An Unexpected Visitor

An Unexpected Visitor

Title Page


Anya’s family was forced to spend part of World War I at Spirit Lake Internment Camp. They were regarded not only as foreigners but as “enemy aliens” who needed to be kept apart for Canada’s security. Poverty still dogs them, even though Anya’s factory job helps out. Yet this Christmas promises to be happier than last year in the isolated internment camp … if old resentments can be laid to rest.

An Unexpected Visitor

Monday, December 18, 1916

Dear Irena,

My supervisor gave me a few sheets from his ledger book, so I can finally write to you and let you know everything that’s been happening to me. I will keep these pages with me, and once I have filled them all I will mail them. Postage is so dear, after all. Write back when you are able. You are in my heart.

I think the supervisor feels sorry for me because I am sitting by myself at lunch yet again. Now that I am promoted, the other girls make strange with me. I don’t mean Slava or Maureen. But since my promotion, we three no longer have lunch at the same time.

We have this huge order of infantry uniforms and it makes my head ache. The material is coarser than the ladies’ blouses we usually sew, and the girls are not used to it. I cringe each time a needle pierces their fingertips. Only weeks ago, it was me at one of those machines.

As sad as I am for the girls, I cannot help but think of what these uniforms are being used for. So many people are still being sent across the ocean to fight in this terrible war. And what of our old country, Irena? I know that fighting is going on right in Ukraine. Will a Canadian soldier wearing one of these uniforms end up fighting my old neighbours in Horoshova?

The whistle has sounded. Must get back to work.

Before bed

Oy, Irena! Stefan showed me the coins he earned today! He sold all the scarves and every pair of mittens.

I am relieved. The last weeks had not been going well for Stefan’s new business, but with Christmas near, it is picking up. He saves every penny he can.

It is so crowded in our flat with Baba, Mama, Tato and Mykola, of course, but add to that, Slava (will her father ever come home?) and Stefan, plus his mother and father. When his older brothers come home from the war, we’ll be in a pickle. Where could they possibly sleep? At least with all these people, it’s nice and warm even on the coldest nights.

Speaking of Stefan’s brothers, he got a Christmas card from Ivan — that’s the brother who calls himself John Pember. He is fighting in France. He decorated the card by stitching in patterns and words with red and green thread. He wrote in his regiment motto, Facta non verba, and also, Merry Christmas.

I do not know what Facta non verba means.

Tomorrow is St. Nicholas Day. I can hardly wait! I have special gifts for everyone.

Tuesday, December 19, 1916

St. Nicholas Day

Mama asked Mrs. Haggarty. Facta non verba is Latin for “Actions, not words.” I like that motto, don’t you?

Oh, Irena, Stefan has given me the most interesting gift. I cannot imagine how

Wednesday, December 20, 1916

I’m sorry, Irena. I had to end suddenly last night. It is difficult to find a time or place to write when I am at home. Once the mattresses are rolled out and the sheet strung across the middle of the room, I can barely move! The worst is when someone has to get up in the middle of the night to go to the outhouse. Stefan’s mother tripped on my foot last night and almost fell on top of Baba.

Tato blew the lights out just as I was about to write down details of Stefan’s gift. It is just a small envelope with my name written on the front in neat script, in green ink. Inside is a flat card that says this:

You are cordially invited

to Afternoon Tea


Mister Stefan Pemlych


The Restaurant


Ogilvy’s Department Store


Saturday, December 30, 1916


4 o’clock

I could tell that Stefan wrote it himself, but it must have taken him a long time because penmanship is not his strength.

Do you know what “Afternoon Tea” is, Irena? I thought it was a cup of tea in the afternoon, but Stefan says I am wrong — it does include tea but it isn’t what I think. Stefan just grins when I try to get him to tell me more. I can hardly wait until December 30!

Thursday, December 21, 1916

Irena, when I was coming home from work yesterday, I saw a man who must have once been a soldier. He was standing at the corner of a building, with his collar turned up against the cold. There was something familiar about the way he held himself. Don’t ask me why, but I knew he had been in the army even though he wasn’t wearing a uniform. He looked cold and lonely, and he was holding out his cap, begging for money. I walked quickly by without looking up. I had no money to give.

Oy, Irena, do you think I’m a bad person for walking so quickly away?

Friday, December 22, 1916

Dear Irena,

I am sitting here at work even though I should have left for home an hour ago. I keep on looking up at the windows and wondering how I will ever get home. The snowflakes are so thick and furious that I cannot see anything but white. The wind is so strong and damp that I can feel it in my bones. The supervisor let us stay inside because he was afraid we would get lost if we tried to get home. Maybe I will have to stay here all night. It is so dark outside.

Saturday, December 23, 1916

Oy, Irena, what a time we’ve been having. I am safe at home right now and it is early afternoon. Just as I was writing to you yesterday, the door to the factory opened up. A swirl of wind and sleet came through and with it, Tato and Stefan. When they saw that Slava and I weren’t at home, they came to get us.

By the time we got to our flat, I was soaked through and shivering. Slava slipped on a patch of ice and nearly turned her ankle.

It was much colder when we walked to work this morning, but I prefer cold to wet. The air was crisp and fresh and there was no wind. The snow sparkled like jewels in the sun. I love it when we have a snowfall. The streets look so clean.

Sunday, December 24, 1916

When Mama came home from work yesterday, she had a giant raw turkey. She said that Mrs. Haggarty gave each of the kitchen staff a turkey to take home for Canadian Christmas dinner. Wasn’t that nice of her? Have you ever eaten turkey? I haven’t. Mama has packed it in snow to keep it cold and Baba is going to roast it tomorrow.

Monday December 25, 1916

Five days before Afternoon Tea with Stefan!

Dear Irena,

I am writing to you from home even though it is the middle of the day and a Monday. Today is Canadian Christmas, so we had a day off work. My stomach is grumbling. All I can smell is the aroma of roasting turkey. Baba stuffed it with bread and rubbed the outside with garlic and pepper and it has been roasting ever since. Mama says that no one at Mrs. Haggarty’s household ever uses garlic. How can someone not like garlic?

I can hardly wait to try this turkey. Mrs. Pemlych has made a compote with cranberries just like in the old country. She says that Canadians eat this with their turkey. Imagine eating sweets with meat! Canadians have some interesting customs, and I want to try all of them. I love that we get to celebrate Canadian Christmas and real Christmas. Are you celebrating both Christmases too, Irena?


Oy, Irena. I think I could burst. Turkey is tasty, especially the dark meat. Cranberry compote is heavenly with it.

Tuesday, December 26, 1916

Four days before Afternoon Tea with Stefan!

Dear Irena,

In the newspaper today there is a photograph of a mountain of potatoes. People in Belgium are starving, and these potatoes are for them. I feel so guilty. Here I am, still full of turkey, when across the ocean people have nothing. If Belgians are starving, what is it like in our old country? They must be starving too. I wish I could wrap up some of our turkey and send it to Horoshova.

There is also a story about Santa Claus visiting wounded Canadian soldiers in Britain. Don’t you think Santa Claus is an interesting name for St. Nicholas? These soldiers were wounded in France. I wonder if John Pember is one of them? I hope not. Do you know what the soldiers got? Turkey! I hope they got cranberry compote too!