Mikhailo Shymkiw's story about how he came to Canada and about his first years in a new country.



Steamship company agents from Hamburg, Germany, sent our peasantry booklets extolling the ships that would carry them to Canada - large, with four stacks, comfortable - and as for Canada itself, what more could be said than that it was a land of milk and honey.

Interest and enthusiasm among the peasantry was aroused, of course, especially among the landless and small landowners. They read the glowing reports, so well written, so colorfully illustrated, that the soul rejoiced: the breadth of the steppes, the beautiful horses harnessed to wagons, the wheat, like gold, that filled the wagons. Then there were pictures of wheat being stooked, a farmhouse in the distance surrounded by an orchard of apples and everything one would want... Who wouldn't succumb to all this? This was happiness - heaven on earth!

The women discussed these promised riches among themselves: "Did you know that rice grows on the uncultivated boundaries in Canada? You take a sack, go to the boundary and shake the rice into it - just like that. And eggs - the wild chickens lay them in the steppe lands. You take a basket and gather as many as you wish - without a worry."

They read and listened to these stories and enthused:
"Come on, boys, let's go to Canada!"

In the early spring of 1910 a group of young people left their native villages, bid farewell to all they had known and were familiar with, to make a journey into the world beyond their ken, seeking a happier fate and land that would give them life.

The journey was not without its obstacles. When we left the train in Ternopil, a plump official approached us and shouted:

"Are you going to Canada, boys? Give me your passage tickets."

He took our tickets, for which we had paid ten guilders in advance, as well as our train tickets to Lviv, then laughing, said:

"Go up this street to the district office and they'll tell you there when you can leave."

There were close to 40 of us traveling from various villages, some with their wives. We sat down in the corridor to wait. We waited an hour, two. A number of officials walked back and forth, but none asked us why we were sitting there. I approached one of them finally and asked him how long we would have to wait, and he, looking daggers at us, shouted:

"You're going to Canada? Go home, people, you won't be going anywhere."

There were tears, lamentations and curses against the officialdom.

Bitterly disappointed, we all returned to our respective villages. In the Borshchiv District office we were returned our passage money, but because we had dared to leave for Canada some officious office clerk, a Ukrainian, sentenced us to three days in jail.

"I'll give you Canada," he said, "and who will be left here to work for the local landlord?"


The spring of 1911. Like thieves in the night, my father and I leave the village so no one could see us, so no official would again say: "I'll give you Canada!"

In Skala, a shipping agent was at the station. He advised us how I should journey, where to change trains, and not to be afraid, for everyone who wanted to, could go to Canada.

I bid farewell to my father, thinking that it would be for the last time, that I would never see him again. But was I the only one? There were thousands like me.

In Canada at last. There was no more fear that someone might say, "I'll give you Canada!"

Weren't we told that Canada was a free country, a land where there were no extortionists, where you can have everything you want - in a word, you're free as a bird?

The train was carrying us from Montreal to Fort William. Gazing out of the window in my car I viewed the Canadian landscape - its mountains, forests and lakes - with, from time to time, a lonely wooden dwelling, and I felt depressed to the very depths of my soul. Could this really be Canada? Could people be really living in those small wooden houses? But maybe this wasn't Canada yet - maybe Canada is somewhere further west?

We arrive in Fort William. Fort William and Port Arthur are twin cities on Lake Superior. This is the centre that unites East and West. They are the gateway through which the eastern industrial products go to the west and western agricultural products to the east.

June of 1875 saw the beginning of the building of the CPR line to Fort William, and in 1883 the first train, loaded with western wheat arrived at this station. There were no grain elevators then, so that the wheat was transferred from the freight cars to the ships in wheelbarrows.

A second railway line was started in 1905. It crossed the CPR track and went north to Sioux Lookout. This was the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway.

I remained in Fort William, having been 24 days on the road. When I got off the train, the railway station was just being completed with some scaffolding still in place.

I didn't have to search long for Ukrainian people. There were many of my countrymen here, but they didn't know of my arrival. A man approached me and asked to whom I had come and I told him to VasyI Chepesiuk. He said that he knew him and that we could walk there as it wasn't far.

