The last hurrah (poslední hurá)
The region that witnessed the establishment of the first Sokol unit (and probably of any Czech or Slovak organization in Canada) is a region of magic names: Rocky Mountains, Crow’s Nest Pass, Turtle Mountain, Elk river, Porcupine Hills, Deception Mountain, Coal Creek… A region where in the autumn dark green spruces and birches (at least I think it’s birches) dressed in gold march up the mountains’ hillsides, where at night a fairy tale moon shines through the veils of vapor, drawing close to the mountain peaks and when – at daytime – the sun is hidden behind the clouds, the mountains which charmed at night, look down at you threateningly and with utter contempt. A region which witnessed the horrors of disasters, fires, floods, and the slide of 75 million tones of rock toward the town of Frank, when on April 28, 1903, the Turtle Mountain split and huge wedge of rock, some 150 meters thick, 650 meters high, and 900 meters wide broke loose from it and buried 76 men, women and children. Thanks to the fact that the disaster occurred very early in the morning, only 17 men, of them Slavs (Slovaks, Czechs, Poles) were trapped in the mine. According to J. Brian Dawson (“Crows nest”, Altitude Publishing Canada Ltd.) all 17 of them reached the outside. Other sources claim that one of the 17, Slovak John Sirota from Orava, perished. This was to be his last day in the mine. He was to return home the next day.
The Crow’s Nest Pass is viewed by many as the most important historic region of the Canadian Rocky Mountains, which began to form some 100 million years ago. A million years ago there was a number of glaciers in the area, and around 500,000 years ago a huge ice field more than 300 meters deep stretched as far as Lethbridge. 22,000 years old bones of horses, lemmings, bison, passenger pigeons and other animals were discovered in the caves above Crownest Lake. Traces of human presence come a bit later, around 9,000 B.C. – (1,000 years after the end of the last Ice Age, which started 72,000 years ago and ended 62,000 years later). The first mention of coal, which wrote and still writes such a large part of the history of this region, appears in a letter of a Jesuit priest, Fr. Pierre Jean de Smet, probably the first white visitor to this part of the world, written about the middle of the19th century, in which this courageous missionary describes one of his trips to this area notes “large pieces of coal around Des Chutes / the Elk River …” In 1870 -twenty years later – the British government purchased from the Hudson Bay Company an immense expanse of land in the Northern Ontario and Quebec, and between Ontario and the Rocky Mountains, which the company, presided over until his death in 1782 by Rupert, Prince of Bohemia, received as a gift from Rupert’s uncle, King Charles II. and just before the end of the 19th century the Canadian Pacific Railway, connected they are with rail lines. Coal was not mined in the area commercially until 1898, when a mine was started in Michel and proved very successful. The company which owned the mine, Crow’s Nest Pass Coal Company, built in the neighborhood of the mine, cottages, a hotel, and a store. In 1901, the town had 476 residents. In the fall of the year 1907, another town was started a short distance from Michel. It was called New Michel, but was later renamed Natal.
Around 1911 a group of Czech mining families moved to Michel an Natal and on October 22, 1911 established in Michel the first Sokol unit in Canada. They named it “Sokol Krusnohorský”. The unit had 43 members, all miners, who came from the Czech Krusnohori. The following were elected officers of the unit: Frantisek Trojanek, president, Josef Beranek, deputy president, Václav Vogradsky, men’s coach, Vaclav Brixa, secretary, Antonin Pondelnicek, treasurer, Josef Rybnicek, accountant, Frantisek Pavel, equipment keeper, and Josef Haner, librarian. The unit became a member – together with the unit in Frank, Alberta, founded a little later – of the Fugner-Tyrs district Sokol organization in Chicago. It strongly supported the work of the Czech National Association in America in support of the first world war Czech and Slovak resistance movement abroad, and several of its members – together with several members from Sokol Frank, joined the Czech company of the Canadian army (“the Bohemian Detachment” of the 223rd Battalion , Canadian Expeditionary Force). 66 members of the Battalion, who took part in the battles on the western front, gave Bohemia as the country of their origin. With the decline in the coal output after the war leading many members of the Michel unit to move away, the activity of the unit declined, until – in the early thirties – it stopped completely and the unit ceased to exist. But the Sokol calisthenics weren’t quite dead yet- In 1947 a large group of young people, trained by Anthony Kalivoda, performed a Sokol calisthenics routine at a festival of Slavic nations in the village of Blairmore.
