In Search of Freedom
Her grandparents left everything behind in the Ukraine to carve out a new life
Our maternal grandparents Harry Kuzniak and Paraska Kydyk (also spelled Kiedyk) were both born in the small village of Krymedor (Kriemdur) in Stanislav (Ivano-Frankivsk) in Ukraine.
As respectful Ukrainians, we called our grandmother “Babba” and our grandfather “Guido.” Harry was born March 20, 1886, and Paraska, known as “Pansy,” was born June 15, 1891. They were married in their native village in 1910. Two years later, they exchanged political oppression for freedom and immigrated to Canada, carrying only a few personal possessions and very little money. They boarded the daunting passenger ship with mixed emotions, leaving behind the love and support of family and friends, bravely realizing they might never see loved ones nor set foot on birth soil again.
Visions of prosperity in the new land helped them endure the stormy seas, seasickness and unfamiliar faces. Arriving at the Quebec harbour on July 15, 1912, they stepped off the ship, alone in a strange country, to a language they could neither speak nor understand.
They journeyed west to Olha, Man., where Babba’s father (my great-grandfather) Onophrius Kydyk had settled among other Ukrainians. He had immigrated to Canada in 1898 to establish himself financially in order to sponsor his wife and two daughters, Paraska and Frances, who had been left behind in the Ukraine. Disembarking the
ship in Halifax, he had made his way to Ontario and on to Winnipeg, travelling by train to Strathclair, Man., and then walking to Olha, about 20 miles northeast. Two years later, he was killed while haying on the farm where he worked in Olha. The team of horses pulling the hay rake he was operating stepped on a hornet’s nest in the field. The horses were stung, causing them to rear and gallop away, pinning George in the hay rake, where he lost his balance and fell.
Following her father’s route, Babba and Guido boarded a Canadian Pacific train to Winnipeg and travelled on to Oakburn, Man., where they settled on a large plot of land near Olha. With perseverance, they laboured throughout daylight hours, enduring harsh elements and hordes of mosquitoes, to clear the thick bush and eventually sow furrowed soil. Finally, some financial gain realized from the sale of their first harvest helped them to purchase horses and build a small house.
Life and work were hard but rewarding. The family grew in 1914 when a daugh- ter, Mary, was born. Tragically, at age 6, she was killed by a kick from a bronco. In 1915, a son, John, was born, but he lived only four weeks, dying due to lack of medical care at birth under such primitive, remote conditions.
In 1916, another son, Peter, was born. He contracted polio as a child, and Babba massaged and exercised his legs daily, thus lessening severe paralysis. The residual limp negated his enlistment in the forces during the war. In 1917, Michael was born.
By 1919, the thin soil finally exhausted, my grandparents sold the farm in Oakburn and moved to Angusville, 30 miles away, in search of more fertile land. That same year, they tried a cooperative dairy business, collecting milk from various local owners of cows, and then selling and delivering it to a dairy. Times were hard and money scarce.
In 1920, a daughter, Lena—our mother— was born, and in 1921, another son, William, came along. Backbreaking work and poverty were depressingly constant. In the spring, when cash had been depleted over a long, cold winter, household staples such as coffee, flour and sugar—as well as oats for animal fodder and seed for planting—were purchased “on account” at the local supply outlet and then paid for in the fall with proceeds from the annual harvest.
Guido’s distant cousin, a blacksmith, lived in Fort William, Ont. Hoping for family moral support and perhaps a job reference, in 1922, with four surviving children—peter, Michael, Lena and William—the family boarded a train to Fort William.
ON THE MOVE
Living mainly alone, in the bush, without close neighbours from whom to learn, Babba and Guido’s English was brutally limited. Seeking comfort and security derived from a common language and familiar customs, they settled among Ukrainians in the area known as the “coal docks” (now Intercity Thunder Bay). Here, in 1923, their son John Ivan was born.
However, opportunity and gainful employment were scarce even in larger communities with diverse commerce, and in the fall of that year Grandfather was
forced to leave home and find work in logging bush camps to support his wife and five children.
In the spring of 1924, he returned from camp. Early one morning, with trees budding and wildflowers fragrantly in blossom, Guido and Babba packed their children and house- hold goods into their horse-drawn wagon and rode into the country about six or eight miles along a dirt trail, now Dawson Road in Thunder Bay.
Locating and renting dwellings, they resided in this farming area for about three years before purchasing property and moving to nearby Government Road, where they lived for another six years, working their land and others for pay. Their youngest child, Rosalia, was born here in 1929.
Eventually, our grandparents acquired 100 acres of pulpwood and rich farmland bordering a river, on the corner of Kivikoski Road (now known as Dog Lake Road) and Highway #17A/ Dawson Road in Mcintyre Township. Bright and early every day, the sons and daughters old enough to work would travel by horse and wagon from Government Road about three miles to this plot on Kivikoski Road. Again, clearing the land for farming was very difficult due to rough, rocky terrain and crude implements pulled by horse team and manually ma- noeuvered. The large trees were felled, de-limbed and used for cooking and heating. The stumps, rooted firmly into earth’s crust, were removed with winch and horses, burned and left to remain on the soil as fertilizer.
On this property, our grandfather and his sons built a sevenroom, two-storey home, and the family soon moved in. With all hands helping, the soil was tilled, seeded and nourished, and produce marketed. Fencing was raised for foraging cows, horses, chickens and hogs, and various barns, sheds and shelters were added to the steadily growing farm.
In 1936, a fire destroyed the home, and the family was forced to live in a small garage next to the ashes. Logs from the property were harvested and planed into lumber, and the house was rebuilt. It still stands today, surrounded by a few acres of farmland currently morphed into a large golf course, and serves as its clubhouse/offices.
From 1931 to 1950, our grandparents and their family lived, worked and slowly
prospered on the farm on Kivikoski Road, until their grown children found different occupations.
In 1950, Guido and Babba moved to Port Arthur to be closer to their children, building an 11-room white stucco house on Pine Street. They lived in it for two years, but being accustomed to country life and toiling the earth, they sold it, returning to Government Road where they first began.
They lived in a large, drafty old log house while they built a small four-room house set back in the trees. A well was drilled and a hand pump installed to draw potable water. Later, a small barn was constructed to protect farm equipment.
In our grandparents’ declining years, my mother cared for them at her home in Thunder Bay until they were eventually admitted to a local care facility. My grandfather died at age 85 of heart failure on January 22, 1971, in Thunder Bay. My grandmother was 83 when she died of complications due to diabetes, on August 25, 1974; sadly, my mother was away working on a freighter somewhere on the Great Lakes that day.
Still, after so many years of backbreaking labour, disappointments, heartbreak, sickness, personal deprivation and depressed economy, Guido and Babba did finally enjoy a few years of leisurely, pensioned life surrounded by the love of four generations. ■
Stella’s grandparents Harry and Paraska (Pansy).