Rivers Ukrainian Society and Community

           It had appeared that no one was going to undertake the task of doing a writeup for the Rivers Centennial History Book for the Rivers Ukrainian Society or their community so I decided to tackle the undertaking with as much information as I could find with the help of a number of people, including Jessie Bell and her source of information, The Rivers Gazette, which she and her husband owned and operated from 1956 -1986 and Walter Chernos who knows everything about the early community and was able to help me with any information that I needed. In addition, almost all of the information written on the everyday lives of the Ukrainian people I learned from my mother, Minnie Forman whose parents were among the early group of Ukrainians to settle in Rivers . I have also included information written by Bill Czuboka in his article in the Rivers Banner in recent years. In those early years of Rivers history, The Ukrainian community was extensive and vibrant and the History Book would be done an injustice to be totally lacking any of its story.*

          In the 1890 decade, the Canadian Government had actively and successfully solicited immigration to Canada from the rich farmland areas of what was known then as the easternmost regions of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and as a result, the vast majority of the early settlers became landowners and farmers in the New Land. The first Ukrainians came to Manitoba in the early 1890s mainly to northern settlements and as farmers of the land . The Ukrainian community in Rivers had come from many different regions of that politically unstable empire, but in contrast, the vast majority had come not to farm, but to work for the Grand Trunk Railway which needed labourers to build the railway across the length and breadth of the Dominion. In addition, many had come to join families who were already here. Certainly from the 1911 census of Rivers, people of Ukrainian heritage represented approximately 10 % of the population of the town and almost all worked for the railway. I have not looked at all the Rivers census records after that date but certainly, for a number of years, the Ukrainian population remained strong as the influence of the railway grew in the every day lives of the people of this country.

       Many of the early on Ukrainians built houses in the east part of town along First Avenue facing the railroad where they were employed.  These included the families of Demko Chura, Peter Lusny, George Kryvenki, Nicholas Chernos, Michael Dutka, Jim Mandzuik( Messel) and Gregorius** (Harry) Hryciuk. Others at the east end of  town but further north were Adam Daniels, Andrew Mandzuik (Messel), John Pylot and Bill Chopek.  Another group settled throughout the town but more towards the west end of Rivers and these included the families of Kyrulo Kamula, Mike Danylkiw, Dan Kamula, Philip Charkos, Mike Chubak, John Gayowski, Dmetro Kolotyelo, John Maksymczuk,  Pete Manshull, Sam Solimka, John Solimka, Joseph Shylega, John Shushko, Alex Subsky, N. Chura, Pete Luchuk, Joseph Charkos, The Bazuiks, George Martinessen, Steve Chopp, Theodore Zaharia, Adam Danilewicz ( Daniels)** and Mike Watermanuk. In the following decades, other names included the families of John Melinchuk, Alex Barda, Tony Savage, Rose Czuboka, Pete Smoke, Joe Sitko, Mike Maloney, Molly Kiez .**

       Almost without exception, whether they lived in the east or west end of town, they all raised most of their own food from their own gardens and farm animals - a cow, a calf, pigs, chickens, ducks, etc and many of them raised extra money by doing washing for single men, taking in boarders, selling produce and so on. Each family did their own butchering and made hams, side pork and ground up and smoked meat for garlic sausages. They all had a barrel of sauerkraut, a barrel of cabbage for cabbage rolls, a barrel of pickles, bins of potatoes, carrots, dried peas, broad beans, beets, garlands of onions and garlic and crocks of cream from which they made butter, buttermilk, cheese and cottage cheese. At different times of the year, they went into field and stream and gathered from the land - fish, mushrooms, fresh greens and berries. Every family had a barn for their livestock and in the summer, collectively they hired a herdsman to take their animals to graze in the fields south of town for the day and to bring them back home in the evening. For many years, that individual was Mike Watamanuk, a bachelor who had broken his back in his youth and found that he was unable to keep his railway job. On the way to the swimming hole, the children often stopped to listen to his stories, albeit a stutterer, about the Old Country and to listen to him play his flute as he passed the time of day. Tragicall, he was killed near his modest home in a hit and run accident in the mid 1950s. After a hard day's work, all of the Ukrainian people would gather at one of the homes with their children and reminisce about their previous lives “back home” and since they all came from different regions, they all had different stories to tell.

