by Everett Arthur Niemela
Victor was born in Peraseinajoki, Finland on August 7, 1864. The 1880 records from the Lutheran Confirmation School show that he had excellent reading grades. In 1888, he came to Hancock, Michigan to work in the copper mines. Victor's name was changed to Pastobak after he entered the United States. The Upper Peninsula of Michigan had a special attraction for Finnish immigrants; it was a place of immediate employment in the New World. Potential immigrants became aware of this opportunity in 1863 when a recruiter was sent to Northern Europe to find workers for the large mining companies. In 1864 thirty Finnish speaking miners came to Hancock. This started a wave of Finnish immigration. They came in sufficient numbers that a school of higher education, Suomi College, was founded in 1896.
Victor also worked on the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railroad. While there he was offered a team of oxen if he would file on a homestead in Manitoba. Instead, he went back to work in the copper mines in the Upper Peninsula. It was here that he met Hanna Peltoniemi, a recent immigrant from Finland. They were married in Mastodon, Crystal Falls Township on September 20, 1890. After living in Hancock one year they moved to Rock Springs, Wyoming where their first child, Ida, was born. The next year they moved to Belt, Montana where Victor worked in the coal mines for eight years.
In the spring of 1900, Victor and two friends, Matt Kaila and August Pass, went to the Canadian Northwest Territories to look for free land on which to settle. They looked over land in Wetaskiwim, but they were not happy with the open country in the area. Red Deer was their next stop. From there they walked twenty miles west to Snake Lake. In later years it would be called Sylvan Lake. With its brush and trees, the rolling land around the lake was more suitable. Victor and his friends chose land two miles west of the lake. There was a spring on the new homestead. With plenty of fresh water it would be easier to get started cultivating this virgin land
The story of the Pastobak family has been gathered from visits to this homestead and from articles in the books Reflections of Sylvan Lake and Along the Burnt Lake Trail. Cousins Victor Junior and Ina were very helpful, as well as Vaino, Edward, and Elmer before they passed away.
After the trip north to find new land, the three men returned to Montana to bring their families to the new homesteads. Victor started back in July with his wife and four children, Ida, Edward, Victor Junior, and Vaino. They ranged in age from one to nine years old. They traveled by train from Montana to Red Deer. The travel was slow with layovers when they had to change trains. At Red Deer they obtained a team of horses and a wagon to take them west to the homestead. The bridge over the Red Deer River had been washed away so the team and wagon had to ford the river. There were no roads in those days, just trails around the trees and sloughs.
When the Pastobaks arrived in the Kuusamo District west of Snake Lake, they stayed with the Peter Wetelainen family in their one room log cabin until their own log cabin was built. The Wetelainens had arrived just a few months earlier from North Dakota. Everything in the Pastobak cabin was made from the forest except the stove, table, and two windows.
There was an old Indian campground nearby. Willow trees that were bent over to make frames for tents were still there. Many prairie chicken snares were also found. In those early years the Pastobaks saw bands of Indians pass near their new home using a trail from Snake Lake to the Rocky Mountains. Katie Kaila Coop, the daughter of Matt Kaila, described these Indian bands further: "These friendly Indians traveled in a single file, the men on ponies, and the women walking with their papooses on their backs." They also saw the chief with his headdress. A trail used by the early settlers going west crossed the southwest corner of the homestead. Many kinds of teams went by. There were horses, oxen, and sometimes a team made up of a cow and a horse pulling a wagon.
One night during that first fall at the homestead, Victor woke up with a toothache. The next morning he set out to walk to Red Deer to have the offending tooth pulled. The distance was nearly twenty miles. Soon after he left, it started to rain, and later the rain turned to wet snow. At the homestead, the sod roof began to leak. Hanna tried to divert the water with sheets that she had brought to the log house. The only dry place the children could find was under the table that was covered with oil cloth. When Victor returned home from Red Deer he hauled boards and repaired the roof. It did not leak again.
One horse and two cows were bought that first year. Hanna churned butter and traded it for groceries in Red Deer. The family could use butter only on Sunday. The chief food during those early years was rabbit, fish, partridge, and prairie chicken.
