name?
FK: It was called Churchwitz and if we ride a little
bit further over we lived out on one quarter what is called the
section 12 and one in section one.
BD: So you lived on a farm did ya?
FK: Yeah we did but I was not born there I was born
east of Regina and we farmed and lived in a sod house.
BD: You were born in a sod house?
FK: I was born in a sod house. My dad was the midwife
and I made it.
BD: Where did your mom and dad come from?
FK: The came from the Black Sea part of Odessa.
In south Russia.
BD: And about what time did they come?
FK: They came in the 1900’s.
BD: Do you know why they came?
FK: There were many reasons they all came from Germany
and then they came out to be in France because there wasn’t,
France and Germany go together and the border was only marked
at busy places and the Germans seemed to be a little more industrious
they built a long railway and that was during Napoleon’s
time. And Napoleon went ahead and he drew a border and then it
says if you were in German or France. And then all hell broke
BD: So then they went to south Russia didn’t
FK: No they didn’t have to move but they worried.
They didn’t know that they were in France because the border
wasn’t marked. They didn’t know that German and France
was together and the Germans were a lot more greedy over their
land. And I don’t know but it turned out they were in France.
Then somebody dug around, according to how it is written, and
somebody found coal. Well both claimed it and then they were supposed
to have found iron ore. Then the fighting started, I remember
when it was the last year I went to school there was I was the
I think it was 12 or 13 we had the Alexander Readers and in there
there was the last letter in French well I read that and I remember
at the time it didn’t mean a blessed thing to me.
BD: So they settled up here why don’t you
tell me about your mom and dad they came over here from south
Russian and settled in Saskatchewan where did they first settle?
FK: They settled right where it was what they called
a colony. A German colony. About some 30 miles east of Regina
and they took up settlement and then mother stayed with some other
Germans and naturally Dad got a job working with two Englishmen
bachelors. And all that they knew was no and yeah. They would
take them by the hand and tell them to go get the fork or the
spade and that was about it.
BD: So then they just spoke German when they came
FK: German and some Russian and but no French. Oh
no they had no use for the French.
BD: Now when you were growing up as a boy what did
you learn did you learn German first?
FK: Well sure that’s what my mother told me
my mother could only speak a little Russian because she was born
in Russia and German they emigrated from Germany but maybe you
read about that. They were allowed to have there own schools and
BD: Now when they came to Canada why did they move
FK: Dad that the only thing he was good at in multiplying.
The Germans and particularly the Kambietz and excellent at multiplying
oh and I forgot how many years ago that the family was so small.
BD: Now how big of a family were you in?
FK: Oh a dozen, ten sisters and two boys.
BD: And were all of them born here in Canada?
FK: No two were born in Russia.
BD: When you moved here were they farmers out here?
FK: Oh yeah that was part of the reason they moved
out here see my dads sisters and brothers they came out a lot
later because there was no land available down around Regina [unintelligible].
They had to come out to Leader that was called Prussia in those
days. And from there they had good land there when dad bought
that there he didn’t house that there. But how it worked
out he had a homestead down there, and he had a second homestead
at Premption and around the Leader area.
BD: And what did they grow?
FK: Oh just wheat, oats and barley and stuff like
BD: But it was good land?
FK: Oh yeah it was good land if it rained well in
the Leader area that was excellent land and they were told that
land if its dry you can’t plow it the ground is too hard.
And when it’s wet you can’t plow it because it’s
too sticky. They could have had land in the Leader are and Prelate
they went further east though with the sand and gravel in the
BD: Now how far did you go in school?
FK: Oh, in the first place we were not encouraged
to go to school. And the second day I went to school I got the
strap because we were not allowed to speak German, and I was supposed
to tell the teacher, an English teacher that the Germans had killed
her dad and her brother. She got even with me, I couldn’t
blame her. I couldn’t tell her and I got her an apple and
the apple was red. The school was not for me and you got the strap.
So after a few weeks, well we didn’t have the clothes ether.
I was born in November when the sun was shining and it was getting
cold. There was no school in the winter it was too cold. We were
too poor we didn’t have the clothes it was a matter of survival
not of education. That didn’t mean too much.
BD: So you were working on the farm a lot?
FK: Oh yeah.
BD: What types of things did you do on the farm
as a boy?
