Mary Yurichuk tells the story of her arrival to Canada, and her family's first experiences in a new country.
I was born in the village of Krasnostavtsi, Sniatyn District, Ivano-Frankivsk Province, on May 3rd, 1882. My maiden name was Maria Antoniuk. My father owned six morgs of land and also did some weaving for a living. There were nine of us in the family. We owned one cow but had no horses, so we had to hire other people to do our ploughing for us.
I completed six years of elementary school and another two years of secondary school, and had studied in Ukrainian and Polish. My memory takes me back to the time when I was seven years old. My earliest memories go back to the time when my mother had me pull some weeds to feed the sheep. It was around this time that I had to tend a flock of ducks and look after the baby.
Having had only six days of schooling, my father could only read print. It seems that on his sixth day in school they wanted to cut his hair, so he ran away from the school which was conducted by a church deacon in a private home. My mother never learned to read and write. She died when I was thirteen years old.
My husband Alex and I and our son Stephen, who was thirteen weeks old, went to Canada in 1903. I was twenty-one at the time. It was my husband's uncle, who had spent three years in Canada and then returned to our village to pick up his family, who persuaded us to emigrate. My husband visited his uncle every day after the latter's return and listened to his account of life on the other side of the ocean. The result was that my husband thought of nothing other than going to Canada.
I went to my father and told him that I wanted to go to Canada with my husband. He then asked me: "And what will you do if you find conditions hard out there, if things don't turn out well?" "Daddy," I replied, "If my husband finds it all right out there, it will be all right with me, and if he doesn't, it will be bad for both of us. I am ready to accept whatever may come."
My father agreed with our plans and in no more than a week, we were ready to set out. My father sold my piece of land and gave me150 rynskis. I had enough to pay my fare. My husband also wanted to sell his own portion of land, but wasn't able to do it because the property had not been assigned to the people concerned and it was necessary to go through the legal procedure. I could see that my husband was very worried and didn't know which way to turn. His brother took his house and garden and gave him a hundred rynskis. Unfortunately, my husband had a debt of forty rynskis, so that he was left with only sixty rynskis. My brother-in-law in the neighbouring village of Zadubrivtsi sold his land which was good, and therefore had enough to pay for his steamship ticket with some money left over. So my sister and my brother-in-law helped me, and I helped my husband with my money, and we all set out for Canada.
We set out on March 6, 1903, from Zaboloto, and went, via Peremyszl, to Germany. We stopped in Leipzig, where the police took us off the train. There were many of us on the train: from Krasnostavtsi, Zadubrivtsi and Beleluia. We stood around for a bit, not knowing what to do or where to go.
But we couldn't just stand there by the train, so we decided to go somewhere. It was a long platform. We walked for some time, dragging our luggage behind us. The children woke up and began to cry. The women also cried. Finally, we came to a place where there was some straw on the ground and we stopped there. It was night, and where were we to go?
The police came again and took us to a large building, which turned out to be a jail. We were put into a cement basement. It was frightening just to look at those massive walls and we shuddered at the sight of them. There were no benches and we had to sit down on the cement floor. The police locked us in, and there we sat. Later, six policemen came and took some money out of the men's pockets in order to buy some beer for the women who were nursing their children. I never drank beer so I gave my ration to my husband. The following morning they took us to the train and we went on to Antwerp. We had to wait for almost a week for the boat. We were well taken care of here and were lodged in a hotel.
The boat arrived. The cattle were driven out and we were taken to a large hall. There were bunks along the walls on which we slept. The food was good. We arrived in Canada on April 25, after a six-week ocean crossing.
We were to go to my brother-in-law's brother's place who lived in the district of Saltcoats (near Rockston), Saskatchewan. There was an immigration building in Saltcoats. We slept all night on the floor. There was a small stove on which we made tea to have with our bread. My husband went to a nearby store, run by a German, and asked him if he knew where Nick Boychuk lived. Although the German couldn't speak Ukrainian, he did manage to understand that the immigrant was asking for Nick Boychuk, whom he happened to know. The storekeeper took my husband outside and with signs gave him to understand that there were some Galicians living some eighteen miles to the north. The only road leading there was a wagon trail.
The men left us with the children in the immigration building and went on foot looking for Nick Boychuk, whom they located toward evening. There they met a farmer from Sarancha who had a pair of oxen. The following day his wife came with the oxen to pick us up. The men walked as we drove to Nick Boychuk's place and the children rode on the wagon. The women also walked and, when they were tired, they got onto the wagon. Some immigrants from Bukovyna also walked with us. They later settled in the district. We were quite a large group as we proceeded along the trail.
