Photo courtesy Unsplash: Nationaal Archief
I owe my own existence, in no small part, to the railways.
My Ukrainian grandfather worked for both the CNR and the CPR as a means to save for bringing his family over from the old country, and to buy their farm near Riding Mountain, Manitoba. Yet many other Ukrainians and immigrants spent their whole lives working for the railways.
Most of the Ukrainians listed on my grandfather’s 1914 Arriving Passenger List cite the CPR yards in Winnipeg as their destination in Canada. In all likelihood, they were sponsored by the CPR too. Their occupations were listed as “farm labourers.”
Building a railway across Canada was a significant political goal for Canada. In his excellent book “Ukrainians in Canada — The Formative Period: 1891–1924,” (1991) Martynowych provides detailed information: immigration assumed mass proportions between 1901 and 1914. The Canadian government partnered with Canadian railways to actively solicit Ukrainian workers, in fact, the CPR maintained branch offices in all Austrian capitals and in several Galician and Bukovinan towns. In these offices, agents steadily worked to convince Ukrainians to leave their homeland.
When I was conducting research for my novel “Heart Stones,” I came across a wonderful virtual resource — the Taras Shevchenko Museum Toronto, Ontario (Taras Shevchenko Virtual Museum). This website contains precious first-hand accounts by Ukrainians, along with photos and detailed information about their experiences as new immigrants to Canada. I am grateful that someone took the time to record their stories!
(Be forewarned: I can guarantee that you will spend hours reading these incredible accounts!)
The following is an excerpt from Mikhailo Shymkiw’s account of his first years working for a railway company near Sioux Lookout, Ontario:
“After work, during my free time, or on Sundays, I often went for walks into the forest. Once, when I had walked some fifty feet from the track, I saw two crosses overgrown with weeds, standing between two poplars. I went cold at this unexpected sight. Walking up, I saw that one of the crosses bore a knife-carved name, Herhory, the rest was unreadable, for both crosses were in a state of decay.
I told my foreman about them. ‘There are many such crosses along this railroad,’ he said. ‘There are also many graves that no one knows about and will never know about!’
It was true, I found six such graves myself among some tall birches six miles from Souix [sic] Lookout. Looking at them I felt a deep sadness. They seemed to be saying: ‘Tell our families that death found us here, let them not expect us back’ . . . The workers did not remain long on the job under these circumstances, for injuries and death looked them in the eye every day. Having worked a week or two they left, secretly. Their places were taken by new workers — and the story was repeated again. The contractor found this to his benefit.”
Farm labor during seeding and harvest was also needed. The CPR had been granted huge tracts of land on both sides of the track by the Canadian government. Many of these same immigrants would become buyers of farmland, even shipping their own grain on these railways. Thus, there were many reasons to promote immigration to Ukrainians.
Immigration was so frequent that often Ukrainians would meet people they knew from their home villages when they arrived in work camps! One of the reasons for this was that most of the immigrants at that time were from the provinces of Galicia or Bukovinia. Lands further east would have been under the Russian empire at that time.
Martynowych (1991) wrote that living conditions for railway gangs were abhorrent, especially before WWI. Today, we’d consider rail gang work for 10–12 hours a day very hard physical labour — moving rocks, lifting heavy rail ties, and steel spikes. Workers would need to move everything by hand unless there was a mule or horse team to move it. In his book “The Great Railway,” (1972) Berton wrote that “Dust choked throats, ears ringing, arms aching from swinging sledges all day or toting rails… .”
Water shortages and poor sanitation caused disease (including typhoid) in the camps. Lack of water meant that it would have been difficult to bathe! Add to this the challenge of inadequate heavy winter clothing and a means of laundering it.
It was difficult to save money working for the railway. Clothing was typically purchased from company stores (Berton, 1972) with meagre earnings. Anyone who has done hard physical labour knows that clothes wear out fast.
