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Manitoba History: Young Historian: History of My Grandfather

by Andrea Deters

Manitoba History, Number 10, Autumn 1985

This article was published originally in Manitoba History by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make it available here as a free, public service.

Please direct all inquiries to webmaster@mhs.mb.ca.

Each year the Young Historians Committee of the Manitoba Historical Society presents awards to Elementary, Junior High and Senior High students who have prepared an outstanding essay or project “on some aspect of Western Canadian history.” Printed below is the Junior High essay that the Committee liked best among those submitted for 1984-85. It was written by Andrea Deters from the Margaret Barbour Collegiate, The Pas, Manitoba. Previously, her essay had won the local Young Historians competition sponsored by The Pas Historical Society, an affiliated member of the Manitoba Historical Society.

Andrea Deters with her grandfather Michael Palanychka

Histories of a people are records of their deeds and acts, of their aspirations, fulfilled and unfulfilled.

This is a history of my grandfather as told to me.

My grandfather’s name is Michael ‘Mike’ Palanychka. He was born on October 18th, 1900, in the Village of Koniuchow, Ctrij District, Lviv Region, Western Ukraine. My grandfather’s parents were George and Anna Palanychka. His mother’s maiden name was Barabash. There were nine children, six sisters and three brothers. My grandfather was the fourth born.

Due to the harsh living conditions under Polish rule, my grandfather decided to emigrate to Canada. On April 22nd, 1926, he said goodbye to his parents, brothers, sisters, relatives, friends and village, and left for Warsaw, Poland, by train, 560 kilometers away. There he had to stay one day, and check with the Immigration Department, where they made sure that his passport and all documents were in order. From Warsaw he travelled by train to the Port of Gdania, Poland. On April 26th, 1926, he boarded the ship, Melita. There were over a thousand immigrants aboard.

The ship set sail for England. However, the ship made a sudden turn and set sail for Belgium. It was learned that there was a general strike at that time in England. It was at this time that the passengers were advised that they were sailing for Brussels, Belgium. There were very many passengers who were very seasick. It took a day and a night to reach Belgium. When they arrived in Brussels, there were a few more passengers of different nationalities who boarded ship. They then sailed for Canada and arrived at the Port of Quebec, P.Q., on May 6th, 1926.

From the time the ship set sail from Gdania, Poland, and docked at Quebec, Canada, it had taken nine days and ten nights. It was a very rough journey with many passengers seasick.

The same day the immigrants arrived in Quebec, they were boarded on trains to wherever their affidavits read. My grandfather headed for Winnipeg. He stayed in Winnipeg for two weeks looking for work. However, he was unsuccessful as jobs were scarce and there was a heavy influx of immigrants.

Grandfather then decided to visit two aunts in Saskatchewan, one in Fenwood and one in Ituna, both living on farms. They were both his father’s sisters.

He arrived in Fenwood at two o’clock in the morning. The conductor called his name and said something to him in English which grandfather did not understand. He was the only passenger that got off the train. As soon as he got off the train, the train pulled away, and the lights were shut off in the station. It was totally dark outside. Grandfather sat on the bench against the station wall. It was very cold (he was wearing a suit no overcoat), and the mosquitoes were unbearable. He suffered through the ordeal until sunrise.

At seven in the morning section workers arrived for work. The foreman came up to grandfather and started speaking to him in Ukrainian, asking if he was a Ukrainian immigrant. Grandfather said, “yes.” The foreman said he thought so by his willow suitcase. Grandfather was too shocked to think quickly because the foreman was of a dark complexion, and was speaking Ukrainian. The foreman said that if he worked on a farmer’s field for four months that he would be dark like him.

The foreman asked who he came to see. Grandfather told him his Aunt Katie Sawchyn in Fenwood. He then asked why there was no one to meet him, as he knew who she was and that she lived two miles from the station. He told the foreman that he didn’t advise that he was coming, and besides he thought he would have no problem finding her, and it would be daylight when he arrived.

The foreman then directed him to a house where an elderly man lived from the same village as grandfather’s uncle, who was also his aunt’s farm neighbour. Swollen with mosquito bites (the foreman said that he would get used to the mosquitoes), he proceeded to the house. He was very welcomed in the elderly couple’s home. After breakfast, with horse and buggy, he took him to his aunt Katie. On the way grandfather was bombarded with questions about many people in the village in the Ukraine.