At last we came to Nick Boychuk's place. He and his family lived in an earthen hut. Inside there was a bed, a homemade combination stove and oven, and a long bench. A small porch was attached to the hut. The structure resembled a Gypsy dwelling. There were nine of us who arrived. Nick Boychuk's family consisted of six persons. There were fifteen of us altogether. There was only a dirt floor. We brought in some hay and settled down on the floor. The owners slept on the bed made of slender poles. Two weeks later Boychuk's sister and her husband arrived from Zadubrivtsi. Now we were seventeen persons. The two new arrivals stayed in the porch. We all lived on tea and bread.
Before leaving Saltcoats for Nick Boychuk's place, we had bought a ninety-eight pound bag of Four X flour for a dollar and a half, and a pig's head for a quarter. Boychuk's wife said that we should pool our provisions so that everything in the house would be shared by all. We agreed to that. The pig's head was consumed in common and then the disagreements began. Boychuk's wife started complaining that the house was too crowded with seventeen people living in it. Of course, we ourselves were quite aware of the fact that the house was overcrowded, but where were we to go? We didn't know anyone here.
One day my sister and I went to see a neighbour who farmed on the same section as we did. We found the wife at home with her fourteen-year-old son. The husband and two daughters were away looking for work. The woman was very happy to see us because she was lonely and afraid to be alone in this wooded place. We told her that we wanted to move out of the hovel we were living in because we couldn't stand all the complaining about there not being enough room for everybody. My sister and I told this woman that we would be happy to sleep on her porch, only to get away from the place we were living in now.
When we were preparing to leave the hovel, Boychuk's wife simply wouldn't let us go, saying she was afraid of what people might say about her if we moved somewhere else. We spent another night in her hovel and moved to the neighbour's place the following day.
My brother-in-law went to the post office and registered a homestead for ten dollars. He was told that he would lose it if it remained uninhabited during the next three years. There weren't any good farms left in this district anymore, the land that remained being of poor quality. However, my husband bought a homestead anyway. It was good land on which to grow hay. The survey stakes marking off the land were driven into the ground and we were to move in during the next three years.
Our husbands borrowed some spades and began digging a hole in the ground in order to build some kind of earthen hut or hovel, something like what Nick Boychuk had. That evening they told us how much digging they had already done. They told us where the path leading to this place was, so that we could come and see it. After they had left for the digging the following morning, we cooked some soup and took it and some bread to them for lunch. We brought our children with us.
When we got there, all we could see was our husbands' heads projecting above the ground. They climbed out of the pit and talked with us as they ate their lunch. My sister and I told them that we wouldn't go back to the hovel anymore, but would stay with them. Swarms of mosquitoes buzzed around us. The men had a pail with a smudge in it made of burning leaves. The smoke kept some of the pesky mosquitoes away.
My sister and I pulled up some tall grass and tied it into bundles. These bundles stood so tall that we could hardly be seen from behind them. In the morning we all returned to the house. My husband ordered some rafters and two panes of glass for the windows. We set up the rafters, cut some thin willows which we put on the roof, and then put the bundles of grass on top of these. We made shingle-like plates of earth and overlapped them the way one overlaps ordinary shingles. We patched up the cracks with earth.
We cut some willow posts and drove them into the ground. Then we wove long twigs between the posts and so made walls for the hovel. We made a ceiling with long thin poles, linked them together and plastered them with earth. My sister and I dug a small pit in which we mixed some grass with the soil. We began to plaster the walls, but the earth and grass wouldn't stick and kept falling off. It took a long time and a lot of effort to plaster the walls. The ceiling was even harder to do because there were still some leaves on the thin poles. My sister took a handful of dry grass, lit it and burned off the leaves. Only then did the plaster adhere to the poles of which the ceiling was made.
Now we had walls, a ceiling and windows. But what were we going to do for a door? We made a rectangular frame of the required size and put cross-bars at close intervals. We made plates out of the long grass and earth and covered the interstices with them. And that was our door, but we still needed hinges to attach it to the door post so that it could be opened and closed.
We made a combination stove and oven and attached a long bed to it. We made the bed out of saplings, put some hay on top and covered this with some wraps that we had brought with us from the old country. Nine of us slept on that bed. We covered ourselves with whatever we had available, but this wasn't a serious problem because it was spring and it wasn't cold. We lived in this way from the first spring until the next.
