Lac du Bonnet’s early immigration mix has brought people here from many different countries. Let us focus on the Ukrainians who settled in Brightstone, Landerville, and Red Deer.
Ukrainian immigrants came to Canada hungry for land. All the land in the Ukraine was controlled by landlords and divvied up into small lots among a large population. Canada, however, had an open West that was almost totally unsettled. This is what attracted so many immigrants to Canada at the turn of the century: the land rush and the opportunities of homesteading.
The first wave of Ukrainian pioneers settled in Manitoba between 1891 and 1914 coming from Poland, Western Ukraine, and other Eastern Slavic countries. Some of the areas the Ukrainians settled in were Cloverleaf, Cooks Creek, Ladywood, Tolstoi, Vita, Gardenton, Brokenhead, and Brightstone which was eight miles West of Lac du Bonnet. The second wave occurred from 1918 to 1939.
Under the Dominion Lands Policy, homesteading immigrants received one hundred and sixty acres of land for the price of a $10 registration fee. Immediately after they arrived, they set out on years of grueling work. As homesteaders they had to break and clear a certain amount of land every year and get it into production in order to keep their homestead. The homesteaders’ specified areas of land had to be cultivated within three years, which meant never-ending and back-breaking labor.
Ukrainians gave the community the name “Brightstone” after a large hill of granite outcropping that shone with the morning dew and the reflection of the sunlight. When they arrived in Brightstone, they had to build a house, often of log or sod construction. Wide spruce logs, maybe four to a wall, would be cut from nearby. And then sod or clay mixed with straw to hold it together would be slapped on to keep the harsh weather out. The more refined houses would have a basic whitewash applied over top of the clay.
They were faced with incredible hardships and bitter cold winters, with summers full of mosquitoes and black flies. A new homesteader would start clearing the land by hand, cutting trees with an axe, burning the underbrush, and clearing roots and stumps with the help of a team of oxen, since horses would have been far too expensive. Food was obtained from the land like berries, nuts, and mushrooms, and from a vegetable garden planted. Game was hunted to supplement the food supply. If the water supply was poor, homesteaders had to collect rainwater or melt snow or take on the grueling task of hand digging a well.. . Farming gradually improved from flailing grain to the thrashing machine of the 1920s.
The railways often provided a much needed source of work and extra income for homesteaders. Many were also forced to work other jobs to get enough money to buy the necessary farm equipment and keep the family and farm going. During the 1920s and 30s up to thirty oxen teams went to Lac du Bonnet to sell wood from the Brightstone district.
The land was the fruit of the homesteaders’ labor. They put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into it and sometimes it was generous in return. Other times it took its toll on people. Homesteaders and their families were often separated from friends and relatives and many suffered years of hardship and loneliness. The men often left their wives and children to seek work forty miles away by foot on a section gang or lumber camp or twenty miles to the Pinawa Hydo Power Plant.
One of the greatest difficulties was the absence of roads and bridges. Most trails were impassable when wet. In the autumn homesteaders waited until the ground was frozen before transporting their produce to Lac du Bonnet. The roads were always terrible and it took years for them to be all season. The roads began as trails around swamps, then corduroy roads, and finally ditches and drainage were implemented.
Adversities, however, also bound homesteaders together. Prejudices were lessened as people helped one another. Doors were kept unlatched and lanterns hung at night to guide travelers. And as communities developed, there were sport days, country fairs and a variety of entertainment at the community hall or church.
There was a special bond that was created between the immigrants that came here, opened up the West and farmed it. There was almost a spiritual bond among themselves, and with the earth.
Brightstone began with the establishment of a cemetery, followed by St. Mary’s Polish Roman Catholic Church where in 1936 thirty local families attended, which is approximately 130 people attending service. A post office opened with John Stanko as the first and only postmaster from 1913 to 1944. A one room schoolhouse opened in 1916 with Leona Gorecki as its first teacher. Brightstone school colors were red and white. John Hollop opened the first store in 1919, Jacob Hapko was the coffin maker and barber from 1914 to 1935, and John Malyk was the local Brightstone blacksmith.
A community hall was built in 1925 and in 1937 the Ukrainian Catholic Church was started. The Wojciechowski family had the first horses in the district in 1913, and he was a cooper or barrel maker. The CO-OP store began in 1938 and ran till 1968.
Ukrainian immigrants were profoundly Christian people. The faith was deeply ingrained in them and they brought this deep faith with them when they came to Canada. The Ukrainian settlers brought with them traditional customs and folk lore.