Soul-touching mission to Brokenhead and beyond
For almost three days during my recent back road trip to Manitoba I repeatedly heard references to a place called Stead.
It turns out Stead, which is about 90 kilometres north of Winnipeg, was an important pioneer community for my long-lost relations who either lived there or had some business concern over the years. Normally, the only reason I go to a place like Stead is to look for ghostly relics: abandoned houses, institutions of some sort, a crumbling store or a forgotten cemetery.
This time around my mission was different. The wooden and stone relics from forgotten communities had to wait. I was now searching for ghosts of my family’s past, the special ones from days long before my time.
Six months ago I decided that Manitoba, specifically the Brokenhead district, would be my primary destination for my annual back road expedition. This area was where my ancestors elected to settle after coming from Europe. Adam and Katherine Yadlowski came from Austria in the final years of the 19th century. At around the same time Fred and Eva Tymko arrived from the Ukraine. Frank Yadlowski was Adam and Katherine’s only son. He later met Lottie Tymko. They married. The rest is history, all the way up to me. I had to find out more.
I sought out relatives I barely knew but who lived either in or near the Brokenhead district. Patti Leegsma is a cousin I had not seen in almost 40 years. I had not seen cousins Brian and Sid Lesko in 15 years. The trio gave me a warm and kind reception. They went out of their way to be the most pleasant and remarkable hosts. I had to confess to Brian later that I had initial reservations about calling him, that I was terrified he wouldn’t remember me. The silliness of that moment of paranoia quickly passed.
Brian created a full itinerary of old family sites to visit. Ultimately a visit to Stead became essential. It was a locale where my Uncle Mike once dropped off grain at the elevator, which is now long gone. It was a place with a pioneer general store, now closed.
Stead is mostly silent now, except for a few occupied homes and an old church that is meticulously preserved.
Meanwhile, we visited Frank and Lottie’s gravesite at the Brokenhead Cemetery. Down the road was their old homestead, now overgrown and forgotten. A wasp bit me while I was walking through the tall grass to find the foundation on my great-uncle Walter’s shack, his home after his parents passed. I think it was a message. A few hours earlier I was unable to find his gravesite. I tried my best. Perhaps it wasn’t good enough.
I do know I can’t drop this quest. Brian, a retired engineer, has made carefully researched notes and family tree graphics over the last decade. This stuff has grabbed me. We have decided to do a project together, some sort of book. We haven’t finalized the details. But I will return to Brokenhead. I will check out Stead again. I will go to the cemetery once more. With more determination I will find great-uncle Walter’s grave.
It is a soul-touching mission without any apparent end.