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According to Baba: Book tells Sudbury Ukrainians' story

As a third-generation Canadian, Stacey Zembrzycki said she used to be somewhat distanced from her Ukrainian heritage.
Concordia University adjunct assistant history professor and Sudbury native Stacey Zembrzycki and her grandmother, Olga Zembrzycki, worked together to produce the book “According to Baba: A Collaborative Oral History of Sudbury's Ukrainian Community.” A launch for the book is being held Sept. 21 at St. Mary's Ukrainian Catholic Church. Photo by Heidi Ulrichsen.

As a third-generation Canadian, Stacey Zembrzycki said she used to be somewhat distanced from her Ukrainian heritage.

That was before the Sudbury native, who is now an adjunct assistant history professor at Concordia University, started her doctoral research in 2001.

Remembering the stories her Baba (grandmother in Ukrainian) told her as she was growing up, she decided to focus on the oral history of Sudbury's Ukrainians.

While the history of Ukrainians who settled and farmed in western Canada has been well documented by historians, very little attention had been paid to Ukrainians who settled in mining communities such as Sudbury, Zembrzycki said.

As a starting point, Zembrzycki put up a notice at St. Mary's Ukrainian Catholic Church, asking people to share her stories.

When she got no response, she phoned her Baba, who started calling all of her friends and setting up interviews.

Zembrzycki said it was a bit frustrating to do interviews with her grandmother at times, as she would interrupt the person telling the story, and share her own view of how things happened.

But she said she's gained so much through the project.

“Us collaborating, it's been difficult at times, but I've gotten to know most of (my Baba's) friends and her community,” she said.

“What I say in the introduction is that as a third-generation Ukrainian, I'm so distanced from the culture, it was refreshing to get that glimpse and to be reintegrated into the community.”

When it came time to write her dissertation in 2007, Zembrzycki largely edited her Baba out of the transcripts. In deciding to turn her PhD work into a book, though, she wanted her grandmother to play a more dominant role.

“I picture it as a web, with her story at the middle, and everybody else's branching off her story,” Zembrzycki said.

The result is “According to Baba: A Collaborative Oral History of Sudbury's Ukrainian Community,” which examines the period of 1901 to 1939.

A launch for the book takes place starting at 12 p.m. Sept. 21 at St. Mary's Ukrainian Catholic Church. The event includes a Ukrainian food luncheon, presentations and a book signing.

After the launch, Zembrzycki's book ($30 from UBC Press) will be available for purchase at Sudbury Paint and Custom Framing on Elgin Street.

Olga Zembrzycki, who is now 87 years old, said her father came from Ukraine, and initially settled in Manitoba.

There he met his future wife, who, even though she was born Canadian, spoke very little English. Attracted by jobs in Sudbury's mines, the couple moved to the city's Donovan area, where there were many other Ukrainians.

“There was hundreds of kids there,” Olga said. “Some families had 11 or 14 kids ... It was mixed, with all nationalities. But everybody got along.”

She said she enjoyed working with her granddaughter on the project.

“It was an outing for me,” Olga said. “It was my pleasure to work with her.”

To learn more about Zembrzycki's research on Sudbury's Ukrainian community, visit

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In the first half of the 20th century, Ukrainians joined in the effort to unionize the city's mines.

Inco tried to combat this by requiring those seeking jobs to provide a note from the Ukrainian Roman Catholic priest, saying they went to church regularly.

“Inco would send labour bosses to the church,” Stacey Zembrzycki said.

“The priest would get a kickback to attest that these were good men. The idea was if you were a Catholic, you wouldn't fight to unionize.”