In search of a better life

Katie Shistowski, a resident of Actionmarguerite St. Joseph, was nine years old when she left her native Ukraine for Canada. This is her story, from life on the farm to life in the city.

The year was 1929. A boat from Europe was approaching the east coast of Canada. On board, a young Katie Shistowski with her parents and sisters. “To me it made no difference whether I was in Ukraine or Canada,” she says. “I was a child, and as long as I had candy I was fine!”

Once on solid ground, the Shistowskis boarded a train for Manitoba. “My father had bought a farm near Elphinstone, a half-section or 280 acres of land. I grew up there with my five sisters. We harvested, we drove horses. Everyone had something to do all the time: father’s orders! We were a family of hard workers, and my sisters and I were very well raised.”

When Katie was 16, her father took her out of school to work full-time on the farm. “When he told me I wouldn’t be going back to school, I cried a lot. I always had top marks. When I arrived in Canada, I had just finished grade 4 but they put me back in grade 1. I worked very hard, and for two years, I completed two school years in a single year.”

In 1942, Katie got married. “I was a farmer’s daughter and became a farmer’s wife. I had two sons, one year apart. They helped us out on the farm while they were growing up. One son was very well-behaved, and the other one was very fast. Unfortunately, he passed away three years ago.”

While the children were still at home, the family of four moved to Winnipeg in 1956. “Farming was getting more and more difficult. We wanted a better life for our family so we sold the farm, packed our suitcases, and headed to Winnipeg. I missed farming at first but not nearly as much as I missed school. Leaving school so young is really one of my biggest regrets.”

In the city, Katie focused on raising her two boys. “I’ve never held a job like other women. I’ve never gone to the bank to cash a cheque. I’ve never even received a salary. But I never needed to. I had everything I wanted and everything I needed.”

To pass the time, Katie would cook and garden. “I used to have a beautiful garden and I looked after it. I always had something to do. I was also an excellent cook and baker. I’d make chocolate cakes, apple cakes, lemon pies, and chocolate pudding from scratch.”

“I’d also make Ukrainian food, like perogies and meatballs. Sometimes my husband would ask us what we wanted to eat and then he’d go out hunting for it. I would cook whatever he came home with.”

In 1971, Katie and her husband moved to Vancouver. “We stayed in Vancouver for 28 years. I cooked and gardened there, too. When my husband died in 1999, I bought a house in Winnipeg and came back to the province that I grew up in. I stayed in the house until 2013 and then moved to Actionmarguerite St. Joseph.”

Unwavering optimism

At the Actionmarguerite St. Joseph residence, Deolinda Arruda is a ray of sunshine. She is always upbeat, loves life, and shares her enthusiasm with every resident she meets. In spite of illness and the challenges of life, her optimism never wavers.

Deolinda’s determined outlook on life dates back many years. “I came to Canada 46 years ago for a better life. It really wasn’t easy to leave my home country, Portugal. But I built a life for myself here, with my husband and two children. I have everything I need.”

Married at 17, Arruda left for Canada a year later. “Because I was so young, my parents had to sign an authorization form before I could get married. I knew I’d found a wonderful man. Shortly after our marriage, he emigrated to Canada. I joined him a year later with my eldest daughter, who was still a baby at the time.”

Deolinda still remembers arriving in Canada. “I landed at the Montreal airport, changed planes, then arrived in Winnipeg. It was summertime and so hot out! My daughter cried in the plane. And I didn’t speak English. I learned the language from books, television, and my colleagues. When I didn’t know a word, I’d ask what it meant. You’re never too old to learn.”

Deolinda worked hard all her life. “My first job was at the Great Western Garment factory, sewing belt loops on pants. After that I did housework and then spent more than 20 years in another factory. I was an assistant supervisor but there were too many responsibilities so I moved on to ironing.”

Deolinda returned to her home country twice. “I found Portugal so beautiful when I went back! It did me a lot of good. When I started getting sick, I wasn’t able to travel any more.”

Fourteen years ago, she suffered two strokes. “I recovered, and things got better for a while. Then I started developing other illnesses. It was like I got every sickness out there. One day I went home. I finished my housework and told my husband I wasn’t feeling well. He told me to go rest and then called for help. I’ve been in a wheelchair ever since.”

Two years ago, Deolinda’s health again deteriorated. “I have epilepsy. I went with my daughter to see a specialist. I sat down on a chair in the corner of his office, with my daughter beside me. He looked at me and said I had epilepsy and that I’d no longer be able to make myself even a cup of tea without help.”

Deolinda now needs daily care. “The residence has become my second home. Every six months, a specialist comes to inject Botox in my arm. I wouldn’t get that care if I were at home. It’s very expensive, and it’s not paid for by the government.”

Deolinda’s family visits her regularly. “I have two children and four grandchildren who come to see me often. At first my husband came twice a day. Right now he’s ill and in hospital but his doctor said that his health is improving.”

Deolinda remains optimistic. “I have good days and not-so-good days, but I have to keep on going. I’m still alive, which is a very good thing. I know that I’m sick but I don’t let that get me down. God put me in this residence for a reason: to cheer people up. So that’s what I’m doing and it makes me happy.”


Life across the pond

The Actionmarguerite St. Joseph residence is home to over 100 residents of different ethnic backgrounds. From Ukraine, Portugal, and other countries, they crossed oceans to make a life for themselves in Canada, and hidden behind the residents’ doors are fascinating stories of travel, family, passion, love, and life that residents are happy to share.

Margaret Bell came to Canada from England over half a century ago. “I was born in England, where I grew up and trained to become a nurse. I had to wait until I was 17 before I could enter the nursing program near Newcastle. I met the man who would become my husband and we got married. He was working at a newspaper and studying engineering.”

After completing his studies, Margaret’s husband landed a job in Ontario. “He got a job in the mines. We were newlyweds and expecting our first child. Since I was an only daughter, my parents had a hard time letting me go but I packed my suitcase and went to join my husband in Ontario, six months pregnant. I started working in a hospital there and our first son was born.”

The young family then moved several times in the province. “We first lived in the mining town of Timmins. It was my first time in Canada and it was a strange country to me. Living in Timmins felt like living in a Hollywood western.”

“Then my husband got an engineering job in the Midland area. It was really a beautiful place, and we were very happy there. We had a cute little house with fruit trees nearby. I was ready to put down roots there for good.”

But life had other plans, and Margaret followed her husband to Manitoba. They had three sons by then. “He left the mines to go work as an efficiency engineer in Thompson. I was heartbroken to have to leave Midland. We were in Thompson for a long time. That’s where my daughter was born. I worked as a nurse at the hospital. Sometimes we’d have to travel to reserves by plane in the winter. It was a very interesting experience.”

The family of six eventually settled in Winnipeg. “I continued to work as a nurse until I retired. It’s something I always enjoyed doing. I worked mainly in the operating room and in infant care. When I retired in Winnipeg, there was a big party.”

In 50 years, Margaret has returned to England more than once. “I’ve made the trip several times but I wasn’t very impressed by what I saw there. I think I got used to living in Canada. The two countries are really very different.”

Margaret followed her husband during their entire marriage. When he died, she lived alone for a while. “I was used to taking care of myself. When my health started failing, I got home care, but because I had osteoarthritis in my legs, I’d often fall. I needed more help so my eldest son went looking for a seniors’ home. He visited them all to find a place where I’d be happy. I’ve been here at Actionmarguerite St. Boniface for three years now.”