( - biography presented here as an example of the lives and circumstances of people of the Second Generation in North America)
· son of Anton, born 11 December 1904 near Ethelbert, Manitoba
· did his schooling piece-meal, working as a farm labourer to earn enough for the coming term
· 1929 earned his Teacher's Certificate from the "Normal School" in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
· taught for some 35 years, mostly in one-room rural Saskathewan schools
· 1938 married Josephine Fedak, of Buchanan, Saskatchewan
· very active in Ukrainian Orthodox Church and Ukrainian lay organizations
· scholarly, very well-read, disciplined, ethical, hated injustice
· died 17 December 1984, of bowel cancer, in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
Stephen Talpash was born on 11 December 1904, right on the homestead (NE Sec 6-T28-21 W1), 10 miles south-west of Ethelbert, Manitoba, attended by a neighbour midwife.
He attended the one-room rural Wolodymyr School several kilometers away, until grade 6, which was as far as grades were taught there. Instruction was initially in Ukrainian, until students had absorbed enough English from older students. Lunches were carried in the tin cans, especially the 4-pound jam tins, and were often simply a handful of dry toasted peas. These were such a staple in this household that each year several acres were sown with a seed-drill. Dry peas were moistened, salted, and then toasted in the oven to provide tasty and nutritious lunches. In 1920, a diphtheria epidemic ravaged the area. He and all his siblings were affected. Nine-month old brother Paul died, and Stephen himself was so ill that he vividly remembered the sore, paralysed throat which made swallowing impossible. That winter he convalesced and resolved to further his education. At that time, an oldest son would not even think of leaving the homestead and his share of the chores. Furthermore, father Anton stated quite bluntly that funds to support further education were not available. But Stephen, age 18, insisted that he would look after himself thenceforth. Anton reluctantly agreed to let the lad go, but advised him always to seek work with English-speaking people, to master that language and learn to get by in the dominant culture - not an easy prospect for a kid from an isolated, rural, entirely-Ukrainian community.
Stephen then went to Ethelbert to stay with his maternal grandmother, Anna Sytnick. In August 1922 she had been a widow for six years. She was cranky, stingy, and did not relish the idea of having to care for a grandchild. She often admonished Stephen for keeping a lamp lit into the evening, burning excessive amounts of coal-oil. But from the outset he learned to suffer in silence, always reassuring himself that things will eventually be better. The teacher, Mr. Elia Shklanka, arbitrarily placed Stephen, age 18, in grade 8. It was not an easy year. At first he was overwhelmed by unfamiliar material, and his lack of elementary skills. When the class was warned 'there would be a test,’ he did poorly because he did not know what a 'test' was, and did not know one had to review assigned material. His cousins, the Masciuchs, were "town kids," socially and scholastically ahead of him. This all served to strengthen his resolve; he worked harder.
Every summer Stephen worked as a labourer on farms until harvest was completed in October. Times were difficult for everyone in the 1920s and 30s, but especially for young people trying to get by without a supporting family network. Even searching for summer farm work was not easy. Stephen related incidents that are illustrative. Once he was so hungry he went into a Chinese cafe and begged for a bit of bread. He was given a whole loaf. He took it to a creek, sat on a rock and ate the whole loaf and washed it down with creek water. He spent one night in a railroad car in Saskatoon, not caring if it went away during the night. In the morning it was still there so he decided to walk to Vonda where his cousin Wasyl Masciuch was teaching. He walked many miles, and when it grew dark he slept in a haystack. Most farmers were fair employers, but one for whom he worked was so stingy that meals were far less than could sustain a hard-working young man. Stephen resorted to supplementing his rations by sucking out at least a dozen eggs a day, lifting them straight from under the hens. Every October he would enroll in high school after harvest was over and he had been paid. He then worked very hard to catch up to the other students. His favorite uncle, model and mentor, Michael Sytnick, who had recently qualified as a teacher, gave him a grammar textbook. Stephen read and studied this book as few people had, or have ever done since. His subsequent mastery of English grammar served him well all his life.
