Bill Harasym is interviewed by his granddaughter, 15-year-old Mary Harasym, about his parents.


Bill Harasym's reminisces about his parents who were among the first Ukrainian settlers in Canada. Bill Harasym's granddaughter, Mary Harasym interviewed him.

-When and where was your father born and when did he come to Canada?

My father, John Harasym, was born on October 5, 1890 in the western Ukrainian village of Toporivtsi, province of Chernivtsi, an area popularly known as Bukovyna. He arrived in Canada in 1906, a lad of 16 years. Because, at that time, western Ukraine was occupied by the Austro-Hungarian Empire and governed by various satellites - Bukovyna by Romania - education in Ukrainian was forbidden.

-Where did your father settle in Canada?

My father's experience as a pioneer immigrant was unique. He did not settle with an established Ukrainian community. He worked and earned his way westward on farms and in various work gangs, often connected with the railroad spur lines being built to mines, logging camps and new towns.

After marriage he settled on the outskirts of Red Deer, Alberta, built a two-story house, hand dug a forty-five foot deep water well, and with mother kept a cow, pigs, chickens and planted large gardens.

- How did your mother come to Canada?

My mother, Dora Harasym, (nee Domka Hutsuliak), was born des po dorozi, (somewhere along the road) from the western Ukrainian province of Ivano-Frankivsk to Canada. I believe she was born in an immigration facility somewhere in Canada.

My mother's family settled on remote, virgin land in north-west Alberta, which didn't have the basic one-room school, so mother grew up without even an elementary education. Without any documentary records we can only speculate the hardships they endured in order to survive. In 1935, at ten years of age, I had the opportunity to visit that homestead where life was still difficult.

Mother, like father, was well 'schooled' in survival abilities as a homemaker with skills in knitting, embroidering, repairing and creating children's clothing, (often from hand-me-downs), and beautiful show-piece quilts. She was an innovative cook besides helping to take care of the livestock and that big annual garden.

-What was the most memorable story that your father told you?

He told me of one experience while working with a group of Ukrainians. After hours, he was studying a Ukrainian language newspaper. He knew a few Ukrainian letters and asked the foreman if that word was cholovik, (man). "Yes," he was told, "and when you can read the rest of that paper, you'll be a cholovik."

My father learned to read and write in his own language in Canada, and he learned well. On October 10, 1914, he received his Certificate of Naturalization in the District Court of the Judicial District of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, certifying full Canadian citizenship rights and responsibilities.

Another experience that I remember very well: My father used to find work for me during summer holidays, some time after school. The first little job I got was working for a blacksmith. So I learned a little bit about the blacksmith trade and plumbing. One I remember vividly. The town of Red Deer was installing a new sanitary system in town and they had a great big machine that dug the ditch. I was given the job behind the machine. They would put two big planks down the sides of the ditch and I would fit two-by-four spacers in between to make sure that the ditch wouldn't collapse. Well, one time when we were in a deep sandy place, I was working behind that machine and all of a sudden out of the corner of my eye, I saw the whole wall coming down. From previous jobs, my father always let me keep the money I made, so I had bought a watch with a luminous dial. I lifted my hand and remember to this day, ten after two in the afternoon. I could hear voices all around me, and then someone grabbed a shovel and my father told him to throw that shovel away and dig with his hands. So they dug me out and the foreman was so kind, he let me go home for the rest of the day. I came back to work the next day. He said, "You can go down," I said, "No way! I am not going down." So I used to mix mortar for my father, which he was using to put pipes together at the bottom of the ditch.

-What were the children's responsibilities around the house?

We had responsibilities. When we first went to live at this house that my father built, there was no plumbing, no water, and no things like that. For quite a while we had to carry water from the neighbour, a block or a block-and-a-half away. And that's a lot of water to carry. And father had made us a yoke that we would put on our shoulders and carry two pales of water at a time. Later my father got a hold of some man that was supposed to find water with a willow-witch. You carry this over the ground and it's supposed to tell you where the water is. He found water out near where the barn was but my father said, "No way. We are no going to dig there." So he dug a well close to the back door. He then, almost single-handed, managed to dig a well that was over 45 feet and brick it up. It was very good water. Yes, there were other chores. One year my father had an idea for us to rent a big field and plant potatoes. We would grow those potatoes and store them over winter and in spring we would be able to sell them and make a few dollars. Well, I was the one who had to hoe all those potatoes. There were over two thousand hills of them and we hoed them and picked them in the fall and carried them into the basement. Then came spring, everyone else had potatoes too. So we didn't have a market for those potatoes. That was one of my experiences.

-How did your parents overcome the language barrier?

They had to learn English on the job. Red Deer at that time was 99.99% English speaking. There were maybe a few Slavic families in the whole district. But it was all English. My father had to learn English in order to get a job. My mother was a homemaker. She also learned English in order to converse with her neighbours.

-What labour tools did your parents use? Were they made at home or bought?

-My father had often cleared land for farmers. Our heating was mainly from wood. He would make an arrangement with a farmer who wanted to clear a particular piece of property. So father would go out and cut the trees down, then find somebody else to haul the trees to our house. And later you would hire a man who would come around with the special kind of homemade machine. You put the logs on, cut the logs into pieces about a foot-and-a-half long, and then split them. You would put those pieces of firewood out in the yard to dry and when dried, you'd pile them up and that was what we used to heat the house. So there was a lot of work just to keep warm. To have a bath, you had to carry a lot of water and heat it on the stove. The youngest child in the family bathed first, and I remember the whole family used the same water, because you didn't dare to throw it away, because you would have to heat it again. That's the way we lived.

Interview by Mary Harasym, Bill's granddaughter


"Galician Sleigh" with horses at "Galician Hay Market" in Edmonton.
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Provincial Archives of Alberta, E. Brown Collection.


The early outdoor ovens in which the settlers baked bread
Manitoba, Canada

Kobzar Publishing