Working outside in the bush in summer meant that workers were tormented by flies, blackflies and other hungry insects. Men would build smoke smudges in an effort to reduce the resulting stress on horses, mules and themselves, bringing temporary relief.
I know from personal experience that insects are attracted to the presence of livestock and other mammals, including humans. Railway gangs containing large numbers of men would certainly experience insect attacks on a daily basis unless there was wind to blow them away. But most bush areas on the Canadian Shield would be sheltered from wind.
Heavy snowfall on railway tracks meant that abundant labor was needed to clear lines and resume rail traffic. Every available horse team might be contracted after heavy snowfall, but yet, much of the track would need to be cleared by hand.
When the CPR changed from steam locomotives to diesel, the demand for coal went down, meaning that railways shipped less coal too. Workers were subsequently rewarded with reduced wages. Can you imagine being told that your wage would be reduced by 30%?
The 1921 census states that my grandfather worked for the CPR in Wishart, Saskatchewan. In 1923, he was reunited with my grandmother at a CNR siding near Sioux Lookout (ie at Superior Lot, as per her passenger record).
Men rode the rails to wherever there was work. Ukrainians were viewed as a ready, dispensable source of labor. WWI caused a lot of upheaval for workers as periods of high employment alternated with periods of low employment: while immigrants were increasingly hired during the war, veterans were prioritized for jobs after the war, Lack of stable employment made it difficult to save money. Large number of single unemployed men led to increased scrutiny of immigrants by government, eventually leading to creation of Canada’s first internment experience during WWI.
As Shymkiw mentioned in his account, worker mortality on rail crews was high. Building the railway through the Canadian Shield used up three tons of dynamite a day, and at considerable cost of men’s lives (Berton, 1972).
Did the CPR and other railways make an effort to notify these unfortunate Ukrainian workers’ families’ back in the old country, I wondered? Did the families back home ever find out? How were these losses in human life communicated after WWI started, a time when Canada was effectively cut off from the Austrian Empire? Communication would have become impossible.
Family story relates that my grandfather worked on railways during the years 1914 to 1923. He was a heavy smoker, in fact, he’d contracted a type of oral cancer by the time he passed away in 1947. Did he use smoking as a way to reduce insect attacks when he worked on the railway near Sioux Lookout before he was reunited with my grandmother in 1923? Or had smoking simply become a way to deal with the immense stress that he and others must have experienced?
“Winters were dark and cold . . . the isolated conditions of camps . . . in gloomy, airless bunkhouses . . . with 60–80 men crammed in . . . beds of vermin-infested hay . . . nights fetid from steam of wet clothes and smoky stoves.” (Berton, 1972)
It is with these thoughts that I contemplate my grandfather’s difficult life when I either cross railway tracks or wait for a long train to pass by!
My curiosity, and my desire to fill in gaps of knowledge, eventually led me to write a historical fiction novel called Heart Stones: A Ukrainian Immigration Story of Love and Hope, which was published in mid-February 2023.
Visit my website for more details on my story, book reviews, more blog posts, or my media. While there you can download Chapter One from my book, it’s absolutely free!
Follow my author journey on my Facebook account:
Berton, P. 1972. The Great Railway. Warner Books, New York.
Martynowych, O. 1991. Ukrainians in Canada — The Formative Period: 1891–1924. Edmonton: University of Alberta — Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies Press.
Taras Shevchenko Virtual Museum Toronto, Ontario. Downloaded on April 4th, 2023 from:
Taras Shevchenko Virtual Museum
Photo courtesy Freepik.
My paternal Ukrainian grandparents immigrated before (my grandfather) and after WW1 (my grandmother). When I researched my family history, documentation didn’t always agree with family story. What should I believe, the documentation or the story? In this blog post, I outline some of the conflicting types information that I came across.
I’ve met a number of people who’ve learned that, unbeknownst to them, their grandfathers had families in both Canada and the old country. In one case, the secret was only revealed when the grandfather passed away, when they found old letters. I suspect it was much easier to hide such truths many decades ago; now we have DNA testing and potential revelations of many more uncomfortable truths. Be careful what you ask for.
