Image source: Cunard Line. Ukrainian Department 270 Main Street, Winnipeg, Man. Canada Ukrainian language brochure [1928-1929] From the Demetrius Michael Elcheshen Fonds
In my two recent blog posts, I wrote about my grandmother Anne's immigration in May 1923: (https://www.christinenykoluk.com/blog/archives/01-2023);
and my grandfather Wasyl Nykoluk’s immigration to Canada in April 1914 (same link, scroll down please).
In this post, I explore the circumstances in which the Nykoluk family reunified after nine years separation.
Recall that WW1 started on July 28th, 1914 and officially ended on November 11th, 1918.
I found my grandfather listed on the Saskatchewan 1921 Census. (Library and Archives Canada at https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/census/1921/Pages/introduction.aspx). The record indicated that he was living in Wishart, Saskatchewan at the time, in a CPR-owned building with five other male workers. In those days, it was common for workers to travel far and wide for work, usually by train. Wishart and Foam Lake communities had, and still have, a large community of Ukrainians.
In the census, my grandfather reported that he was married, and his wife and two children were still in the old country. I admire the fact that he never lost hope that he’d see his family again. In 1921, he was 35 years old; he wouldn’t have seen his family for seven years.
Sometimes immigrant men remarried, or even supported two families at the same time: one in Canada and the other in the old country. How would the authorities ever find out?
Unbeknownst to Wasyl, however, his first-born-son had died about a year earlier from typhoid in their home village (as per church records in Melnytsya Podilska, obtained by my cousin via a Ukrainian genealogist in late 2021, almost exactly 100 years later).
The borders of the Austro-Hungarian territories changed after the war. Galicians became Polish citizens after WW1, while Ukrainians in eastern lands became Russian citizens.
The Canadian government re-opened its borders to Ukrainians after the war and started to make efforts in 1920 to reunify families. In 1919, a Ukrainian Red Cross, much of it funded by Ukrainians already in Canada, was set up in Winnipeg to help reunify families. In addition, Poland had set up the Polish Red Cross in 1919 in an effort to assist citizens.
How did my grandparents find each other again, since communication was slow or non-existent? This part of our story is unknown. It was common for the Red Cross to post lists in villages, churches, and refugee camps of people trying to find each other. Mail and telegram might be used, but mail would need to be transported by ship, which was slow and seasonal in nature. Telephones did not yet exist in Poland until the late 1920’s.
Cunard Steam Ship Company partnered with the Canadian government in an effort to reunite Ukrainian families. William Lyon Mackenzie King was Canada’s prime minister at that time. He served from 1921 to 1948, the longest serving prime minister in Canadian history. He became known for playing a major role in laying the foundations of our modern Canadian welfare state.
I am surmising that my grandmother may have been part of some type of Cunard-Canadian government reunification effort because she came over on a Cunard ship called the Andania. A Cunard brochure outlining a late-1920’s program for reuniting Ukrainian families is located here, illustrating the considerable role that Cunard played:
The brochure offered practical advice on the immigration process. Firstly, it informed that farmers already in Canada have the right to sign applications to bring in new immigrants, a process familiar to us as sponsorship. It further notes that immigrants already resident in Canada can bring in their wives, children, brothers and sisters, an immigration process that we refer to as family re-unification.
The brochure said that Cunard Line will prepare, at no cost, all the necessary immigration documents – applications, affidavits, permits, among others. It also offered advice about traveling across the ocean and how to send money to the Old Country. The brochure provided a map of Canadian National Railway lines from coast to coast and branch lines in every province so that new immigrants can locate their destinations.
A 1922 Cunard Ship movie link is found here: http://www.screenonline.org.uk/film/id/1328815/index.html
I couldn't view this movie but the fact that it exists at all is amazing.
The trip across the Atlantic usually took about eight days – in good weather! In bad weather, it could take as long as two weeks. Documentation indicates that Anne and Mary travelled as third-class passengers. Conditions in Third-class were very basic, they would have brought their own food, departing England and finally landing in Montreal.
What was their trip like? Did they get seasick?
Once immigrants had crossed the Atlantic to Canada, they were inspected and then placed on trains to their new communities. For many, this would have been the first time in their lives they’d been examined by a doctor. Immigrants who did not pass the medical inspection would be sent back to the old country.
What would Anne and Mary have thought, being examined by doctors?
What did the women and children think about all of the forest and lakes they travelled through before they reached the prairies that would finally be their home? Anne and Mary would have only seen bush and water on their trip to meet Wasyl.
