More than bricks and mortar: Preserving the history of the “Brick Building” at the WDM North Battlef

At the west end of the Heritage Village at the WDM North Battleford sits a tidy little brick building. Inside this elegant little building, Jakob (Jake) Marjan spent 50 years breathing new life into well-worn shoes and boots. Like many European immigrants who came to Canada between the world wars, Jake found hope, peace and resilience in that small sturdy building. Far from the war-torn Central Europe of his youth, Jake’s professional and community life in North Battleford took shape inside those brick walls. The Western Development Museum is honoured to care for Jake’s brick building and the remarkable stories it tells.

Jake’s early life set the stage for what he would make of himself in Canada. At the age of 12, in 1914, Jake had been apprenticed to a shoemaker in his home village. After the First World War, Jake’s father urged him to seek opportunities overseas. The Canadian passenger list marking Jake’s arrival at Halifax in August of 1926, states that he was born in “Secany” in the former Yugoslavia in 1900. Upon landing he intended to work as a farm labourer, as many young men did. Instead, he funded his travels from east to west working for railway companies, finally settling on North Battleford as the site where he would hone his craft as a shoe repairman for the next five decades.

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In 1929, Jake first returned to cobbling at the Beaver Hotel. Two years later, he married Leokadia (Lottie) Martin, daughter of a farming family that had immigrated from Poland. Together, Lottie and Jake built the little shoe shop that would stand on Railway Avenue in North Battleford from 1932 to 1991 when it was saved from demolition and moved to the WDM North Battleford. The hours were long, and the work was hard, but Jake was remembered to have done it all with a friendly smile. Jake kept the shop open until 1979.

Jake traveled back to Europe in 1933, shortly after the brick building was complete. He visited his parents to give news of his successes in both business and marriage. This bittersweet reunion was the last time Jake would see his parents alive as they were killed in concentration camps during the Second World War. We can only imagine the security and safety the little brick building gave to Jake after enduring such tragedy.

Jake’s brick building tells the story of one man, his family, a now diminishing trade and a community that supported and loved him. The decades and scents of leather work imbued into the bricks, the grout, the nooks and crannies deserve to be preserved. The building, now nearing 90 years old, needs our help. Help us preserve and interpret this #SaskInspired story today so that future generations may learn from Jake’s Saskatchewan spirit. He was the true embodiment of our provincial motto, From Many Peoples, Strength. To support the brick building, visit wdm.ca/donate or telephone the WDM North Battleford at 306-445-8033.

 

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