I was born on June 10, 1896, in the village of Tulova, Sniatyn Province, Western Ukraine. My maiden name was Sophia Yakivna Porayko. My parents were poor peasants in the old country. They came to Canada in 1899, where they acquired a homestead. They were also poor in Canada and they stayed on the same homestead all their lives. My father knew how to read and write - he was the only one in the family who had had any schooling. He was interested in astronomy and for this he was nicknamed the Stargazer by the villagers.
He used to go to the reading hall where he became acquainted with the booklet O Emigratsiyi (Concerning Emigration) written by Dr. Joseph Oleskiw. My father was interested in public issues. It was Oleskiw's booklet that encouraged him to go to Canada. In fact, he was the first in the village to do so. He was a member of the Radical Party in the old country and he brought some literature on radicalism with him to Canada.
There were five children in the family, of whom two, my brother Alex and I, are still among the living. I don't remember my native land at all because I was only three years old when we left for Canada.
We drove in a wagon from Edmonton to our homestead, all seven of us: my parents and the five children - John, Mary, William, Alex and I. We children sat huddled on top of the baggage. We must have travelled for two days through swampland, along winding roads full of holes.
We couldn't see anything on either side of the road because of the covering that had been rigged up to protect us from the rain. The time of the year being near the end of July or the beginning of August, there was a heavy downpour just as we were approaching our homestead. We were soaked despite the covering. We were also hungry.
When the rain was over, we stopped at the home of John Lakusta. It was a low house with a turf-covered roof, apparently completed only recently because the clumps of sod had not yet grown together, so the rain poured through the spaces in between. Lakusta's wife was dipping the rain water out of the house over the threshold. We were invited to come in. We sat down to dinner by a long table without a tablecloth. The table reached right up to my chin. I recall that we were served bread, milk and radishes.
Our horses were put into a makeshift barn. Not only were the horses tired out, but they had also come down with some sickness that had been brought into the area by ranchers. For that reason, we were unable to continue on to our homestead. Nick Hryhoraschuk's family of six stayed in the house of John Lakusta. We stayed in the home of Kosty Nimersky who lived in the neighbourhood.
Because our family was so large and also because we had no place to put the horses, we moved in with Alex Chorney's family. Their house was built of logs and consisted of a single spacious room. There was only a dirt floor, the roof was covered with turf and the house had porches attached to it. No one had a regular floor in the house in those days. There were two small windows in the south wall and a single window in the east wall.
Building materials were plentiful in this district. Alex Chorney's family was both kind and hospitable. We spent the winter at their place and have remained close friends ever since. My parents were most grateful for the comfort that had been accorded us by the Chorney family and did everything in their power to repay them with good turns and friendship.
My father and Nick Hryhoraschuk were looking for homesteads in the district. The better homesteads had already been taken. It wasn't possible to look very far afield because our horses were sick. Of the land that had been surveyed, only half was available in the form of ten-dollar homesteads. The other half was the property of the Canadian Pacific Railway Company, which sold for three dollars an acre, that is, $480 for a farm of 160 acres.
Finally, my father and Nick Hryhoraschuk selected their homesteads, but the land wasn't very suitable for cultivation, some of it being wet lowland and some quite stony. Nor was there enough good drinking water. Unfortunately, not all the immigrants knew how to select homesteads. Some thought that if a third or even a fourth part of the land was suitable for cultivation, that meant that one could farm successfully on it and make a good livelihood. They later found out that it just wasn't so.
In November of that year, that is, in 1899, they paid for their homesteads and began preparing the logs for construction in the following spring. They also helped take in the harvest of the people with whom they were staying and prepared generally for the coming winter. It so happened that there was a very heavy early snowfall. Large streams and lakes formed in the spring.