Forty years ago the city was still small though building was going on at a fast pace - sewers were being put in, waterworks and elevators were being built.

We walked down a long street where workers were digging a deep ditch using picks and shovels... speaking in Ukrainian. I almost forgot for a moment that I was in Canada.

Every immigrant, on arrival, immediately sought a job, because he hadn't come as a visitor, but to work, to improve his lot and to help his relatives in the old country who lived in the hope of receiving some help.

So it was that I and my fellow countryman, Nikifor Humennay, who had already lived in Canada two years, visited the employment bureau to see if any jobs were available. (Nikifor Humennay was killed by a rock slide in 1912 while working on the railroad). There were many such bureaus at the time advertising various work projects. But workers walked from one bureau to another and emerged shaking their heads in disappointment.

I asked my friend why these people didn't sign up for one or another job as there were many available, and he explained:

"It's no problem to sign up, but when they take you 200 or 300 miles into the forest somewhere, or a railroad, and there is no work there, or if there is it's the kind that even mules can't survive, how does one return to the city? There have been incidents where people were lost. The clerks in these bureaus only sit in their offices waiting for workers so as to cheat them out of a dollar, but what will happen to the worker where he is sent doesn't concern them. There have been many incidents of workers returning from their "jobs" to the city and giving these office workers black eyes."

We finally signed up for extra-gang work on the railroad, as we were told that this was the lightest work for young boys.

Some 20 of us young lads boarded a train to that extra-gang. But we didn't travel long before the bureau official (he was one of ours) began to drop us, one by one, along the route. One older worker remarked angrily:

"The son-of-a-bitch is dropping one of us at each section so as to fill them as fast as possible. We'll probably have to return to the city."

Our official also dropped me off at one point, waving a hand toward a shack by the railroad.

I entered the house. There was a woman there. I showed her the ticket given me at the bureau. She said something, pointing to the door, but soon realized that I didn't understand her, so she took me to the track where her husband worked with four others. He was the section foreman. He looked me over and shook his head, saying something to his "boys" who turned out to be Ukrainian. They in turn told me that I was too small for the work because the handcar with its tools was too big for me to put on and off the track.

"Go back to the city along this track and sign up for work on the extra gangs," they advised me. I began to cry.

"That's a long way," I said, "and through forest as well."

They laughed, telling me it wasn't far, only 20 miles, and that I would soon be back in the city.

After talking it over among themselves, however, one of them suggested:
"Come to our camp with us. There are two of our countrymen there who are working at Kakabeka Falls building a hydro-electric station. You can go with them and you might get work there."

We arrived at Kakabeka Falls. It didn't take long for it was just a few miles through the forest. The boys asked me where I was from and I informed them that I was from Slobidka in the Borshchiv Region.

"There is a woman here from that region, go to that camp, she lives there." They pointed it out to me. I went into the camp and was overjoyed to find that the woman was not only from Borshchiv Region, but a neighbour countrywoman from my village - Ksenya Terlecky. She was now three years in Canada, having left the old country a widow with a small son. She had married here to her present husband, Terlecky, from Chortkiv. It was truly a pleasant surprise for me.

I began to work like everyone else - digging, leveling, cementing - everything necessary in construction. Some 40 workers were employed here with skilled workmen being English, some French and Swedes. The basic work force were Ukrainians, most of whom came from Velykiy Kucheriv in Bukovina.

Young men quickly adapt themselves to new conditions, to life in the new country. It was more difficult for the older immigrants who used to sit by their barracks after work and talk about the families they left at home, their lives, and the economic problems they left in the old country.

During one of these sessions one of the older men drew a flute out of his belt and began to play a sad Bukovinian Duma, so that the heart wept, then putting it aside as if it was in his way. He bowed his head and said:

"So, fellow husbandmen, an evil fate has driven us into a far and strange land to build a new country, because there was no room for us in ours. And we wander from place to place with no harbour to settle in. At home, in the old country, the wife and children speak of their father, look toward help and happily expect that their husband and father will, any day now, send them a lot of money from Canada so they will live a better life."

He then fell silent, wiping a tear that trickled down his cheek. Others also lower their heads, their thoughts taking flight to the distant straw-thatched homes of the families they left behind.

