PIONEER SCHOOL-TEACHING AMONGST OUR UKRAINIANS
Sarah Mosher, a “Blue Noser” of Spirit, Finds Rewards Involved in Thirteen Years’ Instruction of New Canadians Compensate for Any Sacrifices
DOROTHY G. BELL
THIRTEEN years ago Sarah Mosher rebelled against the pricks of modern civilization. With a Nova Scotian spirit that sought adventure, a school teacher’s certificate which had never been used, and poor health which failed to daunt her, she stepped on a Canadian west-bound train and asked the conductor to “let her off at Saskatchewan.”
“That’s just how green I was when I first went V/est,” said Miss Mosher. “I was looking for thrills and I guess I got them, though my expectations were so much greater than actual happenings that my experiences seemed more or less tame in comparison.”
Miss Mosher had already heard stories of the Russian settlers who were homesteading in the rough unbroken country of Northern Alberta and the mental picture she drew of a life among them appealed to her. She went to Edmonton and volunteered to fill a vacancy in a Slav school. But the school board insisted that a woman could not fill the post. She might be exposed to unknown dangers, they said, and they could offer her no protection other than a log shack where she would have to live alone. Miss Mosher, however, . refused to accept their decision and deliberately and firmly proceeded to convince them that she was the person to fill the position. A few days later she boarded a train, then a hay wagon and eventually reached the village of Shandro,
It consisted of a post office which handled mail once a week, a Russian Church and a school house, all made of logs.
This was life in the rough forwhich Miss Mosher had been searching and she was joyful when a Russian in long, tight trousers, high, black boots, with cap and sheep-skin jacket, lead her to her log shack, which possessed a thatched roof through which the stars could peep down at night.
It was pleasant at first, but later Miss Mosher was to experience cold such as she had never known before.
“I was having dinner one night with one of the families who lived a few miles away, when winter suddenly descended,” she recalls. “When I walked over in the late afternoon it was quite mild. I noticed that the house got colder as we sat around the table and when I made a move to go I was informed that I would be driven home as it had turned cold. I thought they were making an unnecessary fuss when they put me into a straw-covered sleigh with many blankets and coats, but I discovered that it was forty below zero at that moment. When we reached my own shack it was fifty below and later that night the thermometer dropped to sixty below. I spent the night feeding the stove, which I kept red hot, but even then it made little impression, and I nearly froze.
I spent the next night with friends.”
Like many others Miss Mosher had been led to believe that the Ukrainians were a ruthless and. murderous people. She admits that they were not particularly scrupulous and that there were many murders during her stay among them, but she felt from the first that they were not as bad as they were pictured.
Came to Kill Her
THIS may have been the reason that, when a few days later a wild-eyed Russian burst into the little school brandishing a rifle declaring that he had come to kill her, Miss Mosher looked up calmly from the kindling she was cutting for the fire and said:
“There is a hundred dollar fine for disturbing school. You had better go.” “No, me kill you. You make my girl wear glass,” and the man made a threatening movement with the rifle. Miss Mosher had insisted that the child to whom he referred wear the glasses that the doctor had given her some time previous. When the man made no move to go, Miss Mosher advanced towards him. “Out you go!” she commanded firmly. “Quick!”
Somewhat to her astonishment, the man fled from her. “Yes, me go, missus, me go!” he pleaded and a moment later he had vanished. It was not until sometime later that the teacher remembered that she still held the axe in her hand with which she was cutting the kindling when the irate father had entered.
Miss Mosher later related the incident to a Royal North West Mounted Policeman who was on his rounds ancl the policeman spoke severely to the disturber.
“In Russia,” complained the offender, “I scare woman; she say ‘Man, don’hurt me’ and policeman say ‘Woman, mind you business.’ In Canada I no can scare woman; she come for me with axe and policeman say ‘Maybe you sit in prison twenty year.’ ”
Miss Mosher found many difficulties in her new work but the two most difficult to overcome were the facts that the children ranged from all ages and that many of them could not' speak English and she could not speak Russian.
