Seattle Sparked the Yukon Gold Rush




SS Excelsior leaves for the Yukon, 1897 Courtesy Wikimedia Commons


After the 1893 world-wide depression brought commerce to a halt, Seattle took off in 1897 when the steamer Portland struggled into port, her decks filled with prospectors guarding their sacks of gold. Soon headlines and flyers proclaimed the news around the globe that Yukon gold was there for the taking along the Klondike River.  The mad dash to claim the nuggets really  lasted not much more than a year.

The headlong rush to the Yukon came shortly after a depression where many who had found work again felt trapped in office, factory, or low-paying retail jobs. Eager hordes grabbed the chance to set off for the real frontier, the  vast Canadian wilderness that offered the bold an opportunity to earn their fortunes.

My father, Hans Pederson, a risk taking Danish immigrant, joined the exodus. “He was among the first to answer the call of the North when the manhood of the world stampeded toward the arctic and the sparkle of gold,” notes his obituary. He and a partner soon crammed themselves aboard a ship and joined the throng of prospectors who washed up on Alaskan shores like flotsam on the tides.

He didn’t stay long enough to make his fortune. He returned to Seattle, became a builder, and grew along with the city until the next depression in 1929 ended contracting along with everything else.

Immigrant Ukrainians keep the Easter Customs



Orthodox Cross Courtesy Wikimedia Commons Withgol the Webmaster




In 1898 my great grandparents,Stephan and Sanxira Tokaruk, along with my grandparents, Wasyl and Anna Huchulak, left the estate in Ukraine  where Stephan attended the horses when their landlord offered them passage to the new world. They crossed Canada on the Canadian Pacific Railroad and became Alberta homesteaders.

In 2009 I went to a family reunion near Edmonton where we gathered at the now derelict 1910 family homestead and I met fifty first cousins. The clan helped me understand my grandparents’ early challenges and my mother’s childhood. I wish there had been time to watch my cousin Judy design her intricately patterned Ukrainian eggs.

We stopped at the onion-domed Orthodox Church filled with the religious icons that became my grandmother’s passion during her life as a struggling homesteader. The little cemetery is filled with pioneer graves. Every headstone bears the characteristic Ukrainian cross with its slanted crosspiece below the arms of the conventional cross. After the long winter, descendants of these pioneers still gather at the cemetery for picnics on Orthodox Easter.

It was a privilege to meet my mother’s family at last. While today’s shifting lifestyles often create a sense of impermanence, my trip “home” showed me that fragments of the Huchulak DNA had seeped through earlier generations to my own in ongoing customs and habits.




Ukrainian Immigrants to Canada


Canadian Illustrated News Courtesy Wikimedia Commons,

My great-grandfather. Stephan Tokaruk, served for twenty years as a horse attendant for a rich landlord in the Ukrainian  municipality of Rohizna. In 1898  his landlord offered Tokaruk, his wife Sanxira and their family  a passage  to North America. They crossed the Atlantic Ocean and boarded a transcontinental train to Alberta as part of a wave of immigrants lured by the opportunity of free land on the Western Canadian plains.

I’m glad they left when they did. I’m glad they brought their daughter and her husband Wasyl Huchulak who started our clan. Their generous landlord probably should have come too.

In their revolutionary drive to collective farming under Communism, the Russians in Eastern Ukraine exterminated the Kulak class of successful Ukrainian farmers. Russian soldiers emptied Kulak kitchens, burned their crops, and left them to starve. The Austrians in the  West continued to keep the Ukrainians, or Ruthenians as serfs. At the start of World War I, they rounded up those who had supported Russia and ordered them massacred by their forces at Talerhof.

Descendants of Ukrainians who survived these purges faced further disaster in World War II. Nazis killed or conscripted the Kulak descendants as Russian sympathizers. In reality they had been Russian slaves. Those who survived World War II were then faced with the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986. Ukrainians continue to face hardship. Russia annexed Crimea in March of 2015.

Still, Ukrainians today do not face the genocide or uprooting that is  taking place in the Middle East.

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