By June 1925 Stephen had completed grade 10 in Ethelbert, becoming a studious, serious 21 year old man. That summer he worked for a kind farmer near Grandview, Manitoba. When the latter saw how conscientiously hard the young man worked, he dismissed his other hired man and increased Stephen's salary. After harvest was done he went home to visit his parents, bought a new suit of clothes, and left home for good.
He travelled into Saskatchewan. In those days it was possible to take "preparatory teacher training" after grade 11, earning a Class 2 or 3 Teaching Certificate. He decided to try to become a professional in that way. He boarded with the Yaholnitsky family in Yorkton, there making the acquaintance with Sam and Mike, the twins who subsequently became physicians. But after completing grade 11 in June he drifted further west to Wynyard, Saskatchewan. There he met Mr. Steffanson, the school principal of Islandic ethnic origin. After hearing Stephen's story, Steffanson advised the young man to get his grade 12 before taking teacher's training. He got him work at Peterson's farm, (Steffanson's in-law) very near Wynyard. He stayed on the Peterson farm all year, completing grade 12 and doing farm chores after school. In fall of 1928, the farmer gave him an old trunk for his books and clothes, his pay, and even lent him another $200 for tuition. Stephen then moved on to enroll in Normal School in Saskatoon. During this year he boarded at the Peter Mohyla Ukrainian Institute, 401 Main Street. When he stated he was unable to pay for his room and board, the rector, Mr. Julian Stechishin, himself a university student in the Faculty of Law, permitted Stephen to live there for free if he promised to repay that debt when he was teaching school. This Stephen did, and to farmer Peterson, to the last cent, within a year of gainful employment. (His word was always very important to him.) That year of Normal School in Saskatoon, 1928-1929, was a particularly happy one in that he made many close lifetime acquaintances. He learned how young Ukrainian students were committed to improving the lot of the Ukrainian community in Canada through hard work, education, self-reliance and social organization. In June 1929 his travails were finally rewarded with the prized Class 1 Teacher's Certificate!
He began a 35-year teaching career in rural Saskatchewan schools. Because teachers' salaries in the 1930s were very poor, he continued to work on farms in summers. Some of the schools in which he taught in the Canora-Buchanan area were: 1929 Touchwood, 1930-32 Olesha, Forest Hill, 1934-5 Mikado, 1935-7 Bogucz (Sch. Dist. 1743) near Donwell. In 1937 he met his future bride. But a teacher acquaintance, Wasyl Seneshen, persuaded him to pool their resources and build a hotel in Peesane, a lumber-mill town to the north. The deal was consummated, but the hotel did very poorly; nobody in the depression years had money to pay for meals, let alone for lodgings or beer. Stephen gave up his share of the hotel in exchange for a worthless Promissory Note, and took a teaching position in Mistatim, starting in January 1938. In June of 1938 the School Board promised that if he returned for the fall term, they would have a new teacherage built over the summer, so, his future "secure", he married Yustina (Josephine) Fedak on 17 July 1938. He then left to start teaching in Mistatim at $500 per annum. When the harvest in Buchanan was done, her parents permitted Josie to take the train to join him; she arrived to find that there was no new teacherage, just a very rough shack that would have been more suitable for a chicken coop, crude handmade furniture, and no civilizing facilities at all. The little community of Germans, Hungarians, French and Scots was desperately poor and often could not pay his salary on time. Farmers often contributed produce. Josie relates that a wagon stopped by the teacherage and an old couple dropped off a large bag of vegetables. "Misses, come here! For you." When payment was offered, they replied, "God gave for me - I give to you." Josie also related that one day she wrote her parents a letter and asked Stephen for a 3 cent postage stamp. He not only had no stamp, but no money with which to buy one! He advised her to go to Mr. James General Store and borrow a dollar. What humiliation! She waited until all James' customers had left and told him of her problem. Without a word James reached into his till and gave her a dollar. She bought a stamp and posted the letter which became the reference point for stories of the hardships faced by people in the 1930s Depression Years. But they persevered and became very well-liked for their involvement with the community. The following year a new teacherage was built and a two-room school was completed. A Miss Weller taught grades 1-4 and Stephen taught grades 4-8. He also encouraged and tutored older children to carry on with their education by correspondence courses. Yet some of the poverty-stricken School Board members were overheard to say, "Let's fire them both before the end of the term and not pay them for what we owe in the last few months." Stephen then went to a lawyer in Tisdale who wrote a stern letter to the School Board that they must sign a Promissory Note to pay the teachers the back pay owing before any pay is proffered to new teachers. The lawyer did not have the heart to charge the penniless teachers for his efforts. Many years later, Bill McHugh wrote in the History of Mistatim, "One teacher who left a lasting impression on many of us was Mr. Talpash. He spent many hours in discussion with his students, molding us into young men and women he anticipated could go out into the world and be successful. His interest and grooming was appreciated and remembered by all who were fortunate enough to have been in his classroom."
