MNOHAYA LITA – МНОГАЯ ЛІТА

(Click here or on the movie window at the bottom of this page to hear the Ukrainian Male Chorus of Edmonton sing Mnohaya Lita.)

When I was  a little girl on Gallagher Avenue in Winnipeg, every wedding, shower and birthday celebration involved people standing and singing Mnohaya Lita.  Generally it was sung in a sad way, with a slow tempo, and occasional harmonies. Women wept and hankies appeared to wipe their tears and blow their noses. Someone was always blowing their nose at these affairs.  It seemed odd to me, to have such a sad song at such joyous occasions, but it was very clear this was a tradition that was not to be questioned, so I didn’t ask.

Though Ukrainian was the mother tongue of my parents, and who knows how many generations before them, my brothers and sisters and I did not grow up speaking Ukrainian.  This, despite the fact that our home was rich with Ukrainian culture, food and celebrations.  We attended church, sporadically, at St. Mary’s the Protectress, a Ukrainian Greek Orthodox Church in Winnipeg’s North End.  My parents, Carl and Mary Krawchenko, were married there.  They brought five “boomers” into the world to be Christened at “Sobor”.   You could always count on hearing Mnohaya Lita at the Church.  I loved it, and as I grew older, I started to weep, too, when I sang it.

Because the five of us children were born after the Second World War, Carl and Mary had limitless dreams for our success, and by their choice, we were not taught Ukrainian. It would not serve us.  We were fifth generation Canadians and we were to be assimilated for the sake of opportunity.  We were taught that we were as good as anybody else, including “The English”.

Years later, visiting at my Mom’s kitchen table, I asked what the words of Mnohaya Lita meant. When she told me, I was genuinely surprised that this was a happy song.

My Mom will turn 80 in a couple of weeks, so I went in search of Mnohaya Lita to be able to practice singing it.  To my utter joy, I found this version from the Ukrainian Male Chorus of Edmonton.  Now this is the way to do a choir rehearsal.  You will find the transliteration and translation of the words at the bottom of this posting.

Not a hankie in the bunch. How wonderful that these men have a passion for Ukrainian music and a heritage that runs deep in my blood.  My thanks to the Ukrainian Male Chorus of Edmonton for sharing their joy. Click on the window below to see the video of them singing.

In the photo at the top of this post: My mom, Mary Krawchenko (nee Bachynsky), and Baba, Tillie Bachynsky (nee Strumbicky).  The children are me and my sister Margaret and the photo was taken at our home on Gallagher Avenue.  I believe this picture was taken on the occasion of my grandmother’s 50th birthday party.  Mnohaya Lita was most certainly sung that day. Baba was born on March 24th, 1909.  I was born March 24th, 1956.

I miss saying:  “Happy Birthday to you, too, Baba!”

Update on March 21, 2011

My friend Chris Mota in Montreal sent me a link to this wonderful choir singing the version that is more familiar to me.  The information posted on youtube with this item is as follows:

МНОГАЯ ЛІТА, Державний академічний Волинський народний хор, 2009 рік, Луцьк, українська народна пісня, колядка, щедрівка, фольклор,http://proridne.com

Thanks, Chris!

Mnohaya Lita (transliteration)

Mnohaya lita.

Mnohaya lita.

Mnohaya lita.

Vo zdroviye,

vo spaseniye.

Mnohaya Lita!

Translation:

God grant you many years.

Many happy years.

God grant you many years.

Many happy years.

May you be blessed

with health,

wealth,

and happiness.

And many,

many happy years.


The Fortune Family: Winnipeg Titanic Survivors

Only four people from Winnipeg, Canada, made it home after escaping the sinking of the Titanic. In all, there were about thirty people on the ship who were heading for Manitoba. Some were residents, others were immigrants, and still others were planning to stop and visit relatives while on their way further west.

All four survivors from the province of Manitoba were women, all from the same family: Mary Fortune and her daughters, Mabel, Ethel and Alice. Two other family members were lost in the shipwreck. They were Mary’s husband, Mark Fortune, a Winnipeg real estate tycoon, and their youngest child, 19-year-old Charles, affectionately known as Charlie.

