Tough start in P.G. didn't deter Saskatchewan migrant

Leonard Polsfut was born in 1935 in a cabin out in the bush northeast of Biggar, Sask. Here is his brief story.

"It was minus 30 the day I was born; my father was there to tie my belly button. I was the third eldest of 10 children," Leonard said. "Long before I was born, my parents built a cabin and worked a quarter section of land leased from the Canadian Pacific Railroad. While it wasn't good farmland, we could survive on what we grew and the few small animals that we kept. My father always planted a huge vegetable garden with the main crop being potatoes. There were all kinds of wild berries on the land and my mother dried wild peppermint for our tea. We fished and hunted and basically lived on venison. We burned wood for heat and to cook our meals.

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"This way of life was not unusual in the 30s. Large families were the normal in those days. The CPR held title for all the land that could have been used for a rail line but instead made it available for lease. There were no roads, just wagon trails that we used to travel between farms. We had neighbours living on quarter sections of land trying to survive just like us. Now, most of this land has been designated for animal and bird sanctuaries with no signs of the many inhabitants who previously lived there.

"I stayed on the farm until I was 15 years old and then I left to work on various prairie farms for pay and board. I worked long days and earned $60 a month seeding and cultivating land for summer fallow."

Summer fallow is crop land that is purposely kept out of production during a regular growing season. Resting the ground in this manner allows one crop to grow using the moisture and nutrients of more than one crop cycle. The summer fallow technique, similar to dry land farming, provides enough extra moisture and nutrients to allow the growth of crops which might otherwise not be possible.

When that job was done, Leonard found work in the fall and winter on a beef cattle farm and worked for his room and board. His parents encouraged this because there were just too many mouths to feed at home.

Leonard said, "In 1965 a friend and I loaded our belongings in my old 1955 Pontiac with a six-cylinder engine and drove to Prince George looking for work. There was absolutely no work in Saskatchewan so we had nothing to lose. When we arrived in Prince George, we stopped at the Columbus Hotel and someone broke into my car and stole everything I owned except for the clothes on my back.

"I met two fellows who invited me to come and share their cabin which was located on a skid in the Cache. I didn't understand why the cabin was on skids until the early 70s when the Cache flooded as far as First Avenue. We used a choker cable to tie the cabin to a big cottonwood tree and the cabin just floated in place. All we had to do was wade in and out of our floating home; when the water went down the cabin ended up on dry land.

"My first job was with Staghorn Mills. There were a lot of people living in the Cache at that time and there was a demand for mill ends to be used for firewood. I saw an opportunity to make some extra money so I braced up the trunk door of my car and loaded it with free mill ends from the sawmill. I sold and delivered each load for $5 and while it was hard work, it wasn't long before I had made $100.

"My next job was with Ongman Bros. driving their International lumber truck. It was my job to load the truck with lumber at the planer mill, deliver it and unload it all by hand. All I can say is that I was thankful that the truck had a roller at the back to make the job a bit easier. We also loaded box cars by hand with lumber from the planer mill. I spent almost five years with Ongman Bros. out in the Buckhorn area.

"Falling trees was no joke. I remember one year we were falling trees in the deep snow. We went back in the spring and fell the once buried 8-10 ft. stumps; that's how deep the snow was that year.

"My next job was with Netherlands Overseas in the industrial site, followed by sawmill work in Shelley for about two months and then I headed to Vancouver where I got a job with MacMillan Bloedel. The job only lasted a few months and I was back in Prince George working for Ongman's in their sawmill on the Parsnip River. I was a jack-of-all-trades and learned many facets of logging.

"Five years later I moved back to the city and got work building shell boxes. In 1972, I hired on with Northwood operating a 980-cat log loader. I worked at this position until I retired at the age of 65 after 28 years with the company."

Leonard concluded by saying, "I never had any formal education but I worked hard all my life and it didn't kill me. For many years, I sent money home to my parents since there were still younger siblings at home. I remember the ration books, no money, no jobs and the hard times. When we found jobs, we felt it was our duty to send money home to the rest of the family. My father taught us all well and he taught us how to work and to share.

"I am thankful that I came to Prince George. It was tough when I first got here but now, I am retired with good friends, great hunting and fishing and I am able to take trips around our beautiful province. I still like camping and I follow the music festivals and attend favorite hockey games. Life is good."

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