«ESSAY: The First Ukrainian Businessmen (1902-1929) Well into the 1920s, a high rate of illiteracy, a rudimentary knowledge of English, and above all ...»
ESSAY: The First Ukrainian Businessmen (1902-1929)
Well into the 1920s, a high rate of illiteracy, a rudimentary knowledge of English, and above all a
lack of capital and business experience, relegated most of Winnipeg's Ukrainians to menial jobs.
Men worked as unskilled labourers on street and sewer construction, in the railway yards, in the
contract iron shops, and in the meat packing houses; the relatively small number of young single
women who were employed outside the home worked in paper box and garment factories, in meat packing plants, and in hotels, restaurants and cafes. Nevertheless, shortly after the turn of the century, a handful of enterprising immigrants began to establish businesses in the few sectors of the economy that were open to them, often drawing on skills and experience acquired in the old country. Between 1900 and 1930, Ukrainian-owned businesses were confined to corner grocery stores and meat markets; wood and coal dealerships; employment, travel, and real estate agencies;
boarding houses and restaurants; barber, shoe repair, tailor and haberdashery shops; billiard parlours; book, musical and art supply stores; photo studios, and, very briefly, just before the First World War, a small theatre on Selkirk Avenue. Whether they offered basic goods and services to immigrants and their families, or catered to the cultural needs of the more literate and sophisticated minority who were active in the burgeoning network of Ukrainian religious, political and cultural-educational institutions, such businesses depended heavily on the assistance of the entrepreneur's family and survived only as long as they enjoyed the support and patronage of the local immigrant community.
All skills and experience acquired prior to emigration could be invaluable to prospective immigrant entrepreneurs. The career of Petro Hawrysyshyn, who immigrated to Winnipeg in 1900, provides a case in point. The son of middling peasant farmers, Hawrysyshyn had been born in 1878 in Zelena, a village on the Zbruch River in Husiatyn county, eastern Galicia. He had learned to read and write Ukrainian and German from a private teacher, frequently carted grain to market in nearby towns, and was accustomed to handling oars, row-boats and ferries. His first job in Canada consisted of ferrying people and goods across the Red River, between East and West Selkirk. Then, after working on an extra gang for two years and sending his widowed mother $300 to purchase more land, Hawrysyshyn found full-time work in Winnipeg with the contractor John Gunn & Sons, carting building materials from Gunn's lumber yard to various city construction sites. Eager to go into business for himself, Hawrysyshyn soon purchased his own horse and cart and though he worked another six years for Gunn, he spent evenings privately carting fuel from lumber and coal yards to people's homes. Finally, in 1908, after purchasing a home at 67 Barber Street and renting a nearby lot Hawrysyshyn became the city's first Ukrainian wood and coal dealer. He worked dawn to dusk, from early autumn until late spring, importing wood from Ukrainian farms in the Interlake district north of Winnipeg and purchasing coal from the city gas works. Aided by his young wife, whom he had married in 1904, and by several siblings who had been persuaded to come to Canada, Hawrysyshyn built up a successful business (Harris Fuel Supply) that allowed him to provide a comfortable lifestyle for his wife and six children.
He also found time to join the Ivan Kotliarevsky Drama Society. Although he sold his first wood yard in 1919, and lost a great deal of money by opening a general store in rural Saskatchewan just as agricultural prices began to tumble after the Great War, the trust and reputation he had built up among his customers in Winnipeg allowed him to return to the city and establish Arborg Fuel in 1921, a new wood and coal dealership that he ran with Wasyl Mandziuk for more than 30 years. By 1929, at least four other Ukrainian-owned wood and coal supply businesses existed in Winnipeg - 3 in the North End and one in East Kildonan.
The massive influx of Ukrainian labourers, who were recruited to work on railway construction, in the mines and in the forests, and on various urban infrastructure projects between 1906 and 1914, presented enterprising immigrants with a variety of new business opportunities. As thousands of seasonal labourers passed through Winnipeg looking for work, seeking contractual advice, trying to return to the old country with their earnings, or looking for adequate housing in order to bring family members to Canada, a number of educated Ukrainians with a knowledge of English offered their services as notaries, employment, steamship and real estate agents. DM Sloboda opened the Ruthenian Chancery on Main Street several years before he was appointed a notary public in 1909; in 1912-13 Jaroslaw Arsenych, who was about to begin his law studies, and Osyp Boyaniwsky, a community activist, provided notarial services from their People's Chancery (narodna kantseliariia) at 845 Main Street. Antin Karakochuk established what was probably the first Ukrainian employment agency on Main Street in early 1907; several years later Harry Danyliuk was managing the Standard Employment Agency at 191 1/2 Higgins Avenue, and by 1916 he and Theodore Stefanik were running a Ukrainian Employment Bureau at the same address. Stefanik, whose career had already included stints as a city police detective, a bilingual school organizer and a city councillor, to list just a few of his occupations, had been associated with Ossowski & Stefanik Steamship Agents and Notaries prior to 1911, and then with notary Jaroslaw Kuninsky from 1911 until 1913 when he sold the business to George Machula.
Among the earliest Ukrainian real estate agencies were the Peace River Information Bureau, established in 1912 and helmed by socialists William Kolisnyk and Eugene Volodin, who claimed to be selling real estate in the Grouard townsite on Lesser Slave Lake to benefit workers and farmers. Ferley, Pankiw & Company, established in early 1914 at 854 Main Street, was owned and operated by Taras Ferley and Wasyl Pankiw; the agency sold city lots and houses, farms in the Manitoba Interlake, and ocean passage to Russia, in addition to preparing contracts and agreements. Ferley, whose business prospered, would become Manitoba's first Ukrainian MLA, representing Gimli as an Independent Liberal from 1915 to 1920, and he would also serve on Winnipeg city council in 1932 and 1933. He and three other local Ukrainians would still be in the real estate business in 1929. Kolisnyk, who established the General Repair Bicycle Shop at 885 Main Street after his very brief and inauspicious career in real estate collapsed, would become the first democratically elected Communist public official in North America in 1926 after winning a seat on Winnipeg city council.