In the book Reflections of Sylvan Lake, Katie Kaila describes the spring following that first rough winter in this manner:
There was a great deal of cooperation among the early Finnish settlers. This was especially true with the Pastobak, Kaila, Pass, and Leeti families who all came to the Kuusamo area during the summer and fall of 1900. During the winter of 1900, Victor Pastobak built a log house for the Arvi Leeti family. A picture of this log house can be seen in Along the Burnt Lake Trail on page 514. Subsequent winters he would work in the brick yard in Red Deer or in the coal mine at Crows Nest Pass. This helped the family to buy animals and equipment for the new homestead. The original homestead was one quarter section. In later years it expanded to three one quarter sections as other people left their homesteads.
In 1905, Mrs. Leeti became seriously ill. It was raining, and the roads were impassable. Those having horses knew they could not pull a wagon to Red Deer. Victor took his team of oxen and drove the lady to the hospital. The trip took all day, but Mrs. Leeti did not complain. She had an operation, but after two months in the hospital her life ended. This story lends insight into one of the many problems faced by these early settlers.
Red Deer was the nearest post office. The settlers put a large box on a post three miles west of Sylvan Lake. Anyone going to Red Deer brought the mail for the whole Kuusamo District and put it in the box. Each family sorted their own mail.
The social life of the Finnish settlers usually consisted of visits among the families. Every June 24th, the day of Finland's midnight sun, the settlers took the afternoon off and had a picnic. After the Kuusamo school opened in 1903, Christmas programs were a big event. Katie Kaila describes the first program in the following manner: "The first Finnish Christmas program was a memorable occasion. Old and young went in a big bob-sleigh with bells ringing. The Red Deer store keepers were very kind. They gave every family candy canes and hard candy."
In 1911 the Sylvan Lake School district was formed. This took in part of the Kuusamo School District, including the Pastobak farm. A 1915 school picture in Reflections of Sylvan Lake shows Vaino, Hilma, and Hilda Pastobak. Victor Senior served as a trustee on the school board for a number of years.
Mr. and Mrs. Pastobak raised eight children. They were Ida, Edward, Victor, Vaino, Hilda, Elmer, Hilma, and Ina. Ida, Mrs. McIntyre, died in 1929 in Sedro Wooley, Washington. Hilma passed away in Vancouver, British Columbia in 1969. Elmer died in 1977 after a short illness. Edward passed away in 1983, and Vaino died in 1986 after several years of poor health.
Hilda, Mrs. Houghton, died in 1982 at Kelowna, British Columbia. There were two children from her marriage, Robert and Gladys Houghton. Robert married and had three sons and two daughters. He died in 1979. His oldest son, Earle, married Pat Teskey, and they live at Rocky Mountain House, Alberta with their children. Robert Houghton, Jr. is married and lives in Kelowna, and his two sisters, Gale and Sandra, live with their mother Iona in Kelowna. Gladys Houghton married Duane Umbach. They live on a farm west of Carstairs, Alberta with their three daughters and one son. Ina and Victor Junior retired to Sylvan Lake Lodge where Victor died in 1989 and Ina died in 1990. Victor was ninety-four years old, and Ina was almost eighty one years old.
Young Victor was five years old in 1900 when the family moved into that first log cabin in the wilderness. During a trip to Sylvan Lake in 1984, we took Victor and Ina to see the old homestead. Victor showed us where the Indians had a log bridge over the creek. He was also interested in checking the trees were his sister's children had carved initials. The two story clapboard house that the Pastobaks built in 1912 still stands on the homestead. There are no traces of that original one room log house.
In a letter that Cousin Edward wrote in 1977, a few years before he died, he stated that he could not believe how much the territory had changed. Sylvan Lake had become a summer resort. The number of people in town had become overwhelming. He even claimed that the weather was getting warmer. Perhaps he was remembering those cold winters in the log house or his hunting expeditions in the Rocky Mountains.
Victor Senior died in 1938, and Hanna died in 1954. They were laid to rest in the Kuusamo Cemetery, the cemetery of the Finnish pioneers. It is most fitting that on their graves grows the wild rose of Alberta, the official provincial flower. It grows in tribute to those tillers of a virgin soil.
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