FK: We had next to nothing we had a bunch of cattle,
horses, pigs, chickens, turkeys, ducks, you name it we had it.
We had a huge garden it was almost a self-sufficient farm.
BD: Was it hard for your mom and dad to feed all
FK: Well we was about two or three years apart by
the time the younger ones came along the older ones were married
and they all worked out.
BD: Now your older brothers and sisters did they
stay in the area or did they move away?
FK: No they did not stay thee like the older sister
she never went to school well I guess she went to school one day
and she found out she didn’t like it there I forgot why
she didn’t like it there. And she always bragged and she
always said just as soon as you could walk you could work. She
made it through. I thought it was 93 but then I could say 92.
Because then I know it would be right.
BD: She lived to be 92 huh?
FK: Yeah she lived to be 92 maybe 93.
BD: Now where did she live?
FK: They came out west just a little bit there was
no decent land available so they lived in the hills so they got
a half section in the hills and rocks. And her husbands name was
Leonard. He was willing to try anything so he couldn’t make
anything farming so he managed to buy an old steamer and an old
separator well when he got that working and he found a friend
and I think they just got by the two of them just managed to make
it just pay but they didn’t make any money off of it.
BD: So did she have a large family too?
FK: Well it turned out that in ’20 the early
‘20s Leonard had some sisters and she married a fella from
the states it was in the same area the Yakima Valley I suppose
you heard about that area. In that general area. And they decided
to pull up the stakes and decided there’s no work down there.
BD: And what about you know what time did you get
your own farm sometime?
FK: Oh yeah.
BD: How old were you when you got your own farm?
FK: That was when I was about 12 or 13 I would work
and hire out so I did that while I would make money. And dad was
up in years he didn’t know and he said no you don’t
go you stay here and work with me and when you get married you
get a quarter of the land. Not when I was a certain age but when
I got married. So I held that to him and when I got married I
got my quarter of land.
BD: How old were you when you got married?
FK: 23 but when you’re in your 30’s
there is no goodness left in you so that’s where he went
BD: Now how big of a family did you have?
FK: Oh we had eight and one that we adopted nine
all together there were all doing pretty good. We had the reunion
not too long ago just last week before.
BD: So is Carroll your youngest daughter?
FK: No she’s in the middle yes she’s
number five. We had five girls and three boys and then we adopted
BD: Now was your wife German Russian too?
FK: No not Russian her parents from Austria the
part that I forgot what his name was, the ruler he wanted “Lebensraum”
BD: Now how did you meet your wife?
FK: Oh she was only living two miles way from us.
BD: So she was living in the area?
FK: Yeah she was living in the area yeah. And the
folks like her folks and my folks were close friends.
BD: And how long did you farm for how many years
did you farm for?
FK: Oh when I turned 70 I worked my own two sections
of land, we had enough salted away I was known as a jack of many
trades and master of none. See I knew they would come around with
their mighty dollar there was blacksmith work or overhauling a
motor or tractor or whatever it was. Then the radios and used
to overhaul them and I could do pretty good until it hit the modern
ones but once you came along with those ones there was nothing
I could do.
BD: You learned to do a lot of things them with
FK: Oh yeah no when I was after the dirty 30’s
we had no matter what came along if it was hauling grain from
trucking or working for the customer like my oldest son, he looked
the same and once the children are on their work, so can we truly
go traveling so we globe trotted first we started in Hawaii twice
and then we went to Europe two times it was really unreal see
and then that’s where it was a long story but maybe it doesn’t
fit in but lange winter so no radio and no TV, just the good old
German Bible and a children’s Bible with pictures in it
so I paid 50 cents to subscribe to Free Press Prayer time and
that was so much fun you couldn’t afford it. So what do
you do when all the chores are done you going to go learn your
German? She said come and I’ll teach you and my mother was
smart she says come here now and I’ll teach you the alphabet
but we only got half ways through and I lost interest. Then she
said well you know the “Our Father” and the “Creed”
and a lot of prayers we have said and taught and memorized and
the German Bible will have those prayers in there. In German so
ok yeah “Our Father. Vater unser, der du bist im Himmel…”
That’s what it looks like and that’s how I learned
how to read German. Now the written the printed I can read. That’s
because I remember old German newspapers.
