Savella Stechishin: 1903-2002
It is with deep sadness and fond memories that we announce the passing of Savella Stechishin on April 22, 2002 in Saskatoon, SK at the age of 98.
The history of Ukrainian women in Canada was personified in Savella Stechishin who for three-quarters of a century was a forerunner, a woman ahead of her time, a perennial mover and shaker. An immigrant to Canada in 1913, she became an active advocate of women’s rights, an ethnic leader, journalist, author, teacher, home economist and community organizer who dedicated her life to bringing women of Ukrainian descent, together with their cultural heritage, into mainstream society. This was at a time when only men were leaders. She could be described as an ethno-cultural social maternal feminist.
Savella Stechishin was born in Western Ukraine on August 19, 1903 and came to Canada at the age of nine. Her family settled on a homestead in Krydor, Saskatchewan, where she lived until 1918.
In the 1920s she went against the prevailing view that a married womans place was to be in the home, not to pursue a higher education. She was married at the age of 17 while in grade 10 and had her first child when she was 18. However, by the time she was 26, she had completed high school and teachers college and obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Saskatchewan.
She was the first Ukrainian Canadian woman to graduate from the University of Saskatchewan (1930), and the first Ukrainian woman in Canada to graduate with a specialization in Home Economics.
During the time she was studying and raising a family, she also served as Dean of Women at Petro Mohyla Institute alongside her husband, who was the Rector. Her determination to preserve Ukrainian culture in Canada led to founding and heading a young Ukrainian women students group, Mohylianky, at the institute at the age of 20. She was responsible for organizing evening courses in many aspects of Ukrainian culture. Public speaking sessions and debates were held to help these young women learn to express themselves and develop their self-esteem. All these activities were stimulating for the teacher trainee residents.
Seeing the difficulties Ukrainian pioneers had integrating into their new lives in Canada, she was the initiator in 1926, of the first Ukrainian national womens non-denominational organization, Ukrainian Women’s Association of Canada. Under her leadership with many former Mohylianky on board, the organization took root and branches quickly mushroomed throughout Canada. The associations motto was: self-help, self-reliance, and self-respect. She encouraged the women to take advantage of the educational possibilities available to them in their new homeland. She inspired them to take pride in their rich cultural heritage at a time when multiculturalism was still unheard of in Canada, and prejudice and bigotry were rampant.
During this time, Savella Stechishin corresponded with leading women writers of various publications in Ukraine. She was inspired by them to continue her mission in Canada and, likewise, inspired the women in Ukraine by supporting them morally, financially (through the sales of their embroidered goods, books and almanacs), and educationally (eg home economics, life of Ukrainian Canadian women).
She was instrumental in laying the foundation for the Ukrainian Museum of Canada that later came under the auspices of the Ukrainian Women’s Association of Canada. This museum, the only ethno-cultural museum in Canada to have branches, has its headquarters in Saskatoon, and branches in Toronto, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Calgary, and Vancouver. This museum has preserved thousands of artifacts for future generations of Canadians to treasure and enjoy. The emphasis that she placed on retaining the traditional Ukrainian folk arts in Canada did much to raise them to the respected position that they now occupy among other heritage folk arts in our multicultural mosaic.
She started teaching in Saskatchewan country schools and later taught Home Economics in Saskatoon public schools. In addition, she instructed Ukrainian language courses at the Petro Mohyla Institute and was a sessional lecturer of Ukrainian language at the University of Saskatchewan.
After obtaining a BA degree in 1930 with a specialization in Home Economics, Savella Stechishin joined the Department of Women’s Services at the University of Saskatchewan in the 1930s and used her training to engage in outreach work for many years. As a Home Economist, she tried to improve the living conditions of Ukrainian immigrant settlers by instructing them in the importance of a healthy lifestyle and nutrition. Lessons about cooking and general homemaking practices were also stressed.
