Sydney and Kate Priske settled in Schreiber, Ontario in 1910, after emigrating from England. Sydney arrived in 1909 and Kate in 1910, bringing with her the first six of their children. Their first address, as shown in the 1911 census, was on Scotia Street, Schreiber, Ontario.
Ten years later, in 1921, the census shows them living at 4 Brunswick Street.
The house on Brunswick Street faced the C.P.R. station and had seven bedrooms, a kitchen across the Erie Street side, a living room and two bedrooms downstairs. There were two stairways upstairs, which took you to the five bedrooms on the second floor. A bathroom was added at some point as well.
Kate Priske took in both roomers and boarders during their time on Brunswick Street. These were usually C.P.R. employees but there was at least one family consisting of a mother, father and two children who lived there for a period of time. Many people in Schreiber would say, when asked, “Oh, yes, I lived there once”, so it was obvious there were a lot of boarders or roomers over time. This house was torn down in 1988 by the present owner and replaced by a newer house.
There were many tales of the busy Priske home, full of the energy that a large family brings with it. The brothers and sisters looked out for one another but each had a task to perform, a chore was assigned even to the very youngest. There were meals to be prepared, shoes to be polished, bars of soap to be turned in the basement, potatoes to be “eyed” during winter storage and many more seemingly endless chores. They were a big family with hard working parents who ran a tight ship and each child had their own set of responsibilities.
Sydney and Kate loved gardening but it was also a necessary task to help feed the growing family. In the large garden lot beside the house there were seasonal jobs for everyone.
There were summer trips up the railway tracks to pick blueberries with perhaps a break for a swim in a chilly lake. And every Sunday the large family trooped off to St. John’s Anglican Church for Sunday service.
There is also the story of how, in the early days of radio, the ingenious Monty, their third son, rigged up a primitive crystal set with a headphone placed in a large glass bowl so that they could all sit around with their ears to its edge, listening to the faint music.
On a visit to Schreiber in 2009 we were fortunate to meet with a long-time Schreiber resident, Margaret Boon McKenna, who, at 95 years of age, was “sharp as a tack”, in her own words. She was born the same year as my father, Jack Priske, and remembered the family very well. She went to school with “the Priske kids” and not only remembered the Priske children, but also all their names.
The picture below was taken in the early 1920’s with Kate in the centre, Fred with his arm on her shoulder. To the right of Kate is Ivy and then Monty. On the left of Fred with the hat is Alice, right below her with his hands in his mouth is Jack. On the left of Jack is Harry, holding the stick. Jay has her hands on her head. In the very front on the left is Bobby, goinig to the right, their cousin, Emily Strang, Kenny and with her hand in front of her face Nellie. Missing from the photo are two of the children, Ted and Margaret.
Of course I really wanted to know if she remembered anything about my father, but unfortunately it wasn’t a wonderful story, but cute, just the same. “Jack always had problems with his nose. One day he ran home to his mother saying, ‘Mommy, my nose is running’. Mother said to Jack, ‘Sniff it up, sonny’, wiped his nose with her apron and sent him off to play.” (I would have loved to hear my father’s response to that story!)
She described Sydney Priske as a very quiet man who loved to garden and had a nice small mustache. She described Kate Priske as “very English”. She was not a lady you could get close to was the way she described her.
As her thoughts went back in time, she then told us about some of the things in the family that she remembered, such as the parents and their two oldest children, Alice and Fred, would eat their evening meal first, and then the remaining children would have their meal. Fred dominated the other children and bossed them around “terribly”, as she worded it.
She also remembered Alice, the oldest daughter, marrying the town butcher, Jack Ansell, and going back to England (Alice was born in England). When we told her Alice had returned to Canada in 1952, she commented, “She came back, did she?” and was really happy to know that she had returned.
We also discussed “riding the rails” churches and schools. Margaret said the school was very large with as many as forty students to a classroom. It was directly across from St. John’s Anglican Church and was called the Public and Continuation School. However, most students did not go past the eighth grade.
In a St. John’s Anglican Church parish bulletin dated Wednesday September 27, 1995 there was a notice of a rededication of the candelabra at the front of the church.
“Almost fifty years ago a memorial was given by the Priske family consisting of the two candelabra that flank the altar at the front of the church. For many years they graced our church ‘to the glory of God’ and in loving memory of individual family members but the years took their toll and the finish wore off and they were bent and broken. Such gifts are also a trust and in the spirit of that trust we are pleased that we could have them repaired and refinished and returned to our church tonight to continue their role … in memory and to the glory of God.
The one on the right is engraved:
In Memory of Sidney Montague Priske 1879 ….. killed 1938 / In Memory of Alice Kate Priske 1878.…1952
The one on the left is more poignant, engraved:
In Memory of Sidney Robert Priske Royal Canadian Navy Lost at Sea…..1943…..age 23
In Memory of Kenneth Wheatley Priske Royal Canadian Air Force Missing May 1st, 1944 ….. age 21”
The railway was the life blood of Schreiber, as it was the only direct link to “outside”. A road did finally connect Schreiber to Port Arthur in 1935, after the completion of the last link to open the highway, the Nipigon Bridge.
Margaret told stories about how “Harvester trains” used to go through Schreiber on a run to the Prairies to pick up grain to bring back East. These “Harvester trains” were the ones that were filled with men “riding the rails” during the depression. She said it was common to see the empty boxcars full of men riding west hoping to find employment. Her words were “Lots and lots of Schreiber boys rode the rails out of the C.P.R. yards”, which were directly across the street from where she lived, just two houses down Brunswick Street from the Priske home.
Life was not always easy for the Priske family. By the early 1930’s most of the children had left Schreiber for various parts of Canada and abroad.
Alice was the first child to leave, marrying the town butcher, Jack Ansell, and moving to England in 1921. In the photograph below, taken on the day of their wedding, October 3, 1921, Kate and Sydney Priske are on the left with the bride, their daughter Alice, and the groom, Jack Ansell in the centre. The bridesmaids were Ivy Priske on the left and Nellie Priske on the right, with Bob Priske in the front centre. The couple to the right are unidentified, but probably the groom’s parents.
The other brothers and sisters, with the exception of Nellie, who stayed in Schreiber, slowly left home. Fred moved to Fort William, Ted, Harry and Bob joining the Navy, Jack, and Margaret moving to the West Coast, Monty worked in Northern Canada, settling in Bourlemaque, Quebec, Ivy moved to Toronto, Jay moved to Eastern Ontario and their youngest, Ken, joined the Air Force.
Sydney died tragically in a C.P.R. train derailment in 1938, at the age of 59, leaving only his wife and youngest son, Ken, in the family home.
Shortly after the death of her husband, Kate moved to Fort William with Ken and eventually settled in Vancouver, B.C., until her death in 1952.
There were stories of World War II as well, where four of the Priske brothers served overseas – Ted, Harry, Bob and Ken – and the family’s grief at the deaths of the youngest sons, Bob and Ken.
We left Schreiber shortly after our visit with Margaret, having a much greater understanding of not only how the Priske family lived but also life in a small town in the early part of the 20th century.
As we drove down the highway, in our rear-view mirror we could see the last resting place of our grandparents and many other Priske family members. They may be gone, but their stories will live on.