BD: So you could read newspapers and stuff like
FK: Oh yeah, yeah I could.
BD: We’re in a cemetery. What cemetery are
FK: This used to be the Josephsthal cemetary the
church was called Josephsthal.
BD: Why don’t you tell me about some of the
people there are probably a lot of people that are buried in this
cemetery that you knew?
FK: Oh yeah see I knew they only lived about a mile
well a little under a mile away from us and they were originally
from the States they got the free land up here in Canada. They
came out and they get half a section but then the flu epidemic
and that just about wiped them out.
BD: So there are a lot of people buried because
of the flu epidemic?
FK: Well there were a quite a few and they were
all a part of it. I remember, my mother would say go get the old
horse we called him old Bob, hitch him to the buggy were going
to visit because she heard someone was sick. And Dad decided he
was going to have a house built in the flu epidemic and we went
in to Leader anschtekend (infection) it was about 25 miles away
and there was someone around there [unintelligible] they didn’t
believe that when we was kids that we would take a load of wheat
out and sometimes we would load up lumber and sometimes we didn’t
get it done and then the next day they walked around with handkerchief
across the face. The youngest sister she had what might have been
a touch of that but that was not what killed her. It was diphtheria.
She choked to death.
BD: Now you were telling me a little bit earlier
that there is an old friend of yours that was an alter boy with
you that is buried here?
FK: Yeah but I don’t know where.
BD: You don’t have to know just tell me the
story about him you were telling me the story before?
FK: Old John Wegenheiser, he was the one who taught
us the well it had to be Latin in those days and I couldn’t
for the life of me figure why it should be in Latin…I don’t
know it! When I say something I want to know what it means. We
were taught English and on Sunday we went to church and John Wegenheiser
he’s buried some place he was the Deacon; he said you two
boys have to serve Mass today. So we said ok there was local people
and a crowd and Latin of all things. I didn’t understand
Latin. So we stumbled through and that Sunday afternoon, see John
had two sisters and they were friends of my sisters, and after
dinner they came over in their buggies and I remember John sitting
on the back with his legs dangling on there and the sisters it
was in the spring and every bird nest around there. Stand beside
grave,…we buried John, and I still cant see why that happens
and sadly I still don’t know.
BD: And that was from the flu?
FK: He got a touch of the flu but it was diphtheria
again. I don’t know something but it generates so much mucus
that they would cough it up but they would just choke to death.
BD: It’s very sad when you lose your young
friends like that?
FK: No, I couldn’t... Johnny and I we got
along. So well.
BD: It was very hard at that time I bet?
FK: Yeah I was about eight or nine. I don’t
get why do those things happen.
BD: Now were out here in the cemetery and you said
some of your relatives are buried out here
FK: Yeah they had a little wooden cross on their
but that cross had rotted away those are them around here somewhere
I guess. Well the priest kept the record and I think one day,
see I was gone from this area for a long time we moved down to
Richmond in ’40 I think it was.
BD: But you said that you did your little bit of
blacksmithing did you ever try to make one of these iron crosses?
BD: Did you ever see anyone make one?
FK: Well there was one and now I don’t remember
is it this style here I’m not too sure but the present mayor
of Medicine Hat his name was Grimm well his grandpa was a blacksmith
and I helped him and he made them something like this
BD: Were they hard to make?
FK: Well no this is just from the track from the
barn door and those he would bend that cold you didn’t even
have to heat it. It was really soft metal. No I wasn’t interested
in that I was more interested in the motor mechanics because there
was so much hard work. I could do a 412 engine stuff like the
shar penny shares and cultivator shovels, like that.
BD: About how long do you think it would take to
make one of these iron crosses?
FK: Once you have one made and you were satisfied
with that then you have a pattern well then that wouldn’t
take very long
BD: So were talking about one day or more than that?
FK: Oh yeah you could make one a day easy but that
does mean you had to find one somewhere else. What they didn’t
have was they didn’t have any emery wheels, like that…
that one would have been a defect.
BD: When you come back to the cemetery do you come
back and look at the names.
FK: Well if you can see them but see there’s
if you walk around and don’t be surprised if you go down
some, remember they are wooden coffins and that ground stood ok
until the wood is all gone and you will see some bodies buried
for 80 some years. I have.
