Home Town or Home Community:
WALTER PODILUK FAMILY
Initially I want to commend the Saskatchewan Western Development Museum for undertaking the Saskatchewan story project. It will contribute very significantly to the preservation of the heritage of the province of Saskatchewan. It is the kind of undertaking, which will gain in significance and appreciation with the passage of time.
I appreciate the invitation to provide the historical background for my family and to record the events, which followed the very early beginnings involving the Podiluk family in this province. This photograph includes all the family members on the occasion of Walter and Sonia Podiluk’s 50th Wedding Anniversary.
It is particularly significant to note that the presence of the family in Saskatchewan dates back more than 100 years. My grandparents, Ilko and Olena Podiluk, came to Canada from Skala Podilska Ukraine and moved to a homestead east of Wakaw Lake. My grandfather was desirous of finding better land, which resulted in a move to a new homestead located ten miles south of Krydor. My father Oleksa (Alex) was the youngest of five children that accompanied their parents to Canada.
My mother’s parents, Nykola and Anna Hunchak, came to Canada from Pidhayci Ukraine in 1905 and settled on a homestead ten miles southwest of Hafford. My mother, Anne, was the youngest of four children who came to Canada at that time.
My mother and father were married in 1923. My father became the owner of the original homestead along with another quarter section of land adjacent to it. They continued to live in this location, which became known as the Orolow District, until their retirement and moved to Saskatoon in 1966.
THE GROWING UP YEARS
I was born on March 4, 1927, the first of a family of four boys. My brothers in the order of their birth were Edward, Joseph and Victor. At the time of my birth my parents lived in a three-room farmhouse along with my grandmother and my Aunt Nettie who was my father’s youngest sister. Before my brothers were born the aunt was married and moved away. However, we continued to live in the same house.
I continued to live in the Orolow District, whose name was derived from the name of the school, which I attended from Grades 1-10 inclusive. I distinctly remember my first days in school. I was enrolled at the Orolow School at six years of age, in May 1933 and walked the 1½ miles with a neighbour’s daughter Ann Wielkopolski who was five years older than I, and who was my protector and guide. My first teacher was Mr. Stephen Didich followed by Susan Borsa, who was the kindest and most supportive person that contributed to my becoming more comfortable in the school setting. In subsequent years, my brothers Edward and Joseph were enrolled in school. We walked the 1½ miles in the spring and in the fall. In the wintertime our dad would drive us in a cutter sled with our heads being covered over with a quilt to protect us from the frosty winds.
The language that was spoken in my home when I was growing up was Ukrainian. That meant that when I arrived in school I had to learn the English language. However, it did not seem too long before I could speak English. In reality, that was true of the greatest majority of students that had enrolled at Orolow School. As a matter of fact the teacher ordered all the students to speak English out on the playground. In addition to classroom studies and regular playground activities, there were other events that were undertaken. One included the organizing of a softball team that competed with neighbouring schools, such as Uhrynow, Sand Lake and Grant. I recall being chosen to play right field when I was in Grade 7 and I remained in that same position right through to Grade 10; whereas my younger brother Ed became a short stop and a pitcher. Another special highlight year was the Christmas concert which was staged in the school and which included the singing of Christmas carols in both English and Ukrainian, as well as a visit from Santa Claus who distributed treats for all the kids.
Other activities outside of the home included going to the Holy Spirit Ukrainian Catholic Church, which was situated a very short distance from the school. The services were held approximately once a month during the spring to fall term. The service was conducted in the old Slavonic language, which lasted up to two hours. People came from the surrounding districts, which resulted in an attendance that packed the church. There were no pews, only chairs for the elderly. As a result the younger members of the family were outdoors, and rather than praying they were playing tag and hide and seek. There was also a post office and a small store in the vicinity of the school and in addition to people coming to pick up their mail on Tuesdays and Fridays there usually was a fairly large gathering on Sunday afternoons for visiting with neighbours, playing cards, softball and horseshoes.
During the growing up years at home, the three older brothers always did things together, which included activities such as playing hide and seek, wading in the sloughs, exploring the wooded areas and in the winter sliding down slopes on homemade sleds. With the passage of time this started to include chores which involved bringing the cattle home from pasture for milking and then milking the cows, cleaning the barn, putting feed in the mangers for the horses and cattle during the winter months and ploughing, harrowing or disking with a four horse team. It also included stooking the grain during harvest time and later hauling of sheaves to the threshing machine.
