Taking a look back as we move forward
A new year is upon us! As we look forward to 2023 it is also a good time to look back on the contributions made by many who helped us get where we are now.
Each summer, during the Blueberry Festival, the Sioux Lookout Genealogy and History Club helps us to remember the people who helped establish the communities of Sioux Lookout, Hudson and Alcona.
The 2022 Self-Guided Historical Cemetery Walk, presented by the Sioux Lookout Genealogy and History Club and the Sioux Lookout Blueberry Festival, reflected on Ukrainian families coming to Canada to find shelter and a new safe life.
The Sioux Lookout Genealogy Club shared, “We remember that Sioux Lookout was a final haven for many such families over the past 110 years. We are taking this opportunity to share some of their stories with you. We would like to acknowledge the sources for these stories – Tracks Beside the Water, Volumes 1,2,&3, and some of the families who have shared their stories with us.
“A lot of the early folks settling here immigrated from war torn European countries. They worked hard to overcome extreme conditions in our raw Canadian Shield climate. They had to learn a new language and try and understand their peers who spoke with the unfamiliar tongue of many different countries. They were all in it together and helped each other out. Their basic needs were pretty similar. It was a time of humanity in action, empathy for their neighbour’s struggles – a time of sharing of meagre resources and a commitment to building their new community together. May we continue to learn lessons from them and be helpful as new people from afar join us in our town of Sioux Lookout!”
Mike and Nellie Kuzemczak
Mike Kuzemczak immigrated to Canada from Poland in 1929 looking for work. He started as a farmhand in the west for a year and then joined the CNR as a section man and settled in Ghost River, Ontario. His wife Nastia (Nellie) and two children, Michael Jr. and Marya then immigrated to Canada to join him.
Mike was transferred to Pelican, Ontario and then moved his family to Sioux Lookout to live in 1937, as there were no accommodations in Pelican for families.
Two more sons were added to the family – Borden and William.
Their first home was rented from Bill Burns at 22 ½ Front Street. A few years later they bought their own home at 5 King Street, where the youngest child Mervin was born.
Life in the neighbourhood was friendly as the east end of town at that time was mainly a new Canadians – Italians, Swedes, Finns, and Ukrainians. Language didn’t seem to be a barrier, especially on Saturday nights when entire families including children gathered for socials at the Ukrainian Hall. The women supplied the food. Many supplied their musical talents on their accordions, violins, mandolins etc.
The main water supply was the local town spring. A lot of pails of water were hauled from there for gardens, washing dishes and drinking. The gardens flourished at that end of town from the black rich soil there. The hobos riding the rails and camping in “Hobo Jungle” knew where to come for a handout!
The children all attended public and Continuation School. Mervin attended the Queen Elizabeth High School when it was built.
Michael Jr. started with the CN on the B&B gang and later became a Brakeman, He married Lorette Lamoureux from Ottawa Valley, Quebec. She worked as a cook for Frog Rapids Camp. They resided in Sioux Lookout with their two sons, Brian and Donald.
Mayra was a secretary for Jewell Insurance. She married Gerald Gufstafson of Port Arthur and had five daughters – Geraldine, Sandra, Cheryl, Greta, and Alison.
Borden became a fireman for the CNR. In 1957 he married Evelyn Schram of Sioux Lookout. They transferred to Transcona, Manitoba where they lived with their four children – Laurie, Larry, Louise and Kelvin.
William started out as a fireman with CNR also, but later joined the Lands and Forests (Ministry of Natural Resources). In 1958 he married Jacquie Jacob of Normital, Quebec, who also worked at Frog Rapids camp. They resided in Sioux Lookout with their children David, Diane and Carol.
Mervyn took tips from his father who was the neighbourhood Sunday barber for friends. Mervyn became a hairstylist in 1962 and married Janice Blackmon. They had four children – Tommy, Billy, and twins Jenny and Jill. They stayed on in Sioux where he operated his own business.
Michael Sr. passed away in December 1959 while working in the CNR yards. His wife Nellie passed in February 1981.
These immigrant folk, like many, found opportunity to work through the CNR and lived in the communities settled because of it. Sioux Lookout has benefited from their talents and hard work while contributing to the community life around them.