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Date and Place of Birth: November 13, 1941 in Pukiw, Ukraine

Date of Interview: November 30, 2016

Place of Interview: Toronto, Ontario

Interviewer: Zoriana Kilyk

Length of Interview: 01:09:50 (raw)


Interviewer: Could you speak English?

MS: No, no. I started school in Raymond, which is a little town just away from Lethbridge [Alberta]. I'm a teacher, and when a new Canadian comes to my classroom I make sure that that child is looked after, that he or she has something to do, books to read. I remember being put in the corner of the room, given a book with the alphabet on it and Sister Mary Rachel told me, I’ll never forget it, “All right honey, you copy the letters of the alphabet and you learn them.” But nobody ever came to speak to me, nobody ever, sort of, made me feel welcome. And so when I became a teacher that was one of the first things I decided I was going to do if I had immigrants in my class. I was going to make them feel welcome; I was going to make them feel proud to be a Canadian. And I wanted so much to be part of this country, these people. I also remember a time when the bus driver picked us all up and drove us to the different farms. And he finished, there was nobody on the bus except me and he said: "Well kid, where are you supposed to get off?" "I don't know, I don't know." And he said, "Well I'm going home, so goodbye." And he put me off the bus, left me standing there and, when I became a teacher I thought, "Boy, it sure has changed!" The whole process, nobody cared about immigrants, we were here today and gone tomorrow type of thing.


Interviewer: Let's go back to your presidency at KYK [the Ukrainian Canadian Congress–Toronto Branch]. Let's talk about some of the specific things that were accomplished then. First of all when were you President?

MS: 1991. 10 years would be 2011? No, 2001; I was there 10 years: 1991 to 2001. So, what did I accomplish? Well I think that my biggest thing that I was proud of was the fact that we were able to join the Ukrainian women's organizations in Ukraine and in diaspora and to work together for the benefit of Ukraine. I worked together with different organizations; we did the famine-genocide [Holodomor] for 10 years. We actively did everything in the churches, we brought it into the schools, we had teachers like myself who were retired going out to the schools to teach about famine, we did workshops for the teachers, we had writing competitions about the famine. That was a lot of work with the students that we did. I tried to promote Ukrainianism – Ukrainian culture – by doing Caravan, by doing the Bloor West Village [Festival], by having different kinds of, well the dance groups, we helped and promoted the dance groups, that was before they became extravaganza showpieces.

But I also thought it was very important that I bring the community to knowledge about politics. And I made sure that we invited all Members of Parliament to all of our events. I made sure that I had a contingency with me when we went to different Members of Parliament to present issues that were important to us. On every occasion we invited Members of Parliament to come to Ukrainian events such as Independence Day. We did fundraisers, we did, well, everything that would bring the community to Members of Parliament, to their attention, that we were not just people to come to fundraisers but we’re also people that had issues; that we needed help with certain things. As a matter of fact, I remember getting a phone call from Patrick Boyer from Kyiv and he says, “Mary, we did it! Ukraine is independent. I just got Kravchuk to sign the Independence Charter. So, it worked, ok?" You made one friend, you made another friend, and your issues became important to them.


Recipient of the City of Toronto's 75th anniversary "Persons Day" Certificate of Honour in 2004.

Recipient of Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal in 2013.

"The Medal was awarded to Canadians who have made outstanding and exemplary contributions to their communities or to Canada as a whole. The award focuses both on the achievements of those people who, over the past 50 years, have helped create the Canada of today, and on the achievements of younger Canadians who are actively contributing to our future."

• ["Ukrainian women from around the world congregate in Lviv"], "Українки з цілого світу з'їхалися до Львова." 18 Aug. 2009.

"Victims of the Holodomor Commemorated at the United Nations." 13 Dec. 2010.

excerpt from the Interview with MARY SZKAMBARA

The interviews can be accessed at the UCRDC. Please contact us at: office@ucrdc.org