For the early Ukrainian immigrants to Canada the decision to emigrate was almost always a gamble: some benefitted, others were less fortunate. While many peasant families settled on their newly acquired homesteads, there were also thousands of unmarried young men, and even some women, seeking employment in Canada’s frontier regions and urban centers. Apart from the stress of departure and resettlement, and the hardships of labour, they also had to deal with the loneliness of being single in a foreign land. A lack of prior knowledge of the English language and cultural differences led some of them look for wives from the Old Country, through arranged marriages. For North American immigrant communities, such arrangements were far from uncommon, and mail-order brides played a huge role in courtship practices of the New World.
What kinds of problems did the young immigrant men and women face in their personal lives? How were their romantic feelings and desires affected by the constraints of their life circumstances? What can be learned of their lifestyles and values through the patterns of their courtships and marriages? Two interlacing stories of Ukrainian immigrant families – the Lacostas and the Gauduns – give us a rare insight into courtship practice in Canada. Both Raifta Lacosta and Stephania Gaudun got married through mail-order matches, and neither of the two women lived on homestead farms, instead they both worked in a Canadian urban setting.
Raifta’s and Stephania’s stories are recorded in John Lacosta’s and Nick Gaudun’s interview materials that are housed at the Bohdan Medwidsky Ukrainian Folklore Archives at the Kule Folklore Centre, University of Alberta. The interviews were organized and conducted between 1986 and 1995 by Stephen (Steve) Gaudun, Nick’s second son, and were donated to the archives in 2014. As any spoken word, the interviews reflect living language with all its peculiarities and imperfections. The two families are related: John Lacosta’s wife Raifta is the sister of Nick Gaudun’s wife Stephania, therefore she is Steve’s aunt or, as he calls her in the interview in Ukrainian (part of which appears below), “titka.”
John Lacosta was born in 1894 in the small village of Vashkivtsi in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains, in the Bukovina province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In 1912, shortly before reaching the eligible age for army recruitment, John left Bukovina for the New World. He landed in Montreal where he worked 10 hours per day in the lumber mills, only to earn a meagre wage of 1 dollar. After the outbreak of the First World War, like many of his Ukrainian friends, John was deemed suspicious and lost his job. In the 1920s, the Canadian Pacific Railway finished expanding into the heartland of the Canadian West.[read more]