It was some time before she was able to establish a sound basis of understanding. The parents in nearly all cases were anxious for their boys to learn and to be educated but they were not as keen for the girls to obtain the same information. During Miss Mosher’s first weeks among them she thought that some children’s epidemic must have attacked all the girls and was keeping them away from school, for nearly all her pupils were boys. It took a great deal of energy and enthusiasm on her part to adjust conditions but when she did the girls were even more keen than the boys to come to school.
Another thing about the Ukrainian children which astounded Miss Mosher was the fact that they did not know how to play. In Russia children for generations have been made to get up early in the morning and probably do two or three hours’ work in the morning before school and two or three more after they returned, so that all their spare time was devoted to work and they had no time to play. Now however, the Shandro children play all the Canadian games, and are good at them.
At first Miss Mosher found many of her pupils stolid and frightened and it took her a long time to win their confidence, but once she had done so she found that the intelligence of many of them was remarkable. One boy in her class who at seven years of age could not speak a word of English, passed into the high school at twelve. A little girl, too, in the same class who could not speak English when she entered passed her ninth and tenth grades in one year and won the Governor General’s Medal for general proficiency.
When Miss Mosher first went to Shandro the inhabitants of the Slav district were penniless. They lived in squalid shacks and depended on big, day stoves for warmth. They struggled and worked hard with their unbroken and more or less waste farm land, just as they had struggled and worked in Russia. They lived their own lives very closely and wore their native costumes.
Every family had a large number of children and immediately the boys were old enough to take care of themselves, they obtained a piece of land and went out from the paternal roof to work it.
ÄT THAT time I saw very little hope of ever seeing these people assimilated with our own,” said Miss Mosher. “But all that has changed now and they' have made remarkable progress.”
With the war came the high price of wheat and these Russian farmers had by ' that time begun to get their land in good shape. The results were good crops and good returns. The newer generation had begun to grow up and, unlike the old people, they did not believe in hoarding their money and hiding it away. They tore down their little log cabins and built in their places homes costing between six and seven thousand dollars. They bought motor cars and farm implements and wore Canadian clothes. And, as time went on, land, much of which had been taken up by the numerous sons of the original immigrants, became scarce. That which had'been taken up for nothing in the first place, sold at three dollars an acre—then it went to eight and finally to thirty dollars. This meant that the young men of the community had to buy their farms and in order to buy them they had to have money and the craving for money sent them to the cities. Eventually they returned from the cities to buy their farms, settle down on them and marry. In the cities they learned much and consequently the little colony of penniless immigrants has become a rich, successful and law-abiding people.
Continued on page 771
Continued, from page 74
Many of the girls are becoming teachers and nurses and the boys are seeking careers as doctors and lawyers. This is not from a selfishly ambitious standpoint, but merely with the idea of helping and serving their own people.
According to Miss Mosher, the first Ukrainians to come to Canada—the old people now—-are very matter of fact and more or less ruthless, but it is her opinion that it is because they have always lived a hard life and have had to work and fight for everything they got.
“If they murder, they kill because all their lives until they came to Canada they had to take desperate steps to get justice. I have seen them do many cold-blooded things during my life among them, but somehow their kindness has always overcome my fear of them—and they are kind. They have been kind to me. In fact there is only one time that I remember when I was a little afraid to be among them. One of the older men had committed a particularly cold-blooded murder. The police had trapped him and circled him within a radius of two miles and my shack was one of the few shelters within the circle. I was alone, and knowing that the man would be desperate enough to do anything, I must admit I slept very little during the two nights he was loose, ,
“But I have often wondered about that hard streak in them and I wonder, too, if we would be so very much better if we Tad had their life to live and their difficulties to contend with. Economic conditions have caused the great fundamental differences between us. They are absolutely childish, many of them, when it comes to money, and I have known them time and time again to issue signed blank cheques simply because they did not know the exact amount of what they owed. Their own people seldom take advantage of this.”
-V Not Drifters -
A jtISS MOSHER declares that while 1V1 the general opinion is the opposite, the Ukrainians are not drifters. They know before they leave their homeland where they are coming; they know before they get here what they are going to do. They know all about it and in nine cases out of ten those in the settlement know about them, too, even before they arrive. One interesting trait among these people is their racial pride. Perhaps this is not particularly good from Canada’s point of view. If a gift is presented to any one of them that after enough time has elapsed so that it does not look as if they were just making a fair exchange, a gift of more or less equal value will be returned.