Many of these activities started coming to an end when I left home to attend high school in Blaine Lake for my Grades 11 and 12.
EXPERIENCING SOCIETY BEYOND HOME
For my Grade 9 and 10, I continued to attend Orolow school where I participated in a correspondence program from the Department of Education. The teacher was only involved if we needed some explanation about some of the program contents and in checking our assignments that we had to do at the end of each chapter in the correspondence program outline. We could not continue our Grade 11 and 12 studies by correspondence, thus a choice was made for me to board with a family in Blaine Lake and attend high school there. In September 1943, I remember being driven to Blaine Lake to a family with whom I was to board. I enrolled in Blaine Lake High School for my Grade 11 and this was a most exciting and challenging experience because I came from this small rural school to a classroom of teenage boys and girls with a variety of backgrounds in terms of ethnicity, religion, parental occupations and others. As a matter of fact, Blaine Lake was chosen for my last two years of high school because in the eyes of my mother particularly it was a more cosmopolitan community that reflected the Saskatchewan reality as a whole. For the first time, I met fellow students of English, French, German and Russian Doukhobor background. It truly was enriching.
One of the major challenges that I faced was to overcome the accent in my speech. I was teased about it and I was determined that I could learn to pronounce words and express ideas in the way that the Blaine Lake students used. In a relatively short period of time I felt comfortable with the Horners, Coflins, Moffatts, Boyds, Funks, Cheveldayoffs and Chutskoff.
I graduated from high school in June 1945. It was in the spring of 1945 that World War II came to an end and I remember distinctly the rejoicing that occurred in the Blaine Lake High School and the whole community. As the war was going on I wondered from time to time when I would be joining the military forces. I remember being ever so thankful that the war was ended, not only from my personal perspective but from the world’s perspective.
In September 1945, I enrolled in the Saskatoon Normal School to commence my training to become a teacher. The Normal School academic year extended from September to June inclusive, which resulted in one gaining an Interim Standard Teaching Certificate. However, partly due to the drainage of young people into the armed forces there was a pronounced shortage of teachers in rural schools. As a result some students were selected to go teaching in January 1946 to fill vacancies, which existed in rural schools. Those that left in January could come back in July and August and complete their program for their Interim Certificate. I was one of them. There were not too many choices in terms of which school you wanted to go to. I personally wound up going to Glenbogie School, which was six miles northwest of St. Walburg, Saskatchewan. Once again I was gaining a new societal experience in terms of the family backgrounds of the children in the school and the interesting membership of the community, which included a number of people who had settled there during the 30’s having arrived from other parts of the province, from Europe and one family from Oklahoma (the Jones’s) with whom I boarded.
This laid the foundation for my career in education, which involved St. Walburg, Livelong and subsequently Saskatoon. In a very few years I felt that I had become a part of the Saskatchewan community and I felt enriched by it.
THE WALTER AND SONIA PODILUK FAMILY
When I arrived in St. Walburg to assume my first teaching position, one of the very first persons I met was Sonia Trotzuk, who at that time was associated with the St. Walburg Co-op store. We fell in love and we were married in the St. Walburg Roman Catholic Church of the Assumption. At that time I was assigned to teach a Grade 7 and 8 class in the town of St. Walburg and we resided in the suite above the Co-op Store. From there Sonia and I moved to Livelong where I assumed the principalship of a two-room Grades 1-12 school. Our first little boy did not survive his birth and is buried in the Livelong Cemetery. Janice, our oldest daughter, was born in Weyburn. All of our other children, which includes Douglas, Margot, Laurie, Ronald and Joseph were born in Saskatoon. They attended George Vanier Elementary School and Holy Cross High School. At the same time they participated in a variety of other activities outside of the schools. This included youth programs at St. Peter’s & Paul’s Ukrainian Catholic Church, and athletic activities such as football and hockey, piano lessons and others.
One of the highlights of the growing-up years were family excursions during the summer months, which took us to parks in Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia. Our main means of transportation was a station wagon, to which a camp trailer was attached. More specifically our stops included Calgary, Happy Valley, Banff, Kamloops and Vancouver. In Saskatchewan we camped at the lakes in the Qu’Appelle Valley, as well as at Last Mountain, Christopher, Emma, Turtle, Green and LaRonge Lakes. As our children left High School, they became involved in post-secondary education and in pursuing employment careers. This included passenger agent, broadcasting, teaching, civic employment and business endeavors.