The Declaration of Passenger to Canada states that Anne and Mary were delivered to Wasyl at Superior Lot, where railway workers boarded, just 20 miles east of Sioux Lookout. Sioux Lookout was a major railway centre well into the 1950’s for train refuelling and repair facilities, as well as being a base of operations for equipment maintenance staff, steam train crews, and railway administrative personnel. Railway work provided most of the employment in the area. Workers were taken to and from Superior Lot each day by rail.
We do not know whether Anne and Mary were dropped off at Superior Lot or at the train station in Sioux Lookout, but her Declaration indicates their destination as Superior Lot.
For more information about CNR railway operations in Sioux Lookout go to: http://www.cnr-in-ontario.com/Reports/index.html?http://www.cnr-in-ontario.com/Reports/RSR-197.html
Family stories indicate that Mary went to school in Sioux Lookout after Anne and Mary immigrated.
What did it feel like to finally reunite?
What did they say to each other?
Did Wasyl and Anne both seem like the same people after the war? How had they both changed?
What was it like for Mary (then nine years old) to finally meet her father in person?
How did they share the loss of their son (and brother)?
My curiosity, and my desire to fill in so many information gaps, eventually led me to write a historical fiction novel called Heart Stones: A Ukrainian Immigration Story of Love and Hope, available now. Visit my website Bookstore page for more details.
Read early reviews at www.christinenykoluk.com
Follow my author journey on Facebook: christinenykolukauthor
Photo courtesy Andrew Neel, Unsplash
In my previous blog post, I wrote about the steps I took to discover my grandfather, Wasyl Nykoluk’s, immigration story (how-i-discovered-my-ukrainian-grandfathers-immigration-story.html). In this post, I’m writing about the unfolding of my grandmother, Anne Nykoluk’s, immigration story.
My grandmother’s WW1 experience was difficult, she and her two infant children were trapped in the old country for nine long years before she could join my grandfather in Canada. Family stories indicate that Anne and her two young children were in nine different war camps. It’s hard to imagine how desperate some of those refugee situations must have been.
The Canadian government closed its borders to Ukrainian immigrants shortly after the beginning of WW1 because Galicians were Austro-Hungarians at the time, that is, enemies of Canada, Britain, and Russia. Politics were the reason my grandparents were separated for nine years, not lack of funds raised by my grandfather to bring them over.
I experienced problems locating my grandmother’s 1923 passenger record: a genealogist friend finally located it for me on Ancestry.com. Another piece of documentation on Ancestry listed "my person of interest" arriving in Canada with a nine-year-old girl named Mary, thus, confirming that the immigration record was indeed my grandmother’s. Bingo!
My grandmother and aunt arrived in Montreal aboard the Cunard Steam Ship the Andania on May 15th, 1923. The trip across the Atlantic usually took about eight days – in good weather! They travelled as third-class passengers in very basic conditions, and were expected to bring their own food for the journey. The “Declaration of Passenger to Canada” document indicated that Anne was 31 years old, a Greek Catholic, and a farm labourer. Anne listed her mother, Marja Bartycuik, as her closest living next-of-kin in the old country. (My grandmother’s maiden name was Kowalchuck, but our great grandmother’s maiden name was Bartycuik). Marja was listed as living in a small village called Velurica (spp ? the writing on the document is unclear) near Melnytsya Podilska.
Sometimes family stories don’t agree with historical documentation, even though you’ve taken careful steps to confirm that the documents, do in fact, belong to your ancestor.
My grandmother’s passenger record showed her signature as an “o”, indicating that she could not read or write, whereas my grandfather’s passenger list indicated he could read and write. The document specifically stated that she did not read. Our family story was that my grandmother was the educated one, and that my grandfather was a worker on their farm. My belief is that documentation proved the opposite.
Before WW1, it was common for Ukrainian families not to send their daughters to school, in fact, only 15% of Galicians had any type of education at the turn of the century (Martynowych, 1991). Most Galicians were too poor to afford school. If they could afford it, they sent their sons. The fact that my grandfather could read and write meant that he was one of the few Galicians able to do so.
The more I learned about my grandparent’s protracted and difficult immigration to Canada, the more curious I became about their most personal thoughts and emotions.
What were their hopes and dreams?
How did my grandmother feel about her husband leaving her behind with two small children?
How did she feel about being without my grandfather during the years she spent in war camps?
Researching ancestry can be like undertaking a small home renovation – if not careful, you risk ending up with a whole new house! My curiosity, and my desire to fill the information gaps, eventually led me to write a historical fiction novel called Heart Stones: A Ukrainian Immigration Story of Love and Hope, available now. Check my website Bookstore page for more details.
Read early reviews at www.christinenykoluk.com
Download a free digital copy of my book’s first chapter on my Free Chapter page!
Follow my author journey on Facebook: christinenykolukauthor
Orest Martynowych. 1991. Ukrainians in Canada – The Formative Period: 1891-1924. University of Alberta; Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies Press.
