Ivan Petrachenko tells the story of his immigration to Canada and settlement in a new country.
My Life's Road in Canada
For as long as I live, I shall always remember the day of June 19, 1905. It is on this day that I arrived in Canada. Along with a group of young immigrants - none of us yet 20 years of age - I started my life in Canada in Sudbury. From there, I travelled on foot to Coppercliffe where I was to meet my older brother Bill, who was already working there.
Following a short rest after my long journey, I began to work in the smelter to make a living through the labour of my hands. Joining me there were three other young immigrants. The work was tiring and gruelling - on week days we worked up to 12 hours a day and on Sundays up to 19 hours.
For those of us who were new to the job, we had to contend with bleeding noses for a whole month. It was difficult to get used to the caustic gases. I worked there for a whole year.
After leaving Coppercliffe, I moved to Cobalt to work in the silver mine. I spent a whole month in Cobalt without work because the miners were striking for higher pay and better working conditions. Of course, all my savings earned at the Coppercliffe smelter melted away as I had to live somehow.
After the strike I got a job at the Nipissing mine. Here I worked a 12-hour night shift for four years. After all those years of hard work, I became an experienced miner - a machinist and powerman.
UP IN SMOKE
With great difficulty, I finally managed to save up a $ 1,000. With this money, and help from one of my old country friends, Bill Buchovsky, with whom I worked in the mines, I built myself a house. My plans were to marry and live a family life.
It goes without saying, the joy that a working man feels, when he is finally able to afford his own house. Even in the humblest of homes you feel a certain amount of freedom, simply knowing that you cannot be thrown out into the street. So my happiness knew no bounds when I built my house and fulfilled my dream.
On July 2, however, a fire razed half of Cobalt and my house went with it. My house went up in smoke and with it my dream. I was again in the same position I had been in five years before when I had just arrived in Canada. I was obliged to start over again right from the beginning.
A new misfortune was still to come. I became ill with typhus and was hospitalized for five weeks. Physically weakened and having lost my dream, I left the hospital. Where should I go? What could I do?
Not having made my fortune in the silver mine in Cobalt I decided to try the gold mine in Timmins. I hired on as a machinist's helper at the Maclntyre Mine. This was a very deep mine.
One evening, after a dynamite blast the machinist and I entered the shaft. It was full of gas. We attached the hose to the pump and began to pour water. I was left by the pump while the machinist went above to get some drills All of a sudden I felt a weakness in my legs. I sat down... and beyond that I remember nothing. Upon his return, the machinist found me unconscious. A doctor was called I didn't regain consciousness till 2:00 am the following day.
MY TRAVELS AROUND CANADA
This was my final day of working in the goldmine.
In 1910 I arrived in Welland, Ontario. My brother Bill was already employed there. I also got a job in a rolling mill making steel pipes. I worked there two years. In 1912 I left Welland as the pay was only 16.5 cents an hour and took off for Western Canada and the harvest. I hoped to make my fortune there.
Upon arrival in Winnipeg, I met up with acquaintances and people from my homeland and changed my plans. Rather than travel on to the harvest, I paid my dollar service fee at the employment office and signed up to build roads in British Columbia. At that time, a road was being built from Fitsview right along the Fraser River. I left with 40 other workers.
We travelled three days by riverboat. Our camp was situated at the 148-mile mark of the highway and here we spent the night. On the following day, the boss inquired if there were any among us who were powermen someone who could dynamite the stumps in preparation for the steam shovel. I volunteered for the job, for as I have already mentioned, I became an experienced powerman during my five-year stint in the mines.
The boss led me to the shack where the dynamite was kept and said:
"Take a box of dynamite, lay it out in front of the steam shovel, set a fire, heat up the dynamite and blast out the stumps. But be careful that you don't cause an explosion because you'll create a lot of damage."
I, of course, was offended by this warning because this wasn't my first encounter with dynamite.
"Don't worry," I replied, "I know this type of work very well."
On one occasion, however, one stick of dynamite (40), slid unnoticed into the fire.
When I saw this, I took off, all the while thinking to myself, "Oh boy. John, this is where you'll become a speck - you will be torn to pieces." It was my luck that the dynamite burned out without an explosion.
I worked there the entire winter. Summer arrived and clouds of mosquitoes descended on us, sucking up human blood. It was impossible to work, so I left, deciding to continue my travels. I had to walk 107 miles to the railway. I then left for Winnipeg, paying $44.00 for the trip.
The year was 1914. Terrible unemployment raged. People worked for the city just for food.
Unemployed, and wandering the streets of the city, I decided once to enter the restaurant of Yatsya Bachynsky on Higgins St. for a Ukrainian meal. Leaving the restaurant, I noticed a sign on the other side of the street, which read: Publishers of the paper Robochy narod (Working People). This intrigued me, so I went inside and asked:
"Are you Ukrainians?"
"Ukrainians!" replied one of the editors.
We became acquainted. The man was Eugene Hutsalo from Bukovyna. From that time on, I became a sympathizer of the Ukrainian labour movement and read Robochy Narod.
For a time I was also unemployed and worked for the city for my food. Later, I found work at the Manitoba Bridge and Iron Company. It was here that I joined the trade union, "One Big Union" (IWW - it was generally referred to as OBU).
"The Ukrainian Canadian" magazine, September 1991, p.36-38, Kobzar Publishing Company Limited
Brule Mines, Alberta, Canada