The Titanic was the most luxurious ocean liner in the world. It left Southampton, on Wednesday April 10th, amid a great deal of fanfare and celebration for its maiden voyage to New York. The press had widely praised the ship as “unsinkable”.

According to newspaper reports, the Fortune women were incredulous that the Titanic sank before a rescue ship could arrive to save everyone who was on it. Two thirds of the 2,200 people on Titanic died as the vessel drifted down to the bottom of the ocean in a sea filled with icebergs off the coast of Newfoundland. It was a tragedy of colossal proportions.

Shocked and grieving the Fortunes returned to the new home Mary’s husband had so proudly built for his large family. With thirty-six rooms the wood and stone mansion at 393 Wellington Crescent was a very impressive addition to the exclusive Winnipeg neighbourhood on the Assiniboine River. It was a home built for parties and celebrations, and the laughter of grandchildren yet to be born. In the aftermath of the catastrophe it was a huge empty house, painfully silenced by the aching grief that came home with Mary and her daughters. The dramatic change in their lives was nothing they ever could have imagined would happen.

The Fortunes had left Winnipeg three months earlier. They had traveled by train to New York where they boarded the Franconia, bound for Trieste, a popular landing point for tourists, and the main seaport in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. They were in the company of several friends, who were also well-known in Winnipeg: Thomas McCaffry, J.J. Borebank, and Thompson Beattie. Together the group was embarking on the Grand Tour, a fashionable extended vacation enjoyed by the wealthy class in the Gilded Age.

Throughout the early months of 1912, the Fortunes traveled to many places in Greece, Italy and France and toured exotic locations in the Middle East. The holiday was Mark Fortune’s gift to his family. Charlie had recently graduated from Bishop’s College in Lennoxville, Quebec and was planning to continue his studies at McGill. Mark Fortune may well have considered this to be the ideal time, and perhaps his only opportunity, to persuade his adult children to join him and their mother for such a tour. His two eldest children, Robert and Clara had already married and declined the invitation to join them. Two of the Fortune daughters, Ethel and Alice had fiancées waiting for them, and Mabel was said to have been in a serious relationship with a jazz musician her parents did not approve of.

The Fortune family vacation was apparently splendid. They trekked through Egypt to see the pyramids, and toured ruins, museums and chateaus throughout Europe. They stayed at the finest hotels and the ladies shopped for high fashion and the latest in trousseau trends in Paris. It appears they were denied nothing.

Their tour ended in London where they rested for a few days and celebrated Easter with a fantastic dinner at a London hotel. From London, they took the boat train to Southampton and witnessed the Wednesday festivities to launch the magnificent new ship. Titanic fever was running high throughout the country. Alice was even able to persuade a fellow tour companion, William Sloper, to change his ticket from the Mauretania so that he might enjoy her company on the crossing.

From Wednesday through the end of the weekend, the experience on Titanic was everything the passengers had believed it would be. There were sumptuous surroundings, fine entertainments and exquisite meals for the first class passengers. Throughout the ship there was much to admire about Titanic. Even the third class passengers were treated to steerage accommodations that were widely hailed as well superior to the norm.

By Sunday night, April 14th, Titanic was in the North Atlantic approaching Newfoundland. The temperature had plummeted to near freezing. Dark and cold was the night when the ship steamed into the ice field. Warnings of ice had come from ships in the area, but were not heeded by the captain. No order to slow the engines was given.

When the ship struck an iceberg shortly before midnight, there was no mass call for “all hands on deck”. There was confusion and “polite urging” for the passengers to put on their lifebelts. Continue reading “The Fortune Family: Winnipeg Titanic Survivors”

Montreal Bagels and “The Main”

“Our Street was Paved with Gold”, is the title of a film about Montreal that is a charming and nostalgic piece produced by the NFB.

During the mass migration that began in the late 19th century, every city had a similar story when it came to the location of the immigrant neighbourhoods. As writers like Abraham Cahan often described: You got off a boat, or a train, and walked until you found someone who spoke your language.

In New York it was the Lower East Side.

