Michalina Huckan

Michalina Huckan

Friday, September 2, 2016

Finding my Great-Aunt's Immigration Records

In 2014 I received an email from Jim Onyschuk, the President of the Toronto Ukrainian Genealogy Group, announcing the upcoming meeting along with a notice of new Canada Passenger Records from 1881 – 1922 now available online at Family Search (http://familysearch.org/search/collection/1823240 ).

Always on the look out for my great-aunt Michalina’s records, I hit the link and searched her name as usual, to no avail. I then searched just her last name (proper spelling) and found about 10 hits with different spellings, including one that I knew immediately was her: Michatine Heukan. Her name had been transcribed incorrectly with a scratch on the page changing the ‘l’ to a ‘t’ and the last letter appearing blurry as an ‘e’ not an ‘a’. The last name was mangled due to a peculiar formation of the letter before the ‘k’ which I think was intended to be ‘c’ and the addition of an ‘e’ before the ‘u’.

Michalina's Arrival Record
April 1910
S.S.Lake Michigan
Michalina was 17 when she arrived in Saint John, New Brunswick on April 4, 1910 on the SS Lake Michigan. She was listed as single, having $24 and heading to Winnipeg, Manitoba to her brother Iwan (John) on her CPR ticket. Her previous occupation, as well as her intended occupation, was ‘servant’. 

Now that I had that information, I searched for her again on www.ancestry.com to find any additional details. I had some difficulty finding her as her name was shown on Ancestry as Michatina Henskan. The only new information was a photo of the ship and the fact that it had departed from Antwerp, Belgium. Finding her on Ancestry allowed me to link this record to her on my family tree. I was also able to correct her name so that future researchers can find her more easily.

When I compared Michalina’s arrival dates with other family members, I made an another interesting discovery. I had previously searched all the boat records for the ship my grandmother ( her sister) arrived on (SS Samland June 4, 1911) , her brother John (SS Montreal April 6, 1908), his wife Frances (SS Corinthian October 30, 1910) and brother Nikolai who made several trips back and forth but it never occurred to me to check my grandfather’s ship: SS Lake Michigan April 4, 1910. She was sent over with her brother-in-law, Janko Zarecki (John Zaretsky), my grandfather.

S.S. Lake Michigan

This makes some sense. Michalina’s father was sending John and (later) his wife to Canada. John was literate and spoke several languages. Michalina’s fiancé may have been with her on the ship, as well as other people from her village. I may be able to determine her fiancé's name after all. A needle in the haystack but perhaps possible. 


Thursday, September 1, 2016

Notes on Michalina (Lena) Huckan

Michalina (also called Lena) was born 12 November 1892 in Repuzhintsy, Bukowina, Austria the youngest child of Wasyl Huckan and Helena Masikiewicz (or Masikiewic or Masikiewich) (second line).




She immigrated to Canada in 1910 at about the age of 18 to join her brother Iwan (John) Huckan in Winnipeg. Her older siblings were Iwan (John), Mykola (Nikolaj) and Marya (Maria).


She may have lived in St. Boniface with her brother Iwan and his family at 83 Tissot Street in St.Boniface when she first arrived in Canada.


In 1915 according to the Winnipeg Henderson Directory, Lena was living at 42 Dagmar Street.

Courtesy of Christian Cassidy
From:The Morning Telegram
July 19, 1907

Courtesy of Christian Cassidy
From: The Morning Telegram
July 19, 1907

Courtesy of Christian Cassidy
From: The Voice
August 3, 1917

She was engaged to be married and was saving her money. We don’t know  her fiancé's name. Does anyone recognise this man? He was likely born about 1885 - 1892 in her village Repuzhintsy, Bukowina. He was perhaps about 24 years old in this photograph.

Michalina's fiance
Winnipeg, MB
c. 1910

 I wonder if her wedding banns were read at a Winnipeg church. Her religion was Orthodox and until 1918 the only Orthodox church was the Russian Orthodox Mission. Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Church was established 1904 in Winnipeg. This is a thread I need to follow.


Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Letter to A Dead Great-Aunt Part Three

Here is the third part of my letter to my great-aunt Michalina.


My mother told me Uncle John Huckan didn’t like to spend money but as your brother and only next of kin, he would have been the one responsible for your burial. I wondered if he did nothing to commemorate your life. Maybe your body was never recovered. Maybe he was too overcome with grief. I wished I had asked Auntie Huckan his wife but I hadn’t known about you then. I wished my mother had asked her but she didn’t think to ask. I found the details of your burial by chance and more details on your Death Certificate.

Armed with the name of the hotel where you died and the exact date of the fire, I pressed on and tried to find a photograph of the building. The Riverview Hotel had been built in 1906 or earlier (Henderson Directory 1906) and a large 1-storey addition of wood construction had been added in 1914. The Winnipeg architect, Charles S. Bridgeman designed it for the owner, J.J. O'Connell in 1913. No photograph was found but an interesting discovery showed up in the city records.

Negligence

I discovered on the Building Permit for the addition, the owner J.J. O'Connell had on June 11, 1914, been “convicted and reprimanded for not complying with Notice issued January 7, 1914, re Exit doors”. A Building Inspector had deemed the building dangerous four years before the fire! Maybe even before you were hired.

The Historical Buildings Officer for Winnipeg sent me several newspaper clippings about the fire on the night of February 5, 1918, when the Riverview Hotel burned to the ground. Three perished in the fire: a nurse employed by the owner, a veteran of WWI and you, my dear Great-Aunt Michalina, described as “Lena Wuchan, kitchen girl” and “Lena Guchan, kitchen maid”. They couldn’t even spell your name right.

Riverview Hotel
322 Nairn Avenue
Elmwood, Manitoba
Here’s what happened as I can piece it together from the clippings. Early in the morning on the 5th of February about 3:30 a.m. a fire broke out, possibly in the kitchen of the Riverview Hotel. Fanned by a 30 mile an hour gale force wind, the fire quickly spread to nearby buildings. Five fire brigades responded promptly though there were 6-8 other fires in Winnipeg at that night. The Riverview Hotel was leveled within an hour. Total damage was estimated to be $180,000.

A neighbor called the fire department. Everyone was asleep when the alarm bells in each room went off. You were last seen in your room on the second floor. Smoke poured into the rooms and the stairs were blocked by dense smoke. The hotel owner, his wife and six children were sleeping on the first floor and all escaped unharmed except for smoke inhalation. Mr. O’Connell later told the press of the frantic attempts to escape by those who died. I can only try to imagine the terror you felt when you realized there was no way out.

Your body was found in the ashes two days later near the centre of the basement buried several feet beneath the debris. They believed these were your remains because they were found in the location of your room in the building. But you were found in the basement because all three stories collapsed. Identification of the three victims was based on the location of the bodies when found. A fourth victim died later in hospital.


The inquest a week later found no fault lay on the shoulders of the hotel owner or the fire department for the deaths, despite the fact that the building hadn’t been inspected for a year.

Newspaper Clippings from
Winnipeg Firefighters Museum
1918



And so dear Auntie, this is your story, the evidence that you lived and died in Winnipeg in a tragic hotel fire that cold February night in 1918. There are still some gaps and incomplete knowledge of your short life. I promise you I will continue to search for more details, such as your immigration records and whatever vital records exist in Winnipeg or your ancestral village of Repuzhintsy. My cousins and I will be replacing the numbered stone on your grave with a personal memorial stone. I will honour your life by telling your story to all who will listen. I will never forget you and other immigrants who lost their lives in accidents and unsafe working conditions, trying to build a better life and a brighter future in Canada.

May your soul rest in peace. Vichnaya Pamyat.

love from your Grandniece,
Ruth



Copyright © 2010, Ruth Zaryski Jackson

Monday, August 29, 2016

Letter to A Dead Great-Aunt Part Two

This was the second part of my letter to my great-aunt Michalina written in 2010 .