Family story indicates my 26-year-old grandfather wanted to avoid conscription by the Austrian army. He arrived in Winnipeg in May 1914, just months before WWI started. Even so, the concept of an oncoming war was uncertain at the time. A stronger motivation for my grandparents was the possibility of creating a better life for their family in Canada. Yes, in all likelihood he’d already performed the mandatory three-year service 19-year-olds were obligated to undertake in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. I’ve since read it was common for young Ukrainian men to want to avoid conscription: they knew there’d be a good chance they’d become cannon fodder.
Family story indicates our grandparents owned a farm near Polonia, Manitoba for a short time. Someone even suggested they knew the land location. Local residents mentioned to me that settlers in this area were primarily Polish, not Ukrainian, although there were a few of the latter. Land in the area had already been taken up and farmed before my grandparents arrived. Just a few months ago, a friend spent some time investigating land titles in the Rural Municipality; no records were found for my grandfather in the Polonia area but she found records of a person by the name of William Nikoluk (and the Confederation Life Association Company of Winnipeg, a financing company) who owned a farm just east of Eden, Manitoba between the years 1926 and 1933. The land location was the SW ¼ of 24-26-15.
My grandfather did become known as William Nykoluk after he came to Canada. Misspellings (or different spellings) of Ukrainian names were common. I’m thinking the chance of there being two Wasyl/William Nykoluks in the area at the same time are close to nil.
Family story indicates my grandfather was the only son in his family; his parents had suffered the loss of a number of children in the late 1800’s. Yes, child and mother mortality in Galicia during that time was very high (Martynowych, 1991). I have been asked whether there might be a possibility my grandfather may have left family behind? About a year and a half ago, one of my cousins hired a Ukrainian genealogist to search family records in our ancestral village. And yes, Church records indicated this story was true. The genealogist provided scans of Church death records of my grandfather’s siblings (including cause of infant deaths – including smallpox) along with present-day photos of their grave markers.
TRUE OR FALSE?
My older cousins related a family story in which it was believed my grandfather was a worker on my grandmother’s more-wealthy family farm. As the story goes, my grandmother could read and write. This does not agree with our ancestor’s documentation - also, it was more common to educate sons and not daughters in the old country. My grandfather’s Passenger Arrival document indicated he could read and write. His signature also appeared on a land purchase document in 1940. In contrast, my grandmother signed her Passenger Arrival document with an “O” and I am not aware of any documentation in which her signature appears.
STORIES NOT TOLD
Ukrainians, mostly young unemployed single men, were interned by the Canadian government during 1914 -- 1920, a time when Austria was viewed as an enemy of Britain. Internment records were destroyed by the Canadian government in the 1950’s but were partially reconstructed by Ukrainians (www.infoukes.com/history/internment/roll_call/ ).
You can imagine my surprise when I found my grandfather’s name on the Brandon Internment Camp roll call list! The man, named Wasyl Nykoluik (sic), was interned, released or paroled on November 13th, 1915. Was it him?
My family knew nothing about this. But, is it really surprising? In her book published in 2019, “The Stories Were Not Told,” Sandra Semchuk recorded Ukrainian accounts of these times: “Don’t mention anything what took place or else it will be tough for the men that spoke about it.”
It’s common for people to conceal difficult stories. In any case, when my grandparents were reunited in Sioux Lookout in 1923, after being separated for nine long years, they were determined to reconstruct their lives as Canadians. War had left their homeland shattered. I found another Wasyl Nykoluk in Manitoba at the time: he was about ten years younger and part of a large family of brothers who’d immigrated to Winnipeg much earlier. We’ll never know the truth. However, there is a 50% chance the interned Wasyl Nykoluk was indeed our grandfather.
Family stories are important, but in my experience, they must be taken “with a grain of salt.” There’s ample opportunity for stories to be changed over the course of lifetimes. However, documentation can be an important tool for ascertaining their accuracy. Used together, they help strengthen our own understanding of our ancestry.
