Growing Up Ukrainian In Toronto


I was born in Toronto in 1936. I lived on top of a hair and hair salon run by my mother and father, an aunt and two uncles, on Queen and Seaton Streets, in Toronto . The smell of the fingerwave solution and the unique smell of a permanent wave always trigger an eruption of memories of playing in the store. I did not speak English before going to the Duke of York Public School, and I did not need it either. While playing on Seaton Street, I did not know that English was exhausted. There were enough Ukrainian families on the street, it was like a tribal village or a circle of tents in the desert, so we were oblivious to the surrounding population.

Our Ukrainian community was so safe that I could play on Seaton. all day while my parents were working. If I did not come home for lunch, it mattered a lot. I was just eating with all the other children in the house where we were playing. Hot old babas, wrapped in black, seemed to be everywhere.

On Sundays and days, the Ukrainian tribe went to the Ukrainian Catholic Church of the Holy Eucharist on King Street, near the Don River. Today, forty – five years later, when I leave the Don Valley Parkway in Richmond St. Petersburg. Ramp and go to the old church site, I'm awash with memories of weddings, plays, baptisms and religious celebrations. I swear that the smells of incense, wax and the stale smell of the basement room are still there twenty years after the destruction of the church. I sometimes hear again the deep voice of the priest chanting Hos podi pomelui as he swings the cadillo of incense smoking on a gold chain.

At eight o'clock, I survived the terrors of the Saturday Ukrainian school where I was threatened with life in eternal hell if I did not agree to become an alter boy. I remained firmly opposed under the incessant pressure of two big sisters. My parents never managed to get me back to Ukrainian school after the nuns forced me to try the alter boy's dresses to show me how much I was looking at them . They have promised me a life in paradise where, as one nun said, "you can have an application whenever you want one". I can still see her bulbous face, frowned, framed by her white coat as she leaned close to mine and whispered this holy secret.

When I was five, I was hospitalized with a severe case of strep throat. Nobody understood me while I whined and complained in Ukrainian and my condition was deteriorating. Frustrated, my parents took me out of the hospital, swearing that they would never speak Ukrainian at home again. They never did, except when Ukrainian visitors came from the old quarter. I slowly became aware that not all Canadians spoke Ukrainian.

I never realized how much I was a poor student until just recently. After my father's death, I came across some of my old fourth and fifth grade report cards from his documents. The report cards contained only the class classification, one subject after the other; no notes, no notes, just class rankings, and a section at the bottom to indicate the number of students in the class. I noticed that there were 44 students in the class and my grade for academic subjects 44, 43, 38, 41. Although I am never forced to repeat, my parents were upset when the # The school wanted to put me in a special situation. program for slow learners. But it was war and placement never taught. My poor fourth grade reports represented my functional level after five years of learning English. By the end of the eighth grade, after nine years of English, my grades were sufficient to gain admission to Upper Canada College and graduate. Later, I completed BA and M.Ed. degrees from the University of Toronto.

I'm amazed at how long it takes to learn and understand a lanaguage well enough to compete with peers, even when born in Canada. Streaming children from newly arrived emerging groups in terminal programs or voice programs is repeated over and over again.

Neither my mother nor my father ever learned to read or write in English. There were no newspapers or magazines in our house. I have never read a story and I do not remember hearing stories. Goldilocks, Winnie the Pooh and Hansel and Gretel have only become familiar to me in adulthood, and there are innumerable references to the literary characters of children that arise in everyday conversation which just passes above me. I remember two books that came into the house. One was an old book of ragged poems by the Ukrainian patriot Taras Shevchenko. The other was an occasional book on eye diseases – a medical book that my father had bought for my older brother Walter. He was told to read it because he was going to become a doctor, just as I understood that I was expecting that I would be a lawyer. I have never seen anyone take a book. But my father has always proclaimed the importance of education. He never went to school in Ukraine, but he was determined that his sons make up for his lack of schooling.

My father and eleven silent partners bought a beer lounge, the Riviera Hotel on King St. near Sherbourne. Our family moved upstairs, and my mom and dad ran the hotel alone. Frankly, it was a brothel and a favorite hangout for the legendary gang Mickey McDonald. My dad got a temporary three month license on the condition that if he could clean up prostitution and get rid of the gang, he would get a permanent license. I've watched several fights across the ramps, and I will always remember the night my father locked Mickey McDonald's gang in the hotel until the police arrived. . He stood up defiantly at the door, bloody, shouting in his thick accent, "You would not leave when I asked you, now you stay until I let you go!" He got his permanent license.