If one should at anytime travel the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway between Fort William and Souix Lookout in Ontario, they would probably never imagine that the railway on which they were traveling is watered with the blood and strewn with the bones of Ukrainian workers who laid their lives on the altar of Canada's development and growth. I myself worked on this railroad during the summers of 1912 and 1913.

Twenty of us young men worked at building wooden bridges. Our foreman was VasyI Chepesiuk. (He was later killed when a steel cable broke and hit him while working at the Great Lakes Paper Mill).

After work, during my free time, or on Sundays, I often went for walks into the forest. Once, when I had walked some fifty feet from the track, I saw two crosses overgrown with weeds, standing between two poplars. I went cold at this unexpected sight. Walking up, I saw that one of the crosses bore a knife-carved name, Herhory, the rest was unreadable, for both crosses were in a state of decay.

I told my foreman about them. "There are many such crosses along this railroad," he said. "There are also many graves that no one knows about and will never know about!"

It was true, I found six such graves myself among some tall birches six miles from Souix Lookout. Looking at them I felt a deep sadness. They seemed to be saying: "Tell our families that death found us here, let them not expect us back."

Mikhailo Kondratovich, from the village of Shuparka, Borshchiv District, came to Canada in 1905 or 1906. He had this story to tell: "It was late autumn. There was no snow as yet, but the frosts were already heavy. The cold north wind used to chill us to the bone. We were building a railway from far north Souix Lookout east to Nakina, piercing our way through solid rock. Explosion after explosion broke away huge boulders, the very earth hummed and groaned from these blasts. The workers hid in various spots during these explosions and emerged only after all was quiet to clear the stones away.

We worked intensively. The contractor did not spare the mules that pulled the rocks away to be heaped up. He was even less thoughtful of his workers, who worked even harder than the mules. He worked by the rule of exploitation for the sake of profit."

"The workers did not remain long on the job under these circumstances, for injuries and death looked them in the eye every day. Having worked a week of two they left, secretly. Their places were taken by new workers - and the story was repeated again. The contractor found this to his benefit.

Not far from the embankment there was a small camp in the forest which held various machinery and implements, among them a large stove which was kept burning. The workers would run up at intervals to warm themselves a bit, throwing in logs of wood from time to time, then returning to work."

"It was like that this day. A few workers were sitting by the stove, smoking and talking. Near the stove were several sticks of dynamite, placed there by someone to dry them out. There was an explosion. The workers from around the camp all rushed up. After the smoke cleared they saw that those who had been around the stove were injured, though not too seriously, except for one man who was sitting in a corner stiffly. His stomach had been torn apart, baring his internal organs."

"It was Paschuk, from the Volyn District of Ukraine. He was looking in front of him with glazed eyes, then turned his gaze on us and begged: 'Come, come, put all this back in, it has to be sown up. I've a wife and children.'"

"Yet another grave was added to the four into which the builders of a new country were recently laid."

"In 1909," continued Mikhailo Kondratovich, "a railway line was being built to Vermillion Bay. Many workers, most of them Ukrainians, were employed there. The work was proceeding at a great pace. Everyone knew that on this particular day there would be a large dynamite explosion. A large hill of rock stood in the way of the planned road. The dynamite had been loaded all week in order to break through this barrier once and for all. "At six o'clock that evening everyone was told to return to their barracks for supper, except those who were to remain to break up the rock. A blast! The earth shook, the air trembled, it seemed as if all hell itself was roaring with laughter. Then quiet."

"Suddenly screams broke out, terror. What had happened? One large boulder that had broken away was carried far from the spot of the blast, dropping on one of the camp buildings and shattering it. Forty people were killed there - most of them Ukrainians."

"It was a great tragedy. In one day the cemetery, not far from the explosion, grew to 40 fresh graves. And no one will know anything about these men. Who were they? Where from? Their families? Let them not wait - they will wait in vain."
The story reminded me of these words:
O' Canada, O' Canada!
How treacherous you are,
More than one you've separated
From his wife afar.

That an economic crisis was brewing was already evident at the close of 1913, and at the beginning of the following year it hit with all its might.