The family story I heard from Mother and her sister Anne is that you were working at a hotel in Winnipeg saving your money to be married to your unnamed fiancé in the photograph. When fire broke out, you escaped somehow but ran back in to retrieve your $800 hidden under your mattress. You never came out. Were you overcome by smoke in that firetrap? Did the fire spread much faster than you anticipated? Or were you just a naïve girl who didn’t understand the danger and could only think of your hard-earned savings and your future going up in smoke? Eight hundred dollars in today’s dollars would be a lot of money. Brave or foolish, you lost your life in that fire.

I searched for a long time for your death and burial records. I searched newspapers for reports of a hotel fire but there were many hotel fires in Winnipeg in those days especially in the long cold winters. Photos are legend.


Scott Bathgate - February 15, 1917
K. Elder Collection
The Firefighters Museum of Winnipeg
My cousin Ellen and I searched through countless cemetery lists until one day I found an on-line listing of Winnipeg City cemeteries and was able to find a listing for a “Lena Huekow” who died 2/5/1918. Confident this must be you, I contacted the City of Winnipeg who told me that they had no record of a “Michalina Huckan” but did have a “Lena Huckow” buried in Brookside Cemetery. My cousin Edith later confirmed that at last we had found your final resting place right next to the casualties of WW I. Further research revealed the name of the hotel, Riverview, (on the Red River) and the address, 322 Nairn Avenue in Elmwood. Finally I was able to obtain your Death Certificate. I requested the Coroner’s report but the records had been destroyed.

What would it have meant to me if you had lived, Michalina? You might have been like a Baba to me. I never knew my Baba, your sister. She died when I was 2 ½ . I saw her only once when I was 1 ½ and have no memory of the visit or her. You were 13 years younger so I might have known you. Maybe you would have moved to Oshawa where your older brother John lived for many years. He also died before I was born but his wife lived for many years. I knew her well and in fact was named, Frances, after her.



John Huckan and Frances Ross Huckan
Winnipeg, Manitoba
c. 1914

The only photos I have of Baba are taken when she was older, aged and toothless before her time. When I look at photos of my grandmother, your older sister Marya and you, Michalina, I see what she must have looked like as a young girl. I think she must have been as pretty as you when she was a young woman. I feel closer to her somehow. Closer to her youth.


Marya Huckan Zarecka
Sclater, Manitoba
c.1940
To be continued...


Copyright © 2010, Ruth Zaryski Jackson

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Letter to a Dead Great-Aunt: The Beginning of my Quest

On Monday, November 10, 2008, I published on my writing blog the following letter  to my dead great-aunt Michalina. This was the beginning of my quest to find out exactly what happened to her nearly 100 years ago. 

Michalina Huckan
Winnipeg, MB
c. 1912

Letter to a Dead Great-Aunt: A Personal Memoir


Dear Great-Aunt Michalina or maybe I should call you Вуйна,

I have been haunted by your story ever since I saw your photograph and heard your heart-rending story. I am trying to find traces of your short life but have not been very successful. Women are harder to find. Invisible threads in history. My history.

Michalina, you were about 17 years younger than my grandmother, Marya Zarecka, your sister. I even wondered if you were her illegitimate daughter and the reason behind my grandfather’s relentless anger towards his wife. Perhaps that’s why there are no records of you. I asked my mother timidly if that could be possible. Without emotion, she flatly denied it: "they were sisters" she stated. I believe her.

You were born in 1892 in Repuzhintsy, Bukovina, the province of Roumania and were 19 when Marya left for Canada in 1911. You followed a few years later, maybe with your older brother Iwan’s (John) family when they came later. I have been unable to find your immigration records. You went to Winnipeg and by 1916 were living in Ben Nevis House, a rooming house at 42 Dagmar Street according to the Henderson Directory. You, like hundreds of other single young immigrant women, were working at one of the many downtown Winnipeg hotels.

