The Ukrainians say ‘Na Zdorowlia’ to toast good health

The Ukrainians say ‘Na Zdorowlia’ to toast good health
I accepted the above from barber Ed Shepanski–despite the end of his name being “ski,” which is Polish. And Nick Andrusco helped on spelling.
For most of us, the Ukrainians and Polish seem like the same people, whatever they think back in Europe. So, over here it’s safe to put them together like all the Scandinavians of a previous column.
And this was timely because U.S. President George W. Bush was touring Russia and the Balkan countries to try talking them into becoming democracies, which I have not heard their immigrants protesting over here.
And I hope for the good of their people, they can be persuaded.
The Ukrainians fit into Canada as well as the Swedes and others. And if you look around Fort Frances, you can easily see they helped make us prosperous, whether you consider their efforts as Prairie farmers or papermill and railroad workers.
There may have been even broader interests among the Ukrainians than the Scandinavians—famous as the latter became for our construction, bushwork, and sawmilling trades.
They produced some of our school teachers, built their own church (St. George’s) next to the Ukrainian Hall near the railroad tracks, and just think about how the famous Andruscos here gave us concerts, including great singing and dancing.
And if there ever became a need to identify this community culturally, you probably would invite Nick and Walter Andrusco, two of the three brothers who performed in the town band, as well as the younger generation (Billy, Eugene, and Mike) to hold the stage all night and hope they never tired.
Let’s see here: the papermill blacksmith for many years was John Fichuk, and from there up to our current mayor, Dan Onichuk, we appreciated Ukrainians for all of their diversified talents.
Let’s not forget to mention here their skills in the kitchen. Sure, we all grabbed at their perogies and other culinary treats right along, but remember the top chefs at our top hotel, the Rainy Lake, for years were the two Matts, first Grynol and then Rogoza.
Next door, Tom Cherwinski ran his six-table poolroom where we boys would stop to warm up at his wood heater before crossing the international bridge on foot many cold nights years ago when cars were scarce.
And the Bodnars also fed us further down Scott Street.
I grew up among the Solaryks, Melynchuks, and Fichuks of my generation and ate with them in their homes occasionally, and always admired their gardens while my parents also were growing our vegetables nearby.
I’ll never forget the Kowalchuk brothers, Mike and John, on their guitars after lessons they took downtown every week, same as me, and then Mike later became a popular town councillor.
Yes, wherever you looked, you could find a Ukrainian doing something of extra interest and they are all still at it, though today it’s not so much the rough old trades they brought from overseas with them or livelihoods learned in our leading colleges.
I won’t say the Ukrainians are all more lively in their approach to life than many of us, but they always have impressed me. And I’ll insist that like so many other Europeans, we couldn’t think about doing without them because they have come to the right place to be appreciated.
And there is still lots of room for more.
• • •
Our old neighbours years ago in the north end, where the Ukrainians largely settled, included the Stachiews, Zamalynskis, Chernaskes, and Dryzyks—and more likeable neighbours would be hard to find.
Incidentally, my best friends have included Mike Hupchuk in Robert Moore school days, and Ed Chernaske during my early working years.
• • •
Every spring now, I’m missing Ned Gosselin for his skill at smoking suckers. Ned would accept half your catch for his pay.
I’ve not yet heard about the suckers running in our creeks this spring, but have you tried gaffing for them in the Ranier rapids from the bridge?
• • •
Dale Hoard, like me, found a Crozier farm beside the river hard to resist. We were a couple miles apart, but both of us went in for beef cattle while Dale, a papermill hand, also sold pulpwood, which was plentiful around him whereas my farm had been fully cleared.
So we got to talking and I learned his father, Bill, while having one withered arm, was as active as anyone less handicapped and even enjoyed boxing—using an incredible wallop that surprised several who learned too late.
Bill and I both bought schools along the main highway, him at La Vallee and my school at Crozier, which sold eventually to our school bus contractor, Clarence Wright, for a bus driver.
When I dropped in at La Vallee years ago to see Bill, I found him busy digging with one arm as well as anybody. He sold his school later to a business.
• • •
It’s tough to find anyone who has decided to defy our up and down weather long enough to plant a garden anywhere in town, and I don’t expect lawn mower sales have been extra bisk here yet, either.
So with all that free time, how’s fishing? Too cold, I’m told, so don’t expect the vermin to bother you much this early summer.
Nary a mosquito, blackfile, woodtick, or tent caterpillar has shown up to discourage your outings so far, and yet many around here are demanding steady sunshine and higher temperatures before our sad summer is followed by an early fall.
• • •
I was flattered to receive a breakfast-time phone call from northern New Brunswick. My caller was Bob Frenette, now 64, who left here as a 17-year-old and said he never missed reading our Times or my column.
He was a son of O.J. Frenette, who once lived next door to Walter Andrusco. He remembered Walter leading the town band in practise in a garage in his backyard garage, which was long before he moved east and served in the navy until 1958, if I heard this correctly.
• • •
I’ll always enjoy that old westerner, Gabby Hayes, and his remarks on TV’s “Lone Star” programs. For instance, Gabby lets it be known that:
He owned a farm so big that once when his hired man and housekeeper went out to check on a boundary fence, they brought a child one year old when they got back.
The grasshoppers one year grew big as mules from eating everything in sight, including the barb-wire fences.
He always puts Mexican jumping beans in pancake dough so they can turn themselves.
All this while appearing in a movie with Randolph Scott and Robert Ryan.

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