February 7th, 2018 ~ Vol. 89 No. 6
Looking Back - John Kinnear
Frantisek Vejr – Honor to His Memory - Part IV
Looking Back
Courtesy: Alison Glass
Frank's beloved Lily in Blairmore
So I am finally going to take you to Frank’s ultimate end with the help of the last few pages of his remarkable memoir. It has been a fascinating journey research-wise, one that has taken me to hundreds of websites and once again reminded me of this undeniable fact. It was immigrants that built this country, immigrants that came from all over the world to find a better place. Frank found a home and opportunity here but his life in the Pass certainly had its share of heartache and controversy.

In August of 1923 Frank began working outside, at the Greenhills Mine of West Canadian Collieries in Blairmore, as a timber framer. This probably was a health related choice. That spring several of the Czech community left the town of Frank for Tacoma, Washington. Tacoma is on the west coast of Washington State at the end of the 100 mile long Puget Sound, an important sea port estuary. What drew them there is not mentioned by Frank. A curator with the Tacoma Historical Society did not have any specific answers as to what opportunity was there in 1923 that attracted them. Perhaps, he suggested, it was the then available lush land and mild climate. Anything would be better than living in tornado alley.

Amongst those who left were his son Frank who was then only eighteen and his son-in-law Frank Novotny who had married his second daughter Julie. I found a for sale ad for that year in the Enterprise that read: “Household furniture of four-roomed house. Cheap for cash. Apply Mrs. F.J.Novotny, Woodward Street, Blairmore.” Kind of say we are outa here doesn’t it?

The opportunity must have been worthwhile as the next year Antonin Slapak and his wife Anna, Frank’s first daughter, joined them as did Frank’s youngest son Louis who was then fifteen and Caroline (Karla) who was fourteen. Perhaps the writing was on the wall, given that the Frank Mine had shut down five years earlier. Maybe it was time to seek opportunity elsewhere.
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Karla came back home in 1925 and a year later his only other remaining child Lillian decided to try out Tacoma when she turned fourteen in 1926. Lily returned home 18 months later and in June of 1928 she was as Frank described: “run over by an automobile driven by a Polish man named Krejvolt.” A report in the June 21, 1928 issue of the Blairmore Enterprise reads: “A regrettable accident happened near the Frank Slide late on Tuesday evening, when owing to glaring headlights of an approaching car, a car driven by Albert Krywolt went into the ditch hitting and injuring three young girls who were also blinded by the lights. Two of the girls suffered severe injuries and are patients in the local hospital.”

Lillian’s arm was broken in three places and she was so badly bruised Frank feared “she wouldn’t be able to pull through”. Frank said she never did regain complete control of her left arm. In 1928 daughter Karla married George Willey in Moose Jaw and the next year Frank and Lily visited them and Lily stayed and found a job there. Just before Christmas Day in 1930 Frank got a telegram that Lily was seriously ill in hospital. Lily has developed acute tuberculosis and had begun coughing up blood. It took Moose Jaw hospital doctors three days to stop the bleeding and the T.B. doctor warned Frank that this disease was very dangerous, especially at her age (18).

Karla, who was now living in North Battleford and Frank Sr., visited her and Frank begged the doctor to try and get her into a sanatorium as soon as possible. He returned home to work where he got weekly updates from the head nurse which continually worsened. He went to see Lily again in April of 1931 and he commented that: “the poor girl was only skin and bones and I couldn’t even recognize her.”

It seemed she was nearing the end so Frank Jr. came from Tacoma to be by her side. Everyone returned home heartbroken, with the knowledge it would not be long. Frank Jr. stayed for five weeks with Lily who passed at the end of May only a scant six months after the white plague had overwhelmed her. Frank Jr. brought her home on the train to be buried. How ironic it is that there once was a potentially life-saving sanatorium in Lily’s hometown of Frank, but it was shut down in 1920. (See Pass Herald archives pdf- April 12, 2011 issue-The White Plague). Lily was buried next to Frank’s beloved Karolina and son Josef in the Blairmore Union Cemetery.