Moves to Smeaton 1942-43, Gronlid 1943-44, Caldervale near Theodore ($1100 per annum in 1944-46), Nanton near Willowbrook, Olesha near Rama followed. Each time Stephen moved for the prospect of a slightly higher salary. He loved teaching, in spite of the poverty through the Great Depression and War years. His school Christmas concerts were superb - true highlights. He loved music and taught children songs in the last period of every Friday. He coached softball teams, some of which competed successfully with much larger schools' teams. In Ukrainian communities he kept children after school to teach them to read and write Ukrainian, learn songs and get some sense of the culture of their people. His children, Orest, Sonia and Lesia came along in the 1940s.
During World War II senior teachers were exempt from conscription into the Armed Forces. In 1948 Josie's father came to beg them to move closer to Buchanan to help on the farm. They did so reluctantly, moving to Olesha to the teacherage. They were to share-crop, but the money from 2/3 of the produce from a quarter-section would not have been enough to live on. Stephen was obliged to continue teaching, as well as looking after the Fedak farm north of Buchanan. 1949-52 Stephen taught in Chechow near Sturgis and commuted from the farm. In 1950, the Fedak home in Buchanan was built. In 1952, he took a year off teaching to build his own house (the first that was his own) in Buchanan. After that year off, he resumed teaching in fall 1953 in Mamornitz School south of Buchanan. By late October 1953 the family all moved into the new home in Buchanan. He continued to teach in the one-room rural schools, but they were all closing as the rural population dwindled. 1957-63 in Dobronouitz, 1963-4 Poplar Springs, then finally 1964-5 he taught in the Buchanan High School, but was quite ready to retire.
He continued working the Fedak quarter-section. This brought him enormous peace and pleasure. In fall 1967 he was persuaded to serve one school term as Rector-in-Residence of the Peter Mohyla Ukrainian Institute in Saskatoon, but next year he was happy to return to the less-stressful rural life. In Buchanan he was deeply involved in the Ukrainian community affairs. He served almost continuously until his death as Secretary-Treasurer of the Ukrainian Orthodox parish, and of the Ukrainian National Home. He was a member of the Ukrainian Self-Reliance League in Canora and regularly attended meetings of the Ukrainian Professional and Business Club in Yorkton.
In 1978, for their 40th wedding anniversary, Stephen and Josie joined a tour to Ukraine. They were generously hosted by many of her relatives there - who had not seen her since she was 6 years old! It was a difficult time as well - the Russianization of Soviet Ukraine made him very angry.
Stephen was very well read, and was familiar with the classics of world literature, but especially with Ukrainian literature and history. He was sentimental and sensitive, wept when he read and reread Shevchenko's Kobzar. He had a very firm sense of justice, and believed in fair play above all. He was strict and often impatient with stupidity, sloth or other human frailties. His interests were very wide-reaching, but he particularly enjoyed history, geography, literature, crossword puzzles and chess. He recorded his observations in the margins of his beloved books, his thoughts in journals almost until his death and dozens of poems, primarily reflective philosophical musings.
In 1981 he had surgery to remove a malignant bowel tumor. In 1983, he moved to the Ilarion Senior Citizens' Residence in Saskatoon. In mid-1984, metastases were detected. He succumbed on 17 December 1984.