Elisabeth (Friesen) Kroeker - my Gr'ma

Chapter 2
Elisabeth's Childhood


The newly weds, Isbrand, 27, and Anna, 20, spent their first winter living with and helping his brother Jacob, and his wife, Maria. In spare hours they built their own home and stable on their homestead a few miles west of Rosthern. Cash was scarce, but it was possible to have 160 acres for $10.

Official records show that in 1894 Isbrand broke 20 acres of raw prairie, the following year 10 more, and in the fall of 1895 he got a crop from all 30 acres. They started out with two horses, 4 cattle and 2 pigs. Their first house was 16 x 22 feet, valued at $100. Their stable and well were considered worth %$50.

This area was still part of the North West Territories at the time, and Rosthern was a village of a few houses. One small building became a grocery store and post office. The new livery stable provided a place to leave their horses when they came to shop or do business.

Also homesteading nearby were Isbrand's older sister Maria and her husband, Johan Siemens. They had no children of their own but took in two orphans from different families; a boy named Cornelius Rempel, and a girl named Aganeta Thiessen. This young family provided friendship.


On May 6th, Isbrand and Anna thanked God for a baby daughter, and named her Elisabeth after Isbrand's mother.

Anna, the new mother, had always liked gardening. She sat her baby on a thick blanket on the floor and opened the windows of their little home, and sang cheerfully outside while she seeded, weeded, and worked her garden. From time to time she peeked in, and observed that her baby was happy and content as long as she heard her singing, but when the song stopped, little Elisabeth frantically looked about and began to cry.


Elisabeth was followed by a sister, Anna, on September 18, 1898.

Elisabeth was about three or maybe four, when this young family took a train trip to Manitoba. She astonished her parents many years later by recalling looking down a toilet seat to find the ground and snow rushing by underneath. A terror of falling in and disappearing forever gripped her, although her Dad kept reassuring her that he was holding her. She could also describe the coffee pot her mother had brought along, and how, when her Dad went to fill the pot with water, she was afraid for him that he'd get lost and not find his way to them among all these people.


By the time Elisabeth started school at age six, she had two young brothers, David, born April 28, 1900, and wee Jacob, born May 30, 1902.

About that time her parents helped out a travelling man who badly needed cash. They bought from him a brand new Raymond sewing machine (manufactured in Guelph, Canada), for $40. The children stood amazed as their busy mother peddled the treadle and made their clothes. She even sewed up horse blankets and mended harnesses with it. A marvelous invention.

Elisabeth spent her whole four-year educational career in the German school near their farm. It was organized by like-minded parents of the area. At first it was located on the other side of a wheat field and her parents were worried that she might get lost in the tall grain. However, Aganata, the Siemens' foster daughter, was four years older and promised to walk with Elisabeth as well as the younger Kornelius, so she was allowed to start. A year or so later, the school was moved right across the road from their farm home.

As she recalled, "I was teachable and learned quickly. Our teacher, Mr. Rempel, taught about 30 of us in High German. We had a blackboard on the wall at front, and each of us had a slate, oh, about 8 x 11 inches, and a stylus. Yes, we also wrote in notebooks. We studied from the Bible, a catechism, and a book of Bible stories with pictures. We learned geography and arithmetic too.

"Mr. Rempel was short and stout. He often sat on his desk, swinging his legs. But he was much appreciated. Our families would not have let him go for anything. His wife was sickly, so Mr. Rempel had taught himself how to sew clothes, and to knit and crochet for their daughters. When he came to visit at our home he always brought his knitting too.

"One year, we as a school set up an evergreen tree for our Christmas program. But some parents felt this could spoil their children's attitude toward Christ as the main focus of Christmas, so it was not done again.

"In our first German Fiebel (ABC Primer), a picture of a red rooster was repeated at the end of sections. If we had been extra good students we might open our book to find a penny on the rooster. Besides the rooster always was this poem:

Der Hann hat schon gekrähet
Stehe auf mein kind, es ist schon zeit
Zur schule zo gehen.
Drum lerne voll was lebens lang
Dir nuetzen soll.

A free translation:

The rooster has already crowed.
Get up my child, it's almost time
To go to school.
So learn well what your life-long
Will be useful to you.

The Isbrand Friesens tried to help out new immigrants by hiring young people as maid or farm-hand for a season. At least, when they could afford to do so.

One such maid had been to school as a child, and said she was able to read, but she stuttered and halted badly when trying to read a Bible passage. Young Elisabeth arrived home from school at one such effort, so her parents asked her to help the maid out. Everyone marveled at how Elisabeth could read even the long, hard words, including the names of the kings in the Old Testament.

Elisabeth often explained, "The last year I went to school some men came to see if we would like to go to Rosthern to the English school. But we had a good teacher and didn't want to do that. Instead, our Mr. Rempel offered to teach English on Tuesdays and Thursdays after 4, for 30 minutes. So we did that for a few months and that was the extent of my English schooling. In that period, our teacher prayed in English the prayer that begins, 'Our Father in Heaven...' and we sang the song, What a Friend We Have in Jesus, and we also spelled in English, and so forth.

"When I was ten years old, I could read anything that the teacher put before me, and I could answer all the oral questions put to me. So I was finished with school."

Next chapter to come... Arrival of the Twins
Moving to Chortitz

Ruth Marlene Friesen

Wealth to Share

My Main Genealogies
Dad's Friesens
or Mom's Friesens
Early Veers
Immigrant Veers
Heinrich Loewen

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