There was no hope of seasonal work, as had been possible in the spring of earlier years. Workers were laid off their jobs in industry and some factories closed completely. Fort William began to be filled with unemployed. The forest industries released still more unemployed to the city's streets. Hungry and ragged, the unemployed filled the employment bureaus en masse, though there wasn't even a sign of their being able to get work.

The year 1914 was completely different from the years 1911 to 1913. Workers would have gone to hell and back to get a job.

One lovely June day a group of us, boys, decided to "beat the freight" and go as far as the road would take us. Maybe something would turn up along the way. We traveled in a boxcar on piles of coal to Winnipeg's outskirts where the brakeman advised us to get off because the police usually examined the trains in Winnipeg and we could be arrested. We climbed down, looked at each other and began to laugh bitterly - we looked like the devil, black from head to foot. We washed, shook some of the dust off ourselves and set out for Winnipeg - walking.

But we met with the same situation in Winnipeg - unemployment.

Our little "company", which was made up of eight, separated here, each going his own way. Three of us took the freight to Dauphin. It was the same here. What to do?

I told my friends that I had an uncle, my father's brother, in Ashville, on a farm, and we should try our luck there. It wasn't far, only seven miles.

I went, found the farm, and we exchanged greetings. But I saw that my uncle was not overly delighted to see me. This wasn't surprising for even though he had come to Canada some ten or twelve years earlier, his position was not enviable - the family was large and had to be fed.

There was a lot of stone on the farm. They picked it every spring - piling it up - and during the winter frosts would bring up more to be picked and piled again - and so it went without end.

I stayed a few days, thinking about what I should do, then decided to go on. I told my uncle, who urged me to stay, saying that we would make out somehow.

He spoke from the heart, but I knew that I would be an added burden if I stayed. I sympathized and was truly sorry for him.

I returned then to Dauphin, where I again met my friends who had come with me earlier. One of them had a fellow-countryman living here who worked in the employment bureau and he had promised to send him to some job. On the following day, with his help, all three of us were sent further west, to Roblin, to work on a railway extra gang.

On arrival we found that some 100 Ukrainians were working there and around 50 Dukhobors. The Ukrainians were boarded and fed by the company, but the Dukhobors built a fire outdoors every morning and prepared their own meals from whatever produce they could get from the local farmers.

"We do not eat meat," they told us in Russian. We were paid 15 cents an hour. The work was hard. You were given a shovel and you didn't dare lay it down till lunch time. And the lunch? It was indescribable!

If you happened to be working at the end where the kitchen was situated and from where the cook and his assistant brought the lunch, you were able to get something, but if you were in the far end, there was little food left for you to eat, so you worked without lunch till supper. Protests didn't help.

Our boss, who came from Panivtsi, Galicia, used to sit with the other foremen filling up to his neckline and laughing at us to boot: "If one and the other of you should sometime be in the same situation as I am, you'll then have enough to eat," he would say. And how he yelled and "Goddammed" us at work - like a rabid dog - not a human at all.

"Water! Give us a drink," the workers would ask. There was more than enough water as well as a number of water boys. But there was also the order: one cup per person so as not to waste time drinking... The sun shone mercilessly, the mouth was dry and bitter - we begged for more water.

The water boy would come up, give each a cup of water. I think: I'll drink as much as I want, let them fire me, I'll drink. I drank one cup, another and a third. How pleasant it tasted! But I barely finished when the foreman thrust the shovel into my hands, shouting: "Back to work! To work!"

"Are you a human being?" I asked, "such as you should never have been born on earth." I am back in Dauphin.

One couldn't catch freight here - there was a police guard. One had to walk, this time eastward, to where the trains took on water, and there one could get into a car.

The sun was setting when I started out and I had to hurry to try and make it before nightfall. It grew dark and I couldn't see two steps ahead of me. It was frightening. I was all alone, surrounded by woods, far from any habitation. I felt like crying, but it wouldn't have helped if I did.

I walked some 20 miles that night, but there was no water tank. I finally reached a Section House where I laid myself down alongside the wall and slept. My dreams were full of water tanks, locomotives taking water, finding an empty freight car, getting in and traveling on. My feet stopped aching and it was comfortable and pleasant. I was going to my friends in Fort William where I would find work and would wander no more...

