By Cindy (Slobodian) Black – Wawota, Sask.
In 2002, I decided to make a dedicated effort into finding out my dad’s family history. Dad’s parents were born in Austria and dad was born in Poland. That didn’t make much sense to me, so I had a lot to learn.
Dad said his oldest cousin, Lena, in Winnipeg would know the most. I wouldn’t know much today without her detailed knowledge giving me stories and clues to research.
My great-grandfather Pete (Petro) Slobodzian was born in 1870 in the village Olchowczyk, Husiatyn, Galicia in the Austrian Empire. He was the first member of my father’s direct family to come to Canada leaving his wife and seven children behind.
Lena told me Pete had actually travelled two or three times to Canada. While no one really believed that story, I set out to follow the paper trail.
Pete settled at Gladstone, Man., working for a couple of farmers, Magnus Wilson and Hembroff and at Bob Muirhead’s butcher shop.
I haven’t had success yet in finding Pete on any passenger list for any years he might have arrived, but one day I found a very interesting treasure on the ancestry.com website.
It was a border crossing dated November 1910 stating Pete was leaving Canada to go back to Austria and he’d arrived in April 1910. That makes two ocean crossings because he came back to Gladstone.
Lena’s story gets more interesting as she said during one attempted journey back to Canada, he’d lost his passport – forcing him back to his village for another one. This likely saved his life since he had been booked to travel on the Titanic.
I haven’t been able to prove or disprove this, but his old-age pension application states he arrived May 15, 1912 – a month after the Titanic sank. I’ll assume this was his last trip to Canada. Great-grandfather Pete died at Gladstone Nov. 13, 1945 and was buried in Winnipeg.
Pete intended to bring his whole family to Canada, but for reasons unknown that didn’t happen. Pete’s wife died about 1918. During the 1920s Pete was able to pay passage for his three oldest sons to Canada, unfortunately leaving his three daughters and one son in Olchowczyk, Poland (under Polish rule between the two wars).
Pete’s second oldest son was my grandfather Nicholas. It took Nicholas three-and-a-half years to save enough money working on the CNR to send for his wife and two sons. They arrived in April 1929.
Grandpa Nicholas met them at the train in Winnipeg, bought them new clothes then had their first picture together in Canada.
Nicholas’ oldest son was my father, Walter, born at the Lisky farm, a Polish landlord estate near Kociubince, Poland, a few miles west of Olchowczyk. Dad had just turned seven before the voyage and didn’t remember his father. Grandpa Nicholas hadn’t seen his son Stanley yet.
Nicholas and Rose had one child, Edward, born in Canada. After finding my father’s first cousins still in the same village, Vil’khivchik, Ukraine today, Edward and wife Annette took my cousin Bonnie and me to Ukraine to meet everyone and even found the house my dad was born in.
I believe my dad, grandparents and even Great-Grandpa Pete were there with us in spirit.
Grandpa Nicholas and family settled at Fairlight, Sask., for a few years before moving to Brandon, Man. His three sons married local Fairlight women where dad and Uncle Stanley remained. Uncle Edward eventually moved to the U.S.
As we sadly remembered the 100 year tragedy of the Titanic disaster, it also reminded me that it could’ve been our family tragedy, too. We’re just lucky my Great-Grandpa Pete ‘missed the boat’ and passed down 100 years of freedom in Canada to his descendants.
Maybe it’s not all bad losing an important document once every 100 years. I’ll keep searching for new ‘old documents’ in my quest for family stories.