Mary Romaniuk tells about how her family came to Canada and about the first years of their settlement.
National Archives of Canada
My name was Mary Palamariuk. I was born in the village of Shyrivtsi in Bukovyna Province. I grew up in the village of Zhuchka. The reason we moved from Shyrivtsi to Zhuchka was that my father worked as a coach driver for the landowner in Zhuchka. We moved there when I was four years old. My father didn't own any land so he had to earn his living as a hired hand of the landowner. There were nine of us children in the family, but not all survived. Five died, leaving four of us, two sisters and two brothers.
I never had any schooling at all. I began working at nine years of age when my mother sent me to work for a certain woman. I worked for this woman for three years. When I was twelve, my mother hired me out to work by the day on the landowner's estate. I trimmed beets, cut fodder for feed and helped by the threshing machine. I was paid fifteen kreutzers for a day's work which lasted from sunrise until sunset. I had to bring my own food when I went to work.
I came to Canada in 1912, when I was sixteen. Actually, it was my brother who was supposed to go, but he was called up for military service. My father sent me in his place so as not to forfeit the price of the steamship ticket that had been bought for my brother. My father had borrowed some money to buy the ticket and had put up the house and the garden as security.
I had my medical examination in Myslovitsi and sailed from Hamburg. Three girls from the neighbouring village of Kucherovo travelled with me. The crossing took seventeen days. I don't remember much about this trip because I was seasick. However, I felt better towards the end of the passage.
I got off the ship in Halifax with another girl, while the other passengers sailed on to Montreal. From Halifax I went on to Lethbridge. I couldn't remain in Eastern Canada because I didn't have the required twenty-five dollars. My father hadn't been able to give me so large a sum, which was equivalent to eighty Austrian crowns. The travel agent had advised my father to send me directly to the province of Alberta because this didn't require a bond of twenty-five dollars on arrival in port.
All I had was seventy-five cents when I arrived in Lethbridge, where I didn't know anyone. There was one person, Hafitsa Popivchuk, who was from our neighbourhood in the old country. She was now living in Lethbridge, but I didn't know her address.
My father had a male cousin living on a farm in Manitoba. He wrote to him, telling him when I was supposed to arrive in Winnipeg, and asking him to meet me at the station and take me to his farm. However, I wasn't able to get off the train because I, along with the other girls who were underage, was supervised by a matron who wouldn't let us leave the passenger car. I wasn't able to come out onto the platform where my uncle was waiting for me.
I worried all the way to Lethbridge, wondering what I would do when I got there. There were no relatives to meet me and I didn't have any money, and I didn't know the language. And, in fact, there was no one at the station in Lethbridge when I got there.
It was nine o'clock at night when I arrived at my destination. Hafitsa Popivchuk wasn't at the station, of course, because no one had told her that I was coming. The stationmaster looked for someone who might interpret for us, but wasn't able to find anyone. Then a woman inspector, who met newly arrived immigrants, took me to a jail where I could spend the night. When I stepped into the narrow cell with the small barred window, I thought my hair would turn gray by morning. I was so distressed that I burst into tears. My first night on arriving at my destination in Canada had to be spent in jail!
The next morning, the stationmaster came to the jail with a man of Jewish origin who could speak Russian. The latter asked me where I had come from and where I was supposed to go. I showed him a slip of paper with my uncle's address on it. My father had given it to me when I was leaving the old country and I carried it tied in a knot in a handkerchief. The man asked me if I had the money to send a telegram to my uncle. I gave him the seventy-five cents. "You don't even have enough money to send a telegram to your uncle so that he could send you the money with which to buy a ticket to Winnipeg," he said. "You need twenty-five dollars for a ticket."
"So what am I to do now?" I asked.
He told me to stop worrying, saying that he would find someone among his customers who could speak Ukrainian, and this person would get me out of jail. After some time, William Makarenko came and signed a document. I was free to go. He took me to Dmytro Jossul's place. I was given a friendly welcome by his wife. Her own sister had arrived from Bukovyna just a month before. The Jossul house consisted of only one room, with a tiny kitchen attached. The husband worked in a mine. He later died in a mining mishap.
Dmytro Jossul's wife told me not to worry, saying that Hafitsa Popivchuk was coming on Sunday and that she would find work for me. Hafitsa herself was working as a domestic in homes of rich people. In the meantime, the Jewish merchant came with his wife that same Sunday and asked me if I would be willing to work at their place for ten dollars a month. That was to include room and board. I agreed to this arrangement. This man had a furniture store. I worked in his home for eight months. When his wife was well again after giving birth to a child, I had to look for work somewhere else. Hafitsa Popivchuk found work for me on a ranch.
I worked on the ranch until I married William Kucherian who had come from Slobodzia-Raranche. This was two months before the outbreak of World War I. My husband was a miner. I prepared meals for eight miners and did their laundry. Each one of them paid me three dollars a month.
My husband and I both joined the Ukrainian Social Democratic Party in 1913. Party organizers used to come to Lethbridge and make public speeches on many political topics. One of these organizers was Paul Krat. Mathew Popovich also used to visit our locality.
My initial organizational activity was in a drama group. We put on stage the plays Za virnu liubov (For the Sake of True Love) Bludny syn (The Prodigal Son) and Za pravdu i voliu narodu (For
Truth and Freedom of the People). Most of the amateur actors, who took part in this group, became members of the Ukrainian Social Democratic Party. We presented our plays in private homes.
We had a choir whose repertoire consisted of many workers' revolutionary songs. We sang some of these during May Day demonstrations. May First was a workers' holiday and the miners didn't work on that day.
On one occasion, during the war, we held a picnic at which we sang some of our songs. I recall that one of the songs was Zasvystaly kozaky (The Cossacks' Whistle Sounded). Some mounted policemen appeared as we were singing this song and surrounded us. Perhaps they thought that "we were preparing for a revolution".
There were more than 1,200 miners in this locality, most of them of Slavic origin. Of these, many were Ukrainian. The miners were paid from $1.80 to $2.00 per company shift of work. They only worked three days a week during the summertime. They worked more days, often full weeks, from November to June.
The miners bought their necessities on credit when they worked fewer days a week and consequently went into debt. Life at the mine consisted of the vicious circle of debts incurred and working to pay off these debts. When we got married, my husband earned thirteen dollars and forty cents for a two-week company shift of work.
interview by Peter Krawchuk
Ukrainian pioneer women clearing land