A Deep Family Secret

Marsh Forchuk’s mother and father

Shared with Toronto’s Great War Attic.
As a child, curious by nature, Marsh Forchuk would often ask his father George why he had left good farm land in southern Alberta to move north to Lake Eliza, a harsh place to establish their family farm. When old friends would come by for a visit, they would suddenly speak in whispers. But years later, after hearing of a news story about Canada’s internment of enemy aliens during the First World War, Marsh began to get his answers.

At the encouragement of the Canadian government, George Forchuk, a Ukrainian farmer from Werechenko, Austria, arrived in 1913 to settle and farm in southern Alberta. When war started he registered as an “enemy alien” and reported regularly as required by the War Measures Act in 1914. Despite this, he was arrested and forced into hard labour, eventually ending up in an internment camp in Jasper Alberta, which opened in February 1916. He laboured through dire conditions and escaped as “bullets whizzed by his ears” that same year. He moved around, hiding and working where he could. In 1918, Forchuk was spotted by police through the window of a restaurant in Calgary.

At the time, people were required to wear face masks in public to prevent the spread of the deadly Spanish flu pandemic. George thought he was being arrested as an escaped internee, but to his relief, he was informed that it was because he had lowered his mask to speak more clearly to the other person at his table. He also found out that the internment camp had closed in August 1916, shortly after he had escaped.

His farm was not returned to him, and so he had no choice but to purchase land where he could. The repercussions of the war continued. By the 1940s, ill health made it impossible for George to farm. Marsh dropped out of school at the age of 12 to take over. Marsh did not want to be a farmer, eventually selling the land his father gave to him, and moving east to make his own way. George Forchuk’s pride in being a staunch Canadian made the shame of his internment all the more difficult to bear. Right up until his death in 1967, he spoke of the injustices suffered for crimes he did not commit.

A Christmas to Remember

A Christmas To Remember is a wonderful seasonal anthology for Dear Canada readers, both old and new! A real treat for fans of this series, and all lovers of historical fiction!

Eleven stories that each revisit a favourite character from books in the Dear Canada series are included in this special collection. These are completely original tales that stand alone as heartwarming Christmas stories, but also serve as a lovely “next chapter” to their original books. Each story is written by one of Canada’s top award-winning writers for children, including Marsha Skrypuch, Jean Little, Sarah Ellis, Maxine Trottier, Carol Matas and more. This collection is a lovely companion to A Season of Miracles, and will be treasured year after year at holiday time!

Kobzar’s Children

Kobzar's Children
Kobzar’s Children

This unique anthology introduces new voices and a century of hidden stories.

The kobzars were the blind minstrels of Ukraine, who memorized the epic poems and stories of 100 generations. Traveling around the country, they stopped in towns and villages along the way, where they told their tales and were welcomed by all. Under Stalin’s regime, the kobzars were murdered. As the storytellers of Ukraine died, so too did their stories.

Kobzar’s Children is an anthology of short historical fiction, memoirs, and poems written about the Ukrainian immigrant experience. The stories span a century of history; and they contain stories of internment, homesteading, famine, displacement, concentration camps, and this new century’s Orange Revolution. Edited by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch, Kobzar’s Children is more than a collection; it is a moving social document that honors the tradition of the kobzars and revives memories once deliberately forgotten.
Continue reading “Kobzar’s Children”

Prisoners in the Promised Land

The heart-wrenching story of one girl’s experience at a Ukrainian internment camp in Quebec during World War I.

Anya’s family emigrates from Ukraine hoping for a fresh start and a new life in Canada. Soon after they cram into a tiny apartment in Montreal, WWI is declared. Because their district of Ukraine was annexed by Austria — now at war with the Commonwealth — many Ukrainians in Canada are declared “enemy aliens” and sent to internment camps. Anya and her family are shipped off to the Spirit Lake Internment Camp, in the remote wilderness of northern Quebec. Though conditions are brutal, at least Anya is at a camp that houses entire families together, and even in this barbed-wire world, she is able to make new friends and bring some happiness to the people around her.

Author Marsha Skrypuch, whose own grandfather was interned during WWI at  Jasper Internment Camp in Alberta, travelled to Spirit Lake during her research for the book. “When we got to the cemetery, I was overwhelmed with emotion. Imagine seeing a series of crosses, all grown over with brush and abandoned, and knowing that the real person you based a character on had a little sister buried there? That real little girl was Mary Manko. She was only six years old when she and her family were taken from their Montreal home and set to Spirit Lake Internment Camp. Her two-year old sister Carolka died at the camp. Mary Manko is in her nineties now and is the last known survivor of the Ukrainian internment operations.” explains Skrypuch.
Continue reading “Prisoners in the Promised Land”

Silver Threads

Silver Threads is the magical story of Anna and Ivan, two young newly-weds who escape poverty and hardship in Ukraine to start a new life on the Canadian frontier. As they struggle to build their homestead, World War I breaks out. And when Ivan volunteers to fight for his new homeland, tragedy strikes. While Anna works and waits alone, hope comes from an unexpected source. Based on true events, Silver Threads is a stirring lesson in history and a heart-warming tale of love and faith.

Silver Threads was selected by the Ontario Library Association as a Best Bet for 1996.

Reviews:Macleans wrote:

“A classic fable about the power of love.”

Lubomyr Luciuk on Kingston Whig Standard wrote:

“Remarkably, Ms Skrypuch has retrieved an all-but-forgotten indignity in Canadian history without bitterness….This is a book that every Canadian grade school library should own.”

on Edmonton Journal:

“Canadian readers of all stripes like Silver Threads.”

on Ukrainian Weekly:

“It was not at all hard for me to become enthralled, immediately, with ‘Silver Threads.’ ”


Thank you Penny Draper and the National Reading Campaign for this wonderful review!

Posted  & filed under Children’s Book Reviews

In Dance of the Banished, acclaimed author, Marsha Skrypuch, once again breathes life into a piece of history with passionate clarity. Published on the one hundredth anniversary of World War I, Dance of the Banished tells the dual stories of alien internment in Canada and the Armenian Genocide in Turkey, both from an unusual perspective.

Zeynep, fierce and bold, and Ali, caring and principled, live in the same village in Anatolia and plan to marry. Unexpectedly, Ali is sent to Canada and Zeynep is left behind. Each writes in a journal for the other, but as war comes to both countries it is unlikely their words will ever be shared. Still, they keep on. Zeynep writes an eyewitness account of the genocide from the point of view of the Alevi Kurds, telling a little known side of this tragic story. Ali, in turn, gives an accounting of life in an internment camp in, surprisingly, Kapuskasing. For each, the journal entries are a coping mechanism, a way to bear witness to the atrocities of war and ultimately, to bring justice.

Skrypuch’s compelling characters give an authentic voice to this well researched story. It is definitely a book for adults as well as teens. And although it is a story of war it includes moments of great joy, making it much more than a tragedy. Whether together in Turkey or alone in banishment, both Zeynep and Ali are able to lose themselves when they dance. Their troubles are momentarily forgotten in an ecstasy of whirling that reminds us of the cyclical nature of human events. Preserving the past, as Skrypuch does so well, is part of that cycle.

DanceOfTheBanished_HR_RGBDance of the Banished
By Marsha Skrypuch
Pajama Press
August 22, 2014
288 pp
Ages 12+







  • Penny Draper copy

Penny Draper lives in Victoria, British Columbia. She is the author of the award-winning “Disaster Strikes!” series, historical fiction that places young protagonists at the centre of real Canadian disasters.


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