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The Stephan Kwasnicia Family in Canada


Stephan and Dora Kwasnicia – at Home on the Kwasnicia Homestead – c 1930




Stephan and Dora (Gudzik) Kwasnicia were the grandparents of Sonja (Boyko) Riley. They were of Ukrainian extraction and arrived in Canada in the first decade of the 20th century as part of the wave of central European immigrants seeking the opportunities and the better way of life advertised as being available in Canada. The couple settled in east central Saskatchewan where they received a homestead lot, a 160 acre quarter section, in the Chechow District west of Preeceville. There they eventually raised a family of eight children having lost an additional child in infancy. The following provides a short summarized history of the family and its eventual dispersion from those humble Saskatchewan beginnings across much of western Canada and into the Wisconsin area of the Midwestern United States.


The Kwasnicia children generated a closeness growing up on the farm that continued to be in evidence in adulthood; indeed, that familial closeness was also instilled into the grandchildren, particularly the older ones, who early got to know and develop a warm familiarity with their cousins. The sibling closeness is readily demonstrated in how the Kwasnicia children as young adults often followed one another out of Chechow District and into the wider world.


This file was generated out of a series of six family reunions which brought the separated elements of the family together over the 28 year period 1976 - 2004. The first reunion was hosted by Pauline and Mike Chopty at their farm near Preeceville over the August 1 weekend in 1976. Some 12 years later in 1988 (when it was eventually realized that the success of that first event could be repeated!) a second initiative was hosted by Phil and Helen Kwasnicia at their cottage at Fishing Lake near Wadena, SK. In 1992 the group assembled at Cheryl McKenzie’s home in Kelowna, BC; in 1996 at the home of Karen and Peppi Pace and the cottage of Olive and Don Veal in Red Lake, ON; in 2001 the group was hosted by the Kennedy clan in Milwaukee, WI; and in 2004 the Phil and Helen Kwasnicia offspring hosted the group at Randy and Marianne Kwasnicia’s cottage at Windermere, BC.  


Most of the data in this file has been provided directly by family members. Some of the early history of the family was extracted from a short family history written by the daughters of Stephan and Dora and a second article by son Philip, both published in 1982 in Lines of the Past, The History of Preeceville & District. That same volume was also the source of some information on non-Kwasnicia families (e.g. Zawerucha). Immigration and land records were extracted from Canadian archival sources. Some detail on the Boyko family was extracted from interviews of Mike in 1964 and Myrtle c 1972 and published in local weekly publication The District News in 2002 and 1972 respectively.  Information levels are variable on the extended families of Stephan and Dora’s children reflecting information available to the compiler. Specific detail on living family members has been muted for privacy reasons.



The Beginnings:


·         According to family oral history Stephan (also given as Stefan and Steve) and Dora (also given as Doris) were both born in Bertnickiw, Ukraine; Stephan in 1880 and Dora in 1885. The couple was married in Bertnickiw in 1904, approximately two years before they left for Canada. However, self-generated birth information provided in the 1911 Canadian census would suggest Stefan to have been born in December of 1878 and Dora in March of 1884.   


Western Ukraine from Goggle Earth showing location of Chekhiv (Chechow)

(SW yellow pin) in relation to Kiev (NE yellow pin)


·         Bertnickiw (also given as Bertnechi), now known as Bertnyky, is a small roadside farming hamlet located in the Ternopil Oblisk (or province) about eight kilometers west of the district administrative center of  Buchach and about 400 kilometers SW of Kiev. The community lies some 1.5 kilometers east of and is directly connected by road to the farming village of  Chekhiv, formerly known as Chechow. Some 3.5 kilometers north of Chekhiv lies Hryhoriv, formerly Hryhoriw, after which another of the Preeceville school


SW Ukraine Farming Country Showing the Relative Location of Chekhiv, Bernyky, and Hryhoriv


districts was named. These three communities were the source of a sizable immigration cadre into the Preeceville, SK, area in the 1900-1930 era. 


·         From a recent historical perspective the Buchach region of Ukraine was annexed by Austria in 1772 and ruled by Austria until the end of the WWI in 1918. At that time and until 1920 the area briefly became part of the Independent West Ukrainian Peoples’ Republic; in 1920 it was overrun by the Republic of Poland. The Poles held the area until the beginning of WWII when it was annexed by the Soviet Union and incorporated into the Ukrainian SSR. In 1941 the area was invaded by Nazi Germany and held by the Nazis until the end of WWII when it was returned to the Soviet Union through agreement among the Allies. With the breakup of the USSR in 1991 the area became part of today’s independent Ukraine. This history helps rationalize why so many of the pre-WWII Ukrainian immigrants from what is today the SW Ukraine, including the Kwasnicias, self-identified their nationality Austrian or Polish; it also rationalizes the place name changes during the first half of the 20th century.    


·         Canadian immigration records would suggest that the young Kwasnicia couple departed Antwerp, Belgium on May 16, 1906 and arrived at Montreal on May 27 on board the Canadian Pacific Railway ship Montreal. [The handwriting in this particular record is difficult to read but the last name can be interpreted as some form of Kwasnicia, Stephan is clear, the partner’s name appears to be Jawdorkia (see below), the couple’s nationality is given as Glaician (i.e., Ukrainian), occupation as farmer, and destination can be interpreted as Yorkton.] From Montreal the couple would have proceeded by train to Yorkton, SK. There arrangements to claim a homestead would have been pursued and the couple would have proceeded, probably by ox cart as did many of their neighbours, to the Preeceville area. They could have arrived in the Preeceville area by mid-June.       


·         The couple appears not to be listed in the 1906 census for Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta so it is likely that they were not yet enough settled to be captured by the enumeration.


·         Stephan and Dora selected a homestead grant of a quarter section described as the NE part of Section 30 in Township 34, Range 6, west of the 2nd meridian, located about six and a half miles west southwest of Preeceville. The cost would have been $10. That quarter section appears to have first been issued to and abandoned by one Anton Fyhrie.


·         The 1911 census shows a three person family on Section 30, Township 34, Range 6, W2 consisting of head Stefan Kwasnicka, 32, b Dec 1878 in Austria, immigrated 1906, racial origin Rutherian (Ukrainian), nationality Austrian, religion Greek Orthodox, farmer, language Rutherian, could neither read or write; his wife Yawdorka, 27, b Mar 1884 in Austria,  immigrated 1906, racial origin Rutherian (Ukrainian), nationality Austrian, religion Greek Orthodox, language Rutherian, could neither read or write; son Michal, 1, born March 1910 in Saskatchewan, racial origin Rutherian, nationality Canadian, religion Greek Orthodox. 


·         The family has not yet been located in the 1916 census; there is a strong possibility they and the other families living on Section 30 were missed by the enumerator.


·         According to the daughters the couple’s first dwelling was a 15’ by 25’ sod house. In later years they constructed a house out of local poplar logs which were then chinked, clay plastered, and whitewashed to keep out the cold and preserve the logs. That later house, abandoned, was still standing c 1970 and the poplar walls were still remarkably sound.