In Winnipeg, it was Point Douglas and ultimately, the North End.

And in Montreal, it was St. Lawrence Boulevard, the long street known as “The Main” that ran down to the harbour. Mordecai Richler described the famous neighbourhood with these words in Son of a Smaller Hero:


“All day long, St. Lawrence Boulevard, or Main Street, is a frenzy of poor Jews, who gather there to buy groceries, furniture, clothing and meat. Most walls are plastered with fraying election bills, in Yiddish, French and English. The street reeks of garlic and quarrels and bill collectors: orange crates, stuffed full with garbage and decaying fruit, are piled slipshod in most alleys.”

Similar impressions are captured in this NFB film that takes us back to 1973, and the vibrant colours of the changing neighbourhood on St. Lawrence. Directed by Albert Kish, it is called Our Street was Paved with Gold.

Click here to see the film.

If your family history touches Montreal, and you remember the smell of sausage being smoked in the corner store, and the mouth watering sensation of sinking your teeth into a fresh warm bagel, you will enjoy this film.

How interesting and comforting, for those who love Montreal, to see that when it comes to making bagels, nothing much has changed in technique or atmosphere in all of these years. I think the equipment used today may well be the very same that we see in this film.

By the way, I am firmly of the opinion that once you have tasted a Montreal bagel you will be spoiled for life, and will have set a standard for bagel excellence that can not be equalled by any other bagel maker in any other city. Period.

George Graham – Winnipeg Passenger on Titanic

Many years ago I was on a bus on Graham Avenue, a very well known street in downtown Winnipeg. I was seated next to a man who knew a lot about Winnipeg history. As we passed the Eaton store, he said, “Graham Avenue is named for a man who went down on the Titanic. His name was George Graham and he worked for the Eaton’s Company. Did you know that?”

I didn’t, and said so. I was eleven and terribly impressed by the story. I knew about the Titanic, but to think there was someone from Winnipeg in the great ship disaster was very exciting indeed.

It was decades later that I became truly captivated by the Titanic, in doing research for my novel, Ravenscraig. I read books, articles and old newspapers, watched every movie, documentary and video clip I could find, and I became totally immersed in the articles and discussion boards on the website Encyclopedia-Titanica as I learned the stories of Winnipeg passengers such as Eva Hart and the Fortune Family. I came across the story of the Graham Avenue tribute to the Titanic passenger countless times.

All the while I was adding to my collection of rare books from Manitoba. One day, while visiting Burton Lysecki’s book store in Winnipeg, Burton handed me an old book of maps he thought I would find interesting: Winnipeg in Maps 1816-1972 by Alan F.J. Artibise and Edward H. Dahl.

In peering at the maps in the book I came across the startling revelation that Graham Avenue had nothing to do with George Graham.

The street had been called Graham for forty years or so before the Titanic sank.

The evidence is seen in this map from 1874, “Plan of the City of Winnipeg”.

Click here to link to the source image and see a high quality image of the map.

The map was compiled and drawn in 1874 by John D. Parr and is made available by Manitoba Historical Maps on Flickr.

More on the person for whom Graham Avenue was truly named later, but first, the story of George Edward Graham:

He was born on a farm near St. Mary’s, in southwestern Ontario, on June 11, 1873, the sixth of seven brothers. As the story is told, he was 17 when he went to work as a clerk at a hardware store. He went on to become a salesman in Galt and then, in 1903 he moved to Toronto and began working for the Eaton’s Department Store. Timothy Eaton, the founder of the successful enterprise also had a history in St. Mary’s. It was the location of his first dry goods store before he bought the Toronto store in 1869.

George did well. He married Edith May Jackson from Harriston, Ontario and a year later, in 1906, he moved his bride to Winnipeg, having accepted a promotion and transfer to the big new Eaton’s store on Portage Avenue where he became the manager of the fine china and crockery department. Life was bustling and interesting for the wealthy class in Winnipeg in the years the Grahams lived there. It was a fast growing city filled with vibrant attractions in theatre, fine restaurants, musical societies and many entertainments to be enjoyed.

