As was the case for many folks, my two main events off-Coast this summer were both reunions.
The first held no memories for me. In late July my late mother-in-law’s family celebrated 100 years in the same area in Alberta. And although I wasn’t a personal player in the centennial, nevertheless, the occasion was a poignant one.
In 1912 the Tarkowski family of three siblings (the two Tarkowski sons and their sister Mary, whose married name was Opalinski) and their families came to Canada. At that time the immigrants had to come up with the princely sum of $200, a fortune to people who were farmers and a seamstress in the old country.
Soon they were dispatched to an area called Plain Lake in Alberta. At three-plus hours away, the biggest settlement would be Edmonton. Next came many years of clearing and farming the challenging land. Standing in what was left of the Opalinski homestead, now a wildlife sanctuary, it was hard to imagine what those early people must have gone through.
Winters of close to 40 below and scorching summers with every giant insect known to mankind would have had lesser men and women crying uncle. But not these tough new Canadians — they considered themselves lucky to have escaped the fate that would see millions starved to death and murdered in their homeland. More than one speaker on that sultry July night spoke of the many killed by the evil Stalin and his godless programs. And although their history is not as well known, the number of Ukrainian dead between 1930 and ’40 rivaled the work of another scourge of the 20th century, Adolf Hitler.
Mary Opalinski went on to have 15 children, 13 of whom survived. One of them was my mother-in-law, Julie Roy. Before she died, Julie related stories of how her mom would wait until her husband was away for the day farming to raid his pigeon coop for the family’s dinner and many other stories of the early days. She had a great sense of humour and a strong love for her mother all those years later.
Those stories and more were well told at the reunion. It wasn’t hard to see that what was important to the settlers and their families were each other, God and their strong Ukrainian Orthodox Catholic Church and the land. Blizzards, crop failures and sudden illnesses, while not welcomed, were seen as tests of their faith and their reliance on each other. Judging by the 209 people welcoming their kin this summer, the tests were passed with flying colours.
My second reunion was very personal. The graduating class of 1968, along with four other years, celebrated that educational milestone in Dawson Creek a couple of weekends ago. Along with wondering where all the white and grey hair could possibly have come from, it was great fun trying to pick out the players from those years.
There were hugs and laughs galore as many of us secretly compared our former classmates to their parents. Several of my old buddies had more than a passing resemblance to their mothers. That’s how I recognized a few of them.
In the passing years, many of us have migrated out of the Peace Country. In fact, many of my friends now live a ferry ride away. Watching the interplay of the group brought my favourite saying to mind more than once: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” I think there was even a mini skirt (although there probably shouldn’t have been) among the crowd. And for a couple of short nights we were all young again. Who said you can’t go home?