Tuesday, December 14, 2010


(c) Estate of Nick Gavinchuk
In 1949 Ivaan, his sister Nadia and their parents arrived in Canada from Germany, where they had lived for four years following their release from the Nazi forced labour camp where they were interned and in which Ivaan was born.   After the liberation, they had lived as refugees in a Displaced Persons camp for four years, until the Red Cross was able to find a sponsor for them, to enable them to immigrate to Canada.

Their sponsor was Alex Tywoniuk (pronounced Ti-von-YOOK).  He was the local blacksmith in the town of Smoky Lake, Alberta.  He had been a childhood friend of Ivaan's father in Ukraine, and had emigrated to Canada before the Second World War.  The Tywoniuk family arranged a place for the Kotulsky family to live, helped the parents find employment and get settled in their new country.  Ivaan often watched Mr. Tywoniuk at work in his blacksmith shop and became fascinated with the properties of molten metal.

The town is located about 90 minutes north-east of Edmonton. Winters aren't easy in Smoky Lake and Ivaan's father was already frail from years of forced labour in Nazi Germany.  When the local Ukrainian Orthodox Priest, Reverend Foty, was reassigned to the St. Volodymyr parish in Toronto in 1951, he urged Ivaan's parents to follow him to Toronto, where they'd be able to find employment that was less physically demanding, become part of his congregation, and join the already burgeoning Ukrainian community in Toronto.  It was good advice, and within a year or two, Ivaan's parents were able to buy their first modest home on Wyatt Avenue.

Flash forward to 1969.  Ivaan was working as a photographer for Chatelaine magazine when he was sent to Alberta on assignment.  While there, he made a point of stopping by Smoky Lake and visiting the Tywoniuk family.  Again, his fascination with metalsmithing was awakened, and when Ivaan returned to Toronto, he started experimenting with metal work.  By December of that year, he was so engrossed in his new passion that he often stayed up all night working on a project.  Although he kept working at Maclean Hunter until 1973, his love of metal work eventually won out; he quit his job at Maclean Hunter to devote himself full time to his newfound career.

Ivaan and his sister Nadia often reminisced about Smoky Lake, and by 2000 Ivaan had decided they were going to make a pilgrimage back there. However, Ivaan suffered his first stroke in March of that year and Nadia's husband, Nick, suffered a heart attack in May.  Their trip to Smoky Lake  was postponed till the following year, which happened to be the 75th anniversary of the town.   Ivaan and Nadia arrived in the midst of the anniversary celebrations, and received a warm welcome.  The local newspaper wrote a feature article about them.  They visited Alex Tywoniuk in the nursing home where he lived.  They visited the cemetery where his wife was buried.  They visited the old blacksmith shop.  They ate peach bread - which, they were quick to point out, contains no peaches. They were chauffeured around by Alex Tywoniuk's son Walter and his wife Lucie.   And incredibly, 50 years after they left, the townspeople still remembered them with affection.   It was an emotional experience for both Nadia and Ivaan, and a bonding experience too.  They often talked nostalgically about their return to Smoky Lake, and even years later, it always seemed they were talking about an event that had happened just last week.

Smoky Lake is a little, cold town in northern Alberta.  It's the place where Nadia fell in love with books and Ivaan fell in love with metal arts. But for this small family,  who had resided there for less than two years, Smoky Lake was - and remains - the warmest place on earth.

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