Karla took Lily’s illness and death badly. She became mentally ill and was institutionalized the same year for eight months before she was deemed recovered. What then follows in Frank’s memoir is a series of brief milestones like selling his Enderby farm in 1931, the big eight month mining strike of 1932 and the marriage of his youngest son Louis, now 27, at the end of 1933 and second son Josef, now 25, in 1934. He notes the passing of his brother Vaclav (58) in that year leaving behind six children.
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In the winter of 1937 Frank was advised by Dr. Stuart that because of his asthma and weak heart he should quit work. So he did and he and Anna travelled to Tacoma that summer which he liked very much. His oldest son Frank, now 32, was married while he was there. This was one of two loop trips he made to Tacoma, then on to Enderby, BC to visit his brother Alois. Of the second trip he claimed it to be:”the best trip I ever took in my life.”

It appears that Frank kept adding to the memoir through the years with notes about the passing of his brothers Josef (1941), Antonin (1951) and Jan (1953) all of whom left behind wives and many children. It was the loss of brother Alois (Louie) in 1954 that must have touched him deeply. Almost all his children attended the funeral with him and of this he said that several Czechs sang the Czech national anthem “Kde domov muj” which translated means “Where is my home”.

Considering the complicated history of him homeland I can understand them adopting this song, which of course was written by a man named Frantisek (Frank) Skroup. There is just no getting away from this name it seems. Frank said of Alois: “Ah, my departed brother, rest in peace and let the Canadian earth be light on you.”

There is a brief paragraph at the end of his memoir added by another person that states: “the writer of this chronicle, Frantisek Vejr, passed away on August 26, 1956””. Frank is with Karoline, Lilly and Rudolf with only small headstones for each with their name and birth and death year. Frank served his community in many different ways through the years as chair of the miner’s union for eight years, a member and later chair of the school council in Frank and even served as mayor of Frank for six years. And as Frank states: “I served all these responsible functions honestly and conscientiously and to my best abilities, to which the records in books testify.”
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I reviewed that UMWA list of fatalities again and found that from the time he started working in Frank in late 1904 till it closed there were no less than twenty men killed in that mine, some of which were Czech. As a union activist and committed citizen of Frank each one of these losses would have hurt him deeply. The very last man to die in the Frank Mine before closure was Joseph Beranek on February 9,1918. He was the husband of Catherine Beranek, the woman who looked after Frank’s daughter Lillian when his wife Anna died. He was 43 years old and from Central Bohemia and left behind his wife and three children. Honor to his memory.

Amongst much tragedy there were some remarkable and uplifting stories of longevity in this extended family. Anna Slapak Wejr (Weir), Frank’s second wife, passed in 1968 at the age of 102. She is buried in Blairmore along with Jerry and Josie Slopak (Slapak). Trevor (Bud) Slapak, owner/operator of the Pass Herald for 65 years and who passed one year ago, was Anna’s grandson. Go figure! Just connecting the dots here!

Frank’s fourth son Louie (in Tacoma) was married to a woman named Inez who was born in Spokane. Louie passed suddenly in 1960 at age 52. Mother Weir raised a family of eight, took over and ran his business, remarried and passed in last October of 2017. Inez Weir Van Antwerp was also 102 and outlived two husbands, two children and two grandchildren.

Authors Note: I must thank findagrave.com and some of their researchers Alison Glass, Pat Goulden and Charles Matze for their remarkable research and diligence in contributing to this important research site.

To read the other parts of the Series:

Frank Wejr – An Immigrant's Life Story - Part I
Frank the Czech in Frank - Part II
Frank from Frank Life's Twist and Turns - Part III
Frantisek Vejr – Honor to His Memory - Part IV
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February 7th, 2018 ~ Vol. 89 No. 6
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