Glebe Montessori School

Mary Halipchak: strength, bravery and happiness


Mary Halipchak has lived in the Glebe for 65 years and has led a storied life.
Photo: Courtesy of Mary Halipchak

By Sandra Parsons

It is amazing what life stories can be told by our neighbours when we ask and listen. Mary Halipchak has lived in Canada for 67 years and in the Glebe for 65 years. Her story is one of bravery, smarts and strength, though she was underestimated.

Mary was born on a farm in the Ukraine in 1925. Her family saw her as the weakest child. Little did they know. Because of her weakness, they chose her as the child to be sent to Nazi Germany as a slave labourer on a German farm in the west of Germany near Frankfurt. Mary remembers sitting on the floor in a windowless cow train all the way with other young men and women.

At the farm, Mary shared a stable room above the animals with a girl called Wanda from Poland. The girls became good friends. The German family gave them an old radio. The girls worked in the fields and listened to the radio at night. Learning German and English from this radio saved and changed Mary’s life.

When the war ended, the two girls headed to the local American camp. At the farm, they did not really know where they were in Germany. They were delighted when they found themselves in the American region and not the Russian region. The girls worked in the American canteen with food and a room as their payment. They gained respect because they always volunteered to help. Mary worked there from 1945 to 1948. After the American camp closed in 1948, Mary spent a year in the Polish camp, which was better run than many of the camps.

It was a time of chaos after the war ended. Mary’s family did not know if she was alive. Relatives in Canada wanted to help but they did not know if she was alive or where she was. Mary was in a worse position than Wanda. Mary was a Ukrainian and Ukraine was part of Russia. Mary knew that the Russians were not allowing letters to Ukraine. Fortunately Wanda had returned to Poland, so Mary sent her a letter and Wanda sent the letter to Mary’s mother. Mary waited in the camp.

In 1949, her first cousin applied to bring her to Canada. Mary said that you had to be healthy to go to Canada. She had many shots and medical tests. She was told that she had good teeth. She was going to Canada.

Well, not yet. She missed the boat! No worries. Mary wanted to see the Swiss Alps and she had saved all the money that she had been given by the German farming family that paid her and Wanda a small monthly sum, and from the American camp. The money would be useless in Canada. She went on a wonderful tour. She was now 26 years old. A German in Switzerland asked her to marry him. She said, “No, I am going to Canada.” And she did, and on a plane!

In 1949, she came to her relatives in Ottawa. Here, she met a Ukrainian soldier, Nick Halipchak. He asked her if she would like to go and have an ice cream cone. Mary had never had an ice cream cone. They were married in 1951. They bought a house on Fifth Avenue in the Glebe. Then their daughter Paulina was born. Later they moved, again in the Glebe, to Powell Avenue.

We on Powell Avenue and others in the Glebe who know her as a friend and neighbour feel very lucky. She is the one who helps and cares for everyone. She always greets new neighbours, will water your plants when you are away and she watches out for everyone.

Mary cannot read or write English very well. A lot of us do not know this because she keeps up with politics, the world and her family, friends and neighbours. She has a wonderful sense of humour and delivers a great comeback. She has shown us how to treat other people well.

She wishes to thank the Glebe and Canada for giving her and her family a wonderful home. As of March 22, 2016, she has been a Canadian for 67 years.

Congratulations, Mary. Thank you for your strength, bravery and laughter and for being in the Glebe and Canada with us. 

Sandra Parsons has been a Glebe resident since 1968. She is a Glebe Collegiate and Carleton University graduate, and a board member of the Rideau Hall Rose Garden. Her parents and grandparents lived in the Glebe.

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