Dennis Moysiuk's reminiscences about his arrival in Canada in 1907 and his first years in a new country.


My eyes were filled with tears many times in1907.
In a somewhat similar fashion our old Canadian poet Theodore Fedyk began one of his poems about "Canadian Affluence". This had a bearing in my case for in this year I, a 17-year old lad, left my native village Dubivtsi in Bukovina, my father, my six sisters and all my old friends and acquaintances to travel across the world - to Canada - that distant country highly advertised by CPR agents in Europe.
I made this journey not from affluence and not as a pleasure trip, but because of the poverty, which had settled, in our family after the deaths of my mother and then my older brother and little sister. All this happened within a period of one month and wiped out all our family's plans for the future. I had to leave my secondary school studies in Chernivtsi and, having been convinced by letters from my cousin M. Berezka in Canada, decided to join him for a few years, make "lots of money" and return to continue my education at home.
All those plans went topsy-turvy, for here it is 1951 and that "lots of money" I still have to see and I can't afford to continue my education. It is too late as well.
My father found the money for my passage from Antwerp to Calgary, Alberta, added $20.00 for expenses, and saw me off on this solo journey.
My knowledge of some German was of help to me. In Antwerp, the travel agency Kanona tried to keep me in their office as a worker, but after a few weeks there I left them to continue my trip to Canada to make that fortune about which my cousin wrote so convincingly.
Instead of a ship with four stacks, as advertised by the agency in their literature, we were housed in a CPR cattle boat which brought cattle to Europe and was loaded with emigrants on the return journey. The walls in the hold were whitewashed, the space filled with rows of double bunks quickly thrown together. Ropes were attached to each bunk and we had to tie ourselves into them at night so as not to fall out because the trip across was anything but comfortable or stable.
During the first couple of days at sea, conditions were so-so. But on the third day it was already difficult to make one's way anywhere on the ship because of seasick passengers lying down in every available space. The food was terrible and the service worse. The place crawled with insects and the ventilation was wretched.
As Columbus once searched for America, so we looked toward Canada.
Our crossing of the Atlantic from Antwerp to Halifax took 18 days. During this time what only wasn't there of tears, curses, arguments, quarrels and worry among the passengers. I remember one interesting episode. It was on the seventh or eighth day out and the ocean waves were throwing the ship about like a straw. People were crying and praying, and when a wave broke into the ship, some among them grabbed their baggage and belongings and started to struggle up to the deck. The crew tried to stop them and a fight started. It was only brought to a stop when the sailors hosed them down with water. The poor people thought that they would save themselves and their meagre belongings by going up on deck.
On the 18th day we finally saw the far shore of Canada. What joy! Everyone came alive and was transformed. On arrival in Halifax we were classified, taken to the railroad station, and sent off to Western Canada. We traveled as was usual for immigrants, in third-class cars, but it was much better and safer than the ocean. We crossed the rocky spaces of Ontario, through heavy forests and along numerous lakes. With the exception of Toronto, we saw few inhabited centres. On arrival in Winnipeg we were even more thoroughly classified. Those going to the farms were separated from those going to their families or friends in towns, and I was allowed to go alone because my fare was paid to Calgary.

Winnipeg was not a large town then but there were already Ukrainians settled there. I left Winnipeg the same day. The terrain I saw now was entirely different - no hills, no forests, no swamps, only the broad grassy prairie where signs of human life appeared from time to time. Quite a number of people had come out to meet the train in Calgary, but since I couldn't understand the language, I couldn't find out anything. The settlement was still small. I left the same day for Red Deer and my cousin, but on arrival I didn't find him there to meet me. After the train left and the passengers dispersed to their destinations or to the town, which was some distance north of the station, I was left alone on the platform with my small trunk. I became worried and frightened and began to cry. All I had in my pocket was $7.00; there was no one there that I knew; I didn't know the language - what would become of me now?

