Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of July 12, 1999
Ancestors' generosity bore fruit
Gathering marks centennial of ancestors who donated Skaro pilgrimage site
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
One hundred years ago Matthew and Maria Huculak left their native Poland with $400 in their pockets to try their luck in Canada.
They arrived in Strathcona July 1, 1899. Through a homesteading program in those days, European immigrants got land from the government. Matthew and Maria, the parents of six children, got 160 acres of land in the Skaro area and, through hard work and dedication, they soon became prosperous.
Devoted Catholics, they decided to share their wealth and donated three acres of land to the Polish community for a church.
That's the site on which the famous Skaro Shrine was built by neighbours and parishioners in 1919.
Since then, the shrine is visited annually by thousands for a mid-August pilgrimage marking the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
On July 3, the descendants of Matthew and Maria Huculak made their own pilgrimage to Skaro from places across Canada to mark the 100th anniversary of their arrival.
More than 300 family members, from small children to people in their 80s and 90s, gathered on the site to pay tribute to their ancestors and to greet each other.
Activities included a pancake breakfast, a Mass, a photo session and a banquet. They visited Matthew and Maria's house nearby and some put fresh flowers on the couple's grave in the well-kept cemetery behind the grotto.
Bernice Townsend is proud of her family connection. She is a great-granddaughter of Matthew and Maria, whom she described as "very devoted Catholics who firmly believed that God guided them."
It was their devotion that led them to donate the land, thus assuring there would be a church and celebration of the Mass in the area, she said.
"When they settled in the (Skaro) area there wasn't any church, so he (Matthew) took it upon himself to organize it."
Len Huculak described his great-grandparents as "courageous" people who abandoned everything in Poland to come to a country they knew nothing about.
Matthew was a prosperous blacksmith who had six hectares of land. He wanted to expand but nobody would sell land in Poland in those days, recalled Len Huculak. "So in order to become more prosperous he sold everything and came to Canada with $400." With that money he bought horses and equipment and moved to his homestead to farm.
"Thanks to his generosity, thousands come to pilgrimages here on a yearly basis," Len observed.
Matthew Huculak was born in 1857 and died in 1928. His wife Maria was born in 1861 and died in 1958 at the age of 98.