Murder, revenge and the birth of a legend
This old school was named after a Ukrainian student, Myroslaw Sychensky who, it is said, gave rise to a legend. All legends contain some truth so how much of this one is based on facts? There are reasons to believe that this legend is based on an actual event. We’ll get into those reasons later. First, I’ll share the legend with you.
“A legend states that it was an Austrian sport to shoot Ukrainian villagers. A girl was told to climb a tree and she was shot. Myroslaw is said to have hid a gun in a hollowed book from which he read a poem to the killer. He then shot him with one bullet for each murder. When he was arrested, the Ukrainian people in the United States collected $20 thousand to bribe the warden who escaped with Myroslaw.”Pioneering With A Piece of Chalk
That story sounds like a typical myth passed down by students to scare or shock the younger kids. Conversely consider this, very few rural schools had Ukrainian names. Most of these country schools had names that were more English than a Jane Austen novel. A list of the rural schools shows names such as, May Flower, Mary’s Villa, Love Land, Little Gem, King Edward and of course, Kingsway. For this school to be named “Myroslaw” which is a Ukrainian name, he must have been somebody of some importance to the Ukrainian people whose children would attend this school.
There is another reason why I believe this story has a factual basis. While I haven’t found the actual story anywhere other than in the book of schools cited above, I did come across a very brief reference to a Myroslaw Sichynsky in an entirely different place. The book is about the migration of Ukrainian settlers from Manitoba to Saskatchewan and Alberta. The reference to Myroslaw is brief and in a part of the book dealing with political movements and publications related thereto so the context provides nothing to clarify the legend. In fact Myroslaw Sichynsky’s name is mentioned as sort of an add-on to a meeting to be held. I’ll reproduce it here and just include the parts that are relevant to this name.
“In 1912 we read that a meeting of the “Social Democrats” was held in the Schmidt home in Rembrandt where John Bydak acted as secretary and … were present. In the same issue we read about the meeting held in Gimli to collect funds for the liberation of Miroslaw Sichinsky. Those contributing were not all members of the Federation of Social Democrats, but they were the more progressive members of the Gimli Community”.Spruce, swamp, and stone: a history of the pioneer Ukrainian settlement in the Gimli area. Pages 111 and 112.
If you’ve stayed with me this far, you’ll have noticed that the above book spells the name Myroslaw with an “i” rather than a “y”. They also changed the last name and used an “i” rather than the “y” in Sichynsky. It’s very English to prefer an “i” to a “y” because all those consonants in Ukrainian names requires the vocal gymnastics that few English speakers can manage. At least they were consistent in the misspellings. These small discrepancies don’t mean they’re talking about someone else. In those times many of the Slavic names that were written down by non Slavic people were gradually Anglicised. At one point the book even mentioned how people had applied to have their names changed to make them simpler for the English to understand (this was because it improved their job prospects). They would drop silent letters or whole syllables that twisted the English tongue in unfamiliar ways. So spelling the name slightly differently does nothing to diminish the possibility this is the same Myroslaw that the school is named after. With the name spelling discrepancy out of the way lets continue on this journey to the the past.
The excerpt above sounds very much like part of the legend quoted from the book, Pioneering With A Piece of Chalk. The part I’m referring to in the first quoted book is, “the Ukrainian people in the United States collected $20 thousand to bribe the warden who escaped with Myroslaw.” This is intriguing. The story is not exactly the same in both citations but we’re talking about a legend here, not a police report. I will keep searching for more on this story but for now I believe that there’s more truth than myth to the legend. Now let’s look at the photos from October 2020.
Myroslaw School is hidden deeper in the woods than any other school I’ve previously photographed. All sides of the school are covered by a thick grove of trees and there is no sign out front to state what lies just beyond your sight. In fact I can’t give you a full photo of the school because the further back I walk, the more trees there are blocking the view of the school. However I do have a historical photo so let’s start with that.
Now see how it looks as of October 2020. Note that these images are best viewed on a computer or tab rather than a phone. Some images are covered by the captions on the smaller phone screeens.
That’s it for the tour of this school, it closed in the early 1950s. There’s no indication that the school was used for a community league or any other purpose after it’s closure. Do you think there is some truth to the legend of Myroslaw Sichynsky who took revenge on the Austrian fellow who shot a Ukrainian girl from the village? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
An update with some answers
|The Myroslaw Legend||The real Myroslaw|
|Shot an Austrian who murdered Ukrainians||Assassinated the viceroy of Galicia, Andrzej Potocki|
|To stop the murders of innocent Ukrainians by and Austrian||In protest against Polish violence and fraud in the 1908 elections|
|Arrested||Arrested and death sentence was commuted to life in prison by the Austrian emperor|
|The Ukrainian people in the United States collected $20 thousand to bribe the warden who escaped with Myroslaw||He escaped (1911) and eventually was accepted as a political refugee by the United States (1915)|
The similarities between the legend of Myroslaw and the real Myroslaw Sichynsky cannot be easily dismissed. Especially when the viceroy (a ruler exercising authority in a colony on behalf of a sovereign) was probably an Austrian as he represented the Austrian Emperor. The Encyclopedia of Ukraine does not describe how Myroslaw escaped but it does say that he escaped. Given that the book, Spruce, Swamp and Stone, describes how sympathizers collected funds for the liberation of “Miroslaw Sichinsky” I expect that the bribe is likely factual. I can easily see how a hero to the Ukrainian people could become a legend worthy of having a school named after him. I had assumed that the legend of Myroslaw Sichynsky was a consequence of his actions at or near the Myroslow School even though that is not stated anywhere. Isn’t it amazing how much truth there was to the “myth”. I don’t know where the story of the girl who climbed a tree before being shot came from but that too could have occurred in Galicia (which is now called Ukraine). A big thank you to Tina for providing the link to some of the answers.
- Pioneering With A Piece of Chalk – William Peter Baergen © 2005
- Spruce, swamp, and stone: a history of the pioneer Ukrainian settlement in the Gimli area – Michael Ewanchuk © 1977
- The Encyclopedia of Ukraine – website link