Sylvan Lake resident recounts family’s history in new book

“O Canada Here We Come” is the story of Nicolas Andreef and his family’s journey to Canada

The history of a Sylvan Lake settler has been documented in a new book, written by a family member.

Shirley Andreeff wrote “O Canada Here We Come” wrote the book with her family in mind, as the book is about her husband’s father, Nicolas Andreeff.

The book recounts the life of Pepe, as he was known in his family – which is French for grandfather – and his family’s journey from Russia to France to Canada.

“I did it for my grandkids,” said Andreeff. “It is more to let them know and learn the story.”

Andreeff said she had always had a love of history, and coming across old photos and documentation sparked her interest right away.

Her father-in-law’s family took many photos throughout their journey, and kept them all.

When Andreeff came across the photos she was hooked right away.

“They had a really good camera, for that time, and took pictures all the time,” said Andreeff.

The book, which details the family’s arduous journey, is full of photos, including a photo of the family on the cover.

Harley Hay, Andreeff’s son-in-law and editor, said the book is unique thanks to Andreeff’s writing style.

“She is telling the story of this family, her family, but is also putting it into context with history of the time,” said Hay.

“O Canada Here We Come” starts with an introduction to communism before going into the life of Pepe, beginning in Russia.

Andreeff even details when her father-in-law first began smoking, at the tender age of six, and continued with the habit into his senior years while living in Sylvan Lake and Central Alberta.

The book also details the family’s move to France, as a refugee, and how Pepe met his wife, Anna Barbot, whom the family called Meme.

The book continues on do explain how the family lived during World War II.

“It wasn’t an easy life,” said Andreeff. “There is a photo that shows a bomb that was dropped on them and landed between two houses, without detonating.”

Andreeff even spoke about the family’s separation, when they came to Canada, leaving behind their oldest son, who stayed in France as a professional soldier.

“They came to Canada in 1947, when Serge was 16,” said Andreeff, adding life at that time was not easy.

“I think what people don’t realize at that time we were still very much settlers in this area. Those first years were very tough.”

The family was sponsored to come to Canada by a Russian man Pepe had once met. Though he helped get the family to Canada, and to Sylvan Lake he wasn’t much help once they were here, Andreeff says.

“When they got here Serge didn’t even have a bed to sleep in,” said Andreeff.

Hay said the book is an interesting read for the historical context, the local appeal and the pride of Canadian people.

“Some stories in the book are quite poignant, what they had to go through was unbelievable. Other stories are actually quite funny,” said Hay.

In Sylvan Lake, Pepe and his wife bought a house situated on 5.2 acres of land. Less than 10 years later he opened Nick’s Campground after retiring from CNR at the age of 65.

Andreeff said it was a very popular place in Sylvan Lake, one that many long-time locals would remember.

“He built much of it himself, the fence around it, the buildings, he was very good at building things,” she said.

His works with metal can still be seen throughout Sylvan Lake, as many homes still have wrought iron work along steps and properties.

Andreeff saiys her own home has iron work done by her father-in-law.

She wrote the book with her family in mind, not profit. This is why a copy of “O Canada Here We Come” will be donated to the Sylvan Lake Archives and to the Sylvan Lake Municipal Library.

“It is important for us, and I think many people would be interested in knowing about those who made Sylvan Lake what it is,” said Andreeff, adding the book is a story about a settler to Canada and is an example of what makes the Country great.

She is already thinking about another historical book to work on. This time the story will be about her own family, and their journey to Canada.

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