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Irene A. Rozvaliaeff – Memoirs


Father was President of the Union of Siberian Butter-making Cooperatives. Before the Kolchak government, we lived in Kurgan until 1917. Before 1913, we lived on a farm 20 km from Kurgan. We rented 620 desyatin for growing potatoes. We hired laborers and made starch and patoka from the potatoes. Other producers made alcohol from potatoes, but my grandfather was opposed to alcohol.

He was progressive; he watched the butter-makers sell their product to intermediaries cheaply and decided that a cooperative was needed. He went to Moscow and got a loan from the Moscow People’s Bank. He traveled all over Siberia, setting up coops, and soon there was the Union. And since 1906 there was a railroad, too, to ship the butter.

My husband’s father worked on the Trans-Siberian Railroad from the very beginning as a tabelshchik, and went with the builders all the way to Harbin where he stayed at the terminal. Now grandfather was installed as President of the Union, and father was manager in charge of production. It was a progressive establishment, there even was a meteorological station sending reports to Moscow. Grandfather even went to England and arranged for exports of Siberian butter to England, then Denmark and Germany; it was not very profitable, but significant.

The Danes added water to the well-squeezed Siberian butter. Technicians needed to be trained. Special barrels were needed; buk barrels were imported from Europe, then buk was found in the Caucasus, then we started making barrels from local birch. Granfather moved to England. When war started, he tried to arrange for continued exports via Archangel, but then father got the Russian government to buy Siberian butter for the troops. I met a man in Portland who fought on the White side, of course, and he said: “At one point we were saved by these barrels of Siberian butter.”

When grandfather went away, father was elected President in his place, and we had to say good-bye to our homestead Medovushka (name of nearby village). It happened that Vvedenskoye village needed a new church, and grandfather went there and made plans for it. The church was later demolished. In Kurgan, there were Troitsky Cathedral and Aleksandro-Nevsky Cathedral. The Communists later demolished the cathedral in the central square.

So in 1918 we moved to Omsk, which was the seat of Kolchak’s government. Kolchak invited the prominent people of the city to council. Since no one wanted responsibility, father was elected chairman of this council. Then Kolchak asked the business community for loans. Some agreed. Father asked the Union: “Do we len the Kolchak administration $1,000,000?” The Union said yes, the money was delivered, but one year later Kolchak’s forces were in full retreat, and the loan was lost.

Threats started against father, and he sent his family to Vladivostok, where many were going and where the Union had an office. We went in a special car with the family of the Omsk station chief. Then the Union told father; “Andrei Aleksandrovich, you go too”. He joined us in Vladivostok, intending to return, but then the border was closed. We lived at the dacha place “19ya versta”, where the Union owned a house; several families dwelt there, and we children went to school in Vladivostok by the dacha train; then the troubles started, the city was controlled in turn by Chekhs, Whites, Japanese, and the trains were off schedule, We sometimes were able to take the Ussuryisk or Khabarovsk train, and then mother said “enough of that”.

We moved to Shanghai, there was another Union office there. For three years, father kept some Union business going. The Union stores now sold hides and bristle. The going was hard after the (Communists) seized most offices. But father still hoped to return and had us children learn Russian. The principal of the French school, a young wounded veteran, was friendly toward us Russians (about twenty pupils) and allowed a teacher to be hired to teach us Russian after hours.

Mother taught me at home until I was 8, then I went to the Omsk gymnasium. Now in Shanghai, there was still a Russian Consulate, and they set up a committee for Russian examinations. And then the office in Shanghai closed, but there was still one in Tianjin, and we moved there. There were some established Russian families there, like the Chistiakov Tea Company.

We children wanted to go to the Russian school, but father sent us to the English school. The instructors were all with Oxbridge or London degrees. The geography teacher was remarkable; he must have had been a sailor; he had travelled the world over. That was where I was first exposed to studies of Divine Law. They had Bible study class. What I know of the Gospels, I learned then. I even got first prize at the exam.