On October 9, 2011, was a short distance from the no longer existing towns Michel and Natal, at the Sparwood Recreation Centre, unveiled a plague commemorating the 100th anniversary of the foundation of the Michel Sokol (under the Sokol symbol is a brief story of the unit in Czech, Slovak, English and French), which Sokol Canada presented to the Michel-Natal- Sparwood Heritage Society and the District of Sparwood. A special thank -you for this event taking place must go to a member of the Ottawa unit, Paul Vidlak. The initiative came from Jan Waldauf, the most outstanding Sokol of his generation, who visited Sorwood in 2004 and got a fair amount of information about the Michel unit from-among others-Jerry Ruzicka and Milada Vrska. He also received help from Jim Bertoia of the Sparwood District Library. Waldauf arranged the material and presented it at the annual meeting of the Canadian Sokol with a recommendation that the 100the anniversary of the establishment of the first Sokol unit in Canada be properly commemorated.
Paul Vidlak fulfilled Waldauf’s wish. He spent tens and tens of hours on the project: getting right, in four languages, the text on the plague, selecting the artist, preparing materials for the brochure about Sokol generally, and the Nichel unit in particular, visits to Sparwood, developing contacts with the descendants of the members of the unit, developing program for the celebration, invitations, etc…He was fortunate to find good helpers, particularly the husband and wife team, Lada and Monica Beranek, Sandra Barrett (the artist who created the plague}, Rosalie Fornasier from the Michel -Natal-Sparwood Society, Jarmila Beka-Lee, secretary of Sokol Canada, Lada Kubat, president of the Ottawa branch of the Czech and Slovak Association of Canada (CSSK), who arranged the publication of the brochure about Sokol, which will be available at the Heritage Society. It was all worth it.
The celebration in the Sparwood Recreation Centre (the Ambassador of the Czech Republic to Canada, Karel Zebrakovský sent greetings) was attended by the following guests and Sokol members: David Wilks, Member of Parliament, Kootenay-Columbia, Sharon Fraser, Acting Mayor, Sparwood, Jim Bertoia, Librarian, Sparwood District Library, Rosalia Fornasier, representing Michel-Natal-Sparwood Heritage Society, Sandra Barrett, the artist who created the commemorative plague, Tom Pajer, President of the American Sokol Organization; the Canadian Sokol units were represented by their officers: Toronto unit (including the Kitchener-Guelph-Waterloo branch): Josef Cermák from Toronto, the immediate past president and an outstanding Sokol member from Kitchener (he was joined by five members of his family), Paul Vidlak from Ottawa, Petr Sikarovsky from Montreal, Ludvik Matousek.
The Czech and Slovak Association of Canada was represented by the president of its Edmonton branch, Edward Brabec (who also took some excellent photographs) and Edmonton members Dr. Petr Schubert and Zdeněk Fišera (for many years president of the Edmonton branch who did much good work for the young people as well as seniors of his branch; Calgary was represented by Vladimir Masata the secretary and editor of Calgarske Listy.
Paul Vidlák, who chaired the celebration, introduced the guests David Wilks and Sharon Fraser. Both delivered a short greeting. Edward Brabec mentioned the 1903 mining disaster in Frank as indirectly leading to the recruiting of miners particularly in the north-west Bohemia, north and south Moravia and Slovakia, the subsequent establishment of the Sokol unit in Michel, and later, to the establishment of Sokol units in other provinces. Mr. Brabec described the development of the Czechoslovak Association of Canada during the second world war, when the Association (thanks mainly to Karel Buzek) had 91 branches, 18 of them in Alberta alone. “Today, in Alberta, we have three Czech and Slovak organizations: two branches of the Czech and Slovak Association of Canada (one in Edmonton, and one in Calgary), in Edmonton we also have SVU Alberta (the Society of Arts and Sciences, Alberta), founded after 1968. These three organizations have – together – more than 250 members. There are – according to the Canadian census – approximately 6,000 Czechs and Slovaks living in Alberta.”
President Brabec then handed over – for safekeeping at the head office of Sokol Canada – to its president, Josef Cermak, a pin commemorating the 10th All-Sokol Festival in 1938 with a tape “TORONTO – Canada, Foreign District, worn by his uncle, Josef Blahusek. A lovely souvenir.
The next speaker, the president of the American Sokol Organization, Tom Pajer, spoke movingly about the excellent relationship between the American and Canadian Sokols.
The next speaker
Josef Cermak set the date of the foundation of the Michel Sokol in the context of the immigration to Canada from the Czeh lands and Slovakia and outlined the contribution of these immigrants to Canada (one of the present Sokol members told him that his – Cermak’s speech – had little to do with the subject matter of the celebration and that it was too long, while the acting mayor of Sparwood kissed Cermak (on the cheek).
The chairman of the celebration sketched a brief history of the Michel Sokol unit and stressed the role played in this event by Jan Waldauf who, sadly, died a short time ago. Then he handed over to David Wilks, MP, the acting mayor of Sparwood, Sharon Fraser and Sandra Barrett, Čermák’s book, “It All Began With Prince Rupert.” and called on Čermák to unveil -as president of Sokol Canada – the plague. The celebration ended with a reception at which all enjoyed the gorgeous pies and cookies baked by Monica Beranek (who, with her husband Lada was Paul Vidlak’s most efficient helper in organizing the celebration – it was her who brought Rosalia Fornasier of the Michel-Natal-Sparwood Heritage Society into the project).