Aunt Katie was very surprised to see grandfather and she greeted him warmly. Grandfather was only two years old when she emigrated to Canada. He stayed with them for two weeks as she advised him to rest and see how people lived. They had no work for him on the farm because there were three sons and three daughters who helped out on the farm. His aunt also advised him to visit his aunt Mary Korinetz and family in Ituna, thirty miles away. Her family consisted of six sons and five daughters. Grandfather was a young child when his aunt Mary [also] emigrated to Canada.

Aunty Mary found grandfather work on a farm six miles away, for three months at thirty dollars a month, plus room and board. The hours were long, early morning to late evening, and the work was hard. One consolation was that the farmer was Ukrainian so they were able to converse. This work lasted until the completion of the harvesting. At this time also grandfather was enquiring where steady work could be found. Grandfather stayed on the farm all winter. For his room and board, he fed the cattle and horses and did any chores that had to be done.

Grandfather heard that there was a sawmill in The Pas (The Pas Lumber Company), and a railway being laid to Port Churchill. Grandfather left Ituna, by train, on April 6th, 1927, and arrived in The Pas on April 7th, 1927. He got to meet a number of friends. On April 22nd, 1927, he started employment with The Pas Lumber Company in the yard at twenty-five cents an hour.

In the spring of 1928, a new shaft (west shaft) was being sunk by Sherritt-Gordon Mines at Cold Lake, Manitoba. Grandfather and two friends decided to see if they could get employment there at a better wage. They hired a man with a boat and motor to get them to Cold Lake. There was also another couple (husband and wife), who joined them at Cranberry Portage. The trip was very difficult as there were twelve portages. Everyone was afraid as many times the waves were high and they wondered if the boat would overturn and everyone would drown. The trip was about forty miles from Cranberry Portage to Cold Lake. Grandfather got employment immediately as a moaker at sixty-eight cents an hour. The wages were better. However, grandfather got nosebleeds every day and was going bald. He worked for only six weeks. He flew back on a small plane to The Pas.

Immediately upon arrival in The Pas, he got employment (mixing cement), building the new Canadian National Railway station. The job lasted two months and the rate of pay was thirty-five cents an hour. The boss, Mr. Pete Campbell (he was the Bridge and Building Gang Boss) was impressed with grandfather’s cement work. When the station was completed, Mr. Campbell asked him to come with him to the Hudson Bay Railway Office, as Mr. Campbell had the construction of the roundhouse at Port Churchill in mind. There he spoke with Mr. McLaughlin, the Superintendent. Mr. Campbell then asked the male secretary for a train ticket for the steel gang. Mr. Campbell gave grandfather the ticket and told him to go to work on the steel gang, and that he would see him in Port Churchill in the spring. Grandfather started work immediately (August, 1928), with the steel gang at thirty-five cents an hour, and worked all winter until completion of the railway on April 2, 1929. Several political dignitaries from Ottawa and Manitoba, and the Canadian National Railway President arrived by the first train to Port Churchill ...

The winter was very bitter. Many men got frostbite and had to come to The Pas Hospital for treatment. The work was very difficult. Due to the muskeg and swampy land the engine jumped off the track almost daily. It took many hours of hand lifting to get the engine back on track. Also, two engines had to be used to push the pioneer, rails, ties, and all equipment for the work. When the engines could not push because of the frosty and slippery conditions, horses were brought in to pull the ties.

The men slept on bunks, twenty-six to a boxcar. For heat there was a coal heater in the middle of the boxcar. Therefore, most of the men had to sleep in most of their work clothes as it was too cold to change. The clothes froze to the boxcar walls.

Many stormy days the men had to shovel the snow. One mile of track had to be laid daily regardless of the weather conditions.

Behind them worked Extra Gang Number One, with Mike Clark, Boss, and John Bohay, Foreman. They worked on the track and also cleared the track of snow for the weekly trips of the train from The Pas for materials and mail.

When the railway was completed to Port Churchill, the men were divided into various jobs. One extra gang was formed, men were sent to open up new sections, some men returned to their homes, and some returned to their country overseas.

