Fanning the Flames

By Wallace, Len | Canadian Dimension, September-October 2004 | Go to article overview
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Fanning the Flames

Wallace, Len, Canadian Dimension

"Hey, where's the Russian flag?"


Windsor's Labour Day march, 1957, and I was three years old. Marchers carried flags of Canada, England, the United States. I rambunctiously blurted out the question above as my parents tried to hush me up. I had no idea there was a Cold War. In my child's mind, Russia helped win the war against the bad Nazis. "We were Russian! Weren't we the good guys, too? Wasn't the flag with the hammer and sickle a good flag?"

That was my first pronouncement on politics.


Politics, music and cabbage were the staples of my growing years in an industrial working-class family. Politics meant left-wing politics. My father came from that part of Belarus occupied by Poland, a conservative-nationalist foreign power. In 1927, age 17, he emigrated to Canada to avoid inductment into the Polish army.

He arrived just in time for the Great Depression. Immigration officials looked at the name in his passport--Wolodya Wolosievicz and promptly changed it to Walter Wallace. Years later we found amusement receiving mailed invitations to join the Wallace Clan Society and search for our roots.

Pop rode the rails, finally finding work in the north, Ontario's lumber and mine camps. He told me stories of running with his mates from RCMP officers who would round up the unemployed, line them up against the wall and choose every fourth man to send into labour camps, imprison, run out of town, or deport as "undesirable aliens."

Mom is Canadian-born with parents from Ukraine. My grandfather was a miner caught up in just trying to survive. Mom's folks were pioneers of the Ukrainian Labour and Farmer Temple Association (ULFTA), union supporters. They settled in South Porcupine. In 1933, after my grandfather was blacklisted for trying to organize a union, they packed up the kids and returned to the Soviet Union.

My grandparents were part of that Canadian/American contingent seeking opportunities in a land that was supposed to be the worker's state. The Soviet Union opened its doors and they worked in Siberia. By 1938 a change in the Stalinist party line forced them to leave. My grandparents journeyed to Poland. As the dogs of war sounded, my mother and her sister were allowed to return to Canada. She never saw her parents again.

With 30 dollars in her purse, Mom eventually returned to South Porcupine. At 17, she worked in boarding houses, making $13.00 a week, working 14 hours a day, six days a week. She often recounted raucous tales of that period, of hard times, poverty, inability to purchase any luxuries, the blood of union organizers run down by police. At "Red" Croatian Hall in Schumacher she met my dad.



My folks came to Windsor in 1943. Windsor promised jobs in the auto factories, working on the line, getting a chance to save some money, buying a house and making sure their kids could get through university and never have to work in a factory.

My childhood memories are filled with visits to Windsor's Ukrainian Labour Temple and the Russian-Canadian Federation hall located in the working-class district of town in the shadow of Windsor's Ford Motor plant. The Ukrainian hall was the place workers secretly met to organize the United Auto Workers. It was a place that protected a community in which ethnicity and social class were interlocked. It was quietly defensive; suspicious of the predominantly WASP power structure. WASP meant English, English meant upper middle class. Their "ways" were different from ours.

The community had other fears. To outsiders the Ukrainian Labour Temple was the "Red Hall," a den of subversives and spies. In the early stages of World War II it was closed down by the government. Members lived through the anti-radical, anti-foreign hysteria of the 1920s and '30s and saw it renewed with the rise of McCarthyism.

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