Pioneers did what it took to pursue their faith

Published on Tuesday, 17 January 2023 07:25

By Ed Stozek
For the Herald

My mother cherished the prayer book passed down to her by her mother, Malania Hutsal. The prayer book provided solace for my mother’s faith during her lifetime.

Our son Troy attended the Smith-Jackson Ukrainian bilingual program in Dauphin and he often read her passages from the prayer book. To show her appreciation for reading in Ukrainian, she gave Troy her prayer book. Years later, when Troy was attending university in Winnipeg, we phoned to tell him that his grandmother had a stroke and was in the hospital. Troy noted that he hadn't read from the prayer book for several years, however, earlier that day something compelled him to take out the book and read several passages.

When the Eastern European settlers arrived in the Parkland during the late 1800s they first established themselves on their homesteads and then their efforts turned to building places of worship. Initially services were held in individuals' homes, especially when a priest passed through the area.

At Dolyny, located eight miles northeast of Oakburn, parishioners including my grandparents, Samuel and Malania Hutsal, donated lumber and funds to help build a new church.

“The first Ukrainian settlers arrived in 1899 from Halychyna, a province in Austria. They named the district Dolyny, which in the Ukrainian language means low spots or flats. Twenty-three members helped to organize the St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Parish.” (Our Story to 1984)

At the first parish meeting, one acre of land was donated by Mychaleo Bachewich. The members voted for a $30 levy to provide a building fund. Members who did not have $30 took out promissory notes at the Shoal Lake Lumber Yard so that supplies were immediately available. Designed by Reverend Phillip Ruh and led by local carpenters Ivan and Peter Koltusky, parishioners helped to construct the church between 1904-07. The church’s five domes were based on designs from Western Ukraine. It was one of the first churches in the province to incorporate a large structural centre dome that opened on to the interior, creating a light-filled space symbolic of heaven above.

In the early days church services were infrequent. “When a priest did visit a parish, it was not unusual to see as many as seventeen couples standing in a row in front of the altar waiting to be married. Similarly, there were ten families baptizing their babies one Sunday.” (From The Past to The Present)

One can visualize a Sunday morning when Sam and Malania and their children used the horse and buggy for the long journey from Horod to Dolyny. Their journey became much shorter when the Holy Eucharist Church at Horod was completed in 1922.

In 1900, 12 families came together to Canada on the same ship and settled in the neighbouring Seech district. They missed going to church on Sundays and for Ukrainian holiday services.

“On Good Friday Fred Barabush pruned the lower branches between two pine trees, hung a church bell that he had brought from the Ukraine and started to ring it. The toll of the church bell could be heard for several miles. His neighbours heard the bell and came to investigate. Barabush asked the neighbours to congregate at his place that Sunday. Barabush knew the whole Easter service by memory and led the service that day.” (From the Past to the Present)

The first death necessitated a cemetery and the need for a church building. A meeting was held at Barabush’s home. He agreed to sell several acres from his farm for 50 cents to establish the church and cemetery. With 13 members on the committee, money was donated and the first logs were cut. Wasyl Kuch, the chief architect, modelled the church from the one in his native village of Elawchi. Built in 1911 at a cost of $1,500, the main carpenters, Wasyl Kuch and Theodore Nowasad, were aided by many local volunteers.

Prayer books were treasured possessions in the lives of the Ukrainian settlers. Translated into English the title related to “the road to life.”

Even though the book is tattered and missing several pages, its passages are a testament to the faith that Troy’s great grandmother and grandmother exhibited.

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