My curiosity, and desire to fill in gaps of my knowledge, eventually led me to write a historical fiction novel called Heart Stones: A Ukrainian Immigration Story of Love and Hope, which was published in mid-February 2023.
Visit my website for more details about Heart Stones, read book reviews and visit my bookstore, listen to media interviews and, and read more blog posts. While there, you can download Chapter One from my book, it’s absolutely free!
Follow my author journey and read about other books on my Facebook account:
Martynowych, O. 1991. Ukrainians in Canada - The Formative Period: 1891-1924. Edmonton: University of Alberta - Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies Press.
Project Roll Call: Lest We Forget. Downloaded on April 15th, 2023 from: http://www.infoukes.com/history/internment/roll_call/
Semchuck, S. 2019. The Stories Were Not Told: Canada’s First World War Internment Camps. Edmonton: The University of Alberta Press.
Family stories don’t last forever.
I’ve noticed when I chat with readers about my book, conversation usually leads to whether they have many of their own family stories. If their Ukrainian ancestors immigrated to Canada around 1900, it seems not many family stories remain.
Why is that?
Maybe no one bothered to write down their grandparents’ or parents’ stories. And now those family members have passed on . . .
Admittedly, one of the challenges Ukrainians had is that most of them could not read or write in any language when they came to Canada. They’d been subjugated for so long by other nationalities - basic education wasn’t widely accessible. Girls were least likely to get any amount of education. In his book, Ukrainians in Canada - The Formative Period: 1891-1924 (1991), Martynowych wrote that only 15% of Galicians could read or write before coming to Canada; this contrasted with an 85% literacy rate enjoyed by the rest of the population at the time. Immigrants would have to wait for their children to learn how to read and write in Canadian schools before their stories would have an opportunity to be recorded. A change in daily spoken language would also need to occur.
My father’s family was quite small because his grandparents had lost several children in infancy in the old country, and to this day, our paternal family reunions are small too. My father passed away in 1985 but we still remember the stories he told us: about our our grandparents toiling away for estate owners, their desire to have a farm of their own, and the importance of education. He also spoke of how musically inclined my grandmother was, her amazing singing voice, and about how much she loved her Church. Unfortunately, there were also stories about financial and land loss due to illness in the family before the advent of publicly funded health care in Canada.
The Nykoluk family is fortunate: my (late) sister Maryanne took an interest in recording our family stories by way of visiting with my Aunt Vi. They’d developed a close friendship, both living in Winnipeg before Aunt Vi passed away in 2012. My Aunt had a very good memory for dates and when I started searching for documentation of our ancestry, it became apparent how useful this was. This helped to confirm the records I’d found, did in fact, belong to our grandparents.
My sister wrote down Aunt Vi’s stories in a simple notebook, which she photocopied for me when I was writing my novel. Nothing fancy at all, but entirely useful! Even now, the importance of paper records is emphasized by genealogists since online documents may be subject to the perils of software updates or file losses into cyberspace.
Who in your family knows where these records are? Have you shared them widely enough?
We always thought we didn’t know much about our ancestry but family reunions changed that. I still have some older cousins who knew both of my grandparents (before they passed away in 1947 and 1957). From their own childhood memories, they’ve related many stories; every time we get together, a new story nugget rises up and we all gain a clearer idea of our grandparents’ lives. Clearly, our reunions helped us to preserve our family stories.
One of the best things about writing my historical fiction novel Heart Stones was my cousins’ reactions to some of the scenes. For example, I’d placed my grandmother and her two infant children in two different WWI refugee camps. After reading my book, my cousin offered that our grandmother had been in nine different war camps, not just two. Well, I found that most interesting. He also stated that our grandmother was far more superstitious than I characterized her in my novel, which I also found valuable to know.
Do you have enough family stories to write a novel? Probably. Have you even written your family stories down?