You had a fiancé who is shown standing beside you in a studio photograph of you and your brothers Nikolaj, and Iwan with his wife Frances and daughter. His name is unknown to us. I’m glad you knew love. You were looking forward to marrying him: you risked and lost your life for the sake of the $800 you’d saved and hidden under your mattress. You must have been living in the hotel you worked in. Was Ben Nevis House a hotel? So many questions…

From your two photographs, I can see you were a pretty woman, short in stature with long curly brown hair. Your eyes were lighter than brown, blue or hazel perhaps. You are dressed in a long-sleeved white blouse and a long dark skirt, the proper female attire of the time. You are wearing no visible jewelry except a pin at the neck of your long-sleeved white blouse. I wonder whatever happened to your meager belongings when you died. Your hands are strong but graceful, holding a few flowers in one photo.


The family story is that you were working at the hotel and saving your money to be married to the nameless fiancé. When a fire broke out you’d escaped somehow, but ran back inside to retrieve the $800 hidden under the mattress. You never came out. Were you overcome by smoke in that firetrap? Did the fire spread much faster than you anticipated or were you just a naïve girl who didn’t understand the danger and could only think about your hard-earned future going up in smoke? $800 in today’s dollars would be thousands. Was your fiancé heartbroken when he heard the news of your death? Did he ever recover from his loss? No doubt he did marry and had children. Where are his descendants now? Could I ever find them using his photograph?

I have searched for your death and burial records but have so far been unsuccessful. The only evidence of your life in Winnipeg is from The Henderson Directory of 1916. I have searched newspapers for reports on the hotel fire but there were so many fires in Winnipeg especially in the long cold winters. The stories and photos are legend.

My mother remembers when her mother received word of your death. She was only 4 ½ years old. Her husband had to read her the letter and convey the sad news. Mom says she cried for days, weeks even. Mom recalls asking her why she was crying. She showed her the picture of you. Mom passed the story down to me.

What would it have meant to me if you’d lived? I never really knew your sister, my grandmother. I saw her once when I was 1 ½ years old, just before she died. I have no memory of her. You were 17 years younger so I might have known you. You might have moved to Oshawa where your older brother John lived for many years. He also died before I was born, but I knew his wife, whom I was named after, and his family. You might have been like a grandmother to me since I never knew my grandmothers. When I look at photos of my grandmother, your older sister, Marya, and you, I see what she must have looked like as a young girl. The only photos I have of her are as an older woman, toothless and aged before her time. I think she must have been as pretty as you when she was a young woman. It makes me feel closer to her somehow. Closer to her youth.

So far, I have found no death notice, no death registry, no record of burial, no remnants of your life passed down. Mom says that Uncle John, who would have been responsible for your arrangements, as next of kin, didn’t like to spend money. Maybe he did nothing to commemorate your life. Maybe your body was never recovered. Maybe he was too overcome with grief to do the right thing. I should have asked his wife, my Auntie, but I didn’t know about you then when she was alive. Mom should have asked Auntie but she too didn’t think to ask.

I promise you I will continue to search for evidence that you lived and died in Winnipeg in that tragic hotel fire. I will honour your life by telling your story to all who’ll listen. I will never forget you and the other immigrants who lost their lives in accidents and unsafe working conditions trying to build a better life and a better future in Canada.

May you rest in peace,

With love from your Grand-Niece,
Ruth

PS
I have now found your final resting place in Brookside Cemetery. It was the result of persistence and sheer luck since your name was misspelled in 2 different ways: Huekow and Huckow not Huckan. I have your date of death: February 5, 1918 in the Riverview Hotel at 322 Nairn Ave. in the old area of Elmwood. The hotel was owned by J. J. O’Connell and prophetically he was “convicted and reprimanded for not complying with Notice …. re Exit Doors” in 1914. I am waiting for newspaper clippings of the fire. The wood construction extension put on in 1913-4 likely went up like a tinder box and the hotel burned to the ground. The tragic proportions of your death grow with each discovery.