Where Did They Come From?

Iwan and Maria Andrusiak came from the village of Mamornitza in a part of the world we usually think of as Ukrainian. Ukraine or The Ukraine is a fairly recent political entity and was certainly not a place when this couple left their homeland. They were living in the Austro-Hungarian Empire and at times would have been considered to be Austrian, something that confuses people who wonder why their Ukrainian ancestors were labelled Austrian.

If we think of Ukrainian as a culture, these people were certainly Ukrainian, having come from an ancient and enduring culture, perhaps thousands of years old. Their ability to survive on the land and to create the wonderful artistic images we see in old garments and on Easter eggs did not develop overnight. They were the product of a rich culture. Designs found on modern Ukrainian arts can be found on artifacts dating back 5000 years.

Iwan and Maria’s ancestors may have lived in the same place for many, many generations. Now, thanks to the records of births, marriages and deaths preserved by the Austro-Hungarian Empire we are able to see their families in the century before they arrived in Canada, allowing us a valuable glimpse into these families before and after immigration.

In 1900, also because of the detailed records kept by the Austro-Hungarian Empire, we know that the village of Mamornitza had a population of 571 people on 321 hectares. There was a landowner’s estate of 315 hectares in the area which had about 41 residents. The census from which these statistics were taken lists the number of men and women but does not tell us whether children were included in the count.

The people of the village were generally listed in the vital records as “teran” or farm workers. They would have had a house and a bit of land at the pleasure of the landowner and they were obliged to work for the landowner for one half of the days of the year. The villagers would have had a garden, a cow, a few chickens and pigs and a few fruit trees.

The climate was moderate but when cold weather arrived, they had no access to wood to cook or for fires unless they were allowed to collect some on the landowner’s estate.

Prior to 1848 the villagers would have been serfs, totally bound to the landowner. When serfdom ended, theoretically the villagers had more freedom but in practicality not much changed since villagers were not able to acquire land, share in the resources, or make decisions about their community.

By 1900 there was a changing political climate in which people in even this far-flung area of the Carpathian hills were aware that people deserved more freedom. This emerging political awareness along with a very sophisticated promotional campaign from North America enticed millions of people to emigrate.

Iwan and Maria Andrusiak and relatives and neighbours who emigrated from nearby villages as early as 1896 must have heard and seen the compelling advertising circulated by the Canadian government and immigration agents offering free land in an invigorating, brisk climate.

Iwan and Maria were not the first of their community to arrive to homestead in the harsh climate of southeastern Manitoba but they undoubtedly could not imagine the hardships they would face, even if they received letters from previous emigrants.

Iwan and Maria and their three children would have left their village and travelled to the nearby town of Czernivitza about 15 km away where they would have boarded a train for Hamburg about 1500 km away. As illiterate migrants they left us no written records of this part of their journey and most immigrants including Iwan and Maria, like many people traumatized by their experiences, were reluctant to talk about them.

At Hamburg Iwan and Maria boarded the ship SS Armenia on March 18, 1903. The passenger list included 1175 people which consisted of 955 men, 169 women and 52 children.

They arrived in Halifax on April 5, 1903 after 19 days at sea in unspeakably difficult conditions. The North Atlantic was cold and probably stormy, the food sparse and poor. There was no privacy even for women and their young children and they wouldn’t have been allowed on the classier decks of the ship. The water was contaminated and the sanitation approached health threatening. Maria’s children were 5, 3 and 1. Maria and her baby were sick and Dimitri (Metro) died about three weeks after they arrived in Manitoba.

Because the St Lawrence River was still frozen in early April, this family started their train journey across eastern Canada to Manitoba from Halifax, an almost 4000 km journey in a colonist coach with hard benches and no sleeping accommodation.

A speaker at a genealogical conference warned, “You may remember your grandparents as old and crotchety but also remember what they endured.”

Vichnaya Pamyat