The following article first appeared in The Echo of Cantley Volume 32 no 9, April 2021. This article is made available for the enjoyment of others with the express permission of the Echo of Cantley.
Jan Turko, was born in Poland in July 1917. He died peacefully in February, 2021 in Ottawa in his 104th year.
To read about Jan’s war experiences, see the November 2012 L’Echo. The following updated excerpt about Jan’s Cantley years, is from that same article.
After the war, Jan was stationed in Scotland for work in the iron mines. After surviving internment and enduring the atrocities of war, Jan did not want to work underground. His other option was to emigrate to a farm in Canada, Australia or New Zealand which offered a two-year contract giving workers the freedom to earn their own living thereafter. Jan opted for Australia but, due to his lack of English at the time, landed in Canada instead!
In 1947, Jan arrived by the ship Dasvidaniya at Pier 21 in Halifax where he was given work clothes and a week’s rest. He then made his way by train to Ottawa, then Hull. Maynard Burke was there to meet Jan to drive him to his new workplace and home on his uncle Tom Fleming’s farm in Cantley.
Contracted farm workers had the option of leaving their assigned farms if they were not well treated but the Tom Fleming household welcomed Jan as one of the family. Because he could not speak any English, Maynard’s brother, Greg, bought Jan a Polish/English dictionary during his first week at the farm.
After the two-year contract, Jan looked for permanent work. He travelled west to the Prairies on the Harvest Train. Although there was plenty of harvest work, Jan couldn’t find a permanent job out west so he returned to Cantley that autumn.
Through a Fleming family connection, Jan was soon on his way to Maniwaki to work in the bush. Novice workers were paid a daily rate. After two weeks they were paid by each cord of wood they cut. With no experience, Jan had to learn fast to earn any money. He was so successful he spent the next 28 years working for C.I.P. (Canadian International Paper Company). Along the way, he learned to speak English and French and to operate a tugboat. He worked his way up to foreman, at one point looking after the pay for 60 men. Jan claimed he never fired a man in all his time as foreman although, he said, he did have discussions asking some of his workers to consider if bush work was the best use of their talents.
Every spring when Jan’s bush work ended, the Fleming family was happy to welcome Jan back home to the family farm. Cantley’s single ladies were glad to see him back at local dances. He was tall, handsome, and quite a good dancer who delighted to teach the polka to his partners.
Jan lived a long and incredible life. He proudly showed the official letter declaring his Canadian Citizenship in 1953. Yet, he never forgot his Polish family. After 1990, he was able to make many trips to Poland to become re-acquainted with his family after fifty years of separation. Some were eventually able to visit him in Cantley. He was instrumental in bringing one of his grand-nieces to Canada and helping her get established here.
Jan cared deeply for the farm, which he eventually purchased, and his adopted Fleming family, his many friends and the community of Cantley. Those family and friends also cared very much about him and will remember him with great affection.