Bill Kuryliw: “Lives Lived”

This article was published in the Globe & Mail, “Lives Lived”, May 20, 2004

Bill (Wasyl) Kuryliw
By Oksana Kuryliw & Ihor Kuryliw

Father, grandfather, benefactor, activist. Born Feb. 6, 1910, in Potochyshche, Ukraine. Died March 5, in Toronto, of congestive heart failure, aged 94.

LabDay29aIn 1928, as an eager 18-year-old, Bill boarded The Empress of France and headed to Canada with $5, a Grade 3 education, and a powerful zest for life.

Initially, Bill’s quest for opportunity in his new “mama Canada” was challenged by the Depression. He found work as a farm labourer in Saskatchewan, later riding the rails east to Fort William, Ont., (now Thunder Bay), where he earned 25 cents a day as a water boy for the lumber mills. Finally, he became a miner in the Sudbury area and trained as a welder with Inco Ltd. where he worked for 40 years. In 1936, after eight years of “courtship by letter,” he sponsored Anna Zabolotna, from his old village, to join him. They married three days after she arrived and for more than 60 years, Sudbury remained home; they had three children: Ihor, Sonia and Oksana.

In the end, Bill’s years of hard work at Inco provided a backdrop to the pursuit of his passions, including a lifelong commitment to promoting Ukrainian culture in Canada. As one of the founders of the Ukrainian National Federation branch in Sudbury, he and Anna were pillars of the local Ukrainian community for decades.

As an advertising representative for The New Pathway, a national Ukrainian Canadian newspaper, Bill frequently solicited advertising from local businesses and politicians. He recognized the importance of strong business organizations and, with his help, the Chamber of Commerce reached record membership numbers. For his tireless efforts, Bill was granted an honorary life membership in the Chamber and given the nickname “Action Bill.”

Somehow, Action Bill always found time for more. He became an avid reader and, over the years, amassed a large personal library. He also became an accomplished self-taught musician, playing mandolin, guitar, trombone and cello, and shared these talents with many young musicians.

His skill and artistry allowed him to play in various bands and orchestras, including the Sudbury Symphony.

Yet, as much as Bill loved music and all things cultural, he also thrived on the wild surroundings of the Ontario north, enjoying regular hikes through the bush. He had a keen eye for great blueberry patches, and was known to compete with bears for the best of them!

Bill’s generous spirit and social conscience knew no limits. Even in the 1930s, Bill sent money to his native village to build a chapel, to support the library and sponsor a sewing course for young women. He was a regular visitor to the sick and elderly in Sudbury’s hospitals, and often found himself the sole mourner at funerals. He remained an ever-generous donor with both his time and money.

In 1988, his love of learning and respect for formal education culminated in the establishment of the Wasyl and Anna Kuryliw Family Endowment Fund at the University of Alberta, which provides scholarships for graduate students of Ukrainian ethnography. The scholarships were named after Ivan Franko, a revered ethnographer and poet, whose poems Bill knew by heart and recited publicly on special occasions.

In his closing days, Bill seemed to be reliving moments of his rich life. We often saw his feet moving back and forth — he was walking, perhaps through the blueberry patches. At other times, his hands and fingers would move. Clearly he was once again playing his beloved cello.

When Bill was admitted to hospital having suffered a heart attack and collapsed lung, the doctor asked him how he was feeling. Bill, eternal optimist, responded, “First class!” And first class he was.

Oksana and Ihor are Bill’s children

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