A daughter describes her father’s journey from Polish immigrant to successful farmer in Wilsonville, Ontario.
By Christine Wheeler
My father William Procyk was six years old when his family made the journey from Poland to Canada, but he can still distinctly remember the large ships and all of the flags in the harbour as they boarded the SS Pilsudski in August 1939. The Procyk family was made up of my grandparents, my father and his older sister Mary and his younger brother James.
Together the five of them journeyed from the old country to new lands. They first landed in Halifax, and then took the Canadian National Railway to Windsor where a family member picked them up and brought them to a farm owned by another family member in Tilbury, Ontario.
My grandparents eventually bought a 50 acre farm following an agreement made with the Canadian Embassy while they were still in Warsaw. After working on the farm in Tilbury for several years, my grandfather got word of better farming conditions in Wilsonville, Ontario. He sold the farm in April 1947 and the family moved to a larger land in Wilsonville, where our family has remained farming until this day. The farm had good and bad years, but after a while the Procyk’s found themselves in some tough times as my grandfather’s illness worsened.
In the 50s my grandfather became ill and asked my father to take over the farm. My father had made him a promise before he passed that he would do his best to continue the farm for as long as possible. That promise is what has inspired our family’s hard work ethic, as my father always said, “a promise is a man’s honour”.
Growing up in Canada presented some challenges for my father, he wanted so much to be accepted by his peers despite his Polish heritage and immigrant status. As his responsibilities on the farm increased and caring for his father became greater, he started having doubts about being able to carry on with the farm and its success in the future.
My father got married to his sweetheart Annie in 1961 and soon after they had four children: me – Christine, and my brothers Michael, Paul and Danny. In addition to the strong work ethic they taught us, my brothers and I also learned that a family must always support and help one another. Today, our farm has grown into a nationwide operation. The lessons that my parents have taught us have been carried on through the family generation after generation, as the Procyk family has also grown and prospered in this country.
To celebrate Canada 150, UNHCR has put together a series of stories of people who came to Canada before the year 1950. Canada has a long history of being a place of refuge. This project consists of researched stories, personal submissions and photos of Canadians who migrated from places like Poland, Ukraine and Israel.