     Some of the Ukrainian people coming to Rivers were accompanied by their children and many of these children came from villages with no schools so that many could neither read nor write. In fact , many of the parents had not had that opportunity either. Depending on their age, many of these children found it difficult to start school in a completely different language and culture. Most of the parents spoke their own language both at home and all day in the Ukrainian neighbourhood (with the exception of the men at work ) so there was not necessarily any motivation for the older people to learn to speak English. Early on, some of the Ukrainian children in Rivers had learned to read and write Ukrainian from a school teacher who had boarded at one of the Ukrainain homes, and later on there was a large group of children who attended school every Sunday at the Ukrainian hall where they studied reading, writing, recitation of poetry and Ukrainian dance with their beautifully embroidered black vests and traditional costumes. In addition, every Christmas and in the summer holidays, the Society hosted special schools where they added plays to the agenda when Mr. P. Luchuk wrote pages and pages of parts for plays in which the youth  participated and there were choral presentations from the women. In the summer, the Society hosted dances every Saturday night with the Kolytylo orchestra of Nettie, Joe, Rose and Jim with Norma Grummet or Mary Maksymchuk playing the piano and the elder Mr. Kolytylo calling off the dances. The admission of 15 cents was not affordable for many who gathered outside the door to listen to the music while at other times, the 25 cent admission to include lunch was equally unaffordable.

      Of paramount importance in the lives of the early Ukrainians was their religious faith – almost all of the immigrants to Rivers were of the Greek Catholic rather than Greek Orthodox faith. We can be certain that early on, they would have built their first church as it would have been unthinkable for them to lack a venue for worship. In the 1963 book by Graham Barker, “The Story of Rivers”, he wrote that in 1909 the finishing touches were applied to a place of worship for foreign citizens and I am certain that he would be referring to the little wooden Greek Catholic Church that was built at the corner of 5th and Columbia that originally served the needs of the community but was replaced in the 1950's with a new and bigger version. To begin with, the church was serviced by a priest who would arrive on a Friday by train from Winnipeg every third week and would take the train back on Monday. The parishioners would take turns boarding him for the week-end and since he was so highly regarded, there was a flurry of activity in the household in which he would be staying – cleaning, cooking and lectures on proper behaviour for the children. The youth would always attend catechism on the Saturday and all the families participated in a lengthy service of worship on the Sunday -always to the beautiful strains of the choir and the chanting of the priest. There were a large number of Holy Days that were recognized in their faith and if the priest was unable to be at the church for some of the more important ones such as Christmas and  Easter, some families would travel to Winnipeg to attend those services.

        In the early years, most social occasions were held in conjunction with religious celebrations and took place in individual homes where food was prepared and there was dancing and entertainment to a fiddler or a cymbala player. The children were always allowed to attend and when tired, would crawl into a bed until their parents were on their way home after the evening festivities. But, as the community grew, the Old Victoria House was ultimately purchased in 1929 for their activities such as meetings, social occasions and Ukrainian lessons in dancing and language .The first formal Ukrainian Society appears to have been formed that year, probably with the purchase of the Old Victoria House and a stage production done in the Ukrainian language was held at the time and, according to The Rivers Gazette, with entertainers K. Kamula, H.Brick, A.Danielevicz, J.Schelega, J. Shusko, P. McLean, A. Subsky,  J.Maksymchuk, Mrs. H. Hnysh and Helen Hryciuk.