Then the business expired, and father had to move on. His older daughter wrote him from America, inviting over. Then father approached the Canadian (consulate). At that time Communist influence was spreading in Harbin, and many families wanted to move to Canada, but Russians were only allowed to come as farmers. Homesteads were available at $25 per, to be tended five years at least. The first arrivals were sent to Saskatchewan, newer ones allowed to go to Alberta. My father was told: “You’re a single family, you may go where you want”. Father believed he could make a living as a farmer; he fancied himself an agronomist. One Hindu in Vancouver offered him a job at his sawmill, at 25c per hour; father was 53. A horse cost $25, a cart – $25.

We gathered at the Church House with the priest and decided not to go to Saskatchewan and stay in B.C. with its mild climate and close to the Church. We lived in Vancouver for two months while father was looking for work. Then we met a Russian-speaking Canadian called Stevens who owned a small farm and grocery store in Chilliwack. He offered to sell his farm to us, but father could not afford it. He dished out $350 for 25 acres of land.

We took advantage of the Soldier Settlement Fund, established by the Canadian government after the Great War to sell land to veterans with payment spread over 20 years. Some soldier bought this particular plot for his son-in-law who did not want it after all. So he let father have it. There was nothing there; first thing we bought a telega and a black horse we called Nigger. It was a 2.5-mile walk to town. Father told my sister (18) and me (15) to help him on the farm. Back in Shanghai, we girls went to school. There were English schools, French schools, and religious order schools. I went to school there for three years; one year we were taught math in English, the next year in French.

Well, we all went to live on the farm. My brother was sent to work with a farmer and learn the poultry business; he was at it for three months. Our land was half cultivated, half tree stumps – huge ones, 20 feet high. Gradually, they were removed. Father decided to plant potatoes the first year. He didn’t foresee the difficulties in selling the crop. We fed most of the crop to cows, and managed to sell some – fine potatoes went for $1 per 100 lbs.

I remember how father sent me to a restaurant with 100 lbs, and the restaurateur said no, thanks. I said: “Father said you ordered”. He said oh well, and took it. By spring, we managed to buy five cows and started selling milk to the coop, bought some shares for $25. I learned to milk cows; brother looked after the chickens, we built a chicken coop. In summer, most girls picked berries – raspberries, strawberries. One neighbor grew tomatoes in a hothouse, he hired people for $1 per day, and we were glad to get that much.

Then in 1927 my sister invited me to come to America. I tried, but the United States did not let me in. I started working in Vancouver winters. Then one summer I worked for a family that owned a store near the lake, as clerk and maid. I earned $150 in that summer.

Father suggested I go to school to learn a clerical trade. He gave me $10 per month, and my sister’s husband sent $25 to pay tuition. I was nanny and cook for this family; I fed the kids in the morning, went to school, was back at 3 p.m. This went on for six moths, and then I failed the typing exam. And my brother-in-law lost his job and could not send me any more money.

I tried working as a typist for free for a month, then another – it wasn’t working out, so I took a simple job in an office and kept sending some money home. Then this girl friend told me that there’s work at a laundry where the forewoman is married to a Russian. I went and worked there for 2,5 years. It was not pleasant, but it paid $13 per week. My rent was $11 per month.

Then in 1934 my parents bought some kerosene-fuelled incubators to hatch chicks. My little sister just finished high school, and father told her to learn the craft of selecting cocks from hens. Thats a very important procedure, for cocks should not be grown together with hens – they grow faster and grab most of the feed. Cocks can be grown for meat, but separately. At that time several specialists arrived from Japan to teach this craft, and my sister learned, along with several others. Then a lady who had a large operation in Oregon took her on as an apprentice. She then worked from 1937 to 1947, both at my parents’ farm and elsewhere in the valley; she bought a car for herself.

I met my husband in 1937; he was working at a sawmill, I was working at a dry cleaners. Most lumber workers’ wives stayed at home and tended their gardens. Then father found an American who would teach me the craft of chick separation, my husband agreed, and I spent 2,5 months in Bellingham. Later my sister taught me some more. Then I got a certificate; worked in Ontario for 2 months, then in Edmonton for 2 years, then back in Chilliwack.

