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1897 Voyage of the Arcadia

The voyage of the SS Arcadia was described by Dmytro Romanchych and is taken from Early Ukrainian Settlements in Canada 1895-1900 by Vladimir J. Kaye, (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1964) :

After a short wait in Hamburg, one and a half thousand Ukrainian emigrants were loaded into an very old but not very large ship, the Arcadia. It was a boat that had steam engines as well as sails which were hoisted when a favourable wind was blowing. Under the top deck there were about a dozen passenger cabins where the "city-coated gentlemen" travelled. Under the second deck were the galleys and the dining room. Below water level, under the third and fourth decks, there were no cabins, only one big space with rows of iron bedsteads, three or four storeys high. In the lower beds the women and children slept, and in the upper beds, the men and boys. If one wished to reach the upper storey, an iron ladder had to be used.

We stopped over at Antwerp, in Belgium, where the boat took on ballast, hundreds of barrels with cement. We stayed at Antwerp for five days. Nobody was permitted to leave the boat, and only Budrug and Negrych [Iwan Bodrug and Iwan Negrych, both teachers] managed somehow to get off the boat and view the city. On the boat it was unbearably hot, and below deck an unbearable stench made breathing difficult.

Probably no Ukrainian emigrant ever experienced such a dreadful ocean crossing as we did on our Arcadia. When we left the English Channel and entered the open sea, the weather was beautiful for the first few days. The sun was shining all day, the sea was calm, and it was a pleasure to travel. Above our heads flew loudly-shrieking flocks of seagulls, and in the water whole herds of dolphins accompanied our ship as if they had never seen a boat before. When about half-way across the Atlantic, the weather suddenly changed one evening and a storm broke out, a real hurricane accompanied by a deluge of rain. In no time the sea was transformed into high mountains with white tops. One moment we were on top of these foaming mountains and the next we were thrown into what seemed a bottomless abyss...The ballast shifted, and our boat began to list to one side...People were holding on tightly to their iron bedsteads, and many started to pray, and until all became seasick. The seamen apparently anticipated the storm, because they herded us all below deck and closed the hatches. Passengers who had been warned about seasickness before they started the voyage were also told that garlic, onions, whiskey, and Hoffmann's drops were good remedies against seasickness. People were not overly stingy with these remedies, and they partook of them as much as they could stand. As a reuslt of them, such terrible smells developed deck during the storm that even the stewards who ventured in became sick. They swore and cursed, but as they did it in German, which few people understood, it had little effect.

The storm lasted three days without a break, and somehow we survived it without great losses. Only two persons died, an old man and a child. On the fourth day the storm stopped as suddenly as it had started. People breathed in relief and all went to sleep exhausted. Suddenly, during the night, a loud blast and a shock which rattled our iron bedsteads woke us up. People were asking, frightened, "What happened?" Those who could, hurried to the top deck, and were amazed to learn that the boat was surrounded by ice. The crew was patching up a hole below, pumps were throbbing, and our boat was trying to free itself from the icy embrace by moving backwards and forwards. The siren was blowing all the time to prevent eventual collision with some other boat, because it was foggy and one could hardly see a few yards ahead.

We remained ice-bound until morning. The boat was imprisoned by the ice and could not move. The captain ordered all passengers on deck, and we obeyed the order. Bodrug interpreted the captain's commands. We were ordered, when the whistle blew, to run from one side of the boat to the other as fast as we could, and back again. We repeated this manoeuvre many times. The boat began to sway, broke the ice which was surrounding it, and began to move forward slowly. Our baggage, which was stored below, became soaking wet during that storm, and we suffered great losses.

We wrestled with the ice floes for three days, and only on the fourth day we reached the open sea, which was as clam and smooth as a mirror. After another two and half days of sailing against the wind on the St. Lawrence, we finally reached Quebec and Canada. We had been at sea twenty-one days... [pp. 192-3 of Kaye - they arrived May 2, 1897]

The party of 633 were loaded into ten railway cars and headed to their new homes in the Canadian west.

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UWInfo | Young Immigrants | Genealogy | Local History | 19th Century Immigration | Sessional Papers

© Marjorie P. Kohli, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, 1997-2007
Last updated: February 15, 2007 and maintained by Marj Kohli