BD: Why don’t you look at the name on this
tombstone and tell me about the people.
FK: Well those Reicherts see they were all over
when we were boys. See there was Jack he was around 17 or 18 and
the other two were older they were in there 20’s and they
had come up from the states for the free land. They lived over
about a mile and a half from our place. They were German that
was a German name.
BD: When you would visit like your friends down
the road what sort of things would you do, would you sing would
you play cards what would you do?
FK: Oh I don’t know what we did that was way
back there was always something we had all that there was not
one day that there wasn’t nothing to do. We had to keep
care of livestock and feed the chickens and pigs and Lord knows
gathered the hen eggs…and every doggone thing.
BD: But did you ever go to dances with things like
that on a Saturday night?
FK: Oh yeah but I was not interested in dancing.
Way later on when I was in 18 or 19.
BD: Well when you were 18 or 19 you would go to a dance and they
would play German music?
FK: Oh yeah well barn dance music you know the kind.
There would be some relatives like Joe Schmidt he was a few years
older than I was he died about a year ago. His son was down in
Ottawa lived down there and that was the last of that family.
BD: You and Joe would go to dances together.
FK: No he was a musician. He could play well like
later on he was the he played the saxophone. He was a popular
BD: Maybe well walk down and see another name you
FK: You step on something and you feel the ground
go down you remember that is where there was a wooden coffin and
the ground might not be settled yet.
BD: Here is a name but I don’t know if it’s
a name you will recognize. That was someone who died in 1918?
FK: Ludwig Berne no I knew his son they lived in
Burgsthal his name was Ludwig too. He died some time ago. Ludwig
there was [unintelligible].
BD: They thought they were a little better than
FK: That’s like they say I’ve known
some people that they couldn’t resist if there was something
available well they just had to have it. That’s a bad disease.
I’ve seen some very nice people when they’re sober,
but ei yei yei…
BD: Another Reichert
FK: Oh yeah another Reichert, yes I think this was
the father and there were his two boys. Yeah I knew all of them
BD: When you were growing up as a boy, what type
of food did your mom make for you?
BD: Yeah did you eat German food?
FK: Kraut, Krupla und fleish, and that was the mainstay
that’s all you needed.
BD: Do you ever get that food anymore?
FK: Well my chewing business doesn’t work
like that anymore.
BD: What about this one?
BD: There is no name on it.
FK: There is no name on it if the good Lord doesn’t
remember then I don’t know.
BD: It’s kind of interesting the corners up
FK: They are all twisted together somebody had more
time then that one there.
BD: Now someone told me you had some inventions
FK: Yeah well you could always find work to do when
we lived close to the farm there was a big building there I had
to overhaul the motor and the generator and then I remodeled the
machinery. Like the cultivator I had a six-foot cultivator my
neighbor hooked them together and it was flexible and you could
pull the two with a tractor. See one was too small and then the
disker I had the change to buy it was 21 feet well I went ahead
see the war broke out it was before that I was in the wrecking
business the worthwhile equipment I saved that I saved everything
until the war came along. Then if you were a farmer you were only
allowed 500 pounds you had to go through everything and you couldn’t
get equipment so I had all this and I had bought a short wave
radio from the states and sometime early in the morning I could
catch Adolph say “Gott verdammte Juden.” That man
had nothing good to say about the Jews and the boys of the rising
sun would get that sometimes.
BD: So you could make out some of the German on
the short wave?
FK: Oh yeah sometimes it would come in waves like
it was not really stead and then German extraction so ok now somebody
maybe had reported that but Frank Kambietz. I had argued with
some of the politicians and we were starving and we had no money
and they couldn’t help us see we were on welfare for about
four or five years. When the war broke out there was there was
no money in the business. I bought a rifle and I was not too bad
a shot at that when I saw the old Scotchmen hit the policeman
at Fox Valley, I told Frank next time you come down here I’ll
get you a rifle. I know a few words of French so I bring my rifle
down here they make those laws it is my job to enforce them we
got in an argument and we were in between the cow barn and the
horse barn now it seems to be a natural for a cow before she is
going out, she will find a hiding place. She goes in the horse
bar and that when there was a little on in there what is it a
calf or a colt, and the male come in there and you never mind.
