Evans, Carol: Karolina Holic nee Svec - Biksard to Frankford
Karolina Holic nee Svec - Biksard to Frankford
My Grandmother's Story - by Carol Evans
As I was growing up I visited my grandparents in Frankford at least twice a month. Gramma and I communicated with hugs and smiles but my Grandfather could actually speak to me in English. What I did not know about my Grandmother then, I have since learned from her daughters. This is her story...............
In a tiny village in the Little Carpathian Mountains of the Austro-Hungarian Empire a little girl named Karolina Svec was born to Maria (Velicky) and Ignac Svec on 20 Dec 1898. We would pronounce her surname SHVETZ which in English means stonemason. Her tiny village was known as Biksard but recently has been renamed Bukova, now in the Slovak Republic.
To view this location go to the website below for a map. Note that Wien is Vienna.
Karolina grew up on a farm where ducks and geese were raised not only for their eggs but for their meat and the fat they could provide for cooking. It was her job to take the fowl to pasture each morning and to bring them back safely before nightfall.
At school she studied the Hungarian language as was the rule of the time. She could read it but did not speak or understand it well. She spoke her native Slovak at home.
Josef's Passport Picture
As she grew and matured Karolina was courted by young Jozef Holic, an ex-military man from The Great War. He had a soft voice and a kind heart and walked miles over the mountain to visit her. They married on 22 June 1919 in Biksard in what was the newly recognized Czechoslovakia following the Paris Peace Talks. My grandmother had lived in two countries up until her 21st birthday without ever leaving her little village but leave it she did to live with her new husband on the other side of the mountain in the village of Plavecky Svaty Mikulas.
Her new village consisted of homes on two streets and two Roman Catholic Churches. Not a metropolis. Everyone knew everyone else in this tiny place. Above one of the churches hung an iron bell dated with only three numerals, its history predating the Crusades.
Karolina’s first two children were born in Czechoslovakia, first my father baptized as Ludvik Holic born on 4 October 1920 in Plavecky Mikulas and then
My Aunt Mary baptized as Maria, born a few years later in her mother’s village of Biksard.
Karolina’s husband, Jozef, tried in vain to convince his parents to back a carting business that he wanted to start. He had a growing family to support. The Holics were well-to-do landowners with barns, cattle and forty acres and Joseph was good with horses. He had worked with horses during the Great War. His mother refused to have horses in their barns and so Jozef and Karolina had to plan a different life.
Several of the Svec family including Karolina’s sister Elisabetha and brothers Pavel (Paul) and Ignac (Ignatz) had emigrated to the United States and lived in Lansford, Pennsylvania. Jozef and Karolina applied to go there also but US immigration had closed its doors to Eastern Europeans by then. Instead they made their bid for Canada. Her half-sister’s daughter married to Joseph Janoceck was already in Montreal.
Karolina’s husband came to Canada via Halifax to Quebec in 1925 where he worked in the lumber camps for the winter. Later he moved to the prairies to work in the grain fields until the families there could no longer pay him. By 1929 he was in Toronto looking for more work and had saved enough money to send for Karolina and their two young children.
All of this time his wife and children had been waiting in Biksard - Karolina working hard for her parents and trying to keep her little ones from causing too much disturbance for their grandparents. From 1927 until departure in 1929 Karolina was busy also collecting the necessary documents for herself, Lou and Mary to emigrate. (All 24 of these papers necessary for their immigration to Canada have been preserved.)
The family left Cherbourg, France at 7:55 a.m. on April 18th aboard the Ascania. Karolina was quite seasick throughout the voyage but Lou ran happily about the ship investigating everything including the engine room. Karolina had packed food for the crossing and the children tucked into it as needed. There were cheeses and cold meats similar to kolbassa which would have kept well during the first days of the journey.
A picture postcard of their ship, Ascania, can be found at the following two websites:
Avoiding Halifax as her husband had advised, Karolina kept the children aboard until landing at Quebec City at 11 p.m on April 27th. Here they disembarked and took the train to Toronto. One can only guess at the relief of Karolina and Joseph during this reunion and the surprise of the children aged ten and seven who had not seen their father in four years.
All had arrived in Ontario's capital just in time for the Depression Years. During their years in Toronto, another daughter, Ann, was born.
Karolina's Toronto Family
The family attended Sts. Methodius & Cyril Roman Catholic Church where their son (now called Louis) was part of a Slovak dance troupe. Lou and his father Joseph were part of a Slovak band in Toronto as well. Karolina did cutwork embroidery for the costumes they wore. She was also proficient in other needle crafts such as smocking and the making of clothes for her family.
Slovak Dance troupe
Living in the Slovak part of Toronto Karolina did not have to learn English. When years later she moved with her family to Frankford (near Trenton, Ontario) she again had Slovak-speaking friends. She knew so little English and could barely speak to her son’s new wife and later his children. This meant also that she was not comfortable shopping in English and found it difficult to make English-speaking friends.
Karolina was a wonderful cook. Her chicken soup, beautiful buns and pastries are lovely memories for her children and grandchildren.
Her husband, Joseph, supplied her with produce from their garden and kept plum trees and currant bushes so that she could make their favourite Slovak recipes.
Holics in 1950s
Bata Shoe Company
Karolina being housewifely, prepared meals and washed clothes for her husband who worked for the Bata Shoe Co. in nearby Batawa, Ontario. He installed the company’s plumbing when the large buildings were being erected (prior to World War II) and later became the maintenance man and gardener.
As the years passed and Karolina’s grandchildren grew, she was always the quiet, heavy lady who walked with a cane. She had had a stroke and after several years of paralysis passed away at her home in Frankford on the 4th of April 1960. She was only 61.
For my grandmother living in a new country was both a joy and a challenge. Watching her children marry and prosper and her grandchildren grow must have brought satisfaction despite her needing to break the language barrier. Even though she did not communicate with me in either her language or mine, she did send messages of love, endurance, support and good food which live on today.