Katherine Hladiy tells the story of her immigration to Canada.


Abandoned Ukrainian home
Shoal Lake, Alberta, Canada

Manitoba Archives


I was born in 1909, in Glenella, Manitoba. I began milking cows when I was nine years old, sometimes milking as many as twelve. I worked hard as a small girl.

My parents came to Canada in 1900 and both sailed on the same boat. My mother came from the village of Perelymiv in Ternopil Region, and my father from Chesanisky Region, which is in present-day Poland. My mother's maiden name was Christina Halabitska.

Although they both sailed at the same time and on the same boat, they didn't know one another and only became acquainted two years later in Portage la Prairie. It was here that they got married.

My father worked for the Canadian National Railway Company. There were many of my father's fellow-villagers in Glenella and they invited him to join them at work.

After arriving in Glenella, my parents walked some eight miles out into the country until they found a piece of land on which to build a small house. For a whole year, my father used to walk some thirty-three miles from our home to Nipawa, where he worked on the railroad. My mother stayed at home by herself.

One day my mother went out for a walk with her first-born son in her arms. When she came back, there was no house left because it had burned down in her short absence. Everything that my parents had acquired was destroyed in that fire. All they had left was the clothing on them. After that misfortune, my father quit his job on the railroad and took out a homestead on which he started farming. It was poor land, covered with stones and thickets, and mainly consisting of sand. It was necessary to work hard in order to clear a few acres and make them suitable for sowing grain.

When I was seven, I began attending a school, which had just been built and was two and a half miles from our house. I walked to and from school everyday. It wasn't so bad in the summer, but much worse in the winter when the road was blocked with drifting snow.

We were on friendly terms with our neighbours and we frequently entertained guests in our house. We were never lonely.

Even before the school was built, my maternal uncle, Antoshko Halabitsky, taught children in the Ukrainian language in our house. So it was that I received instruction in Ukrainian before I began attending public school, where we were taught in the English language. In this district, it was teachers of Ukrainian origin who taught school so that children, who wanted to, had the opportunity to also learn in Ukrainian after regular school hours. I completed six grades of Ukrainian school. Our school was located in Sunville.

At that time there were no associations of any kind as yet, but people gathered in houses to read newspapers and pamphlets. Even as a child I liked reading and was often asked to read aloud for people who had come to our house. I used to read poems by Taras Shevchenko and Ivan Franko, as well as educational brochures of various kinds. Neither my mother nor my father could read, so they liked my reading aloud to them.

Living conditions were difficult in those times. The nearest store was four miles away; another store was eight miles away. In the beginning, before people owned any horses, they could only go on foot and carry what they bought on their backs in sacks. Nor were there decent roads then, so people had to cover these distances over marshlands.

When I was fifteen, I went to Nipawa where I was hired to work as a domestic in the home of the owner of a dairy. He was the richest man in town. Although my masters didn't treat me badly, all the same I felt that their daughter, who was my age, had everything that she desired, while I had to work so hard from dawn to dusk. It was here that I was able to see the great social injustice and the extent of the inequality that existed between people. I didn't even complete a year in this work because I fell ill and had to go to hospital. When I got better, I returned home to the farm. After some time had passed, I went out again in search of work and ended up in Winnipeg. I was already sixteen years of age.

I worked wherever I could find employment, but for the most part I served as a waitress in the restaurants Corona Cafe, People's Cafe and Colonial Cafe. I put in ten years in this kind of work. This was hard work because it was necessary to be on one's feet all the time, and one had to put in many hours a day.

On one occasion, inspectors from the Labour Board came to inspect the premises where I worked. I and another girl who worked there told them that we were putting in too many hours of work. The case was taken to court and we won the decision that from that time on waitresses didn't have to work such long hours, but would receive the same pay as before.

This was my first act of participation in the class struggle. It was then that I realized that only by organizing, only through struggle, can one win higher pay and improvements in working conditions.

When I was still seven years of age, I imagined that the Earth was flat because that was what my parents believed and that was what they had taught us children to believe. When I started to go to school and saw a globe of the Earth, I asked the teacher what the object was. He explained that that was what the Earth on which we lived looked like. Then I asked him to please bring the globe to our house and explain all this to the people who frequently gathered at our house for discussions.

Later, the progressive Ukrainian associations mailed out various educational brochures to people. One such brochure, bearing the title World and Nature happened to come in the mail to our place. It made a great impression on me. When I was still very young, I used to be afraid whenever I saw, of an evening, a shooting star because I had been told that someone had died and that it was his soul that had flown away. Reading the brochure, I found out that the falling star was only a meteor, and that there was nothing to be afraid of. Such were the beginnings of my newly-acquired beliefs.

On one occasion, in the restaurant where I was working, one of the customers told me that a course of dancing lessons was being given in the Ukrainian Labour Temple and that I could go there to learn dancing. I enrolled in this course. By the way, my working companions advised me not to go there, scaring me with all sorts of inventions. This restaurant was also frequented by some farm priests whom we knew, and they rebuked me for going to the Ukrainian Labour Temple.

As soon as I came to the Ukrainian Labour Temple, I realized that this was the place for me, that the people there were like me. I was convinced that it was their desire to improve the living conditions of the people, to take a firm stand against war, in defence of peace. All this made a very strong impression on me.

I would like to say a little more about my childhood years when I began to be strongly affected by acts of social injustice, when I resolved to help those around me who were being wronged.

Since my mother was the only person in our district who could express herself well in the English language, she was often called on to interpret in the law court for those who didn't know the language. When I was fourteen years old, I also began to serve as interpreter in court. I interpreted for lawyers and sometimes for people who had to write a letter when buying a farm. This kind of work also served as an important school of learning for me.

interview by Peter Krawchuk