Mary Kiceliuk from Vancouver, BC, speaks about her family's first years in Canada.


Homesteaders used teams of oxen
Manitoba, Canada

Manitoba Archives


I was born in the village of Yezupil in Stanislav Province in 1892. My parents were farmers of average means. My maiden name was Maria Hryvinska. Our family was small - my parents, my two brothers and I.

I was taken out of school when I was still in my first year because I had to work at home. My parents weren't enlightened enough to appreciate the value of education. I wanted very much to learn; I cried and pleaded with my parents to let me keep on going to school. My mother's brother also urged my parents to allow me to go to school, but they absolutely refused to agree to this. So I did all the household work ever since I was a child because my mother had to work in the field. I stayed at home and cooked and baked for the family.

My father and my eldest brother went to Canada in 1907. Although we had enough land, it used to get flooded whenever the Dniester River overflowed its banks. The flooding water carried away everything with it, including the sheaves of grain during the harvest, and it ruined the land. My father found life difficult in Canada, however, he managed to get a farm for himself and for my brother. He returned to the old country in 1910, sold his property there and took the rest of the family to Canada.

We went from Yezupil to Halych, from there to Lviv, and then through Prussia to Antwerp. The conditions on board ship were shocking - we slept on hard, double-decker bunks on which some straw had been laid and we had to cover ourselves with some threadbare blankets. The conditions on that boat were most unsanitary. The deck below us was reserved for cattle. The food was terrible, consisting of spoiled meat, macaroni and bread. We ate at long wooden tables. The bread was brought in baskets and thrown onto the table, with everyone grabbing a piece from the pile. My parents had brought some food with them so we didn't eat too badly. Other people had to do with the wretched ship's rations. The passengers came mainly from Bukovyna and Eastern Galicia.

I vividly recall how a group of girls from Bukovyna used to come on deck and sing. One song in particular has stuck in my memory. It began with these words:
Oh mother, dear mother,
Why force me to marry
A man I don't love?

We arrived in the port of St. John in New Brunswick. As we passed by train through Nova Scotia, Quebec and Ontario and on to Winnipeg, everything I saw made an unfavourable impression on me. It was forest and boulders most of the way, with only an odd small town or village at long intervals. In the old country we had left such beautiful panoramas.

We were taken to the immigration building when we arrived in Winnipeg and our several items of luggage were deposited on the floor. We slept on these that same night. Kyrylo Genyk, who was working with the immigration authorities, came and spoke to the new arrivals and told everybody what particular localities they were headed for. We spent that one night in the immigration building and, in the evening of the following day, took the train to Teulon, Manitoba. Here we stayed with a Ukrainian family for a week. We slept on the floor because there was only one bed in the house. The people treated us kindly and made us feel very much at home.

While in Teulon, my father bought a pair of oxen, two cows, a sleigh, a wagon and such other things as were needed for farming. He also ordered a mower. We bought a year's supply of flour, sugar, salt and yeast. We loaded all this onto the wagon and set out one morning for our homestead in Fisher Branch. Some acquaintances from Poplarfield came out to meet us and we were able to rest up at their place for a few days. We had already been travelling a day and a night. Then we continued on our way to Fisher Branch.

A forest fire had destroyed the trees in this area and all that remained were blackened stumps and trunks of trees. The soil was good here. My father had already built a house on the homestead before coming to pick us up in the old country. The log walls hadn't been plastered with mud as yet. Our nearest neighbours, for the most part French and Ukrainian, lived from two to three miles away from our farm.

My father went away to work during the harvest, while the family stayed behind on the farm. He came back with fifty dollars. We ploughed a bit of land with our oxen and planted a vegetable garden. My father used to drive to Teulon with our oxen where the nearest store was to be found. This was some seventy-five miles away from Fisher Branch.

There was all sorts of work to do on the farm, such as clearing the land of the stumps and the remaining trees, picking up stones and ploughing.

As I have already said, there were mainly Ukrainian and French farmers living in Fisher Branch. They got along well together because the people were poor and depended on one another. It is understandable that the most difficult problem was that of language because the Ukrainian and French people found it difficult to communicate with one another. Often they had to resort to sign language.

I recall that a woman, who had five children and whose husband was away harvesting, once came to our house and seemed to want to borrow something. She gestured repeatedly, making out as if she were sowing grain, and then kneading dough, and she kept pointing at the stove. But we just weren't able to understand what she wanted; the poor thing was almost in tears.

As a last resort, I took her by the hand, led her to the pantry and pointed at different things, but she kept shaking her head in the negative until we came to a package of yeast. When she saw the yeast she was elated and kissed me with gratitude. That was what the woman needed because she wanted to bake some bread for her children.

Life was difficult. There were cases of family tragedies. A man would go away to work and be absent for a long time, and when he came back he would learn that his wife and child had died in a house fire.

There were some Metis people living near Fisher Branch. They were very poor. There was also an Indian reserve not far from Fisher Branch.

My mother fell sick in 1911 and had to be operated on. We took her by oxen to Teulon and from there by train to Winnipeg. It was only in Winnipeg that the operation could be performed. Soon after we arrived in Winnipeg I became acquainted with Anton Kiceliuk. He had already heard about me from Nicholas Genyk, a fellow-villager of ours who was now living in Fisher Branch. We married a few weeks later. My husband was a streetcar driver.

In 1914, my husband made up his mind to move to a farm. He had been convinced to make this move by Nicholas Genyk and other former fellow-villagers. Our move was to a homestead three miles away from my parents' farm. It didn't take us long to bring it under cultivation. We had some money saved up; we bought some horses and sometimes hired a tractor to plough the land. We bought the necessary farm machinery. We stayed on the farm until 1917, that is, for three years. We returned to Winnipeg in 1917.

interview by Peter Krawchuk


Track farming
Gonor, Manitoba, Canada

Manitoba Archives
Kobzar Publishing