The women until a few years ago wore their native costumes, refused to wear hats and thought that shoes and stockings were bad for the health.
Miss Mosher tells the story of an old lady who just before the war saw her son married to a girl who had adopted the Canadian method of wearing hats.' When she appeared at the altar of the church with a hat on her head, the mother in a towering rage, dashed up to her, pulled it off and jumped on it, declaring that no son of hers should marry a woman who wore a hat. Less than two years later that same old lady was arrested for speeding through the village in her automobile and when reprimanded by an officer of the law said that she didn’t mind paying t;he fine because it had been worth it. •'" / •
Until the boys and girls began to go to the cities, the age of marriage was seldom more than eighteen yêars—sometimes only fourteen. Now, however, they choose a more reasonable age. They can not under-
stand anyone not getting married upon the first opportunty and they often have paid match-makers to pick out a husband or a wife as the case may be and make all arrangements for the meeting and the marriage. Where a paid match-maker is not employed then it is the duty of the father to see that his sons and daughters are married.
“Why didn’t your father get you man?” questioned an interested wonderer of Miss Mosher one day.
Miss Mosher explains that they put marriage on an absolutely business basis and that from what she has seen of it, it works out well. „
Miss Mosher was dining one evening with an Ukrainian family when there was a knock at the door and a man came bearing a request from a recently-bereaved widow. She would like to see the hired man with a view to matrimony. The widow has a good farm and a considerable amount of money. Consequently the hired man was interested. He set out immediately oh horseback to the home of the widow but returned in an hour, much crestfallen and very sad. He had failed to pass muster with the widow. “Too old to be of long use on the farm and not good looking enough,” had been her verdict.
Goes to New York
OMETIMES Lget tired of the queer life we lead out there and about every second winter I go to New York, where my family now resides, with the idea of staying there,” said Miss Mosher. “But when the Spring comes again it finds me heading West and I find that after all I would rather fight with red hot stoves and sixty below temperatures in Alberta than with the janitors and high rents in New York. It is a country that either takes a hold on one from the beginning and keeps its hold or does not grip at all. I knew when I first went there that I was going to like it, but I had no idea that I would like it well enough to stay thirteen years.”
Yet such a wild and primitive life has not the same charms for everyone. Miss Mosher tells of another teacher who went out there from one of the eastern cities. The inspector had asked Miss Mosher, as an old-timer, to go and see this girl and to try and make her feel happy and at home. Miss Mosher was eighteen miles away from the new teacher but in the hopes of bringing the discontented girl a little cheer she decided to make the journey. She rode on her bicycle as far as she could go and then walked the rest of the way. It rained nearly all the time she was tramping through the mud and when Miss Mosher arrived at the girl’s shack, she was wet through. The new teacher greeted her in a very stiff and conventional manner, made a cup of tea and placed two or three wafers on the saucer. Miss Mosher emphasized the fact that she Rad come eighteen miles through the bad roads and wet weather, to visit her and that it was a long way back, but it seemed to make little impression on her hostess except that she said shé was glad Miss Mosher had called and that she hoped she would come again. No invitation to spend the night, to partake of a hot meal, or to don dry shoes was forthcoming and Miss Mosher was forced to go on to a farm house where she knew she would receive the usual hospitality. The girl left for the city again in a very short time.
“I remember another teacher who had never been out of the city in her life. I went to see her and before I got there I saw the smoke pouring out of her shack and thought for a moment that the house must be on fire. When I got closer, however, I saw a big log sticking out of the door and when I entered the smoke-filled room I saw that the end of it was in the stove, which prevented the door from closing. I asked the new teacher why she had put the log in and she exclaimed that it was all the wood she had. I went over to the corner and picked up an axe. ‘Why don’t you cut it?’ I asked her. ‘Why, an axe—yes, of course. I never thought of that,’ she replied, uncertainly as she watched operations on the log—‘but—but you see I didn’t know how to use it.’ ”
They chatted for a while and the new teacher apologized because she could offer her guest nothing but bread for supper. “I have a can of salmon,” she explained, “but unfortunately no can opener.” So their friend the axe was brought to the fore again, and_ Miss Mosher gave a second, demonstration on what could be done with it.