January 31st, 2018 ~ Vol. 89 No. 5
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Looking Back - John Kinnear
Frank from Frank
Life’s Twist and Turns - Part III
Looking Back
Photo: Moira Mackenzie
Frank and all 8 children circa 1912- Anna is holding a bouquet so it might be the occasion of her wedding
So I left off last week stating that Frank and Karolina’s 8th child Lillian was born in April of 1912 and that four months later he can face to face with the loss with his beloved Karla. It was to say, at the very least, an unusual death. Frank’s recount of what happened is that on Saturday evening August 3rd she became seriously ill: “after eating a few berries, called saskatoons”. It was Antonin (Tony) Slapak who sought him out on afternoon shift and told him what was happening. When he arrived home she was so sick she didn’t even recognize him. Dr. McKay had worked on her for two hours, pumping her stomach and felt that the saskatoons had poisoned her. Her condition continued to worsen and by Wednesday McKay hospitalized her.

On the following Saturday after working night shift Frank arrived at the hospital where he was told that Karla was unconscious, had a severe brain inflammation and that her death was imminent. Frank immediately went home to gather the children to say good bye to their mother. Of this Frank said: “I don’t have to say how sad that parting was but I must say that even Doctor McKay was in tears”.

Now I grew up on saskatoons (Amelanchier alnifolia) which are also called service berries or June berries. Whatever you call them, this berry is loaded with dietary fibre, riboflavin, biotin, manganese and iron and also full of antioxidants. It rivals the blueberry for goodness. The only reference I can find to toxicity is in its seeds which like apples contains the cyanogenic glycoside prunasin. The federal government’s Biodiversity Information Facility indicates that this chemical can release hydrogen cyanide. Her symptoms sort of fit cyanide poisoning but as I said this was highly unusual. Perhaps more in-depth research is in order here. Not trying to terrify you Saskatoon lovers!

Karolina was only thirty seven. So there was Frank with, as he called them: “eight little orphans”. It was Anna, then fourteen and well taught by Karolina, who took the reins for the next four years. Lillian the newborn was put in the care of Mrs. Beranek for a year until she was returned. She of course bonded with the Beraneks and after she was returned to the family kept running away from home back to her.
continued below ...
Just two months after Karla passed both Frank mines were shut down for what turned out to be about a 16 month cessation of operations. It all had to do with our friend Muller again, who was the mine’s general manager. He along with the H. Murphy, Mayor of Frank, and other prominent businessman decided that a delegation should go to Ottawa to ask for an expert investigation into the safety of being under Turtle Mountain. This happened in the spring and the next thing Frank says happened is that: “a telegram arrived from Ottawa declaring the mountain dangerous for the community of Frank”.

Apparently some families left town the same evening for Blairmore but moved back days later when the mountain was still standing! Insurance companies began cancelling contracts and that’s when the mines closed. Store merchants sold out their wares and moved their stores to a safe location and according to Wejr about 100 company houses were also moved. But the privately homes (owned mostly by Czech’s like Frank) also numbered about 100. They opted to stay put as: “moving was not enforced.” There is a more detailed and accurate explanation of how all this went down that was written by Ian McKenzie in March 2012 for the Crowsnest Heritage Initiative Heritage Newsletter. It has photographs of how the south side of Frank changed before and after 1912. (See http://www.crowsnestheritage.ca/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/March-20121.pdf)

Some citizens, mostly Czech’s, formed a cooperative association then and bought one of the stores and opened it as a grocery with Frank as its first chairman. Miners found work at the other Pass mines until the spring of 1914 when both Frank mines were reopened. (The mountain still didn’t come down.) World War One broke out and some Czech’s signed up including the son of Frank’s friend Emil Dypolt. Otto Dypolt enlisted in March 1916 and was killed somewhere in France in August of 1917. Frank mentions him and always wrote in his memoirs: “let his memory be honored” after writing of someone’s passing. He wrote that saying a lot!
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At the beginning of the war the Czech’s were looked down upon by “English speaking citizens” and not trusted despite their explanations. Eventually they brought in Jaroslav F. Smetanka, a renowned Czech from Chicago, to explain to the Frank citizens the situation which seemed to smooth the waters. It also helped that they established the Czech National Council in Frank to show their loyalty to the Allied cause. Naturally Frank was its first president.

In the summer of 1916 Antonin Slapak Jr. married Frank’s oldest daughter and so he lost Anna, who had been his housekeeper for four years. Second daughter Julie was now sixteen and took over but not for long. As Frank put it: “a rascal by the name of Frank Novotny came along and asked for her.” Despite his repeated suggestions that there was lots of time Frantik kept asking for her hand and Frank relented. They married in the spring of 1917 putting Frank in his words: “in a jam”. Now what. You see, his next four children were all boys and the last two girls (Caroline and Lillian) were only eight and five.

So two months after Anna’s marriage Frank, now 44 took a second wife. She was Antonin Jr’s mother, Anna Slapak, who had been a widow for almost two years and was fifty one years old. She had come to Frank in 1913 with her husband Antonin Sr. who passed at the age of 56. According to Frank, Anna had had twelve children (eight boys and four girls) from her first marriage, four of which had died in Bohemia. There is no further mention of these children as they were all elsewhere in Canada and the United States. So let me see if I’ve got this straight. Antonin Slapak Jr., who was Frank’s son-in-law, is now his step son?
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Just before New Year’s 1917 there was yet another painful blow to Frank when his oldest boy Rudolf passed of diabetes and was buried next to his wife in Blairmore. It would be six more years before Banting and Best perfected that miraculous discovery of insulin for general use. It probably could have saved Rudolf. In April of 1918 an explosion at the old Frank mine slightly burned two of his Czech friends Vaclav Blecha and Frank Pokorny and after an inspection by three mine’s inspectors the old Frank mine was closed forever. Frank was working at the other shaft mine that spring when he was overwhelmed with a crippling attack of rheumatism. He eventually went to the milder climate of Enderby, B.C. where his brother Alois lived. Alois spent three months trying different types of baths, ointment and various medicines on him and there were times it was so bad they had to feed him because he could not move.

Frank eventually thought he had recovered and came home hoping to start work again but was immediately immobilized, this time by what he claimed was a severe sciatica attack. No medicines helped and a crippled Frank, needing to work and support his family, grew desperate. It was then that he bought a bottle of Harris Wonder Health Restorer from Frank Graham in Coleman and his recovery was in his words “miraculous”. The medicine he said was prepared by a herbalist in Calgary. I managed to track down the record of an interview in the Glenbow Archives that talks about this concoction. I have my suspicions about its content. I’m working on finding out what was in that brew! As an aside I misread some of Frank’s story and suggested last week this was a death bed recovery which it was not. Sorry about misleading you the reader.

In June of 1918 the Frank shaft was closed for good and Frank tried working in Nordegg with his son-in-law but once again he got caught in a cross Canada miner’s strike which lasted four months so he bounced around trying first at Blairmore mine then the Corbin mine in B.C. and finally settled back working at Blairmore Greenhills.
Once again I have run out of space on Frank’s story but it will wrap it (I promise) next week. Hopefully I will be able to tell you what was in that “special medicine” that fixed Frank! There are also a lot of name discrepancies I will clear up. The anglicizing of Slovak names is a real headache.


To read the other parts of the Series:

Frank Wejr – An Immigrant's Life Story - Part I
Frank the Czech in Frank - Part II
Frank from Frank Life's Twist and Turns - Part III
Frantisek Vejr – Honor to His Memory - Part IV
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January 31st, 2018 ~ Vol. 89 No. 5
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