My mother had an accident that winter when she burned her hand on the stove. It seemed at first that the affected part was healing, but her hand began to itch unbearably. She soaked a piece of cloth in carbolic acid and applied it to the burn. Overnight, the burn had become very raw and we had to take my mother to a doctor. That was twenty-five miles away at Fort Saskatchewan. The doctor ordered my mother to stay a week in the hospital. In the meantime, there were heavy snowfalls and big blizzards. My father wasn't able to get to the hospital, so my mother spent nine weeks there. She worked in the hospital during those extra weeks and learned some English.
At last the long-awaited spring arrived. But we still weren't able to get to our homestead because the heavy flooding had washed away the road in places. Sometime around the end of April or the beginning of May, on a fine sunny day, we arrived at our homestead, at our new home. We set up our living quarters by the wagon.
This was prairie country with a few shrubs growing here and there. We already had horses and a plough, and began ploughing the virgin soil. My brother Alex and John Hryhoraschuk cut down some poplar trees, tied the poles at the top and stood them up in the form of a teepee. My mother and the boys cut some tall dry grass and covered the outside of the teepee with it. Then the boys cut some thin rectangular pieces of sod and placed them over the grass. In the middle of the teepee they put the stove, which my parents had bought in Winnipeg, and passed a stovepipe through the roof. They made an opening on one side for a door that also served to let in some light. A piece of carpet was used to cover the door opening. They fashioned beds out of saplings, on which they put some hay.
Two families shared this teepee. It was enough to protect us from the wind and the rain. The teepee was set up on Nick Hryhoraschuk's property. Then they quickly set about building their respective houses - Nick Hryhoraschuk on his side of the boundary, and my father, mother and my brother Alex on our side. They hauled the building material from three miles away, from Alex Chorney's farm where there were some fine straight trees.
The mosquitoes were a terrible nuisance. There was a lot of marshy land in the district and huge swarms of mosquitoes appeared at twilight, causing untold discomfort to people, horses and cattle. The people made smudges to drive off the mosquitoes. The smudges were lit in buckets with holes pierced in the sides. The mosquitoes had to be smoked out of the teepee, otherwise it was impossible to sleep. The mosquitoes persisted from spring until fall.
It was difficult for our people because they didn't know the English language, while many of the neighbours were English or people of some other nationality and these couldn't converse with us in Ukrainian. Our people first learned such words as were essential for everyday purposes as, for example, when buying something or asking directions.
Careful calculations had to be made when building a house: it couldn't be too high, otherwise it would be cold; nor could it be too low because this created drafts that pushed out the warmth. There had to be only one room because it was cheaper to build houses that way and it took less time. Nor could the base occupy too large an area because this would call for too large a roof which would be too heavy for a single-roomed house. People built their own stoves with stones that they picked up on their farms.
Having lived through one winter, the people realized how severe the weather could be and planned for the next winter accordingly. It was necessary to put up a barn to provide shelter for the horses. Every family had a cow. A cellar was needed under the house to store the potatoes. One of the most urgently needed items was a well. I was only four years old at the time, but I remember how much my parents and their ten-year-old son accomplished on the homestead in one summer. Today I marvel at how hard-working our pioneers were, they who had settled on homesteads in Western Canada at the beginning of the twentieth century.
In the autumn, my mother and Alex went to work on the homesteads of people who had settled there earlier: they stocked, dug potatoes and plastered the outside walls of buildings. My mother complained about her feet and found physical work difficult. She already had problems with her feet when still in the old country. While my mother and Alex worked at the neighbour's, my father would sit on a bench and prepare shotgun shells for shooting ducks and partridges. He used to come home from his hunting expeditions quite late in the evening and then we had to pluck the feathers and salt down the meat for winter.
My father made a sled on which he and Alex fetched dry firewood in winter. My brother Alex trapped muskrats at a pond. He stretch-dried the skins on pieces of board which he fashioned for that purpose. He sold the skins, or else traded them for clothing that he bought in the stores.