We lived at first with my husband’s parents, and then rented a suite, then we bought a house in 1941, and I lived there for 50 years and 4 months. It was modified many times, and all the time we had tenants upstairs and in another house we bought. My husband worked until he was 58. His legs were weak because of childhood TB. Two operations were performed on his spine, and the surgeons could do no more. He started using a cane, then two canes, to get to work; he would not quit. He was always very active in church. He lived with his parents and two brothers in Alberta previously; they had 250 acres, some 50 head of cattle, horses, some machinery.

Then the Depression came, prices dropped to 12c per bushel of wheat, 2c per pound of butter, 5c per duck. They sold everything, loaded personal effects in a truck and came to Vancouver. There was unemployment here, but two brothers found work-moving scrap metal, and then at Fraser Mills, managed then by Igor Podlegayev. The younger brother became a swamper in a furniture store. Fraser Mills paid my husband a pension of $70 until he reached 65. He was churchwarden for many years, secretary and even chairman of the Russian Orthodox Society, and people were always calling him at home about church matters. I worked at the post office for 8 years, often the night shift, and he was always at home.

In 1940 there was turmoil at Holy Resurrection Church; there was a priest, Fr. Aggey, who was pulling to the Russian Church Abroad. Some of our parishioners moved to the Zarubezhnaya, then they could maintain a priest no longer and returned to the Metropolia fold. My husband and I had to go to Seattle for a church wedding because there was no priest here.

When WWII started, Fr. Aggei came to us once rubbing his hands: “Good, the Japanese will take Siberia, the Germans will take the rest of Russia, and we will be able to return to Russia and reclaim our properties.” My husband was so outraged at this, he told the priest never to set foot in his house again.

Ivashchenko, the Society’s chairman, was loyal to the Metropolia, while his wife’s parents and the warden were “synodtsy”; the parish was split. Ivashchenko wrote to New York: “Please send someone to restore order” Bishop John (Shakhovskoy) of Brooklyn came; Fr. Aggey locked the church and went away to Victoria. Nikolai Fyodorovich and I went to a lawyer, to the police, and they confirmed our authority to open the church. A new priest was promised – from the DP camps in Germany. Some parishioners came back. The defeated synodtsy called us “Communists”. A new Council was elected. Everybody started to work hard. Fr. Leonid Kaspersky came, we all liked him very much.

Then an influx from the Orient started. Most of them were professionals. Mr. Mikhailov was an engineer; Mr. Shali was an accountant. They had to start anew here, obtain certificates. Their wives supported them: Mrs. Mikhailov went to work in a bank; Mrs. Shali worked as a cook. One man used to run a candy factory in China, famous all over the Far East. He set up production in B.C., but it did not succeed: Canadians have different tastes, and there were still not enough Russians. Some got jobs as Japanese interpreters. Many Russians found work at Hotel Vancouver. Many worked in construction.

And they all came to the Church. Russians from China were very devout. There were many artists, they gave concerts. Life became lively. We had a library, a school, we had a Yolka, with special plays for children. Mr. Fetisov established Progressive Woodworks. We supported other organizations. Mr. Ivashchenko and other WWI veterans organized the annual Invalids Ball for the benefit of veterans in Paris. The ladies helped orphanages and Russian monasteries in Jerusalem. There was an annual concert for the library, a concert for the children. Collections for the DPs in Germany in Austria. Later some people came from there and said they received our parcels. Some sponsored godchildren in the DP camps. I support a girl in India. Charitable work never ceased.

We burned the mortgage, things were booming, we bought the house next to the church; the owner lived in South America and agreed to sell for $3,000. In 1952 Fr. Kaspersky moved to join his family in the USA, and we got Fr. Peter Kurzemnek. We removed the tenants and wanted to enlarge the place, but City Hall said: you’ll have to move. They offered $30,000 initially, and then raised it to $50,000. We started looking around. Oakridge was nothing but bush then, Cambie Street stopped at 41st. There was another lot at Knight Road – cleared, but there had been a garbage dump there before. This place here is ideal – quiet and accessible. We had a very good man, Mr. Sergeyev, who had a trucking business in Richmond, collected pork bones for dry meal; he was Chairman.