My brother-in-law got together some logs and built a house on his homestead in the spring. We were left alone in our hovel where we lived for another three years.
My brother-in-law bought two cows that bore two calves and so our families had milk. But it was time to fast because it was Lent. We didn't consume any fats at all until Easter. We were so observant that we even threw out the whey.
Our husbands hunted rabbits all year round. We ate nothing but bread and rabbit meat. We had no potatoes and no onions, no vegetables of any kind. My husband had bought a shotgun. Sometimes he and my brother-in-law would come home from a hunt carrying fourteen or sixteen rabbits strung on a pole. There were more rabbits than partridges in those parts. They skinned the rabbits and we women cleaned the carcasses, making sure that no pellets or hairs were left in the meat. Sometimes we boiled the meat; at other times we roasted it, alternating so as to have some variety. All the farmers in the area depended on rabbit for their meat.
We were making progress on the farm and managed to clear and cultivate forty acres in ten years.
As soon as we had finished building our hovel, my husband went harvesting, at which he earned seventy-five dollars. Out of this we paid back the seventeen dollars we owed my brother-in-law, bought enough flour to do us for the winter, bought two blankets, some salt and a few other things for the house. We had to go eighteen miles to the store. We had to walk over swampy land because there was no graded road as yet.
We bought a cow for twenty-five dollars and it bore a male calf. The following year we bought a steer and now we had a pair of young oxen. When they were four years old my husband could plough with them or drive to town. We had good luck with our cattle. In a few years we had twenty-five head, including four pairs of bullocks.
There was a lot of hay in these parts. My husband and I worked together getting in the hay for the cattle. We also worked together cultivating the land. My husband ploughed with one pair of oxen while I harrowed with another. We sold eight head of grown cattle and bought two mares, with foals. Thus we had our own horses.
Finally, we built our house, put shingles on the roof and built a brick chimney. We were the only people in the district who had a house with a shingled roof and a brick chimney. All the other houses had thatched roofs and had the appearance of haystacks. We were also the first to have horses - other people had oxen.
It was only after five years had passed that a school was built in this district. There were three churches, however, when we came there - two Catholic and one Orthodox. There were no lay organizations here as yet.
We didn't have the money with which to buy new farm machinery, so my husband bought it second hand from some English farmers who regularly bought the latest machinery.
My brother, Michael Antoniuk, of the village of Krasnostavtsi, came to Canada with his family in 1912 and they all stayed with us. His brother-in-law, John Havinchuk, lived in Chipman, Alberta. Michael decided to go to Alberta and asked my husband to go with him. An economic boom was in progress in Athabaska at the time.
My husband began persuading me that we should sell our property and move to the district of Chipman in Alberta, saying that there were Ukrainians living there who had been our neighbours in the old country. He was very taken with the idea of going to Alberta. I agreed to his plan. We sold our chattels and left the farm to be worked by my brother-in-law. We managed to raise eight hundred dollars and were set to leave for Alberta.
Spring came; we had a four-month-old baby boy, William. Our eldest son was ten years old. I became seriously ill and my legs began to swell up. We all started out on our journey to Alberta. We stopped at John Havinchuk's place. After a few days my husband went to Edmonton where he bought a building lot for three hundred dollars.
He found some builders who promised to put up a shack for him. After another few days, he took me and the children to Edmonton. We came to the shack and noticed there was a big hole in one wall. The builders had been short of some four boards. On Saturday morning my husband went to a lumberyard and picked up the necessary boards. The builders came and nailed the boards to the wall, put in the windows and hung the door. I swept the floor and we installed the stove and put up a bed. By Sunday, we were so comfortably lodged in our new home that it seemed we had been living there for several years.
My brother-in-law wrote to my husband and asked him to come down and do something about his farm in Saskatchewan. Some neighbours had broken the fence and allowed their cattle to wander in. My husband went to Saskatchewan and sold the farm for twelve hundred dollars.
My husband found work on the railroad at fifteen cents an hour. After that, he dug trenches for water conduits and was paid twenty cents and hour. In both cases, he put in a ten-hour day. He worked in a mine near Edmonton during the winter. Our family had increased - we now had eight children.
Ukrainian immigrant woman and children
Higgins Ave., Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
A Ukrainian immigrant woman
Winnowing wheat with a domestic sieve