I was just making up my mind to return to Calgary, for there were at least more people there and I would find someone with whom I could communicate, when after a few moments I saw an older man with a shovel over his shoulder coming toward me. As he came up, he greeted me in my native tongue. I nearly dropped when I heard his voice. I recognized the uncle of my cousin to whom I had come. It was Hrehory Berezka from the village of Luzhany in Bukovina. I had seen his photograph in the home of my cousin's parents and remembered him very well. We went to his living quarters, which happened to be in a CPR boxcar and included a kitchen and a bedroom. The car itself sat covered with coal dust on the ground with no wheels. We had a meal and a long talk, reminiscing about home and learning about Canada, then went to see the "boss" of the extra gang to ask if he would give me a job. After looking me over he told me to show up for work the next morning. We immediately went into town where we, for my $7.00, bought me a pair of work boots, overalls, stockings, a cap, a blanket and soap. There was not a cent left in my pocket when we were through, but I had a job and that was most important.
The next morning I joined the other workers going to work. The "boss" gave me a pail and told me I was to bring water for the workers. I had been made a water boy and that's what I was called by workers needing a drink. I was paid 20 cents an hour and worked ten hours a day, at the same time fighting for overtime. Seventy-five cents a day was taken out to pay for meals and $1.00 a month for the doctor. If the weather was bad we sat around, but were still docked for the food. We made approximately $28.00 a month. The most fortunate among us was the cook who worked every day and often made as much as $40.00 a month, which filled us all with envy. There was no union at the time and no one even thought about or knew that there was such a thing.
One day at work our boss announced that the company was going to reward us for our good work by raising our pay by five cents an hour. There was great rejoicing. Some threw their caps into the air, others their shovels, and still others gave shouts and screams. All expected that this extra five cents an hour would give them at least $12.00 more pay a month and this was no small sum in the old country - in koronas. Almost all the workers in this extra gang were Ukrainians, and most of them from the village of Knyazhe, the Sniatyn District of Bukovina.
We didn't remain happy long for when the cold days of fall began to come along we all began to think of where we would be spending the winter. Extra gangs, we knew, didn't work through the winter. Some planned to go to Winnipeg, others to Edmonton and I to my cousin in Vegreville, Alberta.
We were discharged in October. I had started working in June and all I had earned during this period was $95.00. I had to live on this sum all winter, buy myself some clothes and save as much as I could to see me through my search for work in the spring.

I came to my cousin with the hope that he would help me if my money didn't hold out.
After all, he was an older "Canadian", having come to Canada three years earlier. I later found out that he was worse off financially than I was and was also out of work. We decided to go for the winter to our kinsmen on the farm near Whitford, some 25 or more miles from Vegreville.
Most of the Ukrainian settlers in this area were from Bukovina and were beginning, more or less, to stand on their own feet. They had brought with them, from the old country, all their traditional customs and habits. They built, dressed, socialized, prayed, quarreled and cried just as they had in the old country. The established hamlets, every four miles, carried Ukrainian names: Shepentsi (Shepenitz), Berhomet. Toporivtsi, Luzhany (Luzan), Mamayivtsi, Boyan, Mikhalcha, Makala, Chador, and so on. (Many of these hamlets were later incorporated into larger centres and had their names changed, though some remain to this day). The schools also carried similar names. There were as yet no tractors or automobiles - horses and oxen were used for the work. There were no good roads and the railway station was 25 miles away. To make the trip for wood, using oxen, took a full day.

During the day we helped our kinsmen to build, to look after the cattle, to hunt rabbits or cyotes, walk to the post office six miles away. At Christmas, behind oxen, we drove to church some ten miles from Boyan, nearly freezing to death it was so cold. The days went by quickly and our hard-earned dollars with them. We got nothing free from our kinsmen as they were also poor and even expected some help from us.

In early spring, at the end of March, we left for Vegreville to find work, which didn't happen until another couple of months went by. Good people helped and fed us through this period. In May we were already settled and didn't worry any more. I worked in a brickyard, at building a hotel, in the hospital and at other jobs, but got very little in pay out of it. The pay was poor and the cost of living high. In my free time I kept trying to learn English because without it life was difficult. I bought myself a "translator" and a dictionary and sat over them every free moment learning separate words and sentences. Off and on I went to night school where English was taught and benefited a great deal from it. We got together a great deal here and tried to form an educational society, but because of a lack of leadership were not successful. There was now a goodly number of Ukrainians in this small town which had a number of churches, Ukrainian stores, etc. But there was no one to undertake any educational work.
When a strike in the coal mines of Western Alberta and Eastern British Columbia began in 1909, many miners came to Vegreville to visit their friends on the farms. I got to know a number of them and when they were returning to the mines, decided to go with them. These were miners from Canmore, Alta., and they had come to Canada from Shepentsi, Western Ukraine. The strike was not yet over when we arrived in Canmore. In a few weeks, however, everyone went to work, myself among them. For some reason I had no fear of going down into the mine. I figured that what happened to others would also happen to me. When I became accustomed to working underground no other work outdoors pleased me. I spent nearly ten years underground in Canada.
The miners were organized and at the time the 18th District of the Miner's Union numbered over 7,000 members. During strikes the miners received help from the central miner's treasury in the United States and it was adequate. No one had the nerve to scab. Labour speakers of various nationalities arrived from time to time; I remember, such as Bill Heywood, 0. Kraikivsky, Harry Tkachuk. Ukrainian workers had as yet no practical experience in organization. They first formed a branch of a benefit organization. The Ukrainian People's Association of America, but left it later to form an educational association named after Myroslav Sichensky. His sister, Irene Sichensky, came to our town to collect money to help free him from the Austrian prison. Administrative company workers at that time received $2.75 for eight hours work, while the miners were paid bythe day and the amount of work done. There were about 30 workers from the village of Shepentsi alone. There were also Slovaks, Finns, Italians, Scots and others. The miners lived very ordinary lives. They met together socially, attended union meetings, discussed their problems and, when necessary, helped one another.