My curiosity, and desire to fill in gaps of my knowledge, eventually led me to write a historical fiction novel called Heart Stones: A Ukrainian Immigration Story of Love and Hope, which was published in mid-February 2023.
Visit my website for more details about Heart Stones, book reviews and bookstore, my media interviews and events, and more blog posts. While there, you can download Chapter One from my book, it’s absolutely free!
Follow my author journey on my Facebook account: https://www.facebook.com/christinenykolukauthor/
Martynowych, O. 1991. Ukrainians in Canada – The Formative Period: 1891-1924. Edmonton: University of Alberta - Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies Press.
Photo courtesy Serghii V. at Freepik
Ten tips from one of the best.
Someone mentioned to me that Stephen King had published a great book about writing (On Writing – a memoir of the craft, 2000). Personal disclosure: I don’t read Stephen King’s horror stories because I find them too scary. However, after reading this book, I do now believe that I’d like him very much as a person. In his memoir, he shares numerous personal and human moments from his writing life. The book is packed with gems, the tone is good, and it’s an enjoyable read. He talks a lot about the importance of conversational writing and using good language. He shares that struggle is part of every writer’s experience, no matter how long a person has been writing.
I took much of Stephen King’s advice to heart and now I’ve finished my first novel.
1. Write for the sheer joy of it.
About six years ago, I started thinking that writing a novel would be a worthy lifetime goal. By that time, I’d already had twenty-three years of practise as a technical writer. I was well aware that writing a novel would be a significant undertaking, and that the probability of fame and fortune was almost non-existent. But…
What kind of story would compel me enough to write a novel?
2. Make your story unique, use your own knowledge and experience.
I wouldn’t necessarily consider myself a history buff, but I’d developed an interest in my Ukrainian family’s origin and immigration story. After two years of research, I wrote up my findings for my family and shared it in the form of a document. In so doing, I’d discovered that my Ukrainian grandparents had been separated for nine long years during WW1. This fact intrigued me. How many people today would wait for their partner for that long? What did my grandparent’s day-to-day life look like during those years spent apart? I’d learned that after he’d arrived in Canada in spring of 1914, my grandfather worked for the railways. Family stories indicated that my grandmother and her two small children spent time in war camps after their village was invaded by the Russians. My grandparents were reunited in Sioux Lookout in 1923. What was their reunion like?
I based my novel on true family events; I researched daily life between 1914 and 1923 in both Ukraine and Canada including societal beliefs and perspectives, Ukrainian culture and folk medicine, political events, the Spanish Flu pandemic, and how the war impacted immigrants. All of this background information helped my writing to morph into a work of historical fiction.
To identify my story arc, I focused on family story and determined three key events that I’d write about. I set a plan for what the beginning and the end of the story would look like. Then, using research, I added dates for key events (ie. The start of WW1, Brandon Ukrainian Internment Camp, Winnipeg General Strike, and the date my grandmother arrived in Sioux Lookout, Canada aboard the Cunard Ship “Andania”). I knew my grandmother and her two infants had spent time in war camps but didn’t know which one, so I researched a Ukrainian refugee camp in Austria and used it for my setting.
I developed my character sketches by using both family stories and characteristics of other real people I knew. Most times I just imagined how my characters would respond. How would Lilia react in a particular situation? What would a man’s perspective be on reunification if he worked in a rail camp with a bunch of other men? What were my character’s imperfections?
3. Be dedicated and write every day.
I joined an informal writing group at my local library to explore my idea further. Every Monday evening, we’d talk about our writing projects for about 20 minutes, and then we’d write for 30 minutes. I found other writer’s projects interesting, a number of writers had already self-published. I was impressed that one of our members had already published forty books with a traditional publisher.
Slowly my manuscript began to take form, even though my process felt intermittent and clumsy at times.
Through this group I learned about the one-month NanNoWriMo challenge. I committed to writing an hour a day, and by the end of the challenge, my manuscript contained 30,000 words.
