Our Canadian Stories: Bonnie Denhaan

My grandmother arrived in Canada from Ukraine, shortly before the First World War, with her husband and two daughters, one being adopted and the other very young. Due to illness with the children, they were delayed in their original plans to travel to Vancouver, where her husband had hoped to set up as a tailor. Instead, they got as far as Manitoba and spent the winter with cousins who were already established.

Unfortunately, the only work Baba’s husband could find quickly was with a logging operation. He was totally unskilled for this, and was killed by a falling tree. Baba worked cleaning houses, etc. until marrying another immigrant, a Polish widower with two daughters. In a short time, he became very ill and also died, leaving my Baba with four daughters, a quarter section farm, and a team of oxen.

Eventually, she again married; this time to a man working for the railway. Later they moved to Moose Jaw, Sask., and later still (during the Depression) to Toronto. This was the grandfather I knew. They were always poor, but did own a small house on the west end of the city, with a cold water tap and a privy at the end of the yard, where they lived for many years while my grandfather worked at a scrap-iron factory on the main railway line.

My Baba never learned to read or write (in any language) and had accented English. She did absolutely beautiful counted cross-stitching, and I still have many amazing pieces of her handiwork. Eventually, they moved in with my parents in Calgary, where Baba passed away at age 84. She was a very strong, open-minded, loving woman, faithful to her Orthodox religion, and taking life as it came with humour and passion. Also, she never failed to vote at every level of elections, taking the names of chosen candidates from the newspaper so she could compare the letters on the ballot. She met people without bias or prejudice, with kindness and empathy. I still admire her strength, courage, and loving nature.

– Bonnie Denhaan, 81, Red Deer


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