I woke up to a grey dawn.
O' Canada, my Canada!

One thought was uppermost in my mind: to get to a water tank. I started walking and finally reached one. But it was Sunday. I waited an hour, two, all day. There were no trains; I spent the night under the tank.

In the morning I was on the road again. As the song goes:

I wander about Canada,
Counting all the miles,
Where the day's end finds me,
There I spend the night.

People! I hurry. Could it be an extra gang? Yes, it was. I walk up to them - they are fellow-Ukrainians. I ask for their boss and could I speak to him.

"That fat man over there, see him?" One of the men pointed.

"He is one of us, he'll give you a job."

A spark of hope lit up my heart - a job at last!

I approached him, but before I could open my mouth to ask for work he beat me to it.

"Where are you from and where are you going, lad? How old are you?"

I got scared. He began to laugh.

"Tell me your story - how did you get here and where are you going?"

I told him everything.

You're exhausted," he said. "Sit down and rest. Lunch will be served soon. You'll have a bite and be able to work better."

I began to work without complaint and soon became acquainted with the other workers. I learned that the job would last three or four months. It was the beginning of August; that meant that I would make a bit of money before it closed.

A month and a half passed so quickly I hardly realized it, when a telegram came ordering us to "stop work and bring the whole gang to Winnipeg…"

We get to Winnipeg, There we separated into various parts of the city. I was left alone a stranger, with nowhere to go. I had $2.00 in my pocket and a cheque for $16.50 - my entire pay for the month and a half work. My heart was full of bitterness. Where was I to go? The city was large, there was mass unemployment - men walked the streets ragged and hungry. It seemed that I would be joining them.


I walked along Main Street, see no one looking at no one, thinking only about what I should do.

"Hello Mikhal!" a familiar voice shouted.

I awakened as if from sleep. I couldn't believe my eyes. It was Osyp Bodnar, a fellow-countryman, and neighbour as well.

"Hello," I answered, "what are you doing here?"

"I've come to Winnipeg looking for work."

"Have you found it?"

"Just as I did in Fort William," he answered laughing bitterly, and pointing to the other workers walking the street, unemployed.

"You boys are looking for work?" an unfamiliar voice behind us suddenly asked.

We looked around. A man of middle height dressed in overalls and some kind of jacket stood behind us.

"I'll give you a job if you want one," he continued.

The devil. I thought. He looks worse than we do and he'll give us a job!

"What kind of work?" asked Osyp.

"On the farm, helping to clear the land, but for meals only," he answered.

I went cold. I had never heard of such a thing as working for meals only. I started to move away, but Osyp stopped me.

"We'll go," he said. "We'll manage somehow through the winter and then we'll see."

"Very good, boys." the farmer was happy. "I'll pay your fares and we'll leave in two hours. Don't worry, we'll make out somehow."

"But I've got a paycheque," I complained. I've got to get it cashed and there's no time." "Do you recognize that chap coming toward us?" asked Osyp.

"Our fellow-countryman, Olexa Semanyshyn. What is he doing here?"

"He's come to Winnipeg for a few days," said Osyp, and he's leaving for Fort William tomorrow. Give him your cheque, he'll cash it and sometime in the future your money will be returned." I did just that.

We left on the CPR line going to Arborg. We got off at Meleb, 63 miles from Winnipeg and walked few miles to the farm. The house our farmer led us to reminded me of Taras Shevchenko's house, only Shevchenko's was straw-thatched while this one was covered with poplar branches.

There were two rooms inside - one a kitchen and the other a family room. There were five in the family - now there were seven that had to be lodged here.

There were a few plots of tilled land and a small hay field - the rest was bush.

We cut the bush, dug up the roots, clearing the land for the farmer who dreamt of having a farm, but still didn't have one. The land here was also full of stones. Will he be able to make a living off it? Will he realize his dreams here?

Our meals. In the morning it was fried tomatoes with a piece of bread; for lunch it was potatoes with crumbled macaroni; for supper - the same. So we worked for two weeks.

On Sunday we "rested". On a bright September day, Osyp and I laid ourselves down under the sun in a bed that earlier grew carrots. We looked for any that might have been left, finding an odd one and chewing it. How good they were!