Setting my goal to write for one hour for five days a week worked for me. I set out to write 1,000 words a day but often exceeded this goal. Writing five days a week helped me stay current with my characters. I tried to “become my characters” and examine their inner-most thoughts. I found this part engaging. Writing helped me to understand my grandparent’s immigration story more clearly, especially at an emotional level. I’d recommend this approach to anyone who is interested in exploring their own family history. Remember that most immigrants faced similar situations, so research can help build a realistic story.
4. Don’t write in complicated ways, keep your writing simple.
My writing group met weekly to work on writing prompts, and soon after, we started a weekly critique group. We met via Zoom during the pandemic, continuing to make steady progress. Members started to talk about taking their projects and developing them into full length novels.
A good critique group can be critical in helping us make sure our writing is clear and unencumbered with poor wording. Reading our work out loud to each other helped identify clumsy writing. I learned (and am still learning) how to write dialogue. It proved to be a significant challenge, but I soon discovered that overcoming this hurdle made my story easier to both write and read. Now I enjoy writing dialogue and love the power it has to reveal facts, perspectives, and conversation. I also appreciate how dialogue helps to pace a story.
5. Listen to critics and don’t be afraid of rejection; involve others in your writing.
Stephen King experienced a tremendous amount of rejection before he became a famous writer. Writing groups help us learn how to incorporate useful feedback, especially for works that do not seem to hit the mark we’re aiming for.
I enjoyed sharing my project with family and friends. For example, I was unsure how to end my story. While out on a backpacking trip with my husband, we discussed my predicament. He easily came up with two or three options that I could consider, and I ended up using one of his ideas.
6. Revise continually and get rid of all of the -ly adverbs.
Stephen King says “the road to hell is paved with adverbs.” Get rid of them, they weaken your writing, and for the most part aren’t essential. I found this to be true; there were almost always better ways to write sentences if I considered it long enough.
Revise, revise, revise! I lost count of the number of times I revised my draft before it was professionally edited.
7. Edit yourself by removing at least 10% of the words from your draft copy.
By the time I’d finished my much-revised draft, I’d grown my manuscript to 120,000 words. King advised that we should be prepared to get rid of at least 10% of our words and so I took his advice. He said that it helps to tighten the story up, improving it for your readers.
8. Remember why you write.
Writing a full-length novel takes a tremendous amount of fortitude. My novel is the biggest lifetime project that I’ve both initiated and finished. Most authors sell less than a few hundred copies of their book. Thus, income and fame aren’t possible for most of us. I write because it is a creative pursuit and I have a lot of capacity for creativity. I also enjoy the fellowship of my writing group. It’s important to bear these things in mind when the going gets rough.
During my journey, I received valuable help from my writing group in terms of testing my story arc, helping events become real, improving my dialogue, and in overall support of my work. It would have been very difficult to finish my novel without my group’s support. Being a conscientious person, I always made sure that I had my three pages of material ready for our weekly critique sessions. Accountability to my group kept my project moving forward.
I learned about other group member’s projects and genres. I learned about different ways to approach writing issues, and to understand that my first draft would indeed be “crappy.” I learned that everyone has their own unique writing voice, and how to both give and receive feedback. I learned that I could write poetry, and even had two of my poems published in April 2022 (Writers on Fire: Poetry Prompts to Ignite the Poet Within by Nikki Tate and Carol Thornton. Available at Amazon.ca or your local bookstore).
9. Find a kind-hearted first reader or two.
Most writers feel vulnerable when it comes time to share their creation with others. Being part of a critique group helped me develop confidence. When it came time to choose my kind first readers, I asked my sister and my husband to help me with this step. Each of them provided constructive ideas that helped me improve my novel. They also helped me build confidence in sharing my work with a wider audience and moving it forward to publishing stage.
10. Read and write a lot.
I’ve been an avid reader all my life, I don’t watch television. Before my writing life, I tended to focus on reading biography, non-fiction, and adventure memoir. During the last few years, I’ve broadened my knowledge of fiction, especially historical fiction.