While George’s career was soaring in Winnipeg, the couple also was made to suffer heartbreaking losses. Their three year old son, John Humphrey, died in 1911. Edith became pregnant again a few months later, but miscarried.

One can imagine the discussion in the Graham home when George was told Eaton’s needed him to go on a buying trip to Europe in 1912. According to family reports, with Edith still frail and recovering, the couple decided it would be best for Edith to stay with her family while he was abroad, so Edith returned to Harriston.

George boarded the Titanic at Southampton as a first class passenger. According to family legend, he was scheduled leave on the Mauretania three days later, but changed his ticket to the Titanic to get home sooner. He spent time with other traveling salesmen. They had dinner together, and each signed the back of a menu.

George was one of the many passengers on Titanic who dropped by the wireless room, Sunday, April 14th, to send a marconigram to his wife. The message went out just hours before Titanic struck the iceberg in the North Atlantic.

The website, Encyclopedia-Titanica, posts the following news item, said to have appeared on April 16th, 1912, in The Evening Telegram:

“New York Wednesday Morning, Wire Me Sandy Hook. Well.”

It was Sunday afternoon when Mrs. Graham received the Marconigram given above. She had come down from Winnipeg a few days previously to meet her husband, and was planning happily the return journey when she retired Sunday night. On Monday morning came the terrible news of the collision. Later despatches roused in her heart a hope–more, almost a certainty–that her husband would be saved. This morning, weeping, sorrowing as bereaved ones alone can sorrow, she has learned what took place off the Newfoundland Banks.

Edith was never to see her husband again. We know that George Graham did take time to strap on a life jacket. His body was recovered by the MacKay-Bennett (#147). He was wearing a black overcoat, and a blue serge suit. He was carrying the following items – Memo book; cheque for $300.00; pocket book; credit book, T. Eaton & Co.; silver pencil case; fountain pen; pencil case; keys; gold watch; fob and locket; 7 shillings and 3 pence; $105.00; 2 pocket knives; 1 gold collar button.

George Graham had also taken time to look after one more piece of business before he set sail on Titanic. He dashed off a quick letter to a business contact and popped the letter into the mail before the ship sailed. The letter was written on Titanic stationary, and is famous for having fetched the largest sum ever paid at auction for a letter associated with Titanic.


To learn more about Canadian passengers, I highly recommend Alan Hustak’s excellent book: Titanic: The Canadian Story, in which he details the lives of 130 Canadian passengers on Titanic.

Now for the matter of Graham Avenue in Winnipeg.

It is named for James Allan Graham, a fur trader who worked for many years with the Hudson Bay Company. The Manitoba Historical Society Website has details of his life and his contributions to Manitoba.

And the Downtown Winnipeg Biz website offers the following history of Graham Avenue, which I include here, primarily because of my fondness for Winnipeg buses:

Graham Avenue has its roots in the Hudson Bay Company (HBC). Named after an HBC factor, or trader, James Allan Graham, the prominent department store still anchors one end of the avenue. The City of Winnipeg designated the street as a central bus corridor in 1994, and the Graham Avenue Transit Mall was born. Today, 29 of Winnipeg Transit’s 87 routes converge on the avenue. The area is popular with surrounding downtown workers, shoppers, people attending medical appointments, area residents and loyal customers.

In closing, if you are new to Titanic enthusiasm, please do visit the Encyclopedia-Titanica website, which I have found to be tremendously helpful in my research.

Titanic Survivor Eva Hart and her connection to Winnipeg

Eva Hart was just seven years old when her family left Ilford, England, and boarded the Titanic in Southampton. They were saying good-bye to England to make their future in Winnipeg, Canada. This film clip is from a 2003 documentary called ‘Titanic: The Story’. 55mins. Narrated by Robert Powell.

Eva’s parents were Benjamin Hart, a builder who had fallen on hard times, and his wife, Esther Bloomfield Hart. Eva had often told the story of how her father had made the monumental decision to try their luck in Canada in a single evening based on a lively visit from an old friend. The friend had come to see the Harts on his holiday, and he was brimming with enthusiasm for the many opportunities he had found in Winnipeg. The discussion was apparently music to the ears of Eva’s father.