"Let's run away," I said to Osyp, "the farmer isn't home now. Otherwise we'll be lost."

We left. After walking some three miles we met a woman.

"Where are you off to, boys?" she asked. We told her and she invited us to her place, saying it will be much better for us there.

Osyp agreed. I did also, but reluctantly.

But it was different. The house walls were of clay with a wooden roof. There were three rooms. There was an acre and a half of cleared land, a barn, a pair of oxen, a cow and a pig. The food was simple, but there was enough of it.

We made great progress in uprooting the bush. The clearing grew larger every day. I drove the oxen, Osyp handled the plough.

"We're going to have a lot of land," our farm wife rejoiced. "At last we will be well off."

We had a long discussions with the farmer.

"How long have you lived on this farm?" we asked.

"About 15 years."

"What were you doing all these years to show so little cleared land?"

"Easily answered," said the farmer. "When we came here the forest was so dense it was difficult to get through it. It was even unthinkable then to clear it. During the winter we cut wood and drove it to the station where it was loaded into box cars. This gave us a living. During the summer we bought on credit, went into debt. and paid it off during the winter."

"And you were able to subsist in this way?"

"At the time we thought it was good," he answered, "but we suddenly realized that the forest was going and we had no cleared land.

And what land - stone on stone! Our youth was passing, someone was profiting from our work, but not us. What will be further - I don't know, but whatever will be will be..."


When the fall frosts hit it was impossible to continue clearing or ploughing. We then picked up saws and axes and went into the bush in search of fallen trees and underbrush, cutting them up for ready money to buy provisions which were getting low.

"Boys, I've a great longing for some meat and we haven't any," said our farmer one day.

"Lets take our guns and try to get a couple of rabbits."

Osyp took a musket that looked as if it had been used in the American revolution and I a shot-gun held together by wire. For Osyp it wasn't bad, for when he shot the musket it at least held together, while my gun separated into two parts that had to be pieced together with wire each time.

But there were few rabbits around that fall and few fallen trees to cut up as well, as they were now covered with snow. Our farmer became dissatisfied with the situation as we had become a burden to him. We also felt and understood this.

One Sunday when the farmer with his wife and children went visiting and we remained behind, we became very hungry.

"There's bread," said Osyp, "it's already been cut. Let's try and cut off a piece so it's not noticable. Whatever happens will happen." The loaf, baked in a clay oven out-of-doors, out of partly-rye flour, was large. We cut off a piece, and dividing it neatly in two, ate it. It was tastier than our Easter bread in the old country, but not enough. We were still hungry.

That same day we decided to leave the farm, but openly and not in secret, and try to get to Fort William. We told the farmer we were leaving the next day. He seemed to be sorry to let us go, and his wife actually cried, but at the same time we sensed their relief at our going.


We left on January 27, 1915. The farmer's wife gave us a loaf of bread for the road and the farmer - $2.00. This was our pay for five months of work.

We covered twenty miles through the snow on foot that first day, sleeping in a freight car without windows and doors that night, which served as a waiting room for passengers on the train. In the morning we started out again and by evening we managed to get to Stonewall. We spent the night with a Ukrainian family that didn't accept us very hospitably, first asking if we didn't bring any "creepy crawlies" with us.

In the morning we were on the road again. Now we rested more than we walked. We ached all over, had difficulty moving, and it was freezing cold - 20 degrees below F.

Approaching Stoney Mountain we saw a large building.

"What building is this?" asked Osyp.

"I think it's a jail," I answered.

"Better we should be in there now than wandering along this track," said Osyp, bitterly. "It would be a haven for the cold and hungry."

I was silent.

We were approaching Winnipeg, but our feet were refusing to carry us. We sat down on some kind of a platform by the track to rest, when we saw a streetcar approaching. We got on, hoping it wouldn't be expensive.

"To Winnipeg, boys?" asked the conductor. "That will be a dollar for both of you."

I took out 50 cents and told him that that was all we had. He took the money, looked us up and down, then went to the driver where they seemed to be talking it over, then returned without saying anything. Somewhere along the way, I thought, he'll tell us to get off.

