Skip to main content

Amalja Kurtz

Amalja Kurtz
Amalja Comm was born on November 18, 1896, in Ludwipol, Poland to Daniel and Augusta Comm. She was the second in a family of seven children which also included Adolf, Juliana, Emil, Samuel, Henry, and Alberta. The First World War found Amalja’s family homeless, frightened, cold and hungry, as they had been deported to Siberia for political reasons. They were, however, free to support themselves if they could find work. As teenagers, Amalja and her younger sister Juliana would use crosscut saws to cut railway ties, which were used to repair railroads that had been blown up by the German army. Their food consisted of black tea, black bread, and horse milk. After the war, the family returned to the farm in Poland, which had been almost completely destroyed.
On June 7, 1922, Amalja and Emil Kurtz were married in Ludwipol, Poland, and they started to rebuild the Kurtz farm. Rumours started to circulate that another war was eminent, so they decided to sell the farm and immigrate to Canada. Their destination was Leduc, Alberta where Amalja’s Uncle Matt and Aunt Lucy had relocated. Emil, Amalja, and their young daughters and Antonnia left Danzig, Poland on July 18, 1927, on board the SS United States. On July 31st , the ship docked in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The family recounted they were often seasick during the Atlantic crossing. They travelled by train to Winnipeg, changed trains there, and finally arrived in Alberta, where they settled in the Kavanagh area. Another chilld, Walter, was born in 1929. The next year, the Kurtzes purchased a quarter of land eleven and a half miles west of Millet, in the Porto Bello district. The land, purchased from the Hudson Bay Company for $13.00 an acre, was covered by large poplar trees, willows, sloughs, and a few small meadows. Their first undertaking was to build a small, two-roomed cabin made out of squared logs. With only an axe available to square the logs, construction was a long and laborious process, requiring extreme patience and perseverance. April 1930, saw the family moving to their new farm. They arrived with a wheeled steel hayrack, two horses, two pigs, four cows, twenty-five chickens, and a lot of hope.
Amalja worked alongside Emil on the farm, cutting out small roots with a grubbing hoe and pickaxe, as well as breaking up the ground by hand, so she could plant a garden. She knew she had to be self-reliant to survive. The first year, she and Emil cleared and broke a few acres. After morning chores, they went into the bush, clearing brush, and picking roots and stones. The children often accompanied them. At noon, Amalja went home to cook a meal for her family. The meadows supplied hay which had to be cut, dried and stored for the winter. Amalja did this as well as bringing in the harvest.
Unbeknownst to them, the “Dirty Thirties” would prove to be an ordeal. At this time, prices for farm produce were as low as they could get. Emil bought wheat seed for $2.00 a bushel, which was then sold for $.35 a bushel in the fall: the wheat crop paid neither their expenses nor their land costs. Times were hard and money was scarce. With so many trees needing to be cleared, wood was plentiful. Amalja helped Emil cut the trees with a cross-cut saw and then the wood was cored and split. The finished product was hauled to Millet or Wetaskiwin, where it was sold for as little as $2.00 or less for a whole wagon-load.
Amalja raised chickens, turkeys, and geese. These were delivered to Leduc and Harry Tuseman at the Millet Cash Store to be sold or traded for necessities. She also traded or sold any excess vegetables, as well as eggs and butter.
In the midst of all these difficult times, three daughters joined the family: Margaret, Elsie, and Lily. The children started school at Porto Bello, half a mile from the farm. When the older children came home from school, they taught the rest of the family English. Amalja recognized the importance of learning to speak English, and through her children she learned the language of her new country.
The family was very grateful that they never went hungry. However, feeding a large family was a monumental task. Vegetables from Amalja's garden were stored in the root cellar or canned in glass jars. Wild berries and rhubarb were also canned or made into jams and jellies. With no refrigeration available, chicken, beef, and pork were preserved the same way. Wheat was taken to the MacEachern Flour Mill in Wetaskiwin. Extra vegetables were traded for coffee, salt, tea, and coal oil for lamps. They would also can the fish they caught at Wizard Lake. Geese were not only used for food: their feathers were stripped and made into pillows and quilts that provided warmth during the winter. Each morning and evening saw Amalja and Emil milking the cows by hand, providing the family with milk, cream, butter, and cottage cheese. Bread and buns were baked several times a week. The Raleigh man travelled the country selling household needs; the Kurtzes' vegetables or chickens were swapped for cinnamon, pepper, and other staples.
All the family's clothing was handmade. The older children recall hearing the "whirring" of the spinning wheel long into the night as Amalja stayed up to spin wool and keep the fires burning. One cold winter, the six children didn’t have any warm jackets to wear. Amalja worried and prayed. Her prayers were answered when Aunt Lucy came for a visit and brought several old coats and dresses. Amalja promptly resized and remade each coat and dress. When the clothes were finally threadbare, they were cut into strips and braided into rugs for the cold wooden floors.
St. Peters Lutheran Church was located one mile away from the farm. Attending church was a big part of their social life and gave them an opportunity for an outing. Upon its formation, Amalja became involved with the Lutheran Church Women. Even with huge amounts of work to be done, Sundays were always a day of rest for the family.
As the Depression came to an end, one more daughter was born, Eleanor. Prices of farm products had improved and life became a little easier. Amalja now spun wool, knitted, did needlepoint and crocheted as a hobby.
In 1967, Emil and Amalja sold the farm to their son, Walter, and moved to Millet where they lived for five years. Emil passed away on April 20, 1972, at the age of 84 years. Amalja moved to the Good Shepherd Home in Wetaskiwin following Emil's passing. She passed away on December 14, 1979, at the age of 83. Both are interred at St. Peter's Lutheran Church cemetery, one mile from their homestead.