Despite Esther’s great apprehension, Benjamin immediately set about making plans to move his family to the new world. He sold his business, purchased tickets for travel on the ship called the Philadelphia, and was said to have had intentions of opening a drugstore in Winnipeg. But as their travel date approached, a coal strike prevented the Philadelphia from sailing. As Eva told the story, her father was thrilled when he was informed their tickets had been transferred to a second class cabin on the Titanic. Her mother, however, was terrified.

Benjamin thought Esther would be delighted, because the new ship was said to be unsinkable, but instead, his wife was sick with worry, claiming to have great apprehension about their safety. Eva remembered her mother felt strongly that something very bad was going to happen in the night. She napped in the daytime, and every night she sat up in a chair, fully clothed and forced herself to stay awake.

On the night of the sinking, Eva was asleep in her bed when Titanic struck the iceberg. Her father wrapped her in a blanket and brought her up to the deck with her mother, and saw them into the heavily crowded lifeboat number 14.

“Hold Mummy’s hand and be a good girl,” he told her.

That was the last time she saw her father.

There was pandemonium on the deck as the last of the boats were being loaded. “Women and children only” was the cry that went up as she and her mother were lowered away.

When the Titanic sank a short while later, Eva, a tiny child, could not take her eyes off of the spectacle. With screams in the night as people hit the water and drowned, she watched as the ship broke apart, and then slipped into the sea. The sea was glassy smooth with only the stars casting eery illumination on the death scene. Chairs, debris and bodies floated about.

“The worst thing I can remember are the screams,” Eva said, in a 1993 interview. “And then the silence that followed. It seemed as if once everybody had gone, drowned, finished, the whole world was standing still. There was nothing, just this deathly, terrible silence in the dark night with the stars overhead.”

A few days after the sinking, an article about the Hart family appeared in their home town newspaper, the Ilford Graphic, telling of an April 2nd event that had been held to wish them well in their new country.

“Mr and Mrs Ben Hart were present at the “Cauliflower” in their honour prior to their departure for Canada. During the evening they were the recipients of a beautiful Illuminated Address which included the following words, “And may the Almighty Jehovah send you safe voyage and a prosperous career in the land of your adoption.” Mr Hart was a Jew, and the introduction of the word “Jehovah” into the Address touched him very much. His emotions were easily aroused and he could barely respond with the tears swimming in his eyes. We see from the papers that Mrs Esther Hart and Miss Eva Hart are among the saved, but there is no mention made of Mr Hart, and we fear the worst”.

The following month, Esther Hart shared her memories of the terrible night of the tragedy in a lengthy newspaper item for the Ilford Graphic.

The body of Benjamin Hart was never recovered. Eva and her mother were taken aboard the rescue ship, the Carpathia, and continued on into New York with all of the survivors. They then returned to England and Esther remarried. Eva suffered from nightmares for years. She remained deeply attached to her mother and sought her out to calm her night terrors. She was 23 when Esther died and finally defeated her fears of ocean travel by taking a long voyage to Singapore and then Australia. Eva never married. She worked in many jobs over her life, which included a career as a professional singer in Australia. She later became, a Conservative party organizer and magistrate in England.

In her later years, Eva also became one of the most outspoken critics of salvage efforts of the Titanic and considered the removal of items from the shipwreck to be grave robbing.

Eva Hart died on February 14th, 1995 at the age of 91. Her death was considered the end of the last living memory of the Titanic, as the remaining survivors at that time were either too frail of memory to be interviewed, or too young at the time of the sinking to have stories to share.

I remain curious about Eva Hart’s father’s connection to Winnipeg. Who was the friend who came to visit and inspired Benjamin Hart to uproot his family? How is it that Benjamin chose to leave his work as a builder and planned to open a drugstore?

If you are interested in learning more about the Titanic, I would encourage you to start with Encyclopedia Titanica. This is an incredible resource on line, with the most intricate of details gathered, debated and presented for those who are dedicated students of Titanic.

You will find them at:
encyclopedia-titanica.org/

More on that, and what Eva Hart thought of the salvage operation on another day.

