A New Start
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A New Start
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A New Start
The story of a young man who leaves his homeland to forge a new life in Canada
In 1900, Petro Svarich set off for the "promised land," believing a better life awaited him in a young, rugged country 6,000 miles from home.
In 1900, Ivan and Mary Svarich along with their children left their eastern European homeland to start a new life in Canada. (Courtesy of the National Archives of Canada)
In 1900, Ivan and Mary Svarich along with their children left their eastern European homeland to start a new life in Canada. (Courtesy of the National Archives of Canada)

Svarich, 22, and his family lived on the eastern edge of Europe (later Ukraine), a region with one of the lowest standard of living in the western world.

"Friends thought I had lost my mind. I was planning to go to Canada where only buffalo, Indians, and Eskimos inhabited the land of ice and snow. But I am confident that life in Canada is better than it is here," said Svarich.

Though well off by local standards, Svarichs father decided to take up the Canadian governments offer of free land on the prairies.

"My father, after long deliberation, decided to sell his entire estate, and emigrate to Canada," Svarich wrote in his memoir. "He said, 'In Canada there were no taxes, no compulsory military service, no gendarmes. Paradise! Complete paradise!'"

On March 3, 1900, the Svariches left Hamburg, Germany on the Arcadia bound for Halifax. By April, they had arrived in Winnipeg and were reassessing their paradise.

"My experience in this first Canadian hostel I shall not forget for the rest of my life. In one night I was bitten so bad by fleas and bedbugs that the next day I could hardly clean myself of them. My mother wept when she saw me - all miserable, wretched and discouraged."

The family traveled by train toward Alberta, alarmed by the vastness and emptiness of the prairies.

"We all crowded at the windows," remembered Svarich. "What we saw were endless flat prairies, no trees, no creeks ... This is Canada which draws us like a magnet, out here we shall live the rest of our lives. Did we do the right thing? Shall we be happier here than we were in the old country? Such thoughts ... came to all of us as the train took us deeper and deeper ..."

From Edmonton, the family journeyed east along crude trails and over flooded creeks towards the available land. They came across recent homesteaders living in primitive conditions. One family lived in a sod-covered house like a "pigsty" and had a crude shelter for a stable, recalled Svarich.

"Our hearts sank with what we saw and what obviously awaited us too," remembered Svarich

But with little choice, they claimed their land and began rebuilding their lives. After only six months, Svarichs parents took in their first harvest. Their views of Canada were quickly changing.

"The total yield was three times as much as they would have had in the old country" wrote Svarich. "My father now felt like a wealthy man and would not return to his old farm in the Old Country for anything ... for if he accomplished this much in one year, imagine how much he would have in five, or even ten years."

Svarich finally left the farm to make his own way in life. He found work on the railways, in the mines of Rossland B.C and finally the gold mines of the Klondike.

After four years, Svarich had saved enough to set down roots in Alberta.

In 1910, Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier visited the town of Vegreville, Alberta. He was greeted by a welcoming committee, which included a 33-year-old businessman named Petro Svarich, now the proud co-founder and manager of the first Ukrainian Co-operative.

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