Our Canadian Stories: Leopoldine Olafson

Carl and Elsa Seidl came to Canada on April 1939, at the age of 31 years old, as refugees from the Sudentenland, Czechoslovakia, the German speaking province.

They were born in the city of “Graslitz” in 1908 which at the time was part of Austria, and later became part of Czechoslovakia as part of the First World War settlement of the Austrian Hungarian Monarchy.

Graslitz was a musical, athletic city, and very Industrial with many factories that Hitler wanted. In 1938 Carl and Elsa escaped from Graslitz by train as Hitler came down the hills invading the Sudetenland. They moved to Prague for 6 months until Hitler’s tanks came rolling down the hills into Praque (the capital of Czechoslovakia). Carl managed to meet Elsa at the train station all within less than 30 minutes, and leave on the last train out to Poland leaving with only a back pack. The train was filled with people escaping and were on their way to Danzig, the seaport city in Poland. That night the train was stopped by the Gestapo. Carl knew they were Gestapo because of the click of their boots which Carl recognized as he had been in the Czech Army. Carl could speak Czech so understood the Gestapo wanted to know where the train was going, so the Engineer told them he was taking the train to the Concentration Camp as it was filled with Jews, which was not true. There were many different groups on board the train. A very scary time for them. As it was the middle of the night, Carl kept the other passengers quiet and translated as the rest only spoke German. The Gestapo did believe the Engineer and let the train continue.

At the Seaport in Danzig, Poland they were met by Swedish pleasure boats. The Swedish government had sent out an alert that anyone with a pleasure boat should head to Danzig and pick up the refugees so they could escape Carl and Elsa were on a small pleasure cruise ship, quite scary for Elsa as with the weight of the passengers the boat was only two inches above the water, but they made it to Sweden. From there they again went by train to the Swedish western port and took a Cruise Liner to Southampton, England where they stayed for six weeks to complete paperwork. It was there they had to decide to which country they were going to go to as they had a choice of Argentina, Canada and Australia.

Carl and Elsa decided to come to Canada because of the beautiful Rocky Mountains. They had been competitive skiers, as well as in many other sports, and were in competition in 1928, the Olympics, Carl as the coach for the Czech Olympic ski team and Elsa as a cross country ski racer. They were looking forward to come to Canada and never ever had any regrets.

Their trip took them by Ship over the stormy Atlantic Ocean (10 days) to land in Quebec where they again had to complete paperwork. From their they went by train across Canada, a 10 day trip, seeing the Manitoba floods with water on both sides of the train as it was April 1939 at that time, they went through Red Deer with Elsa commenting on for years after about the many trees that Red Deer had, something she loved as it reminded her of the Sudetenland. From their they continued to Tupper, B.C., Swan Lake. Many Canadians in the area met the train. Quite an experience for them, the refugees were all dressed in city clothes because they all came from the city, and they landed in the Wild West, literally. In order to come to Canada they had to agree to homestead the land, so Carl and Elsa were met with many other Sudetens (500 families) to take a crash course on farming, clearing land, fishing, hunting, etc. They were given a half section of land with four other families to work the land. The agreement was that if they cleared the quarter they could keep it. It was given to them for $1. Quite a change as Elsa was a dress designer and seamstress and Carl was a printer in the newspaper business. Many were Doctors, lawyers, previous business owners. The families had to stay on the land for two years before they were allowed to move to the city. The other three families did move, going back into law, working in a clinic, a doctor, and the other getting involved in business. So Carl and Elsa ended up with half section of land.

In 1946 they had a daughter named Poldi. That was the year that Carl and Elsa also received their Canadian Citizenship of which they were very proud. It was a difficult process as they both had to learn English to become a Canadian, not so difficult for Carl as he learned quickly at work, however Elsa found it a challenge.

Carl and Elsa cleared the land, had their own sawmill, farmed for a number of years with Carl working on the railway for 10 years, and then learning the carpentry business. Carl and Elsa ended up with their 1/4 with part of the land bordering Swan Lake, B.C..,one mile from the Alberta border and half an hour to Dawson Creek, B.C. which was the beginning of the Alaska Highway. In 1938 there were only two houses there.

Carl and Elsa continued skiing, making their own skis in the beginning and making ski wax from Pine Tar trees in the area. Carl continued with building a number of ski hills, building boats, sailing was a pass time as well as kayaking, rowing and fishing. They belonged to the Alpine Club of Canada in later years and continued with their outgoing adventurous personality.

They eventually moved from the farm at the age of 84 years and sold it, moving into an Apartment in Dawson Creek, B.C. At the age of 90 they decided to move to Lacombe, Alberta and live with their daughter Poldi and son-in-law Carl Olafson. They could often be seen walking around Lacombe Lake at 6 a.m. in the morning for their exercise. Elsa still did 50 knee bends at the age of 90. However, Elsa passed away at the age of 93 in Lacombe and Carl at the age of 95. They both loved Canada and the Rocky Mountains and never wanted to live anywhere else. Canada had become their beloved home.

Leopoldine Amalie Olafson, 73, Red Deer

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