Saskatchewan film pays tribute to family, pioneer life

Two Prairie Farmers | Izzy Avraham tells 
stories of farming, family and danger

PRINCE ALBERT, Sask. — Three-year-old Tirzah Avraham is the reason her father, Izzy, created a visual tribute to the family’s farming roots.

“I want my children to know these stories and feel that connection to Saskatchewan,” said the Prince Albert film producer.

“It’s my tribute to my grandparents, one of those labours of love.”

Avraham, 31, produced a four-part DVD series called Memoirs of Two Prairie Farmers about his deda and baba, Bill and Agatha Kardash.

The couple farmed and raised two children near Blaine Lake on land first homesteaded by Fred and Pearl Kardash.

“I wanted to film them at their place, so I took a video camera and sound system and had them sit in their chairs and tell me stories,” said Avraham.

“Most people are really out of touch with their family history,” he said.

“Your family is who you are, where you come from, because it’s so easy to get swallowed up in western culture and lose your distinctiveness.”

Avraham, who was home schooled and lived on the family farm until last summer, claims Russian, Ukrainian, Doukhobor and Jewish ancestry.

He changed his name from Curtis Johnson after a trip to Israel and reconnecting with Jewish roots from his great-grandparents, who dropped the faith to avoid the persecution they faced in Eastern Europe.

Today, the self-taught film maker is the director of the online Holy Language Institute, which has more than 4,000 students in 115 countries learning Hebrew.

Avraham said the DVD series was inspired by the harshness of pioneer life.

“They made a life out of nothing and invented things. They went far beyond what their education would indicate they could.”

With just a Grade 6 education, Agatha’s father created a wind powered generator that provided light in the kitchen.

Some of these family stories were familiar, while others were new to him.

“Baba told me the story of her family going to come over on the Titanic but because of a luggage delay, they missed the boat,” he said.

Agatha grew up surrounded by relatives and music in a large Doukhobour family. Bill’s family obtained black market passports to make its way into Canada.

There were tales of the natural world and the community in which they lived and worked, as well as stories of threshing crews, sleeping in the barn, playing the harmonica and singing and dancing to pass the time. However, there were also tales of danger, such as getting trampled while working with horses.

Bill had many close calls.

He made a shotgun from a pipe and when it blew up in his hand, it nicked his ear. He also almost got pulled into a combine.

During the Depression, Bill would collect crow’s eggs and gopher’s tails for cash.

“They caught them live and cut the tails, believing they would regrow,” Avraham said.

Agatha caught Bill’s eye during a baseball game between rival school teams.

“He thought she was cute so he tripped her as she came by his base to meet her,” said Avraham.

“We joke how she fell for him there.

“They were real farmers. They took their honeymoon trip in a grain truck and went to B.C. to see the mountains.”

They had been married for 64 years when Bill passed away in January.

Agatha maintains ownership of the farm’s home quarter but now lives in a Saskatoon care home. The farm is operated by the Sherstobetoff family, who are Kardash relatives.

Agatha was surprised by the interest in her family and was reluctant at first about the project.

“I said, ‘Izzy don’t do this,’ but when he did it, I was glad and so was everybody else,” she said.

“It’s important to have a family history along the way.”

She described tales of sharing picnic lunches at harvest, hired help and treasured family moments.

“We lived with faith.”

Her daughter, Sharon Johnson, said the faith showed in every part of their married life together.

“They were always there for each other and depended on each other,” she said.

Avrasham said the history involved a month of work, including four days of filming.

The DVDs are available for sale but are also posted online at

“I more wanted to get the stories out than make a buck,” he said.

“It’s my tribute to my grandparents, one of those labours of love.”

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