Posted by: ShawnC | July 1, 2009

An immigrant’s story on becoming Canadian


Sifting through my father Stefan Harasim’s photos and memorabilia, I am reminded of when he spoke of the “Old Country”. As a child, I watched him organize parcels to be sent to his family in rural Ukraine, his birthplace, at that time still behind the Iron Curtain. Dad devoted hours organizing scarves, shawls, leather, and fabric to send to his siblings, their families and other members of an extended family whom my mother, brother and I knew very little about.

My grandfather, John (Ivan) Harasymyszyn, left Ukraine to escape political persecution after the First World War, hoping to have one son (my father) and daughter join him in Canada. But then the Second World War broke out, preventing this from happening. During the war my father experienced much trial and tribulation in the form of the hunger, fear and wear-and-tear on his body from excess physical farm work –only to become one of many displaced in postwar Europe, unable to return to his homeland.

Dad, since the age of four, had held onto the hope of living in Canada. In 1946 the dream was realized, while working in Belgium’s coal mines, after learning his own father had died. Sponsored by my grandfather’s friend, Dad arrived in Halifax in 1948 and continued west on a train destined for the Edmonton area, where he would start his new Canadian life. He worked diligently at it. In the 1950s he moved to Calgary and met my mother, a

“Canadian farmer’s daughter.” They married in 1955.

Communist rule ended in Ukraine during the late 1980s, allowing its citizens some freedom of travel. In 1992, my father made the decision to return to Ukraine to visit his family’s village, a place he had not seen since the early 1940s. Here he rekindled relationships and travelled extensively for six weeks. Very little had changed. People still hitched their horses to wagons to bring produce on market days to the village. He did see the fruits of his labour to improve his family’s quality of life, particularly the tractor he financed. Dad’s family was “one of the lucky ones” with relatives in Canada to help.

The day my father returned to Calgary, Mom, my husband and I met him at the airport. We rode home in relative silence, my parents holding hands. Dad commented on the smooth ride in contrast to those he had just taken in Ukraine’s shock absorber-free vehicles navigating on bumpy roads.

After pulling into the driveway, Dad hopped out of the car and looked out over his large vegetable garden. He lit up a cigarette and observed: “I am home. Canada is my home.”

Anne Gafiuk is a Calgary freelance writer.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: