Every story that deals with settlers are unique stories that deal with hardship and pain. They are important lessons for us to understand how people worked to develop the land into the nation we have today. But one book has recently come across documenting a people’s quiet resolve while not only dealing with the hardships of climate and isolation but also dealing with a grave injustice. And that book is Pam Clark’s Kalyna.
Katja’s eyes darted back and forth at the buildings and the dusty road. There was no spirited market alive with people and vegetables. No children were playing. In fact, the street was quite deserted. One shopkeeper was leaning on the wooden railing outside his Hudson’s Bay tuck shop and nodded to Wasyl. Wasyl tipped his hat to the man. Robert Benton had seen many of these new folks come through here and knew that the farmers would be back to town for some staple goods when the time came. Best to be welcoming now.
“There is no one here.” Katja murmered, “Where is everyone?”
“Wasyl knew Katja was expecting a life similar to Drobomil and he too had expectations, for what else did they have but their previous life to compare this to?
There would be greater isolation at first, he anticipated, but this would subside as more land was settled and the bloc settlement continued to grow. The Dominion Land clerk had confirmed this with his land grant.
“Katja, there are many of us, just like in Drobomil. We just live farther apart. That is the government’s declaration. They was dispersed settlement. We will meet people. We will come to the church on Sunday and meet others just like us.”He nodded to the cupola. “It’s a reminder of home, no?”
The story is set in the early part of the 20th Century. Katja and Wasyl have made the difficult journey across the Atlantic to the Canadian prairies. They work hard to build their new lives and find new friendships in the town of Edna-Star. But just things seem to settle down, the ghosts of World War I rise and the internment of Ukrainian-Canadians threaten the family’s stability and future. Yet the family endures.
In such a small close knit community as Edna-Star, new travelled quickly. At church on Sunday the priest spoke about the internment, the about hope. Official word had been given that seven men from the bloc community had been imprisoned over the past several weeks and were housed in a forced labor camp in Banff National Park, called Castle Mountain. Mr Benton had given Katja and Mary a copy of The Edmonton Gazette where an article from The Crag and Canyon newspaper, out of Canmore, had been reprinted. It announced the opening of the camp and advised Canmore residents, particularly lady folk, to be on guard, for there were criminals in their midst. And what is their crime? Katja thought, as she read the article. That they came to Canada and wanted a better life for their families?
The priest spoke of forgiveness and peace at this time of war. While the congregation prayed for the men, fathers, sons, and brothers, Katja also prayed for Mary and her baby. She peeked out during the prayer at Mary’s face, serene and calm. Mary’s parents had urged her to move home to the village and live with them until Ivan returned, but Mary would have nothing of that. She would link Katja’s arm in hers, insisting they would weather this together. Katja was grateful for Mary’s company and conversation. Their division of labor for the mundane household chores happened naturally and Katja marvelled at their unspoken understanding of their need for time alone as well.
Clark stated in numerous interviews that this was a story ‘inside her’ for many years. It was enjoyable to finally see the story and her hard work coming out in print. The story is detailed and complex at times but it also emotional and enlightening. And yes, it is a story about settlers but it also a story about an injustice and how a group of hard-working people endured that injustice at enormous cost at times. A truly Canadian story and an honest one.
Wasyl stopped writing suddenly. He had let himself just write and not think and now he knew he couldn’t send this letter to Katja. He was out of line and the guard would never allow it out of the camp. He crinkled it up and boosted hinself off his lower bunk. He walked to the fire stove and threw the crumpled ball in before on of the guards could stop him; his words becoming glowing orange embers. It wold be one more week until he would be granted tokens for the canteen to get another sheet of paper, but he needed time to think about what he could and couldn’t say to dear Katja. He needed time.
Wasyl looked up at Ivan in the top bunk, his hands bandaged and wrapped like a mummy, clutching his head, and peeking out beneath the woollen blanket. Wasyl had to find a way to convince Ivan to be strong now. He could see his friend spiralling downward and knew if he couldn’t intervene, the would all end badly for Ivan and maybe him too. There was little opportunity to talk to each other privately in the barracks as the guards wandered between the rows of bunks and clapped their batons into the palms of their opposite hands menacingly. Wasyl had seen one of the guards hit a fellow prisoner when walking to the quarry at Castle, accusing him of walking too slowly. He couldn’t chance having anything happen to Ivan had to find a time to talk deeply to him. Wasyl stared at the blackened flakes and chastised himself for wasting the paper, but only for a minute. The letter wouldn’t have gotten out of the camp.
Kalyna by Pam Clark is a enlightening and interesting read about hard-working settlers and the injustices they endured. Truly a great read.