Olga Tsurkalenko-Hunka from Winnipeg tells the story of her life in an old country, arriving to Canada and about her first years in Canada.
I am Olga Tsurkalenko-Hunka and my maiden name was Hrekul. I was born on the second of April, in 1895, in the village of Pohorylivka in the province of Bukovyna, to a poor peasant family. My father, William Hrekul, came from the village of Shypyntsi. He left his parents at home and went to Chernivtsi to study to become a church deacon. He stayed in the home of a church elder where, after school hours, he worked as a servant, rendering various services for priests. It was in this way that he acquired the learning in order to become a deacon. After qualifying, he was sent to serve as a deacon in the village of Pohorylivka where he became acquainted with my mother, Anna Kuchynska. She was of Polish origin. After some time, they got married. My mother was a Catholic and was, from the age of twelve until she married, a servant in the household of a Uniate priest. For her services, the priest promised to give her a cow when she got married. He didn't keep his promise because my mother married an Orthodox deacon. Considerable friction arose between the parents of the two families, not because the priest didn't give my mother the cow that he had promised, but because she converted from Catholicism to Orthodoxy.
I was three years old when my father died. My only brother was three years older than I. Our property consisted of a house and a small garden. We had no land to grow other produce. Having served as a deacon, my father received a small pension - I believe it was three levs a month. He suffered from tuberculosis for two years before his death. My mother took him to a doctor in Zalischyky, but he stated that the sickness had progressed to such a stage that it was too late to cure it.
After my father died, my mother sent me to stay for two years with her youngest sister who lived in the village of Kolobridky. It was my aunt who raised me. After two years had passed, I was brought back to my mother's. After some time I began to go to school. The school in our village had only the first two grades of instruction. My mother accepted all kinds of work in order to provide a livelihood for herself and her children. My mother decided to send my brother and me to school in Chernivtsi after we had completed schooling in our native village. But she didn't have the money. She had a pension of three levs a month which wasn't enough to support the family. Our poor mother thought that she would be able to earn enough to add to the pension and so keep us in school. In 1903 she brought us to the school in Chernivtsi. On someone's recommendation, she placed us with a family by the name of Novotny, but the quarters there weren't suitable so, a short time later, she placed us with a family called Oberhoffner. The German woman was a widow with three children of her own. She had an excellent command of the Ukrainian language, although they spoke German in her home. I began to learn the German language. I didn't find studying an easy matter. Under Austro-Hungarian rule the German language occupied first place. The Ukrainian language was allotted one hour a week, every Friday, from eleven until noon. These classes were exclusively for Ukrainian children. Our teacher was a man named Kabylia.
In 1906 I completed the third grade and was promoted to the fourth grade, which I didn't complete. In February of 1907 my mother took me out of school, not being able to keep me there because she herself had nothing to live on.
It was in that same year that a group of people was preparing to go to Canada. Some of the people advised my mother to go with them because, as they said, "In Canada you will be able to provide for yourself and your children." My mother agreed to go. But where was she to get the money she needed? The guardian of our small property agreed to lend her the money. He suggested that my mother go to the court dealing with orphans' interests in Zastavno and sign over her property to him. He promised that should my mother ever want to come back home, she would get her property back again upon payment of the money she had borrowed. The guardian's name was Georghiy Seletsky. My mother was illiterate and didn't know what she was signing; she didn't realize that he was appropriating our property. We arrived in Winnipeg, Canada, in April, in 1907. The immigration agent took us to the home of a fellow-villager whose name was Kostaniuk and who lived on Austin Street. We didn't stay there for long. Some kind people found work for my mother in a restaurant and work for me looking after two children in the family of Frank Doyachek. They lived on Selkirk Street where they had a small bookstore. Later, they opened the Ukrainian Bookstore on Main Street. I worked for a year at Doyachek's. I found the work quite hard. I longed to go to school and my poor mother, who visited me every Sunday, pined for her native village.
In the summer of 1908 I began working for a Jewish family in which there were still no children. The living conditions were good. I acquired a lot of learning from the sister of the woman of the house who was still going to school. She passed on to me what she learned in school. During the four years that I stayed with them I learned to speak Yiddish.
In 1912 I began working in the Royal Alexandra Hotel laundry where my mother worked. I was the youngest worker there. The work was very hard. Most of the women workers there were Ukrainian. There were also some German, English and Jewish women. We worked three shifts. The highest pay was $15.00 a month. In the summertime it was hard to stand the heat. On very hot days I stayed at home, even though my mother pleaded with me to go to work, fearing that the owner of the laundry would fire me. My mother did her best to cover for me, saying that I was sick. I worked in the laundry until 1915.
From the time that my mother came to Canada, she saved her pennies so as to be able to pay back the money to the "guardian" and get back her property and return to her native land. At last, she put together $150.00 and was ready to send them to the "guardian". However, some people advised her to check if she would get the property back when she sent him the money. She did so through a Canadian notary public and learned that the "guardian" had claimed the property as his own. After some time, the "guardian" came to Canada and declared that the property was his and that he would not return it to us. To the end of her days my mother cursed her misfortune and the poverty in which she found herself. She blamed herself for doing us an injustice because of her uninformed action. The "guardian" and his family live to this day on the orphans' property, in my mother's house. I visited my native land in 1961, went to the village and saw the house in which I was born. I also met our "guardian". The meeting was unpleasant. He tried to defend himself, twisted things around, and tried to convince me that he had tried to do good for my mother and us.
interview by Peter Krawchuk
Ukrainian immigrant woman and children
Higgins Ave., Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada