Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Sixty-four years ago today

In 1952 at the age of twenty-six my father came to this country, the reasons he chose to settle in Montreal are not completely clear to me, but I know that a large part of it had to do with that he spoke French and knew no English when he landed in Montreal, after a flight that originated in Brussels and followed a path which was very similar to mine during my first trip to Ukraine in the summer of 1990. It would be thirty-eight years later that I made stops in Gander, Newfoundland, and Shannon, Ireland it was somehow befitting that it was on Canada Day that I was travelling to my father's homeland which he had never returned to.

He, together with his brother, like thousands of others had been shipped off to Germany to be basically used as slave child labour by the Nazis. Later when the Soviet front advanced into Germany it did two things. By the time this happened his older brother was at an age were he would have been expected by Stalin's criminal regime to be serving in the Soviet Army, as a result, having been discovered working for a Germany farmer, he was shipped off to the Gulag. He spent over ten years in the Gulag having been considered a deserter and Ukrainian nationalist. The second thing that happened with the advance of the Soviet front was that the farmer my father had been assigned to as a farm hand had been notified of my uncle's arrest. Amazingly enough the communication had come from the farmer that my uncle had been assigned to, and it had come by pigeon. The farmer my father had been assigned to had lost all three sons to Hitler's war machine and was not very sympathetic to the Nazis, he also knew my father was someone elses child and he did what he could to keep him out of harms way. His wife packed my father some food and the farmer gave him a bicycle allowing him to hightail as fast as he could in the opposite direction towards where the western Allies had been pressing into Nazi Germany. Had he not made it to wherever that spot was I wouldn't be writing this right now.

After spending some time in displaced person's camps in post war Europe, my father was hired to work in the mines at Charbonnages d'Hornu et Wasmes, Compagnie des Charbonnages Belges in Wasmes, Belgium all thanks to the Marshall Plan. After working there a short time and having gained a better understanding of the French language he enrolled in a professional course at the École professionnelle des Mineurs du Charbonage du Hornu et Wasmes, in Wasmes. On this day, October 1, 1949, sixty-four years ago today, he received with High Distinction what was called a Diplôme de capacité in a trade which is in the coal mining industry known as boisage in the French language. In English it is know as timbering, though more specifically Mine Timbering.

Being gainfully employed, and performing a task that was, and always be needed in the mining industry, he continued working in Belgium while many other Eastern Europeans were already clambering on to ships for North America. In addition to spending a great deal of time underground, having survived a couple of cave-ins, and waiting on tables during his days off, he and with who had become his best friend Mykhaylo Mykhaylowicz and who would later become my godfather, decided that they would not spend two weeks or more on a crowded ship and a great place to catch one`s death during the journey to Canada, but would fly. Canada's doors were open, and the monies from the Marshall Plan were probably running dry thus forcing them to make their decision.

I can not be certain when he had made the decision to come to Canada, but I do recall him explaining to me his logic of why he settled in Montreal, which had been formulated primarily due to his ability to communicate in French. With his homeland now completely occupied the the Soviets, he saw no reason to return home, he was a patriot and wanted to see his native land as a free and democratic nation, that would never come to pass in his lifetime though. He like the thousands of others who had come to Canada from the part of the world where he had been born, was also a very proud to be a Canadian. There was never a question of where his or their allegiances were. Canada had become a haven for him and hundreds of thousands of other Ukrainians prior to the the first Great War, before the next one, and after WWII had laid to ruin so much of Europe.

While my father probably never knew of the following speech by one of Canada`s greatest statesmen, I know that had been very proud to be Canadian, though like we often say about different sports. You can take the person out of Ukraine, but you can`t the Ukrainian part out of the person when they become a Canadian. I am certain that this applies to all the different peoples who have made Canada their home over the last one-hundred and thirty some odd years.

Sir Wiflrid Laurier, 1907 Author:Unknown
“In the first place, we should insist that if the immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes a Canadian and assimilates himself to us, he shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed, or birthplace, or origin.. But this is predicated upon the person's becoming in every facet a Canadian, and nothing but a Canadian...

There can be no divided allegiance here.
Any man who says he is a Canadian, but something else also, isn't a Canadian at all.
We have room for but one flag, the Canadian flag...
And we have room for but one sole loyalty and that is a loyalty to the Canadian people.”
Sir Wilfrid Laurier, 1907
Vasyl Pawlowsky Independent Consultant

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