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A local tragedy at the eve of war

It looks like there’s just well-kept grass underneath this tree — but there’s actually more.


It looks like there’s just well-kept grass underneath this tree — but there’s actually more.

If you’re not mourning a recent loss, graveyards can be pleasant places. They’re quiet, they’re peaceful, they’re well-manicured.

That’s what it was like when I went to the Brandon Municipal Cemetery on a gorgeous afternoon yesterday, looking for a grave that was 100 years old.

The grave of Uladski Krusela’s mother, Annie Kusela.

Enlarge Image

The grave of Uladski Krusela’s mother, Annie Kusela. (GRANT HAMILTON/BRANDON SUN)

As Brandon, a century ago, convulsed in the excitement of war, one small corner of the front page was devoted to local news.

"Boy Drowned In River Yesterday," read the medium-sized headline at the bottom right of the front page special edition that was mostly devoted to announcing the war.

The story told the sad tale of a eight-year-old girl who had unknowingly watched her older brother drown in the Assiniboine River.

"His sister laughed and clapped her hands in childish glee, innocently thinking it was all part of the lovely game they were but a few moments before so blissfully engaged in," wrote the paper. "When, however, her brother failed to reappear the third time the little girl ran home to tell her mother, wondering all the time why (he) was so long under the water."

A copy of that story has hung in the Brandon Sun lunchroom for longer than I’ve worked here (decades longer, probably)and the fate of the boy victim has worried at my mind since I noticed it years ago.

This week, I decided to see what I could find out.

Uladski Krusela was 12 when he drowned in the river, near the 18th Street bridge. It was a hot, sunny Monday in early August 1914 — in the vernacular of the day it was "Fine: very warm," and according to Environment Canada archives it reached 35 C in the shade.

Udlaski was eulogized in the Sun as "a particularly bright boy … sadly missed." A few months earlier, in his only other printed mention, Uladski — his name then given as Ladick Kuszela — was noted as having earned his way into Grade 3 at the 18th Street School (north of the tracks, near MacDonald Avenue).

He would have been just a couple of weeks shy of returning to school at the time of his death.

He’d gone out to cool off with his sister; the river was at its then-lowest recorded point, some six inches lower at the pumping station than ever before, and two feet lower than normal, but the current was strong enough to snatch him under, and keep him there.

In fact, Uladski’s body wasn’t recovered until the next afternoon.

While police dynamited the Assiniboine — then a common technique to try to raise the bodies of drowning victims — a group of other boys gathered downstream.

According to the Sun, "Tim" Harvey Crane and Archie Kirkcaldy were among the youths, who were gathered on the banks of the river north of Donaldson’s slaughterhouse when they saw Uladski’s body floating by.

"Tim and Archie … immediately divested themselves of their clothing and plunged into the swift current; Archie being the strongest swimmer reached the body and brought it to shore."

Archie was circumspect about his efforts: "When interviewed by a Sun reporter and asked to relate his experience he simply remarked that he had pulled the body out. No further particulars could be extracted from him."

That same day, the Sun ran a brief obituary, noting only that Uladski had been buried Wednesday afternoon in the Brandon cemetery.

Knowing that Brandon has a very good record of cemetery burials, I did an online search at the city’s site.

Nothing came up until I tried a few alternate spellings — and there he suddenly was: Ladek Kuszela, buried at the northern edge of the cemetery, near Aberdeen Avenue. The date of death lined up: Aug. 3, 1914; as did his 1902 date of birth. That’s given as Jan. 1, which is likely a placeholder date.

More interesting was the place of birth: Staineslawof, Austria.

  • See 1915-era postcards from Staineslawof: Click here

The Sun had called him Galacian, and a quick search revealed some history of the Kingdom of Galicia.

It’s a region in east-central Europe, now straddling the border of Poland and Ukraine.

At the time of Uladski’s death, Galacia was the largest, most populated and possibly the most ethnically diverse of the Austrian provinces.

On the eve of war with Austria, an Austrian boy may have been just weeks away from being declared an enemy alien. It’s possible his father may even have signed an oath to Austria that would have obliged him —on pain of death — to return to defend the country.

The place where Uladski was born is 7,825 km away from where he died in Brandon. It’s a city now known as Ivano-Frankivsk, and it’s in western Ukraine.

And indeed, many of the grave markers when I went looking for Uladski’s were indeed carved with Cyrillic characters.

Not Uladski’s marker though. Despite careful searching, there doesn’t appear to be a marker left for his resting place.

Nearby, though, according to cemetery records online, lays Uladski’s father, Albert Kuszela.

Albert’s date of birth is given as 1882, also in Austria, although a city isn’t specified. He would have been around 20 when Uladski was born.

Sadly, he died not much later than his son, on Jan. 23, 1918. His marker, too, can’t be found; his apparent grave is currently marked only with a piece of wood painted orange.

Searching the phone book, only one likely local relative popped up.

Norm Kusela — "Somewhere along the line, they dropped the z" — told me that he didn’t know all that much about that far back. Uladski would have been his uncle. Both his grandparents on that side had died before he was born. But he did know they’d had a few more kids: Norm’s father John, his aunts Sally and Helen, and "one who left with the Royal Canadians and never came back."

Elsewhere in the cemetery are more family connections, including the grave of an Annie Kusela, who was Uladski’s mother. It has a nice stone cross; It says she is "Lovingly remembered." The stone gives her date of birth as 1883. Online it says that she, too, was born in Austria and that she died in 1944 at the age of 60.

Norm tells me that the rest of the family was born in Canada, and he doesn’t think they had to go into internment camps during the war (official government records were destroyed in the 1950s). He grew up at the family homestead, which you know today as the Corral Centre.

That homestead was within sight of the Assiniboine nearby, where Uladski’s sister fetched their mother and some neighbours after her brother didn’t come back up.

The paper describes the mom as "stricken," the parents as "sorrowful." They would have taken no consolation in the reported $125 insurance policy (about the equivalent of $2,600 today).

Although Uladski’s gravesite isn’t marked with any stone or marble marker, it’s easy to find. He’s just north of centre in Section 1 of the Brandon Municipal Cemetery. There, there are two big pine trees standing side by side. According to the online map, Uladski’s grave is right underneath the northmost one.

There may not be a stone, but he has one of the tallest markers in the whole place.

» Twitter: @Gramiq

Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition August 12, 2014

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