Another mining strike began in 1910. It lasted longer this time. Together with two other courageous lads I decided to explore Western Canada via the CPR, but without tickets. We were fortunate in being successful with every trip we took. On our first day out we got to Field, B.C., where CPR contractors were working on that famous tunnel in the shape of the number eight and here we tried to earn some money for our further journey. We were able to get a job but didn't remain long. The reason was the terrible exploitation of the unorganized workers, the terrible bunkhouses and the numerous accidents and high death toll under these working conditions.
One night the entire powder house blew up, leaving a huge hole in its place. The guard was picked up in small pieces of shattered flesh which we buried. This frightened us so much that we took to our heels the very next day.
If at any time the readers of these lines should travel to Vancouver via the CPR, then after passing the famous town of Banff, Alberta, and continuing past Hector toward Field, B.C., you'll travel through this famous spiral tunnel. As you go through, remember that alongside this railway lie the graves of hundreds and even thousands of workers of various nationalities, among them Ukrainians, who died prematurely through the greed of the company that blasted these tunnels and forced its workers to load the shattered rocks among which were still sticks of unexploded dynamite.
At times more than 80 holes were bored into the rock, filled with dynamite, then connected to each other with a single wire. When all was ready the workers were told to go outdoors. Outside, this wire was then attached to a battery, and with one move of its handle, the dynamite was blasted in all 80 holes at once.
But there were often times when not every hole exploded and the dynamite remained among the rocks. I saw this happen with my own eyes, and once barely escaped myself when a cliff collapsed and killed my horse and destroyed the cart that was used to pull the blasted rock out of the tunnel. The tunnels have become a spectacular part of the railway line, but in their building countless human lives were lost.