He didn't... In Winnipeg we stopped and ate our fill of borsch and varenyky, then continued walking east on the CPR line.

That night we rested at a water tank 20 miles past Winnipeg. A night watchman came to lock the tank and we were out. We walked on, covering about a mile an hour.

We felt that our end had come.

The following night we managed to get to the Molson station, 43 miles from Winnipeg. Here we spent the night. A freight train arrived in the morning and began to take on water. We began to look for an empty box car. There wasn't a single empty one to be had. There was one oil tank that had a small platform along its side with a rail by which you could hang on, but one could freeze in that weather.

"I don't care if I freeze," insisted Osyp, "let's ride "

I had a sheepskin jacket with a hood that covered my head and face, as well as moccasins on my feet. Osyp wrapped his head in a blanket to protect himself from the cold. We stood on this small platform holding on to the railing.

The wheels clattered over the rails in the frost, the wind hummed and whistled, the snow swirled around us, but we held on grimly toward our goal - our "own" Fort William.

In Kenora we went into the roundhouse where a Ukrainian worker allowed us to rest, then took us to an empty box car in the afternoon and we moved on - eastward.

In the evening we came to the Ignatz division. Wanting to find out if the train was going further, we began to slide the car door open. It broke off and fell to the ground, almost hitting the inspector who was examining the wheels. A conductor came running up, grabbed our arms and took us to the station, shouting:

"I'm going to have you arrested!"

"We'll thank you if you will," I said.

"Why?" he asked, surprised.

"Because it would be better sitting in jail than riding the rails at this time of year."

He let us go after giving us a good scolding. The train began to move.

"Grab hold, Osyp, you go first and I'll follow," I shouted.

I was standing between cars on the lock, and when the engine jerked, my feet slid off and I began to fall. It was a moment of near unconsciousness. Slowly, almost as if waking, I found myself straddling the lock as if sitting on a horse, holding on for dear life. If my feet had slid off to the side, my death beneath the wheels would have been inevitable.

We managed, at last, to crawl into an empty boxcar through a small, open window. Exhausted and cold, we fell to the floor. But not for long. If we wanted to survive, then we must get up and keep moving - or else.

And we moved, though it was difficult.

"What would you like to be eating now?" I joked to Osyp, "varenyky with cottage cheese, headcheese, or a porkchop?"

"Don't talk such foolishness," he answered angrily, but after walking around a bit more he stopped and said:

"You know, Mikhal, what I think? If we don't freeze in this cursed car and get to Fort William, I'm going to eat three days and three nights - bread washed down with tea."

No one recognized us when we got to Fort William. We looked like shadows of ourselves.


The economic crisis of the early years of World War I raged like a storm at sea.

Fort William, which at that time had a population of 16,000, became a centre of unemployment. Unemployed workers converged on the town from all over, hoping to get work here. This was in response to a fairly recent article proclaiming the "advantages" offered by the twin cities - Fort William and Port Arthur. Here there were grain elevators, a lake port, a large forest industry. All this attracted the unemployed to the area. But all these enterprises were closed or partially closed by at least 75%. The hungry and homeless walked the streets without hope.

The situation had ceased to be a "joke" - this hungry mass of people began to demand food and the city had to take these demands seriously. It was finally decided to give relief not only to family men, but to single men as well.

The help, of course, was meager - only to keep people from dying of hunger. It was even more wretched for Ukrainians because "our" so-called countrymen convinced the authorities that Ukrainians could exist very cheaply on cornmeal and cabbage. Other nationalities fared better because they didn't have these "concerned" spokesmen on their behalf. I don't recall how much cornmeal and cabbage Ukrainian families got, but we single men received no less and no more than 50 cents-worth a week. On the cards which were given us it was even written: Cornmeal and Cabbage.


Mikhailo Shymkiw at the age of 28

Mikhailo Shymkiw
Nadia Sloboda
Kobzar Publishing


A group of Ukrainian railway workers. M. Shymkiw is second from the left
Northern Ontario, Canada

Mikhailo Shymkiw
Nadia Sloboda
Kobzar Publishing


Mikhailo Shimkiw


Mikhailo Shymkiw
Nadia Sloboda
Kobzar Publishing