Near Oakburn — Farmers today know that rye is made into bread and whiskey, but perhaps not about another use by their pioneer forefathers — roofing.
That tradition was revived recently by the Parkland Ukrainian Pioneers Association, which directed the harvesting of rye to make bundles to re-thatch the roof of a ‘budda.’ In the area north of Oakburn, these were the first structures Ukrainian settlers lived in.
It all started in 1899 when several families arrived in Strathclair from the province of Galicia, in what is now Ukraine. They had endured an ocean crossing, a train ride across the Canadian Shield and the Prairies, deaths from scarlet fever of 42 of the 46 children that started the journey, a wagon ride and a three-week quarantine during which they stayed in tents and suffered through a May snowstorm.
When the snow melted, Wasyl Swistun travelled to his surveyed land with seven other families and started to construct six crude dwellings called ‘buddas’. They are also known as ‘budas’ or ‘boordays.’ These dwellings were small, semi-subterranean wooden pole A-frame structures covered with sod and any wild grasses that were long enough to use.
As the other families moved on to their surveyed homesteads, Wasyl and his family lived in his budda until he could build them a log house. Successive families stayed in the remaining five buddas, sometimes as many as three families in a structure 17-1/2 feet long, 17 feet wide and 11 feet high at the peak. Over time, they would have repaired the roof using slough grass (Phragmites spp.) or bulrushes.
In 1977 Wasyl’s son Michael Swistun (born in a budda in 1900) directed the reconstruction of two of the buddas. This time the roof was thatched with rye. Michael had gained fame as Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey’s ‘the strongest man in the world’ in the 1920s.
Now, almost three decades later, they stood in need of repair. The project was realized with a grant from the Historic Resource Branch of Manitoba Culture, Heritage and Tourism and the Parkland Ukrainian Pioneers Association. Representatives from Manitoba Culture, Heritage and Tourism in Winnipeg, Keystone Pioneer Museum in Roblin and Cross of Freedom Museum north of Dauphin joined 50 volunteers who donated 1,300 hours to repair and re-thatch one of the buddas.
Old harvesting method
A crop of fall rye was harvested using a binder. Volunteers de-headed the stooks, and tied them into bundles of single or double sheaves to use on the roof. The first building employed some modern techniques such as baler twine to secure the sheaves to the roof, and wire mesh to construct the ridge. For the ridge line, sheaves were secured along the underside of the middle of the mesh and wet straw was tied on perpendicular to that. The entire assembly was lifted onto the roof and secured with wooden spars. Upon entering the dwelling you can see the method of construction and sheave attachment. The inside of the dwelling has been left unfinished as they originally were only temporary quarters.
The second building will be re-thatched using only traditional methods. Dozens of sheaves have been tied using only the wet rye straw and will be secured to the roof using the same material.
We don’t know the exact materials or methods used by the Ukrainian pioneers to build their first structure while either waiting for their land to be identified or until they had the time and materials to construct a permanent log home. However, the reconstruction is meant to remind us that the freedoms and privileges we enjoy today are the result of the dreams, ingenuity, hard work and perseverance of those who have gone before us.
The Ukrainian buddas are located east of Olha. This historic site is only one of several in the region. From a one-room school that once held 69 students to the mass grave honoring the memory of the children who died from scarlet fever to picturesque churches built over 100 years ago, this area abounds with history and beautiful scenery.
As written by Jamie Kucey for the Farmer's Independent Weekly, November 9, 2006 edition.