When we dive into local histories, some of the most interesting stories come from the regular individuals who called the community home for a time. Such is the case with the Bartschies brothers, who may have been born in Switzerland, but would head to the west and find a place in Stettler.
The brothers, who were named Christian Bartschie and Theopile Bartschie, first heard about the Stettler area thanks to an appeal from Carl Stettler himself. They quickly made the decision to come out and would arrive in April of 1903. Both would begin working at the Stettler National Hotel, where Chris was the pastry chef.
In 1914, the brothers would decide to go and visit family in Switzerland after over a decade away. Leaving on the Empress of Ireland at 3 p.m. on May 28, the brothers went to sleep excited to see family. At 2 a.m. on May 29, the brothers were awoken when the Storstad, a steamer with 11,000 tons of coal, rammed into the passenger liner. Running out on deck and putting on life jackets, the brothers made the quick decision to jump overboard from the quickly sinking ship. Saying goodbye to each other, they leaped and fell into the cold water of the St. Lawrence. As the ship sunk, the suction of the boat going under pulled both brothers below the water. Ted was able to come back up and he began to look for his brother. Unfortunately, Ted had hurt his hand on a wire before the trip and was unable to hang onto his brother when they went under. Ted found a lifeboat and climbed aboard. He would be one of the 397 who survived “Canada’s Titanic” disaster. Sadly, Chris would be lost at sea, one of the 1,097 deaths. It is the worst peacetime marine disaster in Canadian history.
Prior to leaving, the brothers had taken $800 from the bank on a loan for the trip. This money was on a belt worn by Chris, who did not survive the journey. Through the help of Harding Roberts and W.B.
Gray sent a letter to W.B. Bennett, a lawyer and MP in Calgary who would one day become Prime Minister, the circumstances were related, and it was asked if the CPR could do anything about it. Bennett then met with Thomas Shaughnessy, the president of the Canadian Pacific Railway about the matter. Shaughnessy said that while he could not acknowledge the debt to the CPR, he would do what he could. He then gave Ted the title to his farm, which Ted owed $800 on, allowing him to start over again on a free title farm.
For the next few years, Ted would work the land around Stettler before eventually deciding to help start up the Sunland Biscuit Company in Edmonton. He was also known as a great accordion player and would spend his time repairing accordions well into old age, before his eyesight eventually failed him.
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