We continued our travels further west working as we went in sawmills in Tate and Shushwen, B.C., in the mines of Middleborough, not far from Merrit, B.C. But something kept pulling us toward Vancouver and we arrived in time to have a thorough look around. We soon realized that we couldn't remain here any length of time without work. We signed up for work on a new road near Chilliwak, but even here we didn't remain long because the conditions of work were appalling, and the work itself insufferable. After a few days we returned to Vancouver and signed up for work on a CPR boat traveling between Vancouver and San Francisco. We were paid $50.00 a month including our meals. We worked at loading and unloading baggage and express parcels. The work was such that one never had a good night s rest and more than once we had to get up a number of times during the night when we came into port. A very sad incident happened during my time on the boat. After leaving Vancouver once and having gone beyond the point where there is now a bridge linking North Vancouver to the city, one of my friends was closing the lower doors when an ocean wave hit the side of the boat and took him with it. His body was never found. Shortly after this incident I left.
This time I signed up for work in the forest. Others did it so why not I? Though I had no experience in this work I signed up as a "swamper" at $3.00 a day. We were deducted
75 cents a day for meals and $1.00 a month for medical care. It wasn't bad working outdoors in the fresh air with good meals. The sad part was that when the weather was bad we sat around doing nothing in our bunkhouses, having to pay for our meals while not working. This brought our wages down considerably by the end of the month.
I didn't stay at this work long. I returned to Vancouver where I signed up for work in the iron ore mines of Juno and Douglas. The first thing they gave us for underground work were candles, not lamps. Everything belonged to the company. The food in the company store was expensive as was the doctor, the living quarters and everything else. No one here asked for better conditions of work because they were immediately sent out of town if they did. There was no union and the company quietly and cheaply gathered up large profits. As soon as I made enough for a boat ticket I returned to Vancouver.
I tried my fortunes next in the coal mines of Nanaimo and Cumberland on Vancouver Island, but the conditions of work here were also horrendous and I took the first opportunity to leave and began work on a new road being built from Union Bay to Comox on the island. Here I found myself working among predominantly East Indians in their turbans, lived with them in tents, and ate something that couldn't really be called food. Working conditions here also, were terrible.
Having earned a bit of money I decided to return to Vancouver to spend some time there and see what was available in jobs. Here I discovered that Ukrainian workers already had an organization that conducted fine educational activities. Other Ukrainian organizations did not yet exist and there were no Ukrainian churches. That year I had the opportunity to attend a meeting of Ukrainian citizens in Vancouver. The main speaker was the Metropolitan Sheptitsky who arrived especially to organize the Greek Catholic church. The chairman allowed all questions, but when the Metropolitan was asked about his role in the arrest and release of Myroslav Sichensky and he evaded giving a direct. answer, the audience threw eggs toward the stage and he was forced to leave the building through the back door. I attended labour meetings, debates, concerts and plays and began to love the work of the Ukrainian labour organizations which I respect, support. I love, in particular, the cultural work, and it is here that I made my major contribution.
I returned to work in the Canmore coal mines again when the strike was over, for just as the wolf is drawn to the forest, so the miner is drawn to the mine. This is the truth and if you don't believe me ask a miner. They'll tell you the same thing. This time I began to work as a motorman, drawing one-ton wagons of coal. I loved this work and I remained at it till February, 1912. I also, during this period, became more interested in union activity and as a result I was soon elected by the miners as union treasurer. N. Tkachuk was elected secretary. The union protected the interests of the workers and the mine executives reckoned with us. The Ukrainian miners organized a branch of the Ukrainian Social Democratic Party and began to conduct educational work among its members.
In 1912,1, together with my friends at work, J. Topuschak and N. Bachynsky, left Canmore for the English school that had been organized for foreigners in Vegreville, Alta. Some 16 of us arrived to take advantage of this opportunity. The school was opened by the provincial liberal government of the time, hoping to make political capital out of it. They expected to get liberal supporters and workers when we finished school because they were beginning to lose public support. A few years later they lost the elections and the so-called Farmer's Union was elected, which did not remain long in power.
I recall some of my school friends in Vegreville. They were P. Delawrak, O. Hryhorowich, I. Ruryk, 0. Voitsenko, J. Topuschak, D. Stadnyk, N. Buchynsky, Sorochan, Hucal, and others. Some of them worked in labour organizations later, and some took other paths. They were sons of poor peasants from Galicia and Bukovina.
After four months in school we were given a vacation. Some went on to physical labour, but Delawrak, Hrynchyshyn and myself were taken by our farmers to teach in their schools. I taught in Shepenitz, Hrynchyshyn in Barhomet. We all lived together near my school and Delawrak cooked our meals for us. We taught school three months, then returned to our school in Vegreville to continue our own studies in English.
We had one unpleasant matter to contend with in this school. Our teacher made us go to Sunday school every Sunday morning, insisting that we spend our Sundays and holidays religiously. This didn't please even our most religious students. We decided not to go to church services any more. When we came back to our lodgings after supper, the door was locked. We slept a few nights on the tables and benches of the local Ukrainian Reading Room and library and ate whatever we could get. After a few days a commission arrived from Edmonton and took each of us separately for questioning. The result was the expulsion of two students from the school with an ultimatum to the rest to either return or leave in the middle of winter and go wherever we wanted to, though we hadn't a cent to our name. We decided to remain in school. There was no more Sunday school or church.
By the spring of 1914 I had finished Grade 11 and left immediately to work in a bank as translator and office clerk in Fernie B.C. I arrived in Fernie just before the outbreak of World War I. The event raised a great hubbub across Canada. The Ukrainian Catholic Archbishop, Mykyta Budka, began to agitate in favour of Austria, but when Canada went to war against Austria he changed front. This didn't help the Ukrainian immigrant workers. The authorities began to arrest them and put them in concentration camps. This happened in Fernie, Kapuskasing, Brandon and other cities. Archbishop Budka was not arrested.

"The Canadian Ukrainian" magazine, November 1988, p. 35-38 and December 1988, p. 35-36, Kobzar Publishing Company Limited


Dennis Moysiuk

Dennis Moysiuk