It’s all about Charlie

CPO_prop_800My husband Orest has a passion for flying and we have a Piper Dakota fondly known as Charlie. For the past number of summers, we’ve taken trips in Charlie to the Maritimes and New England, but this summer, we took him all the way to the west coast.

My part was easy. I sat back and watched my husband do all of the flight planning, plane maintenance, figuring out which airport and FBO Charlie would sleep at each night, and which city and hotel we’ll sleep at each night. My job? Reading a book, taking pictures, not getting nervous. We left on July 25th. Our first stop was Green Bay Wisconsin:

Orest wanted to go to the EAA AirVenture Fly-In. We stayed in Green Bay and he drove in.

I had been working on a novel that I desperately wanted to finish before our holiday started, so I was happy for the quietness of the hotel room that day in order to do some final polishing. From Green Bay, we flew to Winnipeg:

In case you’ve never noticed, Winnipeg is very far away from Green Bay. And there was weather on July 27th — a cluster of lightning near Oshkosh, plus other weather along the way so we did some diversions. We also stopped in Duluth for more fuel so we’d be prepared in case there were more diversions.

You can see the weather front and the lightning (red) on this monitor.
You can see the weather front and the lightning (red) on this monitor.

We got into Winnipeg around 5pm.


Visiting Lara in Winnipeg

We had one thing on our agenda for Winnipeg, and that was visiting my sister, Lara. We had dinner with her on Wednesday night, and on Thursday, she brought her kids, picked us up at the hotel and we went to the airport.

My nephew Lane was very interested in taking a quick flight with Charlie. My niece Kylie was underwhelmed. When asked if she’d like to fly, her response was, “For what purpose?”

So Kylie sat with me in the lounge while Lara and Lane went up with Orest. We had a wonderful chat about the important things in life: reading, horses, gardens …

Edmonton Family Reunion

One of the main reasons for this trip was to attend a Forchuk family reunion in Edmonton. We’re all descendants of George and Anna Forchuk:


Here are their children:


My father Marsh (far left) is the last of that generation.


And here we are, after a hearty dinner at A Taste of Ukraine. How wonderful it was to reconnect with cousins and family!

This is me and Orest, overlooking the banks of the North Saskatchewan River:


Visiting the Homestead

The highlight of the reunion was on Sunday, the day after our dinner. Three carloads of Forchuks convoyed out to the original Forchuk family homestead near Lake Eliza. Leading the pack was us, with Orest driving and Dad and Mary in the back, Dad giving directions. On the way we picked up Dad’s childhood friend, Nestor. The very first work of fiction that I ever wrote was The Red Boots, based on an incident in my father’s childhood. Nestor was a character in that story, but it was told from Dad’s point of view, so you know who came out better. As soon as Nestor got in the car, he told me that things weren’t quite like what Dad told me. So very interesting to have two characters of my story arguing in the back seat.

We drove through beautiful farm country and through Elk Island National Park (we saw buffalo but I didn’t get a pic!) though Mundare and Hairy Hill. At Two Hills, Dad suggested we stop for lunch.

Two Hills is a very small town. We drove around looking for a place to eat. We parked in a plaza that had what looked like a pizza and wings billiard place and a grocery store:


We all piled into the billiard pizza/wings place and had very nice pizza for lunch. One thing that puzzled us was that in this tiny little town there were SIX liquor stores!

As we all piled back into the cars and continued driving, Dad said from the back, “Remind me to tell you later about how I lost a monkey in Two Hills.”


He did tell us on the way home. It’s the stuff of a novel.

We passed through Myrnam, which is where Nestor was from, and he pointed out his house to us. Shortly after that, we crossed over the North Saskatchewan River and Dad directed us to turn right onto a very narrow dirt road.


“Our homestead should be just up here,” he said, peering out the back window. We rounded a corner, and on a hill was a house.


“That’s where it should be, but that’s not my house.”

“Are you sure?” I asked him. “It’s in the right place, isn’t it?”

“Just drive on,” he said to Orest. “It has to be close. Ours was a one-storey.”

But there were no other houses. We passed beautiful horses in a field, and came upon an island in the river.

“We’ve gone too far,” said Dad. “You’ve got to turn around. We ran a ferry and it was way before the island.”