Life started to settle down a bit. Like a clock, my father would open the doors of the hotel every day at noon. Workers at the Christie Biscuit factory, across the street, served beers for lunch. A man is distinguished. He wore a black man's hat, a black overcoat, a black suit, and a black tie. Every day he ordered a rough draft, opened his newspaper and read for about twenty minutes, finished his beer and left. "My son is in eighth grade

The man did not like to be bothered and he replied abruptly," One of the best schools in Canada is here in Toronto. It's called Upper Canada College. The newspaper opened between them. "Where is this school, sir?"

"On Londsale Road", came a short answer behind the newspaper. My dad asked for my brother Walter to go to school. In time, my father received a letter that Walter was not accepted.

Towards the end of June, while my father was delivering ritual draft beer, the homberg man dropped his paper and said, "By the way, have you ever asked your son to attend the Upper House?" Canada College?

"Yes," my father says, "but they say no."

This stung the gentleman's interest and he asked my father further. At his request, my father searched his office for an office and produced the letter. One sentence said, "We do not think your son would fit in here well." The man asked my father if he would still like to send his son to Upper Canada. "Of course, if you think it's a good school, send me!" my father answered.

He asked my father if he could keep the letter for a few days, then he left. About an hour later, the director of Upper Canada College arrived in the men's lounge of the Riviera hotel to inform my father that an opening had just arrived and that the college would be facilitated if Walter accepted the vacancy. The man in the black homberg turned out to be a governor of Upper Canada College, who took the time out of his law to drink a beer and read quietly at lunch. Even though my dad could not afford it, we, the three Diakiw boys, started fifteen years in the sacred halls of Upper Canada College. What a strange oddity of destiny! What a strange change in cultures! My five years in college were a combination of joy, pleasure, boredom, humiliation and anger. I've disclosed in sports and other extracurricular opportunities available there. Despite the strong loyalty I always have for the College, the appalling boredom and monotony of my classes hardly justified its first-rate reputation. Parents paid exorbitantly for the reputation, and the students did not dare to question the teaching staff. Yet in many ways, far from school, I have acquired a status. When the adults learned of the existence of the school I attended, they gave me a high and unjustified social status, which is reminiscent of the deference that they were able to show to a graduate of Oxford or Harvard.

Until I enrolled at Upper Canada College, I never realized how much I was Ukrainian or rather non-Canadian. The attendance at the college exposed the socio-cultural hierarchies to which I had been unconscious. For me, this privilege was not priceless. In 1957, two years after graduating from Upper Canada College, I served under the Royal Canadian Navy Summer Training Program (UNTD) for Officer Cadets. I arrived at the officers' house. Mess in Montreal, I carried my backpack in my assigned quarters and introduced myself to my roommate, Milton Zysman, who was lying on his bed reading. "What kind of name is Diakiw?" He asked. "Ah, another black man," he growled. I watched it – astonishingly – as the lights shone in my mind and memories mumbled and unfolded like a kaleidoscope. I had never thought of it that way, yet he had exposed a central truth about how I felt and the experiences I had. What does a Ukrainian and a Jew have in common with a black man? Why did I find it so easy to identify with this statement? While the differences in experiences were vast, we had all experienced intolerance, prejudices and second-class status. For Milton and me, this status has been confirmed by law. Our parents had immigrated to Canada at a time when the immigration laws of 1923 ranked European immigrants as privileged (North West Europe), unprivileged (Eastern Europe, Ukraine included) and Special permits (Southern Europe and all Jews except British subjects, regardless of nationality). The day I arrived at the naval base in Montreal, I no longer spoke or understood Ukrainian. I was born in Canada and I have never visited Ukraine. I had no association with the Ukrainian church since I was ten years old. I did not belong to any Ukrainian club or organization, I did not celebrate any Ukrainian holiday or party. I was almost non-Ukrainian, except that my identity was defined and affirmed for me by English Canadians. They defined the group to which they had determined that I belonged, and this group was inherently inferior.

I was not aware of this inferior status before going to Upper Canada College, where I was confronted with the impenetrable wall of Anglo-Saxon Protestantism White. I do not remember being insulted personally, apart from a French teacher. He regularly kicked me and pushed me out of my seat and onto the floor while screaming how I was born out of my mother's deep black swamp.

