Stories from the Past: Martha Kirsch (Part 3)

My great-grandmother, Martha Kirsch, was born in April 1881 in Lutsk, Volhynia, Russia, to Samuel Kirsch (Wisniewski in Polish) and Karolina Wurfel. As all of the Kirsch children born between 1877 and 1897 were born in Ludwischin (village), Lutsk (district), Volhynia (region), Russia, it is possible Martha was also born there.

Note: The following stories were written by a Kelm family member who was close to Julius and Martha. They were both interviewed and their stories retold revealing insights into their personal lives, marriages, births, and deaths. The stories were transcribed by Phyllis Kelm Reakes with permission to share from the original author.

Stories from the Past: Martha Kirsch (Part 3)

Martha came from a very poor family of 19 children. She recalls her father, [Samuel], as an old man with a beard, who married three or four times. Martha’s siblings Julia, Carl and Daniel all immigrated to Canada, too.

Martha said that there were so many children that at night her parents had to make a roll call to see that all the children were accounted for and none were missing. One evening one of the children was missing. The parents and the older children started to search for him. They found him sleeping in the outside oven. It was warm in the oven and he had crawled inside and fell asleep there.

The Kirsch farm was situated next to a school but the Kirsch children did not go to school as they were too poor and had to work. Martha’s job was herding cows. She would go outside all day in the field watching the cows and would hear the children singing in the school house when the windows of the school house were open. She sang along with them and soon she knew all the songs. At night she said she would sit on her father’s lap and sing the songs to him. He was amazed and asked her how she had learned the songs. She told him she had heard the children singing in the school house and learned the songs. This made her father very happy. Martha was very intelligent. She had an excellent memory. She never went to school but at age 30 while living in Camper, Manitoba she learned to read and write German from the minister that used to visit. She then taught all her children to read and write in the German language.

In Germany, the Remples were neighbours of the Kirsch family. They felt sorry for Martha and took her in. She worked for them as a domestic and they were very good to her. The Remples decided to come to Canada with their 12-year-old son, August. They asked Martha to come with them and she decided to immigrate with them to Canada.

About this same time Martha fell in love with a young man. They wanted to marry but he had to serve a year in the army first. She said that she could not wait for him as arrangements had been made for her to go to Canada with the Remples. The young man was very heartbroken. He told her that she would never be happy because she did not marry him, a man who truly loved her. Later, Martha learned that this young man had been killed in the army. She often told this story and over the years the words of her young man came back to haunt her. She did not have a happy marriage to Julius Kelm and although she loved her children she often wondered how her life could have been different if she had remained in Volhynia and had married her young soldier.

Mr. and Mrs. Remple, August Remple and Martha went to live at 868 Ballantine [Bannatyne] Avenue, Winnipeg. It is not certain if Martha’s sister, Julia, was already living in Winnipeg or whether she immigrated along with the Remples. Julia And August did not know each other in Germany [note: August and Julia Remple immigrated to Canada in 1890 and appear in the 1891 Census of Canada with August’s eighty-one-year-old father, August Remple]. August Remple and Julia Kirsch eventually married each other. Also living in the house about this time was Martha and Julia’s brothers, Carl and Daniel, who worked for the CPR.

Mr. and Mrs. Remple were already fairly elderly. They had purchased a small farm at Oak Bank, which was not far from Winnipeg. Later, when Mrs. Remple was dying she only wanted Martha to look after her. Martha left her husband, Julius, and children to care for Mrs. Remple who died within a week. The house at 808 Ballantine [Bannatyne] was a large two or three story home that was located close to the General Hospital [Winnipeg General Hospital, now Health Sciences Centre]. August Remple was a sewer contractor and had people working for him digging sewer lines for the City of Winnipeg. The Remples also had rooms rented out to boarders, most of whom worked at the hospital which was located nearby. Martha got a job working in the laundry room of the hospital. She would wash the hospital sheets on washboards and folded the clean laundry. She described herself as being quite happy. She had a real job for the first time in her life and was making her own money. She was quite content and had no interest in getting married.

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