At this time a bridge and building gang was formed and Mr. Pete Campbell came to Port Churchill to work on the construction of the roundhouse. The pay was thirty-five cents an hour and the work was hard. However, the mosquitoes and flies were not as bad as they were when working on the steel gang, where the men had to cover their faces with nets when working and sleeping. Grandfather worked again at mixing cement until the end of September, 1929. He then returned to The Pas.

The girl that grandfather was to marry had come to The Pas in July from the same village in the Ukraine. She had been employed in a restaurant. Wedding plans were made. On November 21st, 1929, grandfather married Katherine ‘Kate’ Pelenyczka in the United Church, The Pas.

In January, 1930, grandfather started employment again with The Pas Lumber Company, doing the same job in the yard, loading lumber to the planer. The pay was twenty-five cents an hour. At this time was the start of the Great Depression. Business was slow for the Company. Therefore, the men were cut to two days of work a week.

At this time also there were many unemployed men from all over Canada in The Pas seeking work. They slept wherever they could, in boxcars, barns, sheds and parks. Many fished along the Saskatchewan River and cooked their fish and slept on the bank. Long lines of demonstrations were held to the Court House (town council), demanding work or relief. Many were arrested and deported to the country where they came from if they did not have Canadian citizenship papers.

In January, 1931, The Pas Lumber Company shut down for lack of business. Grandfather received a one dollar daily relief voucher ... for him and his wife.

This did not last too long as work was started laying lines for waterworks on Larose Avenue. Grandfather got work at ten cents an hour, ten hours a day, making one dollar a day. All this digging was done by hand as there was no machinery. The work lasted until winter, about four months. In the winter of 1932 Grandfather went on relief again.

In the spring of 1932, extra gangs were formed, and men with Canadian citizenship papers were hired. Grandfather started employment in May, 1932, at twenty-five cents an hour. The work lasted until fall. He then spent the winter of 1933 on relief again.

In the spring of 1933, grand-father was rehired by The Pas Lumber Company at twenty-two and one-half cents an hour, for two or three days a week. At this time there was only one shift working. Many men lost their jobs. Grandfather stayed with the Company until its closing in the spring of 1957. Grandfather had a total of thirty-one years with The Pas Lumber Company. In 1951, he received a gold watch for twenty-five years of service. In 1956, he received a gold chain for the watch for thirty years of employment.

Grandfather was unemployed a short period of time as the construction of the Provincial Building had commenced in The Pas. Grandfather was hired by Bird Construction, the contractor and was employed until completion of building.

Upon completion of building in 1959, grandfather was hired by the Provincial Civil Service as fireman for the boiler in the building[,] and [as] caretaker. Grandfather worked until [the] spring of 1966. He continued working for the provincial government, building barbeque pits, planting spruce trees, painting and [doing] other miscellaneous jobs at Clearwater Lake Provincial Park. He also planted willow trees in the Carrot Valley. This work continued to the fall of 1966.

After this grandfather worked as a night watchman during the construction of the Margaret Barbour Collegiate Institute.

This was the end of his employment as he went on pension.

Upon arrival in The Pas in 1927, there was a large community of Ukrainian people who participated in Ukrainian cultural activities. They bought a hall in 1922 and [it] was known as the Ukrainian Labour Temple. Grandfather joined these activities. He participated in numerous Ukrainian concerts, plays, choirs, and string orchestras. Also, concerts were presented at the local Lido Theatre during early music festivals. An addition was added to the hall which was used as the school room where students were able to learn to read and write in the Ukrainian language. The members maintained a teacher for all these activities and the teaching of the Ukrainian language.

Mike and Kate Palanychka raised four children, one daughter and three sons. There are seven grandchildren and two great grandchildren.

On November 21st, 1984, grandfather and grandmother celebrated their fifty-fifth wedding anniversary. There were many good and happy times and hard times.

Grandfather is going on to his eighty-fifth year, and is thankful that he is still in good health. Grandfather is keenly interested in world events. He enjoys reading Ukrainian newspapers, and composing poetry.

Grandfather says that Canada is a good democratic country to live in. His greatest hope is that his children, and great grandchildren will never know a nuclear war, and that they and all peoples will live in a world of peace.

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