       The names of members of the Rivers Ukrainian Society at that time were put on a parchment and the framed document was kept on the wall of the hall and will hopefully eventually reside in a Rivers Museum. The document is entitled :   

                                                                Rivers Ukrainian Society

                                                   In the name of Taras Schevchenko ***
Members 1929-1951

     Mr. J Shushko                            Mr. and Mrs. K Kamula               Mrs. N Churra     
     Mr. ans Mrs. J Messel                 Mr. and Mrs. D Kamula               Mrs. R Czuboka
     Mr. and Mrs. J Shylega               Mr. and Mrs. H Hryciuk               Mr. F Malinoski
     Mr. and Mrs. P Luchuk               Mr. and Mrs. M Chubak               Mr. and Mrs. J Klocko
     Mr. and Mrs. N Chernos             Mr. and Mrs. J Gayowski              Mrs. A Gerela
     Mr. and Mrs. A Daniel                Mr. and Mrs. A Mandzuik             Mrs. A Dutka               
     Mr. and Mrs. J Maksymczuk      Mr. and Mrs. P Charkos                Mr. and Mrs. J Chubak
     Mr. and Mrs. A Subsky               Mr. and Mrs. J Melinchuk             Mr. and Mrs. J Charkos
     Mr. and Mrs. M Danylkiw          Mr. Mike Gnypp                          Mr. and Mrs. Alex Barda

           It appears that the Ukrainian Society rented the nearby Four Star Theatre upon occasion when there was insufficient room for large social gatherings such as dances and that probably is what precipitated a decision to build a new Ukrainian Hall in 1931. A meeting was held, funds were solicited and all was ready to proceed when an argument ensued as to where they would build the new hall. The west end members wanted it to be built at the corner of Second Avenue and Columbia Street and the east enders favored a site further east on Second Avenue. Since an agreement could not be reached between the two factions, the west enders finally went ahead and built the 24 ft x 50 ft. building on their own, where they wanted it, and with lumber from the old hall. A Gala Opening was held for the Taras Shevchenko Hall on Labour Day Sept 7 / 1931 with a dinner, speeches, music and dancing - and a 35 cent admission charge. Since my mother 's family was one of the east enders, she was forbidden to attend but recalls standing outside the hall with her friends tapping their toes to the music and wishing that they could join in the festivities. Within a year, the dissident groups had reconciled and all were able to participate in the social occasions, the language and dance lessons and the concerts. In memory of the opening of the hall, subsequent Labour Days were always celebrated there with an extravagant meal, speeches, entertainment and dancing...and always with invited guests.

        Many renovations were made to the original building over subsequent years, including a balcony designed as a mezzanine for orchestral accommodation, waterworks, washrooms, kitchen cupboards, natural gas in 1965 followed by new flooring, relining the walls and ceiling, new kitchen appliances and reshingling of the roof. In 1971, the insulbrick was removed and replaced with siding and a sloping canopy at the street entrance. Roofing was again replaced in 1990 and two years later, an addition was made to the south end of the building. The front entrance was moved to the northeast corner in 1994, affording more protection from the elements, and finally the siding was replaced with new in 1998.
         The second list of members of the Rivers Ukrainian Society was documented and framed for the period 1960-1989
and, as in the case of the first one, it is hoped that someday it will find a home on the walls of a Rivers Museum. The names on this document are as follows:

Mr. and Mrs. Joe Sitko                    Mr. and Mrs. John Ewasiuk         Mr. and Mrs. P Boryskavich
Mr. and Mrs. A Pshyk                      Mr. and Mrs. J Lisowesky           Mr. and Mrs. J Sworyk
Steve and Elsie Dowhan                Mr. and Mrs. M Maloney            Mr. and Mrs. D Citulsky
Mr. and Mrs. Roy Stevenson           Mr. and Mrs. G Potter                 Mr. and Mrs. Ron Citulsky
Mr. and Mrs. P Sworyk                    Mrs. M Forman                          Mr. and Mrs. Romaine Chubak      
Mrs. A Savage                                 Mr. and Mrs. G Anderson           Mr. and Mrs. G Kozak
Mr. and Mrs. John Kiez                   Mr. and Mrs. J Plaseski               Mr. and Mrs. P Manchull
Mr. S Martinessan                           Mr. and Mrs. D Kosteski            Mr. and Mrs. M Gare
Miss Anne Martinessan                  Mr. and Mrs. P Jarema                Mr. and Mrs. W Citulsky
Mr. and Mrs. J Boak                         Mr. and Mrs. F Hayhurst            Mr. and Mrs. P Citulsky
Mrs. and Mrs. A Gerelus                  Mr. and Mrs. N Kamula              Mr. and Mrs. S Manuluk   
Mr. and Mrs. W Sametz                   Mr. and Mrs. A Johnson                                                                                      