THE EXPANDED PODILUK FAMILY
The family of six children has now grown to be a family including the children, five spouses and ten grandchildren. Janice married Murray LeNabat. Their family consists of Christian, Marianne and Kate.
Douglas married Kathleen Hyde and they have one son Michael.
Margot continues to be a single lady.
Laurie married Steve Nase and they have two sons, Brendan and Derek.
Ronald married Karen Gallagher. They have two boys, Kiprian and Karsten.
Joseph married Shelley Travis. They have a daughter Megan and a son Samuel.
Janice and her family live in Calgary. The remainder are all Saskatonians.
The grandchildren range in ages from ten to the mid-twenties. Four are attending elementary schools, whereas the remainder have all graduated from high school and are pursuing employment opportunities and educational careers. This includes Marianne, who graduated with two Bachelor of Arts Degrees with distinction. She now is involved in a postgraduate program leading to a Masters Degree at the University of Alberta.
The presence of the grandchildren has truly enriched the lives of the grandparents. Their activities, interest and ideals have contributed to one being inspired. One particularly significant activity was a visit to Israel with granddaughter, Marianne, and her mother. Prompted by her studies in university, she wanted to gain a firsthand experience of life and culture in that part of the world.
THE WALTER PODILUK CAREER STORY
I was destined to become a teacher. At no point did I give consideration to some other career opportunities. There was something within me that seemed to suggest it was most appropriate for me to work with young people and to lay the foundation for the life that lay before them. This led me to the Saskatoon Normal School, where I enrolled in a Teacher Training Program in September 1945. In January 1946 I started teaching Grades 1-8 in the Glenbogie Rural School, which was in the St. Walburg district of the province. The Superintendent of Schools, Mr. Boudreau, then invited me to teach in the Grade 7 & 8 class in St. Walburg commencing in September 1947. This was followed by an invitation from Mr. Boudreau for me to become a principal and a teacher of Grades 8-12 in the town of Livelong. After two years in this position, I decided to enroll in the College of Education at the University of Saskatchewan in order to pursue studies, which would lead to a Bachelor of Education degree. I had enough funds to cover the cost of one year of studies.
While at the university, I was invited by Mr. Chris Smith who was the Director of Health Education Services with the Department of Health to become a Health Education Officer. Starting in August 1952, I became the Health Education Consultant for the Weyburn-Esteven Health Region. This was a most interesting and enriching experience. However, in September 1954, I decided to complete my studies leading towards my Bachelor of Education Degree. I was granted a year’s leave of absence, and my wife Sonia and our daughter Janice moved to Saskatoon where I attended the University enrolling in Education and Arts classes, offered by St. Thomas More College. On May 13, 1955, I received my Bachelor of Education Degree.
Father Sullivan, the principal at St. Thomas More College, suggested that I should consider applying for a teaching position with the Saskatoon Catholic Board of Education. He had contact with Mr. Emmett Hall, who chaired the Catholic Board at that time. I indicated an openness to pursue this possibility, which resulted in an interview being arranged with Mr. E.D. Feehan, Superintendent of Education. Following this I was offered the position of Principal at St. John’s School, which was under construction at that time. However, Mr. Feehan became ill and Mr. Matthew Hertz, who was the Principal of St. Mary’s School, was appointed Superintendent. I was then contacted and informed that I would become the Principal of St. Mary’s. This was somewhat intimidating, because St. Mary’s had eleven classrooms in operation as compared to St. John’s, which was a three-classroom school. The support of Father Corbett who was a pastor of St. Mary’s Church was particularly important at this time.
I was Principal of St. Mary’s School from September 1955 to September 1963, when I was invited by the Board of Education to become its first Assistant Superintendent. The Board’s decision was prompted by the fact that the system had grown significantly and there was a need to expand services at the Board Office.
In May 1967, I decided that I wanted to work towards my Masters Degree in Education. I was granted a sabbatical leave of one year’s duration to pursue the graduate studies at the University of Calgary. In the meantime, the Board made a decision to replace the person who occupied the Superintendency position and approached me to assume that responsibility. Thus, my plans to pursue studies were discontinued and I was named the Superintendent of the Saskatoon Catholic Board of Education in July 1967. Subsequently, in keeping with the change of name with that office I was called the Director of Education, a position I occupied until December 1982.
