Lance Kadatz and son Riley stand in front of the home near Central Middle School where Riley’s grandmother lived in the 1960s. (Paul Cowley/Advocate staff)

Our Canadian Stories: Erna Kadatz

Erna Richter was one special person in the lives of her relatives and friends. You will hear things that should never happen and how cruel people can be, and what people go through just to have a better life. This is a true story and it happened 70 to 80 years ago.

Erna’s mother’s name was Adoline Gahr. Adoline was born in a small town in Russia, the 13th child in a family of 15. When the people at her church suggested that Adoline should meet Theodore Richter, she did. After two meetings, they were married. They had four children – Hilda, Frieda, Erna and Pauline. Pauline was killed by smallpox when she was an infant.

The Russian Civil War began when Erna was a toddler. The Red Army, or Red Terror, were people who agreed with the Bolsheviks. The White Army was were people who were forced to fight in the Czars’ army. The White Army came and took Theodore at gun point because he wouldn’t go willingly. Theodore was shot in the shoulder during battle and put in the back of the truck, but on the way to the hospital, he bled to death.

After Theodore died, his family was sent to Siberia in a boxcar. The trip took two to three weeks and Erna was two or three. Adoline’s father-in-law came and lived with them in Siberia until his death of starvation. For the first part of their time in Siberia, they lived in a cave. When the war was over, they were allowed to go back home.

Erna couldn’t work because she had problems with her eyes. Erna had to sit in a closet all day with her eyes blindfolded because she needed to keep them in the darkness. This problem was caused by typhoid fever, and she spent a year like this. As soon as Erna’s eyes were better, she was hired out to help a family with their babies.

While all this was happening, Adoline’s brothers were trying to find her and her girls. Her brothers wanted Adoline to come to Canada, so they sent them $400 when they found her.

It took her brothers four years to find Adoline. A year later, when she arrived at immigration, she needed $400. Her brothers sent her this money, which delayed her coming to Canada. Adoline had to walk 140 miles to get the immigration papers stamped, and when she got back, she found out they only stamped two papers so she had to walk back 140 miles to get the other two stamped. Adoline almost froze to death because it was so cold.

After all this, Erna had problems getting out of the country because of her bad eyes.

Erna and her family stayed in London for 11 days before they got on the ship. They arrived in Halifax in 1926. They got on a train to go to Winnipeg, but when they got to their destination, they ran out of money. Adoline met a man who loaned them enough money to get to Edmonton, where her brothers lived. She repaid the money once she was settled. Erna always thought this man was an angel.

Adoline married Gottlieb Maertz from Three Hills. Gottlieb was a widower and had eight children, including a small baby. He was a road counsellor, a foreman of a road crew for 26 years and a farmer. Erna had to move out because there were already too many mouths to feed. Erna went to live with a cousin, where she had to milk 21 cows as well as look after her children.

At 17, Erna was married to Alfred Kadatz and had three sons – Cliff, Gary and Dallas. Cliff, her oldest son, married Frances Olander, who had my father, Lance Kadatz. Erna and Alfred retired in Victoria, B.C, and Alfred died in 1980. Erna remarried Bob Averill in 1990, and he became the love of her life. Erna died in May 2001.

Even though Erna had a hard life, she wasn’t bitter, and she was determined to make the younger people in her world have a better life than she did. I saw her before she died and as soon as we saw her, she gave us candy. Whenever I asked her what she remembered the best she said, “What I remember is always being so hungry.” We should take lessons from people like Erna. She had the most gracious, humble and servant-like heart I’ve ever seen. She loved people no matter what they did to her or the world. Erna’s influence on me showed me that I should be thankful for what I have, because many people in this world don’t get half of what I have.

An excerpt from Riley Kadatz’s junior high school English assignment in 2001.

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