The experiences of the Sawchuks are similar to those of thousands of men and women who emigrated from Europe in the early part of the 20th century. They sought opportunities and freedoms Canada offered. They provided the labour to build the country, and their distinct cultures enriched and shaped their communities.
Michael Sawchuk same to Canada from Western Ukraine (Galicia) before the First World War. At the age of 15, he was working in the rock house at Creighton. He learned to speak English, as well as several Slavic languages on the job, and became proficient as a shaft driver.
Immigrant workers “foreigners with unpronounceable names,” were often given the most dangerous jobs in the mines, according to historian Ashley Thompson. Michael’s brother Harry was killed in a mining accident in the Copper Cliff mine. Michael developed silicosis, an occupational lung disease, and by his early 30s, he was unable to continue working as an itinerant miner.
Michael met his wife, Sophia Demkiw, in Winnipeg. She was one of the approximately 70,000 Ukrainians who immigrated to Canada between the two world wars.
By the late 1920s, the Sawchuks owned a grocery store in the north end of Winnipeg. Michael invested his savings in the Manitoba Wheat Pool. The couple’s bright future dimmed when the stock market crashed in 1929. They lost their investments and their store. Michael’s ability to speak several languages made him a natural salesman. He found work in Sudbury with Metropolitan Life and worked for the company until he took a disability retirement in 1961. The Sawchuks lived in the Donovan and later in the West End. Sophia ran a boarding house for miners. She listened to them talk about working conditions and became interested in progressive causes. She was an early feminist, and a member of the Mine Mill Women’s Auxilliary and the Association of the United Ukrainian Canadians.
The Sawchuks passed their pride in their Ukrainian culture and traditions to their two sons.
Taras was an architectural draftsman and contributed to the designs of many of the schools built in Greater Sudbury during the 1960s. Taras later taught architectural drafting at Chelmsford High School.
Oryst became an architect and a city planner. Sawchuk Peach Associates designed the Bell Park amphitheatre, Lo-Ellen Park Secondary School, the central fire hall, the Jubilee Family Resources Centre, the Sudbury Transit Centre, and Market Square. He volunteered his time to numerous boards and committees and was president of the chamber of commerce in 1987-88.