Sometimes, in the evening, my mother visited the neighbours and Alex and I would stay at home alone. Packs of coyotes gathered near the house and howled, creating a weird medley of sound. I was afraid of them, but Alex laughed at me. It took quite some time before I got used to the sound of coyotes and was no longer afraid. We had to watch over our chickens and turkeys in the summertime for fear the coyotes might carry them off.
My parents were young and courageous, as were all the pioneers in those days. Old people didn't venture out on such long journeys across the ocean. My mother was homesick for the old country and sorely missed her relatives, especially her brother John Kharuk. But she eased her feeling of loneliness with hard work and hope. Despite such feelings, my parents were convinced that they had done the right thing when they came to Canada. Here they found open spaces and much productive land, as well as plenty of wood and pasture. There were no wealthy landowners to exploit them or to abuse them as had been the case with the peasants in the old country. Unfortunately, they met with a different kind of humiliation here at the hands of some English chauvinists.
People living on homesteads in a foreign land needed some form of entertainment. It wasn't long before they became acquainted with one another and began to meet regularly. They entertained themselves singing songs that they had brought with them from the old country. Nick Hryhoraschuk played on his violin at dances. Our house, being the largest, was suitable for holding such dances. Frank Vitvytsky played the accordion. All his sons are musicians. My father and mother sang. My mother led in singing, she seemed to know an endless number of songs. She was well-liked and people invited her to weddings. Light-hearted and exuberant Nick Kuzmeniuk joined every song and dance. Mary and Alex Chorney were welcome participants at every festivity. Michael Onyschuk played a wooden flute. The children found it very pleasant listening to him when he sat on the bank of the stream that ran past his house, playing charming folk melodies on his flute. He used to smile to us as he played. One doesn't forget scenes such as this.
Besides being virtuosos on the violin and flute, people were also skilled workmen who knew how to fashion grindstones with which to grind rye flour, thus sparing the farmers the task of having to go some forty miles to Edmonton. They also crushed buckwheat with these millstones. Hnat Samborsky was one such experienced miller. He also fired bricks for construction. It was out of his own bricks that he built a house for old Fred Melnyk who lived near the church in Star, Alberta. There were some people who knew how to make lime. Everyone did his best to adapt to conditions in the new land and to earn a livelihood and build a home for his family and himself.
A school was built in 1907 in the district in which we had settled. I was already eleven years old when I entered the first grade. Instruction was interrupted for three months during the winter because it was too far for children to go to school. We had a one-month vacation in summer. I attended school until 1911. I was already quite grown up and people wondered about my going to school when I should have been helping my parents on the farm. So I had to quit without having completed public school.
After leaving school, I helped my father on the farm: I ploughed with the oxen, harrowed and hauled bundles of grain. This was in 1912. My brother Alex was already on his own homestead in Athabaska.
We read several newspapers in our home: Ruske Slovo (Ruthenian Word), Soyuz (Alliance), Kanadiiskiy Farmer (Canadian Farmer), Chervonyi Prapor (Red Banner), Robochyi Narod (Working People), Ranok (Morning), Hromadskyi Holos (Community Voice), Novyny (News) and Ukrainskyi Holos (Ukrainian Voice).
My brother Alex was a delegate from Calgary to the First Ukrainian Social Democratic Party Convention that was held in Edmonton in 1910. He brought back some socialist literature from this convention. He also subscribed to the Western Clarion, the Social Democratic newspaper published in English in Vancouver. I read all this literature and began to understand the class division of society into workers and capitalist exploiters.
I joined the Association for Self-Enlightenment as soon as it was formed in Edmonton in 1916 under the guidance of John Klebanowsky. In the years 1917-1918, I was living in the mining district of Cardiff where I was in contact with the branch of the Ukrainian Social Democratic Party. I also acted parts in plays on stage and took part in concerts.
Sofia Kyforuk at the age of 14.
The first shelter of a Ukrainian pioneer family was called a boorday or kurnik
National Archives of Canada
A Ukrainian immigrant woman