Otherwise, I was treated as an equal and fully accepted in the life of the school. No door or opportunity was closed. I have been accepted by my classmates as one of them. And yet I felt like an extraterrestrial. The college culture was the English public school. This tradition was so strongly guarded that the school always imported an English director to guarantee the maintenance of these central values. (A few years after my graduation, the school indicated its first Canadian director.) Being accepted, I came to learn how my culture, my parents, my lifestyle, my past were not acceptable. I think I hid this knowledge from my classmates – they never knew it. As such, they revealed their feelings and attitudes. Even today, I can not share with my close friends these years the minority and unconscious distinctions that they have communicated to me. They would not remember, or suggest that I was too sensitive – I'm sure they would not understand. The distinctions were relentless: ethnic jokes, mockery of how ethics spoke or dressed, their language about immigrants – "those bloody Dps ruin this country" – the vilification of other cultures – "the only Ukrainians' cultural success is the Easter Egg decoration. "A remark about an Italian, a Jew or a Hungarian m? n painted with the same brush. They accepted me as one of them, but when they were joking about ethnicities, they defined me and it belittled me.

In college, we were trained to emulate the good English. We learned Latin and classics. We remembered, during the daily prayers of the Church of England in the chapel, patriotic English hymns such as "Jerusalem" – "My sword will not sleep in my hand until we built Jerusalem in England, a green and pleasant land. "I learned about Empire and all the" pink pieces "on the map.Through the affiliation of the Upper Canada Cadet Battalion affiliation with the Queen's own guns, I learned The brave history of this regiment in the creation, defense and protection of the Empire Prince Philip, our royal patron, made periodic visits to the school to affirm our connection to the summit My classmates and I learned about power, and that power was in the hands of English Canadians, we were trained to be good English Canadians, and many of those same classmates dominate in all the corridors of power today.

It was not an environment in which I was able to proudly speak about my heritage, I withdrew and assimilated as quickly as possible .I was very ashamed of my background, I was particularly embarrassed by my parents. my friend's parents, mine appeared ignorant and rude. No classmate has ever met my parents or visited my home during the five years I attended college. I visited them at home, but not until the end of the thirteenth year, I invited friends to mine. It was only then that I began to realize that despite differences in culture and wealth, my parents were among the best.

For me, my mother and father were largely unprejudiced. (My wife keeps me deluding myself.) But the ethnic group that was most insulted and criticized by my parents was English-speaking English Canadians. My mother always felt embarrassed and humiliated in their presence. When one of us put "tunes", acted authoritatively, pompously, stubbornly or domineering, he said, "Do not act like a" Bronco ". A "Bronco" was an Englishman, and in our house it was the most scathing insult you could do. As a young man, I never understood this hostility. But at Upper Canada College and in the years that followed, I began to understand the impertinence of the "dominant culture." I have come to understand and sympathize with the angry Jews who are clamoring for the good guys, with the blacks who take them to the whites, with the radical feminists who demolish the men. Inverse discrimination, the slow reaction to inequality, often accompanies anger and hostility. I remember that when my older brother Walter went out with an English girl, my mother warned me not to marry a "Bronco" because "every time you have a fight, she throws you a face that does not have a face. is not a real Canadian. (All three of us married "Broncos".) How many times will I hear "Why do not they just become Canadians? pronounced in dismay and frustration by a WASP who understands what a Canadian is. They want us to be like them.

Even a friend, who lives in the greater Toronto area, where the majority of residents are of non-English origin, asked me, "Do you feel more Ukrainian or more Canadian? The depth of incomprehension revealed by this question amazes me, but it illustrates the suspicion and misunderstanding that English Canadians have of immigrants. Even my father, a Ukrainian patriot, born and raised in Ukraine, a man who passionately loved his heritage, loved Canada first and foremost. He considered it an honor and a privilege to be Canadian. He would not have understood the question of my neighbor. It's like asking someone he's whiter or more Canadian.

I still struggle to control and understand my own prejudices. Although I have few usual habits related to belonging to a cultural group, such as language, religion or customs, my pride with respect to my Ukrainian roots is strong and deep. I feel somehow connected to men and women in sheepskin coats that have settled in the west in endless waves. I always have the impression that a Ukrainian Cossack dance is my kind of dance.


Source by Jerry Diakiw

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