During my term of office the population of Saskatoon continued to grow, resulting in a need to construct several new schools. However, perhaps the most significant development was the declaration by the Department of Education that Catholic high schools could operate as tax-supported institutions. Prior to this they were privately operated by religious orders. This meant reaching understandings and agreements with the Public Board of Education. This was achieved with a minimum amount of conflict between the two boards. To such a great degree this is attributable to Dr. Fred Gathercole’s presence and the kind of trust and openness that existed between him and me. I recognize Dr. Gathercole as a person who had a profound positive influence on me in my position.
This was the era of “breaking new ground”. There were two schools designated as French Immersion schools. There was an associate school status defined for the operation of the Saskatoon French School, which had been a privately operated institution. Another associate school that was established was the Native Survival School, which later became known as the Joe Duquette School. Kindergarten classes became part of the school system.
In September 1982, very unexpectedly I received a telephone call from Mrs. Pat Smith, the Minister of Social Services. Mrs. Smith, who had been President of the Saskatchewan School Trustee’s Association had contact with me through some projects in which we were involved. She called me with the invitation to become the Deputy Minister of Social Services. After a considerable amount of thought, I agreed to pursue a new career. I became the Deputy Minister of Social Services on December 1, 1982, a position I occupied until July 1984. At that time, at the request of the Premier I was named the Deputy Minister of Health, a position I occupied until August 1988. During my term as Deputy Minister of Health, I served as Chair of the Council of Deputy Health Ministers in Canada. In 1988, I was invited to join a delegation of Health officials to participate in the review of the Health Care System in Poland.
In September 1988 on recommendations presented to the Premier, he established the Saskatchewan Commission on Directions in Health Care, which was to do an in-depth study of the health care system in Saskatchewan and which would identify appropriate directions reflecting the various changes in technology, demographic, management, coordination and other areas. The Commission was co-chaired by Dr. R.G. Murray, former Dean of Medicine and Walter Podiluk. This resulted in the publication of a report entitled, “Future Directions for Health Care in Saskatchewan”.
In 1990, I became associated with the Centre for Agricultural Medicine at the University of Saskatchewan. My responsibility was to develop a founding chair’s council, which would result in the development of partnerships between the Centre and members of the agricultural industry with a view to enhancing the health component for those involved in various aspects of agriculture. In 1991, I was invited to become the Executive Director and President of St. Paul’s Hospital, a position which I occupied until August 1995. Following this, I was asked by Premier Roy Romanow to serve as a consultant, particularly, in developing working partnerships between “faith based” institutions and health district boards which had been created through legislation. In addition to the positions in which I was employed, I had the opportunity and privilege to be involved with certain initiatives in the community. Most particularly I would identify the creation of the Saskatoon Community Service Village, which brought together a number of public service organizations to work in partnership with each other. The other major initiative is the chairing of an organization, known as ‘Prairie Grassroots Vision International’, which is involved in developing an agricultural management system to replace the old collective farm system in Ukraine, which has resulted in the residents assuming their own responsibility for determining their destiny for the future. Another gratifying involvement was serving as mentor in the Saskatoon Leadership program.
RECOGNITIONS AND HONOUR
I feel very honored and grateful for the recognition, which I have received as a result of the opportunities that have been provided to me to serve our society. It makes one realize that the greatest rewards come as a result of the effort that one puts out to serve those who are your colleagues, your associates and your neighbours. I would identify the recognition that was directed to me in three categories, as follows:
- Governor General of Canada – the Member of the Order of Canada;
- University of Saskatchewan Honorary Doctor of Law.
- Golden Jubilee Medal – 2002;
- Saskatoon Century Award of Recognition;
- Rotary Golden Wheel Award for Excellence;
- Ukrainian Congress Nation Builders Award;
- Pope Paul VI Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice.
- Canadian Education Association Life Membership;
- Canadian Association of School Administrators Distinguished Service Award;
- College of Education Founders Award;
- Saskatchewan Registered Nurses Association Honorary Membership;
- Saskatchewan Nurses Foundation Certificate of Appreciation;
- Catholic Health Council of Saskatchewan Honorary Life Membership.
Walter Podiluk, C.M., B.Ed, LL.D.