Streetcars and Trolley Buses in Winnipeg

Long after streetcars no longer operated in Winnipeg, my grandmother, whom we called, Baba, still called buses streetcars, and bus tickets car fare. She was born in 1909, so she had always known public transportation in Winnipeg as the streetcar. I never really understood that until this week, when I stumbled across this 1953 film by Roman Kroiter, called Paul Tomkowicz: Street-railway Switchman. Not only is this a compelling story about a hard-working, dignified man, but it shows us some amazing scenes of daily life in Winnipeg in the post World War II years of prosperity.

Click here to see this film.

I never rode a streetcar in Winnipeg, but I have ridden on plenty of trolley buses, and Kroiter’s lovely film prompted some reminiscing.

When I was little, we lived on Gallagher Avenue in Winnipeg, near Weston School. When I was nine years old and in grade four, I was transferred to Principal Sparling School on Sherburn near Notre Dame, a school I attended for the next three years.

This meant I would be taking the bus to school. It was tremendously exciting, because this wasn’t a school bus, it was the regular city bus that grown-ups took to work, and mini-skirted teenagers took to Tec Voc School. Looking back, I have many fond memories of that ride on the trolley bus that went down Logan, then left at Keewatin and headed east on Notre Dame.

I was a short kid. I stood third in line in those curious school lineups that compelled administrators to assemble children from shortest to tallest. The divide between the sexes at Principal Sparling was prominent. The school had one door for boys and another for girls, despite the mixed classes. The school had strict rules in other areas, too. Under Miss Wasserman’s watchful eye, the girls learned to curtsey, dance the Schottische, and to serve tea, should we be asked to help out at an official function: the kind where you would wear white cotton gloves and a puffy crinoline under your skirt.

I don’t know what the boys learned, but I seem to remember they also got roped into that Schottische business along with the girls. At least the boys could wear pants. The girls were required to wear skirts at that time, even in the coldest weather. So, to deal with this dress code in the days before snowsuits, we had to wear heavy snow pants over our tights and under our bulky winter coats. Our mothers were mostly in their twenties and early thirties then, and apparently lived in fear of whooping cough. From October to May, in addition to the coats and pants, our winter protection included hats with ear flaps, mittens on strings, and scarves wrapped double to cover our faces and protect us from the weather or perhaps germs.

The bus, at that time, was a trolley bus, riding on big tires and powered by electricity fed through long antennae-like poles that reached up to the power lines. The trolley poles would spark and crackle on the wires in snowy weather, and sometimes a pole would drop and the bus would stop. The bus driver would hustle outside and guide the pole back into place and we’d soon be on our way.

The doors of the bus folded back, exposing steep steps up into the car. The ribbed rubber mats were wet and gritty. Costumed as I was, against the wrath of winter, and carrying my school bag on my shoulder, along with my lunch pail and violin case, the very act of climbing up into the bus and getting settled was very cumbersome. But, I loved the bus ride. Here, for twenty minutes, I was immersed in the world of strangers and came to appreciate the many benefits of eavesdropping on the other passengers. I learned that people who took the bus to work in offices downtown didn’t talk much. They read books and newspapers. The teenage girls on their way to Tec Voc wanted nothing to do with me, but had lively conversations that bubbled over each other. These girls left me envious for both the things they had to giggle about, as well as the length of their legs, planted firmly on the floor while mine dangled in the air as I sat back on the seat buried beneath my heap of belongings.

The people I almost always found to be the most interesting were older. They often had much to say about the price of groceries, their neighbourhood gossip, and sometimes the city issues they had heard discussed on the radio or in the newspaper. While they spoke in English, they invariably had accents. Ukrainian, Polish, Yiddish, among many others. I had never heard a person with gray hair speak clean English. Naturally I assumed that I, too, would have an accent one day, and it made me wonder what that accent would be and when my speech would change.

But that is another story, for another day.

If you would like to learn more about early public transportation in Winnipeg, you will enjoy John E. Baker’s book, Winnipeg’s Electric Transit.

If you can’t find it, check with Burton Lysecki at his book store.