Wish me luck! And thank you Stephen King.
My historical fiction novel is called Heart Stones: A Ukrainian Immigration Story of Love and Hope, it was published in mid-February 2023.
Visit my website for more details on my story, book reviews, more blog posts, my Media page, and to download a complimentary Chapter One from my book.
Follow my author journey on my Facebook account: Christine nykoluk author
Photo courtesy of v.ivash from Freepik
When I was undertaking research on my ancestry, and later for my historical fiction novel, Heart Stones, my sister shared one of her books with me: Ukrainians in Canada – The Formative Period: 1891-1924 by Orest Martynowych (1991). Orest Martynowych studied history at the University of Manitoba (BA Hons., MA) and at the University of Toronto. He was Research Associate at CIUS Press, University of Alberta, from 1985 to 1989. His book is a scholarly book about the role that Ukrainian immigration played in settling Canada.
Martynowych’s book provides great background information about why Galician Ukrainians left their homeland and what they experienced once they arrived in Canada. He details facts about literacy rates, the high rates of child and mother mortality, how most peasants earned a living and even the primitive state of agriculture before WWI. Interestingly, he also presents some of the perspectives that other new Canadians held after Ukrainians immigrated to join them.
Rich estate owners had opposed industrialization for decades since it would deprive them of cheap agrarian labor. They wanted to maintain control of workers, they didn't want to promote socialism.
When I asked my father why our family left their ancestral village for Canada, he replied that his family were akin to “tenant farmers”, trapped by rich estate owners, with no hopes of having their own farm.
Ukrainians remained the most illiterate ethnic group in the Austro-Hungarian empire at the turn of the century. In fact, their lack of literacy would have stood out amongst others who'd already immigrated to Canada.
My grandfather, Wasyl Nykoluk, was among the minority that knew how to read and write when he came to Canada. What family circumstances allowed him to become educated, I wondered?
Ukrainian immigration to Canada assumed mass proportions between 1901 and 1914. My grandfather came to Canada in 1914, while other residents from my ancestral village, Melnytsya Podilska, had been immigrating since the late 1800’s. Many of them settled in the Mountain Road district of Manitoba.
By 1912, the CPR operated branch offices in all Austrian provincial capitals and in several Galician and Bukovynan towns, with a vast network of local agents in both crownlands. On my grandfather’s 1914 passenger list, the destination for almost all of the men with him was the CPR yards in Winnipeg.
Opposition to emigration from Galicia was strongest within the estate-owner and upper class circles. Most of the Ukrainians leaving Galicia were younger military-aged men. Large estate owners feared the loss of their cheap labor. I find it interesting that the Austrian government was letting the CPR promote emigration within its territory, while the military and powerful estate owners were opposed to emigration.
If you are specifically interested in the Ukrainian faith, as it developed in Canada, this book is for you! Martynowych goes into great detail about how Ukrainians rejected the Catholic faith practiced in Canada (ie. controlled by French Roman Catholic Bishops in Winnipeg), seeking to attend a church more closely resembling their faith as practiced in the old country.
My curiosity, and my desire to fill in gaps of knowledge, eventually led me to write my historical fiction novel called Heart Stones: A Ukrainian Immigration Story of Love and Hope, which was published in mid-February 2023.
Visit my website for more details on my novel, recent reviews, more blog posts, my Media page, and to download a complimentary Chapter One of my novel.
Follow my author journey on my Facebook account: Christine Nykoluk author
Martynowych, O. 1991. Ukrainians in Canada – The Formative Period: 1891-1924. Edmonton: University of Alberta - Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies Press.
St. Mary’s Ukrainian Catholic Church, Mountain Road, Manitoba (Source: Winnipeg Free Press).
Who knows, maybe my grandparents and my aunt are in this photo ?