This blog series will consist of three parts:
Part 1. My Grandfather's Story
I had some extra time on my hands when I retired. One thing led to another, and before I knew it, I was steeped deep in my Galician family history. I’d gone down the rabbit hole!
Before my father passed away, he’d told me some stories about our ancestors. I never knew my grandparents, Wasyl and Anne Nykoluk, since they’d already passed away in 1947 and 1957, respectively, before I was born. I remember asking my father why my grandparent’s came to Canada. He replied that they’d worked for rich landowners in the old country with no hope of owning their own farm. They would never get ahead. Owning their own farm was their dream and Canada seemed like a country with more opportunities. He mentioned that my grandparents were separated for nine long years because of the war. In my youthful naivety, I didn’t grasp what this meant. We were told that Grandfather Wasyl worked for the railway after he came to Canada; it was how he saved enough money to eventually buy a farm.
Like many Canadian communities, our Rural Municipality of Rosedale, Manitoba, funded a family history book in the 1970’s. My father contributed what he knew of my family’s immigration to Canada. It would have been an excellent place to start looking for information, in retrospect. His write-up contained the name of my ancestral family village and some important dates. My ancestral village is called Melnytysa Podilska. It's right next to the Dniester River, about 40 kilometres from Chernivtsi, on the west side of present day Ukraine. The name means "windmill."
Fortunately for the Nykoluk family, my sister had developed a close relationship with my Aunt Violet before she passed away in 2013. They both lived in Winnipeg. Violet was my fathers’ older sister, both of them were born in Canada. The Aunt I never met, Mary, was born in the old country. Wasyl and Anne’s first-born-son, we learned, died as a young boy in the old country. Maryanne made a point of writing down all of the stories Aunt Vi told her, which she readily shared with me later on. Aunt Vi remembered critical birth and event dates that helped me find their documentation. My grandparents were married in 1911, Aunt Violet also mentioned one of the reasons our grandfather wanted to emigrate was to avoid being called up into war. He was 26 years old in 1914 when he left his village. In all likelihood, he’d already fulfilled the required three years of army duty for the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but he risked being called up again if war was declared. No one fully anticipated the rapid onset of WW1.
A good general reference on Ukrainians in Canada is the Canadian Encyclopedia: www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/ukrainian-canadians
Orest Martynowych’s book “Ukrainians in Canada – the formative period: 1891-1924” provides excellent information on the difficult living conditions in Galicia, emigration and the role of the Canadian railways, and about general political life at the time. Galicia was a poor province, only about 15% of the Ukrainian population received an education. I also found good information about Ukraine in WW1 in Mike Shuster’s article at www.greatwarproject.org
I found my grandfather’s passenger record on The Ships List (see: www.theshiplist.com). Passenger lists contain much useful information, in addition to departure location. The list indicated that my grandfather was 26 years old and Austrian, married with two small children left behind in Galicia, that he planned to reside in Canada (his destination being Winnipeg), his occupation of farmer (past and intended future), religion and race (Catholic, Ruthenian), and that he could read and write.
By matching my grandfather’s passenger record date with the birthdate of my Aunt Mary, I calculated that he left Ukraine about a month after Mary was born! She would be nine years old before she met her father again.
I soon learned about Canada’s Internment of Ukrainians during WW1. The Project Roll Call listing of Ukrainian internees by camp on the infoukes website at www.infoukes.com is a list of Ukrainians who were interned in various camps across Canada. Apparently, the original list was destroyed by the Canadian government in the 1950’s. It has since been reconstructed by Ukrainians, but is not complete. Out of curiosity, I scrolled the list for my grandfather’s name. A Wasyl Nykoluik was listed in the Brandon camp! Why didn’t my family know anything about this? Families often do not talk about unpleasant events. I realized that my grandfather would have been a prime candidate for pick up by police: he was likely unemployed during a period of very high unemployment, being a recently arrived non- English-speaking immigrant, and possibly without proper documentation on his person. At the time, there was a lot of political pressure from existing Canadians to make life difficult for Eastern Europeans. I searched for other Wasyl Nykoluk’s and I found one, but he was about 10 years younger and part of a family of brothers in Winnipeg that had immigrated much earlier. We will never know for sure, but I conclude that there is a 50% chance the Wasyl I found on the internment list was my grandfather. The experience of Ukrainians in Canada during WW1 should not be forgotten. More information about Ukrainian internment is available at www.internmentcanada.ca
Join me soon for my grandmother's immigration story.
All my curiosity led me to write a historical fiction novel about my grandparent's immigration story, it is available now. Visit my website Bookstore page for more details!
Download a free copy of Chapter One from my Free Chapter page.