It’s not easy turning three cars around on a narrow dirt road but we did it.

“Pull up to that farmhouse,” said Dad. “It’s got to be here, but the house looks wrong.”

Orest pulled up the long driveway and a couple of big dogs bounded out, barking excitedly. “I’m going to go and knock on the door,” said Dad. “To tell them why we’re here.”

“Marsh, the dogs,” said Orest. “They don’t look all that friendly.”

“They’re wagging their tails,” said Dad.

But before he could get out, the door opened and a woman came out. I rolled down my window. “We’re with a family reunion,” I said. “My Dad’s in the back seat. He was born here and just wants to see the old homestead.”

The woman put her hands on her hips and said, “If he thinks he was born here, he’s wrong.”

continued in the next post ….


Visiting the Homestead, part 2

The woman continued, “The house that used to stand here was falling down so we tore it apart. This was the neighbour’s house. We moved it here. Come and look around if you’d like.”

Dad got out of the car and he and the woman were soon deep in conversation. We all walked around, getting the feel of what it must have been like to live in a place like this nearly a century ago. It was so remote now, but then it must have been like being on the moon.


My sister Cheryl and cousin Janet are walking down the road from the homestead — not another house in sight.


Cousins, listening to Dad’s memories with rapt attention.


Here I am with two characters from my first story. Nestor is on the left, Dad on the right. In the background is the original ice house structure.


Dad’s One-room schoolhouse

The woman who owned the farmhouse told Dad that the one-room schoolhouse still existed, so once we were finished exploring the grounds of the old homestead, we got back into our convoy of cars and continued deeper down the road.

Dare I admit that when Dad used to tell me stories of his long walk to school — ten kilometers through wilderness — I would inwardly roll my eyes? But as we drove and the odometer kept track, it was indeed ten kilometers, and even now it was remote. How must it have been for Dad and his siblings eighty years ago?

“It should be right here,” said Dad, as we went up yet another narrow incline with bushes and trees all around. “Pull into that lane.”

We turned into a laneway big enough for a single car and the two cars behind us idled on the road. I hopped out and looked through the bushes to see if I could see the fabled school house. I spied a small red roof that seemed in far too good repair to be and 80+ year old school house.

“There is a small wooden building down there,” I told Dad though the window. We got out and looked around. Sure enough, it was the old school house, but it had been fixed up.


The door to the school house was secured with a piece of wood. We walked in.


It had been renovated, but the new blackboard was where the old had been, and the windows and floor were in the same place. Dad told us that when he walked in he had a vivid olfactory memory of the old potbellied stove in the winter. Some of the kids would arrive without boots or shoes. What they’d wear in the winter to protect their feet was raw matted sheep’s wool wound around their feet. It would be frozen solid when they got to school and they’d put their feet up by the pot bellied stove to thaw them out. The smell of the wool and their feet was quite ripe.



Dad did not want to leave until we were able to leave a note for whoever owned the building now. He didn’t want to use any of the paper in the schoolhouse. One of my cousins found a receipt in her purse that was blank on the back, and we found a pen. Dad wrote a note of thanks and left it on the table.

When we got back into the car and began to drive away, Dad told us about his sixth birthday in mid-May and how he, and his older siblings Olga and Steve, got lost coming home from school. They had spied mushrooms off the path and went into the woods to pick them. Then they saw more, and more. And then they were lost. It was terrifying for three young kids to be lost in the wilderness like that with the very real possibility of being attacked by a bear or wolf. They wandered kilometers away from the school and home.

In the dark wee hours of the morning, they spied a light in the distance. A man had got up in the middle of the night and had lit a match to get to his outhouse. The three ran in that direction and the farmer took them in. It was about three in the morning.

He loaded them up on his democrat and took them home.


They got home around 6am. Their parents had been organizing a search party.

Vegreville, then leaving Edmonton

On the way back from the homestead we had to do what all Ukrainians do when they’re in this area — we visited the giant pysanka in Vegreville.


Here is my patient husband, who has been immersed in Forchuk lore for days.


When we got back to Edmonton, we realized that we’d brought back a gruesome souvenir:


The next day, we left Edmonton.

We arrived in Calgary for a quick lunch:


And then on to the Rocky Mountains ….