Letters and Letter Writing in Ukrainian Canadian Folksongs
Jelena Pogosjan

Letter writing played an essential role in the lives of early Ukrainian settlers in Canada. New immigrants from Galicia and Bukovina had little personal experience with letter writing. In Canada, letters from the Old Country replaced casual, everyday contact with relatives and loved ones.

Folk songs composed by Ukrainian pioneers repeatedly refer to letter writing. Like birds, letters fly across the ocean, seek their addressee, and unite members of one family living far away from each other. The act of receiving “a little letter” in itself becomes very important; it serves as a confirmation of having a “real family”:

O my dear mother,
My dear, gray-haired dove,
Write me a little letter,
Just so I know you are still well.
The children go and watch for it,
They keep asking for your letter;
And they keep complaining to me
That they have no real family.

To ensure that letters are not lost, and therefore families are connected, songs give practical and detailed instructions on how to post a letter:

Mother, do not begrudge a few pennies
To buy some paper;
As for me, I am able to pay for letters
Here in Canada.
If your letter to me is not paid for,
It wonders aimlessly;
But if your letter is paid for,
Then it goes searching for me.

The song refers here to “insufficiently paid” correspondence. It was required that “the country of origin stamp the letter ‘T’ … on the item and the amount of the deficiency (single amount) … The exchange office of the destination country was to charge the article with double the insufficiency." This rule provided an option, albeit a less reliable one, to mail a letter from the Old Country without paying a postage fee, leaving it for the other, better-off side of the family to pay.

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