         The Ukrainian Society and the Taras Schevchenko Hall represented the means by which the Ukrainian population of Rivers over the years were able to maintain and enjoy their cultural heritage. Their Literary Society promoted song and dance by encouragement of youth through lessons throughout the year and becoming active in the Ukrainian School of Dance for Youth. In the mid to late 1930s, the Society hired a school teacher from Ontario, Alexander Geral (who later married Lena Messel) to give lessons in language, song and dance for the entire summer for several years and there were upwards of fifty students who spent their entire summer holidays at classes. I'm sure that many of them were envious of their English friends as they headed off to the swimming hole at the river each day. Many social occasions were held in the hall where the entertainment was a mixed choir of their own ranks in their own language with recitations from the works of Taras Shevchenko ***. They hosted a concert to hear the 60 member Koshetz Memorial Choir and on another occasion, to enjoy the Rusulka Dancers from Winnipeg. Local members produced a choral tape dedicated to pioneers of their Society and many years, they participated with a float in parades here and there with their colourful costumes.

        The Society raised funds for their activities with hall rental fees for concerts, weddings, dances and social occasions of all manner, weekly bingo games and government grants to help with renovations. Occasionally, funds were also raised from the sale of tickets for one of their famous Ukrainian dinners. Notable in that department for many years were Annie Sitko and Molly Kiez who also acted as convenors of hall activities.  And with the funds they raised, the Society was a very benevolent one; they made many annual donations to local as well as outside organizations ranging from $800.00 to $1650.00 in support of the Ukrainian Church, Riverdale Hospital (furnishing a ward), Heart and Lung Associations, Red Cross Society, March of Dimes, Children's Aid, Kiwanis Club, Prairie Crocus Regional Library, Rolling Dale Workshop, The Golf Club,  Lions Club,  Rivers Pipe Band, Palliative Care, and scholarships for  local groups. A donation close to their hearts of $ 500.00 was made in 1991 to the Oakburn Centennial Committee which erected a large granite monument to commemorate the One Hundredth  Anniversary of Ukrainian Settlement in Canada and at a nearby stone cairn, reburied the remains of 42 children and 3 adults who died tragically in a scarlet fever epidemic in May of 1899 shortly after emigrating to the area. The Society also provided well water as a public service to Rivers and area from a source at the south end of the building through the 1970s, later adding an electric pump to replace the old iron handle.

       The activities in the hall revolved around the regular meetings and a series of special days each year, many of them religious, but others such as the celebration held Labour Day to commemorate the opening of the hall. The meetings held once per month were always preceded by an elaborate Ukrainian meal prepared by the Ladies Auxiliary before they attended to the business at hand. Serving as Society Presidents from earliest newspaper records were N. (Jim) Messel from 1954, Adolf Pshyk (1963-1969 and 1978-1980 ), Bill Citulsky (1970-1973, 1977-1978 and 1983-1985 ), Joe Chubak (1976) and Peter Citulsky (1986-1989 and 1992 on). In 1969, life memberships were presented to Mrs. A. Gayowski, Mr. and Mrs. Alex Subsky, A Mandzuik, M. Danylkiw, Mike Gnypp, Mrs. N. Chernos, Mrs. K. Daniels and  Mrs. R. Chubak and in 1989, Stan Martinessen was presented with a plaque as a life member. The 60th Anniversary was celebrated in 1989 with a dinner prepared by the Society ladies and  Past Presidents and Charter members were honoured.  Along with the attending members, there were many guests invited from surrounding towns, western provinces and San Diego, California.