My grandfather, Wasyl Nykoluk, worked for the CNR in Sioux Lookout for a number of years between the years 1914 and 1923. He’d hoped to quickly save enough money to bring his family to Canada, but the outbreak of WWI meant the Nykoluk family ended up being separated for nine years. My grandmother and infants Mary and Petro were locked in Eastern Europe for the duration of the war, and sometime after. Canada re-opened it’s borders to Ukrainians in the early 1920’s. My grandparents were finally reunited in Superior Lot, a railway community of mostly Ukrainian workers twenty miles down the line from Sioux Lookout, in 1923.
When May 2023 arrives, one hundred years will have passed since that joyous day!
In my previous blog post, I mentioned that my grandparents, Anne and Wasyl Nykoluk, may have been attracted to the Polonia/ Mountain Road area for two key reasons. Firstly, there were already families in the Mountain Road district originating from their own village beside the Dniester River, Melnytsya Podilska. Many of these families immigrated earlier around the year 1900.
Secondly, my grandmother would have been very interested to learn of the new Saint Mary’s Ukrainian Catholic Church, built in the community of Mountain Road, during the years 1924-1925. Oddly enough, family story indicates that the Nykoluk’s were invited to stay and work with a local Polish family, Gladys and Frank Kasprick, (mostly Polish farmers resided in the area). (Of note: The Kaspricks were the grandparents of the woman my father, John Nykoluk, would eventually marry – Bernice Kasprick).
“Between 1924 and 1925, with the supervision of Father Philip Ruh, a majestic wooden cathedral was built using free lumber and volunteer labor, at a total cost of $18,000. Shaped like a cross with a capacity for several hundred parishioners, 130 stained glass windows, and an interior painted with brightly-colored murals, the building had no pews or electricity. Light was provided by hundreds of candles and parishioners stood during services.” (Source: Manitoba Historical Society)
Traditionally, Ukrainian churches did not have pews, congregants would stand when they attended church services. Thus, for either reasons of economy or tradition, the Saint Mary’s Ukrainian Church did not have pews.
The kinship connections between ancestral villagers was obviously strong, and kinship continued for many years after immigration to Canada took place. In fact, unknown to me at the time, I attended school with descendants of families who immigrated from the same ancestral village as mine!
The industrious families from Melnytsya Podilska must have played a key role in helping to build this amazing church. The cost of the Church speaks indirectly to the success of the Ukrainian farmers in the area.
Family story indicates that after my grandfather passed away in 1947, my grandmother’s son-in-law, Jim Follows, would take her to her church by horse and buggy – a 16-mile return journey from their eventual farm between Birnie and Riding Mountain, Manitoba.
My grandfather Wasyl was buried at the Saint Mary’s Ukrainian Catholic Church in 1947. Long-time family friend, Kost Solovey, had been buried in the next plot earlier in 1945. Unfortunately, my grandmother passed away during a cold January in 1957, and the Mountain Road Cemetery was not physically accessible: faced with this difficult decision, my family decided to inter Anne Nykoluk at the Neepawa Cemetery.
The Saint Mary’s Ukrainian Catholic Church in Mountain Road met an unfortunate end on August 19th in 1966, when the church was struck by lightning and burned down. It was replaced by a more modern style church soon after.
Please visit the Manitoba Historical Society link below for more photos of Saint Mary’s Ukrainian Catholic Church.
My family continues to visit the Mountain Road cemetery and share stories about our ancestors. It is comforting to know that other Ukrainians from their ancestral village were also buried there and that we can visit them.
My curiosity about my family history led me to write a historical fiction novel about their difficult and prolonged immigration to Canada. Heart Stones: A Ukrainian Immigration Story of Love and Hope was released on February 16th, 2023.
Visit my website at www.christinenykoluk.com to learn more about the story line, view recent reviews, and information about where my book can be purchased.
Download a free copy of Chapter One from the Free Chapter page on my website!
Follow me on Facebook at Christine Nykoluk Author
Source: Manitoba Historical Society website downloaded February 26th, 2023 at:
Photo courtesy of Freepik.com
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
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.