Savella Stechishin was the editor of the Women’s Page of the Ukrainian Voice, a widely-read Ukrainian language newspaper published in Winnipeg and contributed weekly columns for more than 25 years on a broad range of topics: nutrition, homemaking trends, immigrant issues, and the preservation of the Ukrainian language and culture in Canada. Through her informative and challenging newspaper columns, she assisted women in adjusting to the expectations of Canadian society, informed them of their rights as Canadian citizens and raised their awareness of the issues of the day.
She made significant contributions to Ukrainian women’s magazines, such as Our Life (USA), Promin (then located in Winnipeg) and Zhinocha Dolia (Ukraine).
During the Second World War, she served as a journalist on nutrition and health for the Wartime Services in Ottawa Consumer Information Service. Her columns were printed in various Ukrainian-language newspapers in Canada.
Savella Stechishin was also the author of four books, the best known of which is Traditional Ukrainian Cookery. This cookbook has already served three generations as a source of carefully researched information about Ukrainian cuisine, culture and traditions. Since its first publication in 1957, it has been reprinted 18 times and over 80,000 copies have been sold throughout the English-speaking world. It is considered to be the most authoritative book on Ukrainian cuisine and it is now being discovered in the newly independent Ukraine where younger generations are studying their Ukrainian heritage after years of Russification.
In 1950, she wrote a 133-page Ukrainian-language book entitled Cultural Treasures Ukrainian Embroidery that was based on her avid interest in Ukrainian folk arts and her determination to make them an integral part of Canadian culture.
In 1975, she published a Ukrainian-language book documenting the history of the first branch of the Ukrainian Women’s Association of Canada: The Fifty-Year (1923-1973) Anniversary of the Ukrainian Women’s Association, Olha Kobylianska Branch in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
Mrs Stechishin assisted her husband in writing a 500-page textbook Ukrainian Grammar (1951) which was used by English-speaking schools, colleges and universities throughout the world.
After the untimely death of her husband, she took it upon herself to assume responsibility for an ambitious project that he had started: to research and write a book entitled The History of Ukrainian Settlement in Canada. Undaunted by the magnitude of the task, she persevered and successfully completed the project. The original book was published in Ukrainian in 1971 and in 1992, it was published in English translation.
Her late husband, Julian Stechishin, was a lawyer, writer, author, scholar, lecturer, teacher and community activist. He was one of the original founders of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada in 1918 in Saskatoon. Savella assisted him and, at her death, was the last remaining member of this original group.
The leadership role that Savella Stechishin played in all the organizations that she established or helped to establish involved much work and personal sacrifice. The types of demands that were made on her time and her energy were wide-ranging: formulating goals, organizing meetings and conferences, traveling throughout Saskatchewan, Canada, USA and Ukraine delivering speeches, contributing articles concerning women’s issues to various Ukrainian newspapers and periodicals, both in Canada and in Western Ukraine prior to its incorporation into the Soviet Union at the beginning of the Second World War. With a family comprising three children, she had to be very well organized and prepared to do a lot of juggling and improvising.
She passed on her love of her heritage to her children and grandchildren and to the countless women whose lives she touched.
She will be lovingly remembered by her daughter, Zenia of Toronto; son, Dr. Myron (Emily) of Edmonton; grandchildren, Danovia (Scott) Stefura of Toronto, Gordon Stechishin of Edmonton, John (Susan) Stetch/ Stechishin of New York City, Gregory (Jo-Ann Sturko) Stechishin of Edmonton, Andrea (Anton) Lakusta of Edmonton, and Dr. Mallory Stechishin-Kozoriz (Grant) of San Francisco; great-grandsons, Eliajah and Gabriel Stefura; as well as numerous nieces and nephews.
Savella Stechishin joins in peaceful eternity her husband, Julian; son, Anatole; parents, Trofym and Eva Wawryniuk; half brother, John; half sister, Mokryna Worobey; brothers, Thomas (Apolonari) Warnock, Eugene Warnick; sisters, Mary Charko-Nowosad, Helen Worobetz, Stephania Magus; daughters-in-law, Olha and Claudia.
Donations in Savellas memory may be made to St Andrews College (Ukrainian Orthodox Seminary), University of Manitoba, 29 Dysart Road, Winnipeg, MB, R3T 2M7, or any charity of ones choice.