        Serving in the military from the Rivers Ukrainian Society were Emil and Walter Daniels ( Danilywicz), Joe Klocko , Walter Harry, Bill and Michael Messel, Mike Maksymczhuk, Mike and Bill Malinosky, Violet Shelega, Minnie Shylega, Michael Czuboka, Bertram Shelega,  Fred, Nick, William and John Kamula, Philip Chura, William Dutka, Sam Zaharia and six Luchuk brothers  - David, Joe, Francis, James, Peter, and Reggie. The six ton bomb that destroyed the mighty German  battleship, the Tirpitz, had been released by Rivers born F/O Walter Daniel and he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. Bill Czuboka recently worked with Sheila Runions, editor of the Rivers Banner, in copying and safeguarding the photographs of Ukrainian military men and women which grace the walls of the Rivers Legion Branch #75 and the United Church.

       Notable from local Ukrainian families are Dr. Emil Daniels, medical doctor , Professor Harry Messel, mathematician and physicist who established a Nuclear Research Foundation in Sidney, Australia ; Michael Messel, a mining engineer who served in South America doing intelligence work during the war and later in Quebec; Edward Manchul and Metro Danylkiw, professional engineers in Eastern Canada and Michael Czuboka, school superintendent in Eastern Canada and professor at two universities in Ukraine. Taking part in local businesses were Philip Charkas (tailor) , John Zeliska (barber), Tad Hoyak (shoe repair) Minnie Forman (maternity home and florist), Mike Kowalchuk, watchmaker and jeweler  and Walter Chernos who served as Town Policeman for 31 years,  retiring in 1992.

       The Ukrainian Community probably flourished with the success of the early railway but possibly declined with the same vagaries. The energetic and sizable community that existed in Rivers early in the 20th century slowly declined over the years to the present time when there are sparse few in the town of Ukrainian heritage. The hall was kept well maintained for many years but in 2009 , the few remaining members decided to dissolve the Ukrainian Society and the building was sold shortly after and became Chris's Cafe- fitting that the building became a place where delicious food was served in an atmosphere of sociability.  Proceeds from the sale of the hall were donated to the Riverdale Personal Care Home- a testimony to their history of generosity and commitment to community.

         One needs only to walk through the rows at the cemetery and read the names on the headstones to fully grasp the change that had occurred over the decades- Chernos,  Danilevitch, Manshul, Subsky, Shushko,  Kolotylo, Charkas, Luchuk, Chubak, Maksymchuk, Charkas, Lusney, Kamula, Danylkiw, Chura, Bazuik, Martinezan,  Melinchuk, Barda, Czuboka, Chopek, Pylot, Chopp, Solimka, Kryvenki, Hryciuk, Watamanuk, Mandzuik, Dutka, Shylega, Bandelyk, Gayowski, Zaharia, Tomuik, Messel, Sitko, Pshyk, Klocko. Bondolok, Sworyk, Barda, Fesciuc, Gnypp, Malinoski, Gerela,  Manuluk,  Sworyk,  Plaseski and more. The contribution that these early pioneers made should not be forgotten -  they served their community and their country and should be remembered as the vibrant community that they were.

           * I did my best to research information and convey it to paper but there are undoubtedly errors and omissions . ….Lorna Short

          ** Ukrainian first names were often Anglicized by their priest so that the name was more pronounceable in English; for example Gregory became Harry since the G in Ukrainian was pronounced as an H in English. In addition, some of the Ukrainian families in the 1940s Anglicized their Surnames as well -  for example, Danilevicz became Daniels and . We can appreciate the pronunciation problems and possibly the opportunity to avoid the racial prejudice that was so prevalent at the time.
       *** Taras Schevchenko was an artist, thinker and the poet laureate of the Ukraine in the mid 1800s and wrote extensively about the oppression of the Ukrainian people.