Vuiko Shtif Writes Home
Larisa Sembaliuk Cheladyn

In 1911, at the age of 20, Jacob Maydanyk immigrated to Canada from Svydova, in what is now Western Ukraine. By day he was an iconographer and ran the Providence Church Goods Store in Winnipeg, Manitoba. By night he was a cartoonist. His figures-of-fun, Vuiko Shtif Tabachniuk (Uncle Steve Tobacco) and Nasha Meri (Our Mary), satirized early immigrant life in Canada. They appeared regularly between 1914 and 1930 in Новини (The News), Канадійський Фармер (Canadian Farmer), and other Ukrainian language newspapers and almanacs distributed across Canada. Of note are three letters between Vuiko Shtif in Canada, and his wife Iavdokha, who was still in Ukraine with their children awaiting confirmation that the time was right for them to join him. Maydanyk penned these three fictitious letters to paint a humorous, yet realistic picture, of what it was like to correspond with family during the early years of immigration when customs and language were rapidly changing.

There are many reasons why immigrants choose to leave their home countries, including economic issues, political issues, family reunification, and natural disasters. In general, no matter what the reasoning is, immigrants move to another country to improve their life. However, immigration presents both benefits and challenges for newcomers. One of the major barriers to a smooth transition is language. Misunderstandings and confusion are common difficulties that new Canadians have had to overcome. In addition, foreign accents and cultural quirks can precipitate discrimination and racial intolerance, particularly when job hunting or trying to fit into the local community. For many newcomers, it is easier to just try and blend in as “typical Canadians”.

Jacob Maydanyk found himself in that very situation; he had to learn a new language, find a job, and adapt to a new cultural environment in Canada. Maydanyk first worked for the Canadian Pacific Railway on an “extra-gang” laying rails across Manitoba. His primary financial goal was to make some “quick cash” that would fund his dream to study art in Paris. However, hard physical labour was not something that suited his nature and skills. Maydanyk was a gifted artist – he had attended a textile-ornamenting academy in Krakow, Poland, and was exercising his talent as a cartoonist and iconographer. He was soon looking for other work options beyond the Canadian Pacific Railway. Nevertheless, the experience on the railroad was valuable, providing him with personal insights and an intimate understanding of the life lived by many young men who made their way to Canada during the early era of immigration. In 1912, Maydanyk enrolled in the Ruthenian Training School in Brandon, Manitoba.

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