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I’ve been researching my Ukrainian roots for the last eight years and information has often come to me in serendipitous and odd ways. I never met my grandparents and my father passed away in the 1980’s. Initially, all I had was a smattering of family stories, since my father’s family is very small. I stumbled across a valuable resource while attending a writing retreat in Banff a few months ago, when fellow writer, Carol Thornton, showed me this reference book:
Dictionary of Ukrainian Canadian Biography Pioneer Settlers of Manitoba 1891 - 1900
Although published in 1975, this Dictionary’s usefulness is timeless. The author, Vladimir Kaye, used basic historical documents covering the period 1891-1900, and then 1923, to present data in a unique way. He broke Manitoba down by district, keying in on locations with significant early Ukrainian immigration. Primary data sources included passenger lists, Manitoba land titles and death records. Passenger lists provide a wide variety of information (aside from ship name, date of arrival etc.), including marital status, village of origin, religion, ability to read or write, past and intended occupations, and amount of money brought to Canada.
Kaye noted the date when the farmer obtained patent for their farm (usually coinciding with date of naturalization, a.k.a. citizenship), and whether the family still occupied those farms in 1923. This would suggest whether the immigrant’s initial effort at homesteading was successful or not.
Ukrainians escaped from a feudal land system in Eastern Europe, thus, most owned only a subsistence amount of land before immigration. They typically worked as tenant farmers for rich Polish or Ukrainian estate owners, and in many years, could not produce enough food to feed their families. In Galicia, only about 15% of citizens received any type of education, infant and mother mortality was high, and farmers had little prospect of owning their own farms. They had lots of reasons to leave their homeland.
Ukrainians sometimes immigrated individually, but villagers often immigrated together. It had never occurred to me that my grandparents may have been attracted to the Mountain Road District because of ancestral village kinship with others. This was because my grandfather, Wasyl Nykoluk, worked for the CNR railway in Sioux Lookout, Ontario for many years after his arrival in 1914. My grandmother, Anne and he were finally reunited in Superior Lot near Sioux Lookout in 1923, and their daughter Mary subsequently went to school there.
The name of my grandparent’s ancestral village was Melnytsya Podilska, which is located near the Dniester River in the Borshchiv District, western Ukraine. My father recorded this in a community history document he wrote in the 1970’s. This was also the place of origin recorded on my grandfather’s 1914 passenger list. My grandmother’s birthplace was Vilkhovec, a nearby village.
My grandparents were separated for nine years during WW1 because my grandfather came to Canada just months before WW1 was declared; communication ceased between (the then enemy) Austria and Canada until the war ended. A few years after they were reunited in 1923, they attempted to farm in the Interlake District. This farm failed due to lack of roads and flooding. They went to stay with friends in the Polonia-Mountain Road District later in the 1920’s, and attempted to farm there, until 1930, when they moved to a third farm situated between the towns of Riding Mountain and Birnie, Manitoba. This farm was 16 miles away from Mountain Road by horse and buggy.
Why were my grandparents attracted to the Mountain Road District? I had always thought that it was a rather random affair, or that my grandmother was attracted by the presence of the Mountain Road Ukrainian Catholic Church, since she was known to be very religious. However, the data presented in Kaye’s book revealed that perhaps my grandparents also chose this District for ancestral kinship reasons.
The first Ukrainians settled in the Mountain Road area in 1896 (Manitoba Historical Society). Kaye’s book indicated that many of the families who immigrated to the Mountain Road District were from the same District and village as my grandparents. The author lists the Adamyk, Baraniuk, Boyko, Bobinski, Halarewich, Laba, Labuik, Pasowisty, and Swerbyus families as being all from the same village in Borshchiv District. I went to school with many descendants of these families.
The Adamyk, Baraniuk, and Boyko families even travelled together on the same ship, in the same month and year. They arrived together on the S.S. Palatia in Halifax on May 13th, 1898. This proves that villagers from Melnytsya arrived in Canada at least 17 years before my grandparents decided to do the same.
Information derived from passenger lists indicates the names and ages of the children they landed with, and the specific village of origin. Kaye recorded birth and eventual death dates and locations. In some cases, the amount of funds the immigrant brought with them was recorded on the passenger list. The data indicates that Mountain Road immigrants brought between $35 and $275 per family, at a time when the minimum required amount for immigration to Canada was $25.
I thought it was interesting that many of these families earned their homestead patents within 4-5 years after settling in Mountain Road District. I was impressed by this, I thought they would have taken longer to “prove up.” The Dictionary lists whether the settler was still on the same land location in 1923. Given that most Ukrainians came to Canada to own their own farm, did these Ukrainian pioneers’ efforts meet with success, I wondered?
In 1923, the Adamyk, Baraniuk (2), Bobinski, Ewasiuk, Laba, Labiuk (2), Malicki, Pasowisty, Romaniuk, and Swerbyus families still owned their farms (ie. total of twelve families). Eight families (coincidentally from different ancestral villages) did not own their original farms by 1923. Records indicate that they often eventually moved to other provinces for various reasons unknown.
The data appears to suggest that my family was likely attracted to the Mountain Road District because they knew families from Melnytsya who’d already settled there. My grandmother was passionate about the St. Mary’s Ukrainian Catholic Church, which was built during 1924-25. She would have learned of its construction shortly after her arrival in 1923. It was an architectural wonder in its day, the largest wood structure built in North America at the time.
Vladimir Kaye’s book can be ordered through your local library, or you can also access it through the Electronic Library of the Toronto Ukrainian Library Association (TULA).
Dictionary of Ukrainian Canadian Biography Pioneer Settlers of Manitoba 1891 - 1900. Author: Kaye, Vladimir A. (Editor and Compiler) Year published: (1975) Publisher: Ukrainian Canadian Research Foundation City: Printing house: Vakil & Sons Private Ltd., Vakils House, Bombay, India Pages: Language: Dictionaries 32 Collection К. і В. Микитчуків (6)
(Note: I have not tried it, but the TULA website indicates that you can create a free account at TULA-online.org and read the entire Dictionary!)
I have since been advised that similar types of books have been written for other provinces (ie. Saskatchewan).
My curiosity, and my desire to fill in my 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 details.
Read early reviews at www.christinenykoluk.com
Download a free copy of Chapter One on my Free Chapter page.
Follow my author journey on Facebook: christinenykolukauthor
Manitoba Historical Society. Downloaded July 15th, 2022 from: http://www.mhs.mb.ca/docs/sites/stmarysukrainiancatholicrosedale.shtml