Prior to the celebration the Elk Valley Herald published a fine article written by Herald’s reporter, Brielle Will, in which Will mentioned the establishment of the Sokol organization in Prague in 1962, as well as the foundation of the Michel unit on October 22, 1911. She quoted Monica Beranek ,”who married Laddie Beranek – a descendant of Sparwood (Will probably meant “Michel”) Sokol members Joseph Beranek, his grandfather, and Jeremiah Beranek, father..” She mentions the families which moved to the region and whose descendants still live there, “the Beraneks, Troyaneks, Matevics, Podraskkys, Androlicks, Bahers, Brandis, Koteks, Putichs, and Holubs…” – we could add Violet Kryczka, a cousin of Laddie Beranek, who still speaks some Czech – as well as units established in Canada long after the Michel unit.
Josef Cermak’s personal note: with this celebration I in fact completed my Sokol engagement, because a week later, at the Sokol Canada annual meeting in Kingston, my second and last term as president of Sokol Canada came to an end. I atually hoped that the Sparwood celebration would come after the annual meeting, and hat the new president would represent Sokol Canada at the Sparwood celebration. It didn’t happen and I did go to Sparwood – the only one from Toronto. In the end I looked at it as my last hurrah. I am happy I did go, certainly at least partly because I survived the trip. I am taking the liberty of describing it – in the hope that it will give you a few laughs – after a solemn undertaking in Michel, an episode brutally prosaic:
I left Toronto Saturday afternoon and returned the following Monday afternoon. In the 48 hours between the two afternoons I travelled – by plane, bus and taxi – around 10,000 km; I arrived in Sparwood at 3:30 Sunday morning, vacated my hotel room at 11:00, attended the celebtarion at the Sparwood Recreation Centre in the afternoon, delivered there “a discontinuous and long speech”, suffered through hours of waiting for planes or buses and that brings me to the golden moment of the informal part of my journey. The celebration ended around 5:00 pm and Petr Stikarovsky and I had to decide where and how to spend the time between 5:00 pm on Sunday and 1:30 am o Monday morning , when a bus was coming to Fernie to take us to Calgary. We decided to get a hotel room. Once inside the room, i collapsed on my bed, while Petr Stikarovsky took a bath. I didn’t particularly care for a bath but after some time (Petr was already asleep in his bed), I changed my mind. The water in the bath was pleasantly warm, I blissfully rolled around in it, but eventually had to get out. In my bath (I am almost 87) I grab the tap and the wash-bowl and practically bounce out of the bath. But in this hotel – when they built it – they apparently did not take into account my present visit and the wash-bowl was completely out of my reach. No matter how I contorted my aged body, I couldn’t do it. Mainly because – whenever I tried to lean on my left leg, it was attacked by a horrible crap – and I couldn’t move. I struggled in the bath for quite a while producing loud sounds, until I apparently woke up my room-mate, who inquired outside the door if everything was all right. I asked him to come in, he offered me his mighty Sokol arm, I grabbed it and bounced out of the bath. Not a particularly solemn and elegant end to a solemn and elegant occasion. I recalled it just a few days later when I saw on the television people dragging my colleague (in circumstances) Moammar Gadhafi out of a drain pipe.
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Oblast, ve které byla před 100 lety založena první sokolská jednota v Kanadě, je domovem kouzelných jmen: Hory Skalisté, Průsmyk vraního hnízda, Želví hora, Losí řeka, Dikobrazovy vrchy, Ošidná hora, Uhlový potok… Oblast, kde na podzim do horských strání pochodují temně zelené smrky a do zlata oblečené břízy (alespoň myslím, že jsou to břízy), kde v noci měsíc pohádkově prosvítá závoji par tisknoucích se k vrcholkům hor a ve dnech, když slunce kryjí mraky, na vás hrozivě a pohrdavě shlížejí hory, které vás v noci okouzlily. Oblast, která zažila hrůzy pohrom, požárů, povodní, i sesutí 75 milionů tun skal v blízkosti městečka Frank, když Želví hora, pod níž se těžilo uhlí, se 28. dubna 1903 rozlomila a odlomená část, 650m vysoká, 150m tlustá a 900m široká, se v obrovských balvanech sesula na okraj městečka Frank a pohřbila 76 mužů, žen a dětí. Poněvadž k pohromně došlo k ránu, bylo v šachtě jen 17 horníků, 8 z nich byli Slované, Slováci, Poláci, Češi. Podle J.Briana Dawsona (“Crowsnest”, Altitude Publishing Canada Ltd.) všech 17 se zachránilo. Podle jiných pramenů, jeden z nich, Slovák John Sirota z Oravy, zahynul. Byl to jeho poslední pracovní den. Příští den se měl vrátit domů…
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