Marsha Skyrpuch is an award-winning Canadian of Ukrainian descent living in Brantford, Ontario, who knows a lot about genocide. Her ancestors were victims of Holodomor (“extermination by famine,” in Ukrainian), when 6-10 million Ukrainians perished from 1932-33 as a result of a collectivization resolution issued by Joseph Stalin controlling the state production of grains.
I met the Brantford native several years ago when I attended a book signing for her recently written book Aram’s Choice at the Armenian Community Center of Cambridge, Ontario. It is about one of a group of young Armenian boys brought to Canada as a result of the Armenian Genocide to work on a farm—and they became known as the “Georgetown Boys.”
Earlier this year, I wrote about Brantford historical researcher William Darfler who was seeking information pertaining to the 100 Turkish men from Brantford who were rounded up by police in November 1914 and interned at that time in extremely remote Kapuskasing, Ontario. Some had lived in Brantford for 10 years and had become naturalized Canadian citizens, which was stripped from them because it was believed they were planning on blowing up the Brantford Post Office.
These Turks lived in Armenian-owned boarding houses and had come from their homeland with Armenians to work in area foundries. Darfler describes them as “shadowy creatures” in a Brantford Expositor article written by Heather Ibbotson, with most of their names being unavailable.
He is a researcher for the Ontario Visual Heritage Project with a grant from the Canadian First World War Internment Recognition Fund.
Now Skyrpuch and Darfler are working closely together sharing unearthed information as they discover more on this mystery of the Turkish internment. He is writing a paper and she is writing a novel.
Skyrpuch recently traveled to Kapuskasing for more research. On this visit she says she discovered various artifacts, documents, and photographs from the era, adding pieces to the puzzle. In the photograph, she is seen reading a plaque in the cemetery that bears the names of all the people interned during World War I.
I asked Skyrpuch if the Turkish government had raised a ruckus about this internment, and she said they had said nothing about the situation. (Wait till the book comes out to see if there is a reaction.)
I also asked if perhaps, since the Armenians who arrived in Brantford were mainly from Keghi and were Turkish citizens, it was possible that some of the interned were Armenians, to which she said, “No, all of them were Turks and I can tell that from their names.”
She also described the event as “trumped- up charges” and said the men arrived at the Model Town in December 1914. “Once you start digging it’s amazing how information about this situation starts coming to the surface,” she added.
For someone who could not read until the fourth grade, Skyrpuch has come a long way. Showing her Canadian spunk when she finally did learn to read, she picked the thickest book in the Brantford Public Library—Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist—which became a turning point in her life, leading to her decision to become a writer.
She received an Honors BA in English from the University of Western Ontario, followed by a masters of library science degree, when she developed her passion for children’s literature.
Skyrpuch has a passion for writing about historical situations that have had little acknowledgement. This is how she met fellow Brantford resident Carl Georgian, whose father was a Georgetown Boy, and how she began writing about the Armenian Genocide. She has become a friend to the Armenian community and was an important guest at the events in Toronto honoring the Georgetown Boys.
Her books with the Armenian Genocide in the background include The Hunger, Nobody’s Child, Daughter of War, Aram’s Choice, and Call Me Aram.
Remember the names Marsha Skyrpuch and Willian Darfler. Together their research should develop into an interesting read about a time in history of special interest to Armenians and all people who have been victims of genocide. We laud their efforts, thank them for bringing factual history to light, and welcome their new books enthusiastically.
For a list of Skyrpuch’s books and availability, visit www.calla.com and click on Books.