The Seibert Family of Williams Lake – Williams Lake Tribune
Some time ago I wrote a column about the Sheep Creek Bridge over the Fraser River. I received several positive comments about this article and a number of people told me stories about family ties to this crossing. One such story involves the Seibert family, a household name in Williams Lake. I found this really interesting story about overcoming life’s obstacles and achieving success through determination and hard work, and thought I’d share it with you.
For three generations before World War II, the extended Seibert family lived in central Romania, just southeast of Bucharest. They were farmers who had moved to this country from Germany in the late 1800s, and although they were all Romanian citizens, they retained their German roots and customs. They lived in an ethnic German community, their children attended German-speaking schools, and the families attended German Lutheran churches.
In this milieu, six children were born to Heinrich and Hilda Seibert; Ninette (Nettie), Friedolin (Fred), Siegfried (Sig), Johann (Hans), Albrecht (Al), and the youngest, Karl.
It was a happy and peaceful existence for the family until August 1939 when, following the Hitler-Stalin pact, all people of German origin were forcibly expelled from countries that were under the influence of Stalinist Russia. Heinrich’s wife and children, along with all the rest of the extended Seibert family and their community friends and neighbors, were rounded up and moved to Austria. There, in a refugee camp, they lived as best they could for about two years. Heinrich was drafted into the German army and later killed on the Eastern Front.
Meanwhile in Austria, Karl and his sister Nettie were taken in by their aunt and uncle who became their second parents. In 1942, several families, including the Seiberts, were again uprooted and moved to Poland to farm for the Third Reich. It was a difficult and dangerous time. German families were not welcomed by the Poles, they had unrealistic quotas to meet, and war raged all around them. In January 1945, with the German army in full and chaotic retreat, the family had to pack up some of their meager possessions and leave Poland on horseback and wagon, just before Russia’s rapid advance.
They returned to Germany, eventually settling in a small village about 100 kilometers south of Berlin. At the end of the war, when Germany was divided by the Allies, this area became part of East Germany under Russian control. The family remained there until 1949, when they were able to begin applying for visas to immigrate to Canada.
Karl, his brother Sig, and their aunt and uncle arrived first, arriving in Quebec in 1951 with little more than a few dollars and a change of clothes. They were sponsored by another uncle who had moved to Canada in 1933 and operated a house building business in Oliver, British Columbia. The group traveled by train from Quebec to Saskatchewan where they were met by their Canadian relative and then the return trip to British Columbia was completed. by car.
Karl, who was only 12 at the time, was enrolled in Oliver’s school. He didn’t speak English and didn’t know Canadian mores, so he found himself in total culture shock. Sig, who was 19, immediately went to work for his uncles who had partnered to form the Seiberts Brothers Construction Company.
Gradually, the rest of the family was also able to move to Canada. Fred arrived in 1952. Mother Hilda and her sons Al and Hans had to sneak across the border between East Germany and West Germany in order to apply for their visa papers. They arrived in 1953. Finally, in 1954, Nettie, her husband Hilmar Wolfe and their young family arrived.
Now for the Sheep Creek Bridge connection. In July and August 1952, Seibert Brothers subcontracted the renovation of the old bridge, the installation of new beams and planks as needed, the replacement and tightening of cables, and the repair of guardrails. It took the crew about 14 hours to drive their three-ton single-axle truck on gravel roads from Oliver to Williams Lake.
A small camp was set up at the bridge site and the men worked the old crossing with very little safety equipment other than belts, harnesses and ropes. When they finished work at Sheep Creek, they moved downstream to refurbish the bridges at Churn Creek and Lillooet. That summer, 13-year-old Karl made his first trip to the Williams Lake area to visit his uncles and brother at the site.
In the early 1950s, the province of British Columbia was opening up, with roads being extended and improved. The year 1953 saw the Seibert Brothers Company complete, among several other projects in the province, the Highway 97 Bridge over Borland Creek at 150 Mile House and the Highway Underpass at 141 Mile. This structure is still in use today, unchanged after nearly 70 years.
In 1955, Karl left school after grade 9 to also take up a construction job. He was fluent in English. As he tells it, he learned English by being quiet for his first six months at school and just listening, reading comics and going to the movies as often as possible. His English became so proficient that he often acted as a translator for his adoptive uncle.
The previous year, brother Fred had moved to Williams Lake to take a job as a mechanic with Neufeld Brothers Motors, the forerunner of Beath Motors and Lake City Ford. Over the next year more family members came to Williams Lake, including Sig, then Al, then Hilde, who went to work at the Famous Cafe. She never remarried and always remained the foundation on which the family drew its strength and support. Hans continued to work in construction throughout the province, finally settling in Laketown in 1961. For eight years Karl also worked in the construction industry, eventually entering into a partnership with the Prince businessman George, Ben Ginter. In 1962, Karl also decided to put down roots in Williams Lake. There he met a girl from his hometown, Reta Rife, and the two were married in 1963. At the time, the town was booming. Several bush mills had combined their operations, and new large sawmills were being built on the outskirts of town. The new Gibraltar mine was under development. Businesses were opening and people were moving into the neighborhood. There was a great need for infrastructure, public works and residential and commercial development.
Karl saw the potential and started a ready-mixed concrete and excavation business, Lake Excavating, in 1964.
His brother Hans also came to work for this company. During these early years, Lake Excavating grew, expanding housing estates, building roads, working on commercial developments and providing services. It was a period of great expansion for the city. In 1968, for example, before the influx of new workers for Gibraltar, the company dug over 250 residential foundations. Lake Excavating was the first and, during this period, the largest company of its type in the region with over 50 employees.
Brother Al had already established a successful construction business as well as a building materials business, and he was hired to build several of the city’s major commercial developments. The Seiberts were also involved in the life of the community. They formed and participated in the city’s first football team. Karl and Fred had a real interest in stock car racing, and the brothers were instrumental in forming the Lakers Auto Racing Club and developing the first race track in Sugar Cane. The family was also heavily involved in the construction of St. John’s Lutheran Church. In 1969, Karl and Reta bought land from Amadee Isnardy and started ranching. They still own the Pablo Creek Ranch although its operations have been greatly reduced.
Today, Lake Excavating has grown into a much larger operation, taking on major road construction work as well as mining construction and other large projects requiring large heavy equipment, both in British Columbia and Alberta. . Karl retired in 1997 and the business was taken over by his daughter, Kari, and son, Trevor. Although its headquarters have since moved to Vancouver, the company still maintains an active presence in Williams Lake.
Brothers Fred, Sig, Hans and Al have each retired after successful careers. Throughout their years of work, their efforts have been marked by a determined work ethic and pride in their accomplishments. The entire Seibert family was a major force in the formation and development of Lake Williams as we know it today. They worked hard to overcome the wartime experiences that crushed many. With incredible willpower, tenacity and perseverance, this family has left a lasting mark on the history of our city.
My thanks and gratitude to Karl and Reta Seibert for their help in writing this article.
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