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Rebuilding the past to create future memories

Wiselka homestead restored for the second time

ATHABASCA — When the original homestead house built by George Wiselka was first restored, he and his wife Mary were able to enjoy the memories. 

Now, it has been restored again and while George and Mary have passed on, the one-room log home where the Wiselka family started on that Richmond Park plot of land so long ago will stand up against the weather and time for future generations to come. 

“We went out to the old homestead by Richmond Park, and we jacked up the original homestead house, the one room type," said Wilf Brooks. “It was sitting there going to hell. We put it on a trailer and brought it into Rudy and Anne (Wiselka)’s place.” 

Brooks is a brother-in-law to Rudy, having married his sister Shirley, and he worked on the old one-room log cabin to bring it back to life almost 30 years ago. 

“We got busy, and did a pretty good job restoring it and built a porch on it and we had an amazing Christmas when (Shirley’s) folks were still alive, and they came out, they were just taken aback by it so, that was fun,” Brooks recalls. “Hell, we even killed a deer and hung it off the front. That was that and then over time, it kind of went to hell again because the squirrels got in it, and this, that, and the other thing.” 

Then one day a niece asked Shirley if the home could be moved again and restored, so Brooks was once again tasked with the job a second time. 

“We spent three years driving down from Calling Lake, and we've cleaned the thing right down to the bone, tore the roof off, tore everything off and we restored it,” he said. “All original with the exception of a brown tin roof I put on it.” 

The house now sits tight as a drum and protected by its new trim metal roof tucked into a neat corner of Rudy's land surrounded by trees hearkening memories back to days long before highways and telephones. 

“They were from the same village,” Rudy says of his parents as he sat on a bench he made inside the original Wiselka home. 

“So, when he decided to come to Canada, he thought ‘Well, I better get married before I leave the old country. I gotta take a wife with me.’ So, they got married over there. He built a house over there because they lived there after they got married for a few years. My sister was born there. And then he came, him and his younger brother came together two years ahead of the wives.” 

George, who was born in Poland in 1896, paid $600 for the quarter section of land which had 20 acres cleared and a couple of out buildings, but no home. 

“The original house that the first owner built, I think, had burned because there was a spot that I remember where it was probably sitting,” said Rudy, 

His mother, Mary, born in 1901, lived for about three years in those cramped quarters with three children, a husband, and sometimes a hired man. There were no inside walls, no bedrooms, no way to have privacy. 

“There was a hired man even and he slept under the table when he was helping my dad build the second house,” Rudy said. “He needed a house too, so they helped one another and then dad went and helped him.” 

But his dad cut and peeled every log, most of them still a part of the original walls, even if the roof needed to be replaced because originally it was boards with a slab covering the cracks between the boards, then a layer of dirt, followed by a layer of moss, then clay to hold it together. 

A window was added but there was little else other than where the chimney stack went through the roof to give a clue as to where anything was placed. 

“There was no room for those kinds of luxuries,” Rudy said. “She had one cupboard. I don't even know where it was exactly, someplace in the corner.” 

After the second house was built, Mary would spend long winters alone with the children and livestock while George went north to work the trap line. With no phone, no highway, no car and small children she must have been frightened wondering if George would come back in the spring. 

“That was where he made his best money, where he could buy some of the machinery for the horses to pull,” Rudy recalled. "And there's mother, she had oil, he made sure that she had lots of wood, and she already had a few chickens and stuff like that. She used to tell us she cried many nights.” 

The final home George and Mary built was in 1956 but the little homestead was kept, a sleeping spot for young Rudy and his brother when the main house got too hot in summer. 

And his sister Shirley, has been collecting antiques and family items to fill it and createdPreservinc a living museum. 

“As you get older, you tend to look back and reflect more,” said Wilf. 

Heather Stocking

About the Author: Heather Stocking

Heather Stocking a reporter at the Athabasca Advocate, a weekly paper in Northern Alberta. Heather covers all aspects of the news in and around Athabasca and Boyle as well as other small communities.
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