Next, we found an architect. Many Russians presented designs, but we decided to choose a Canadian, Mr. Lord, showed him photos of the Lavra, and he did a fine design. His son is an architect too now, and he says that his father used to have him peel and cut onions to get the precise shape of the dome. Now we had a hall seating 200 people instead of just 100. I was secretary; we accepted bids and chose one in the middle of the range, but he ran over estimate. We had a collection and also issued shares, at $100 per share. Later many did not redeem these shares. We bought the house next door for $4,500.

Our concerts became well known. We had a nice choir, performing secular songs in concert. We sang at Banff, Christ Church Cathedral, other places; life was more fun. Some of the newcomers were Jewish and wanted to join, but the Society objected. The newcomers wanted a cultural society of their own, and they left. They gathered at Mr. Ivakhnyuk’s hotel. They bought a movie house in Kitsilano, and they said: we will buy your church eventually. They did very good shows. They did not get along with Holy Trinity Church and founded a new one on 13th Ave. So now we have three Russian churches in Vancouver.

I was president of the Ladies’ Auxiliary for 11 years, 1949 to 1959. Mr. Sergeyev stepped down, because his wife was complaining that he neglected his own business. Mr. Fetisov and Mr. Portnov came back. Some improvements were made later. Oil furnaces were changed to gas. Stained glass windows were installed with bequests. The copper roof went green. We painted it blue with stars, but it didn’t work. Bushes were planted around. Mr. Ivashchenko had a nursery and planted a clump of birch trees, and rhododendrons, and willows.

Many children came from China, Mrs. Nikitina taught them. The priest taught. Mrs. Pashkovsky was wonderful. The kids grew up, married and moved away. Mrs. Postnikov was a fine singer. For Canada’s centennial, we had a ecumenical service, even Grace McCarthy was invited, and Mr. Portnov, the Chairman, insisted we stage a big show. Ms. Karpov showed real ballet. The proceeds went to Children’s Hospital. The new bunch in the 60s insisted on painting the inside, we invited Mr. Zadorozhny. Icons were commissioned.

The new Council decided to get rid of Fr. Peter. We had Fr. Oleg for 8 years, and then the Council felt he was getting too much power. Mr. Mitchell left $30,000 to the church that was used for windows. New rooms were made in the rectory. Mr. Nahorny lived downstairs; he was very pious and volunteered to look after the church. Later he got a small stipend from us. Frank, a Catholic who loved our church, succeeded him. The house leaked, and contractors said it would cost $16,000 to fix. The Levitskys offered to pay for a new house. Fr. Cyril, a kind, soft man, accepted a post in Montreal. We were looking for a married priest again, and the Metropolitan suggested Fr. Victor Sokolov to us. Fr. Victor arrived to introduce himself and stayed. His wife wanted four bedrooms. It cost us $1,500 to bring them from Connecticut.

I was not the best of Presidents for the Ladies’ Auxiliary. Olga Petrovna was very good, for a long time. Sunday lunches started in Fr. Oleg’s time. The ladies gathered on Thursdays to make crafts. We embroidered towels, tablecloths, knit. There was an annual post-Christmas dinner for the Ladies from the Council. Many times I phoned everyone and reminded the singers about weekday feasts. The bazaars were always successful. Olga Petrovna has been in charge of vestments for a long time. Yakov Tikhonovich was Warden; he tended the grass, the garden free of charge. The newest comers today take everything for granted: the decorations, the cleanliness. Fr. Alexander Schmemann lectured here once. The octet of the St. Vladimir Seminary came some summers, performed and brought books. Once a group of pilgrims from Alaska came.

So many plays were staged! A company came from Seattle once. Shura Tsvetkova and her son were artists.

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