Bill Kuryliw: Northern Life

This article was published in Sudbury’s Northern Life, March 18, 2004

Remarkable citizen Bill Kuryliw emigrated from Ukraine with $5

LabDay29aWasyl (Bill) Kuryliw, known to many residents of Sudbury as “Action Bill” died in Toronto, March 5. He was 94.

For more than 60 of those years, he was an active, dedicated and involved citizen of Sudbury, known by those in the Ukrainian-Canadian community, by politicians and business people for his energy, commitment, and generosity.

He was a man of diverse interests and abilities, with a huge appetite for life. He not only lived a long life, he lived a full life.

He was born in Ukraine, in the village of Potochyshche on Feb. 6, 1910, the eldest of three children. In 1928, at the age of 18, he left his home and boarded the ship The Empress of France, bound for Canada. He came to the new world with $5, a Grade 3 education – and a huge supply of optimism and zest for life.

He first made his way to Saskatchewan to work as a contract farm labourer. However, the “promised land” soon became less promising. The Depression years were not easy for most Canadians and even less so for new immigrants. He was one of many who rode the rails. He travelled back east, and for a time worked in lumber mills as a water boy for five cents a day near Fort William.

He then worked as a miner for Inco at Creighton Mine. He later took training to become a welder, and continued to work at Inco for more than 40 years until retiring in 1975.

In 1936, after eight years of “courtship by letter,” he sponsored Anna Zabolotna to come to Canada from his old village of Potochyshche. Three days after she arrived in Canada, they were married. They first lived in Kirkland Lake, but by 1938 they settled in Sudbury where they raised three children: Ihor, Sonia and Oksana.

Kuryliw took every opportunity to learn. He loved music, and joined a mandolin orchestra. Because of his easy going and generous nature, he was soon teaching others to play this instrument. Eventually he taught himself to play the guitar, trombone and cello. As a trombonist he joined a local marching and concert band. As a cellist he played in the Sudbury Symphony.

Beyond his teaching and musical activities, Kuryliw was an activist both in the Ukrainian-Canadian community, and also in the wider community in Sudbury. He was one of the founders of the Ukrainian National Federation branch in Sudbury, and he and his wife were pillars of the Ukrainian community for decades.

He was very proud of Sudbury as a city and his adopted country that he called “mama Canada.”

For many years he represented The New Pathway, a national Ukrainian Canadian newspaper.

Kuryliw regularly walked throughout the city, visiting businesses and politicians selling advertisements for the newspaper. He regularly produced more advertising revenue for the newspaper than anyone else in the country.

Each Christmas, the paper had to publish a second section just to accommodate the ads he had sold.

Through this activity he made many contacts among the business and financial leaders of the city. Although he himself was not a businessman, he knew the importance of strong business organization in the city. He encouraged enough business people to join the chamber of commerce that it reached record membership numbers through his efforts. As a result, he was granted an honorary life membership in the chamber, and earned his nickname “Action Bill.”

Not having any formal education himself, he always emphasized its importance. All three children graduated from the University of Toronto. He was particularly proud of Oksana who received her Ph.D in education in 1999.

Although he arrived in Canada with very limited skills he became an avid reader and over the years amassed a large personal library of books on many topics.

Because literacy and education was so important to him and his wife, they donated a large sum of money in 1988 to establish the Wasyl and Anna Kuryliw Family Foundation at the University of Alberta to provide scholarships for masters and doctoral students of ethnography.

The scholarships were named after Ivan Franko, an ethnographer and poet, whose poems Kuryliw knew by heart and which he recited publicly at concerts and ceremonial occasions.

From the day he arrived in Canada he supported many causes and institutions. In the early 1930s, during the depth of the Depression, he was able to send money to his native village to build a wayside chapel named after St Nicholas, and also to help support the library. While his friend and future wife was still in Ukraine he sponsored a sewing course for young women.

The Ukrainian National Federation Hall on Frood Road was his beloved institution which he supported financially and with manual labour as a volunteer during its renovation, and was also their star lottery ticket seller.

Above all, Kuryliw was a giving man. He made a point of constantly visiting the sick and elderly in hospitals, and was often was the only mourner at a funeral.

He promoted Sudbury, and over the years he was a generous donor of money and time to many organizations in Sudbury, elsewhere in Canada, the United States and Ukraine.

Kuryliw enjoyed the roughness of nature, but also the sophistication of the business world. He was open to new experiences, encouraged many people to dream and to challenge themselves in order to have a better life.

He loved the city of Sudbury, he loved to walk its streets, he loved the opportunities it offered him, including the pure, untouched blueberry patches on the outskirts of Sudbury. He loved the citizens of Sudbury.

In his last days on earth, he seemed to be re-living his past. Confined to a wheelchair in the last year of his life, he dreamed of walking through the woods with his cello.

On the last day of his life, as he was lying in bed, we often saw his feet moving back and forth – he was walking; we don’t know where. At other times, both his hands and fingers would start to move, clearly he was once again playing his beloved cello.

Two days before his death, Kuryliw was admitted to hospital, having suffered a heart attack, a collapsed lung and suffering from pneumonia. The attending doctor asked him how he was feeling. He responded, as he usually did, “First class!”

Bill Kuryliw’s life was lived on a first class scale.


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