In 1983, local volunteers shared their stories and photographs to put together a History Book called “Our Legacy Smoky Lake” – an excellent book of stories and pictures of the settlers in and around Smoky Lake. The printed version is no longer available. However it has now been reproduced on DVD in a PDF format.
Below are a few excerpts from this amazing thousand page book
Smoky Lake Museum
Our Ukrainian Pioneers
In the spring of 1899 over thirty families left their small Ukrainian village of Toporiwtsi, situated in the county of Chernovtsi, in the province of Bukovina. Their destination was “Kanada” and their goal was the fulfillment of a dream not clearly discerned but embracing a vague optimism of something better than they had yet known. Their courageous venture encouraged another group to follow in 1900, and a subsequent, larger group in 1902. There was justification for their decision. The life they were about to leave was dimmed with drudgery. Although the shackles of serfdom were being eased, poor agricultural conditions, shortages of land, and continued redistribution of land among family members, projected a life of poverty and hardship deep into the future. Employment was menial, rewarding only a meagre subsistence, and education, the vehicle by which to escape an impoverished life, was an unattainable reality. However, rumor of “free land, wide fields and open prairie as far as the eye could see” offered encouragement. Letters from earlier settlers in the Egg Lake district (Andrew, Star, Wostok) confirmed the rumor, while land agents reinforced similar accounts. Amid such circumstances they chose to place their faith in the hands of providence and embark in quest of a brighter future.
They left behind family and friends, often the wife or children, their established traditions, and their village with its straw thatched, mud plastered, white washed homes cloistered around a Greek Orthodox Church the fountain of their faith, and they took with them an unrelenting determination to meet the vast expanse of “unknown” with hope and courage.
The trek from Toporiwtsi was far from easy. An immediate handicap was language. Knowing only Ukrainian they faced impatient, uncomprehending, and often unscrupulous immigration officials, Their voyage from Hamburg, Germany to Halifax was a two week ordeal and many were overcome with regrets and homesickness. The train trip from Halifax to Winnipeg, the Immigration Centre to the West, and finally to Strathcona, South Edmonton, completed the first phase of their sojourn half way around the world.
The next phase was probably more traumatic. With their small initial savings nearly exhausted, they stood on the threshold of the “vilni zemli” with fear, uncertainty, and flagging spirits.
Read more in the book Our Legacy
One important structure on a Ukrainian settler’s homestead was an outdoor clay oven. It was built at the same time or immediately following the building of the first shelter or house. It was in this oven where the bread was baked. When large quantities of food had to be prepared for occasions such as weddings and other celebrations, the cooking was done in large pots placed in the heated oven. It was ideal for both purposes.
There were small variations in the style of the outdoor ovens but the principle in the building of the oven was the same. The oven was built off the ground at a comfortable height. A wooden platform, about 4′ x 6’, was placed on strong upright log supports or on a log base resembling the walls of a log house. Usually this platform was built of small round logs. Often it was covered with stones. Over the platform a framework for a rounded roof was constructed of strong willow wands. This frame was covered with a thick coat of clay plaster both inside and out. The base also was thickly plastered. An opening for a door was left at the front of the oven but the back was closed in. A small hole in the roof was left for a vent.
Read more in the book Our Legacy