You tell me that I was born by my parents and they were mainly
German but my grandmother was French she was a teacher. I’ve
never been to Germany and what I understood was little of what
was said you can have “Gott verdammten Jugen.” So
it was, I think, about three or four weeks after that I met the
police men after that and he said Frank come over to the office,
ok we go to the office and he goes to the cell and there was hundreds
of guns in there because it was a German settlement and he said
BD: So most of the people had to give up their guns?
FK: Oh yeah the Germans and another thing I was
in the scrap business for some time and I had landed some things
that should have never been because they were antiques. And I
got some three wheelers of different makes they should have never
been dismantled they should have been saved. Maybe that was the
only one that was ever made, never mind I don’t like the
laws. You start them in early and when you’re small I remember
the name but I don’t know any Lepps see he died in 1917
and he came out from the east in 1916 and I was away and that
was before my time really.
FK: Who made these crosses?
BD: You were the blacksmith?
FK: I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the
mayor’s grandfather who made that.
BD: What was his name?
FK: Bernard Grimm yeah I new him very well he was
a nice fella but you could see some things.
BD: Now why did some people have iron crosses and
some people have the other type?
FK: Iron crosses are the people who had a little
bit more money they once said that like my sisters they just had
the wooden cross. It was long before we would be dead long before
the cross. Some couldn’t even afford that and some well
they just get a little coffin and that’s all its all going
to be rotten.
BD: So the iron crosses were expensive then?
FK: Well he might have got about 25 dollars for
that and that was a pile of money for that I had to work for a
whole bloody month for 20 dollars and I never saw a cent of that.
He had to pay that money away before I started working.
BD: So that would be expensive for the iron crosses.
Oh here are some more names over here why don’t we go over
here and look at these?
FK: Joseph Hirsch that’s the old fella I knew
the younger ones, but not the old fella.
BD: Where would there land have been?
FK: Oh there’s a lot of them the same well
I don’t see where they would have been in the old country,
Germany. One was just married as a Hirsch yeah good friends they
were in the Josephstahl in fact where the church was he is right
across the road.
BD: And how far was the church from here.
FK: There is only about mile and three quarter south
of [unintelligible] we had to walk to that church many a many
BD: Why was the cemetery so far from the church?
FK: Well we didn’t want it that close because
of the farm yard you remember there was a farm sometimes in every
quarter and in a half section that was a large farm. And if you
had three quarters or four you must have had a lot of grown boys
BD: Ok why don’t we walk down there is a couple
in the ground here that I don’t know.
FK: Dear mother yeah.
BD: Now was this an unusual when they were first
put in did they have to stake the grave when they first buried
FK: No this was done in the early years and they
started doing that way later. See this job the men come out from
Medicine Hat and they line up the jobs and some of the men do
that I think.
BD: So when would this have been done do you think?
FK: Oh yes out in the Richmond area when that was
BD: So this might have been out in the 1950’s
FK: Yes, just as soon as I was on my own I couldn’t
keep my mouth shut I was full of it and I was involved.
BD: That name over there is that a name that you
FK: Schwengler. Yes Joseph yes he was younger than
I was he was harrowing a field just south of here and it started
raining. He had horses on so he stopped and found shelter for
the horses the lightning bolt killed him and I think all of the
horses instantly the whole works. And a little bit further south
well about a mile and a half or two I was outside working when
the flash of lightning and the loud noise was heard and then they
found him and one horse was laid dead on top of him.
BD: It could be dangerous out in the field?
FK: Well who knows when lightning will strike?
FK: Well here are my sisters and my wife I’m
old 91 and a half.
BD: And your wife never tells you how old?
FK: Well she’s three years and ten months
older than I am and three years meant a lot of a difference to
me. Let’s see died in ’48 yeah I knew that was her
husband John. He is buried here someplace I think. He was the
Deacon he taught me the Latin Prayer.
BD: Now I see the picture is that unusual to see
a picture on the?
FK: Yeah as long as people leave them on there some
people you don’t know what they are doing they knock them
off sometimes. This one has been knocked over broken and fixed.
(???…A519) there are some more Wegenheisers someplace.
BD: Well that’s about it are there any other
memories you would like to share?
FK: Well I’d like to find Johnny Schell but
I don’t think I will. His people were poor and I don’t
know none of them around around here. I don’t think they
had any kind of money to have that done.