Advertisements for Ukrainian-owned boarding houses began appearing in the Ukrainian press in
1908. The "Ruthenian Restaurant" (Rus'kyi restoran) located in the old Ashdown mansion at 109 Euclid Avenue offered 5 cent meals, a bed for the night at the same price, as well as rooms for $2 a month, or room and board for $10 a month. Such establishments were usually listed in Henderson's City Directory and claimed to provide "first class" service and accommodation. In general, however, facilities of this kind were exceptional. Most Ukrainian boarding house and hotel owners, who accommodated the legions of Ukrainian migrant labourers that passed through the city or spent the winter months in Winnipeg, had an unflattering reputation. With housing, especially for Slavic migrant labourers, in short supply, many boarding house operators tried to cram as many bodies as they could into their poorly equipped premises. In October 1909, for example, a pair of three- and four-room Ukrainian-owned boarding houses at 37 and 47 Austin Street in Point Douglas were found to contain 25 and 32 boarders living in what was described as 'abominable filth.' Two years later, on 1 May 1911, the police court was crowded with Ukrainians accused of keeping too many boarders in their homes; their defence was that unfavourable economic circumstances left them with no alternative. The city's only known Ukrainian (Ruthenian) hotel owner, a certain John Tymchorak who had purchased the Ontario Hotel at 860 Main Street in 1907 and also owned the Midland Hotel at 285 Market Street by 1912, was known to get his customers drunk, and then to beat them up. Apparently this was not enough to prevent Harold Trenholme, a local banker, from establishing the partnership of Trenholme and Tymchorak, Private Bankers, Steamship Agents and Insurance Brokers at 856 Main Street.
Onufrey Budnyk's career as a shoemaker, restaurateur and landlord provides a rare glimpse into the making of a successful immigrant entrepreneur. Born in 1883 in Ilyntsi, Sniatyn county - a very densely populated region where peasant land allotments were substantially smaller than in most of eastern Galicia - Budnyk had been orphaned in childhood and apprenticed as a shoemaker. He emigrated to Canada around 1905 and spent several years working in the bush and then as a labourer and teamster in Winnipeg, where he married Helena Botulinska, a young woman he had met in a market town near his native village. In 1910 Budnyk purchased a building at 594 Selkirk Avenue and began to repair shoes, a job that would occupy him for the better part of the next decade. The money he earned was invested in his building, which was located in the very heart of the Ukrainian North End, a few steps from the corner of Selkirk and McGregor, and no more than two or three blocks from three Ukrainian churches and three of the largest and most active Ukrainian cultural-educational organizations in the city. Three major additions were made to the building and by 1929 the impressive two-storey Budnick Block at 594-602 Selkirk, designed by Max Blankstein, Winnipeg's first Jewish architect, stretched all the way to the corner of Selkirk and McGregor. Beginning in 1912 and well into the 1950s, portions of the ever-expanding structure were rented out to a succession of Jewish and Ukrainian pharmacists, dentists and physicians, including Isaac Kepman, Elias Symchych, Nicholas Zalozetsky, Dr Manoly Mihaychuk, Dr Paul Zakus, Dr A Bloom, Dr Bronislaw Dyma, and Dr Frank Rybak, and to an assortment of confectioners, book store owners, benevolent associations and shoe stores. In 1918 Budnyk gave up repairing shoes and turned his attention to the confectionary and restaurant business, which remained his bread and butter well into the 1940s when he retired. Often working from 6 am to 2 am, and assisted by his wife, who did most of the cooking, and his children, who worked in the restaurant when not in school, Budnyk's new venture prospered, despite competition from several nearby cafes. Although Budnyk, like many Ukrainian immigrants from Sniatyn county, was a Ukrainian Radical at heart - he did not attend Ukrainian Greek Catholic services, had been married in the quasi-Protestant Independent Greek Church, and was a member of the socialist Volodymyr Vynnychenko Dramatic and Educational Society, the Ukrainian Labour Temple, and the People's Co-operative - his regular customers included Ukrainians of all political orientations and religious denominations, among them the pastor of Ss Vladimir and Olga Ukrainian Catholic cathedral, who purchased meals daily and accepted dinner invitations from the Budnyk's every Christmas and Easter; provincial and municipal politicians like TD Ferley, a long time president of the Ukrainian National Home and a prominent Ukrainian Greek Orthodox layman; and many prominent members of the pro-communist Ukrainian Labour Temple, the liberal Ukrainian National Home, and the rather conservative Ukrainian Reading Association Prosvita. This broad support was at least partially attributable to the fact that members of the family belonged to each of these organizations and participated in their cultural activities.
By 1912 the Lesiuk brothers owned the small Leland Theatre, at 572 Selkirk, between Andrews and McGregor. On the eve of the First World War weekly soirées (vechirky) of humour, music and song, organized by local Ukrainian drama circles and choral societies, were held here during the fall and winter months.
Tailors - Michael Skryha, Michael Hubicky, Stephan Tychowecky and O Dutchak (UCEC)
The city's Ukrainian immigrants and their organizations also constituted a significant market for books, musical instruments and art supplies. Even immigrants who were not avid readers needed Ukrainian-English dictionaries, primers on letter-writing and home medical care, prayer books, song books, and cook books, not to mention the books of prophecies and dream interpretations (sonnyky), which were often the only literature in peasant homes. Their more sophisticated countrymen wanted books of Ukrainian poetry, novels, popular history, and current affairs.