Michalina Huckan

Michalina Huckan

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
To be continued...

Copyright © 2010, Ruth Zaryski Jackson

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