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
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