Oral History >Local People

John and Anna Barna

John Barna was born in the village of Komancza, July 9, 1897, in what was then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and later to become part of Poland. In his teenage years, he apprenticed at Narodnya Torhovlya, a wholesaler/retailer, where he qualified to be an assistant manager. With the outbreak of the Russian Revolution, he joined a battalion of the Ukrainian army, known as the Sichovi Striltsi (Ukrainian Sharp Shooters), under the leadership of Colonels Eugene Konovaletz and Andrew Melnyk.

Following the cessation of hostilities, he returned to Komancza, where he undertook to open a neighbourhood grocery store. On November 7, 1922, he married Anna Lysowec, born October 9, 1894, in Lisznia, on the outskirts of Drohobych, also a graduate of Narodnya Torhovlya Training. Their business started to grow. Their first son, Bohdan, was born on February 20, 1924. Then, in 1926, fearing compulsory service in the Polish Army, and the possibility of political persecution, John Barna came to Canada, in the search for a new life of freedom and opportunity. He was sent to Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, where life did not appeal to him. A close friend from Komancza, who had settled in Windsor a couple of years earlier, told him about farm jobs available in the Harrow area. In 1927, we see him working on a farm there, for room and board, and a meagre wage. He often told of being fed liver for dinner and supper for three days straight, and he and his fellow workers were ready to go "on strike". In 1928, he decided to try his hand at sharecropping; he also wanted to bring his wife and son to Canada. On February 5, 1930, a second son, Eugene, was born, on the Colchester farm of Henry Klie. When an opportunity to sharecrop a vegetable and tobacco farm in Seacliff Village, on the outskirts of Leamington, became available in 1932, the family moved there and eventually bought the farm in the fall of 1935.

On March 7, 1932, a branch of the Ukrainian Prosvita (Enlightenment) Association was formed, in the Point Pelee area, with twenty-three members. Most of these people, who were onion farmers, lived on Concessions D and E, with a few on C. This group met on a regular basis, and when John Barna heard about them, he attended meetings as well. On February 25, 1934, the group was presented with the by-laws for both the Ukrainian Prosvita Association and the Ukrainian National Organization. The majority of those present felt that they wanted to belong to the Ukrainian National Organization, later to become the Ukrainian National Federation. The U.N.O. members needed a place to meet, so on November 17, 1934, a building committee was formed, with John Barna as its chairman. Having heard that St. Michael's Roman Catholic parish in Leamington wanted to replace their existing church with a new building, he headed a delegation to visit Bishop Kidd, in London, to see if the Ukrainian Community could purchase the building. At the end of the discussions, the building was donated to the U.N.O., by the Bishop, with the proviso that this building be available for church services as well. Having procured a lot on Concession D, the members quickly dismantled the old church and built their new meeting quarters. The hall was officially opened on February 3, 1935. Both John and Anna Barna had a deep desire to see Ukraine freed from Communist bondage. During the early World War II years, they supported every effort for the formation of a branch of the Ukrainian Canadian Committee, which had been formed across Canada, as a coalition of all non-communist Ukrainian organizations and churches, not only to support Ukraine's cause for independence, but also to support Canada's war effort.

Since the early 1930's, ladies were also members of the Ukrainian National Organization. However, much as the Kinettes met separately from the Kinsmen, the ladies wanted to meet separately. In 1946, Eugenia Sytnyk of the Provincial office of the Ukrainian Women's Organization came to Leamington and formed the Leamington branch, with Anna Barna as charter president.

During Canada's Centennial in 1967, a young Ukrainian dance group was formed, that presented a taste of Ukrainian culture for local residents in several multicultural concerts. Leamington celebrated its Centennial in 1974. To start off the year long celebrations, the Ukrainian Community put on a traditional Christmas Eve Supper, consisting of twelve Lenten dishes, on January 6th. For most of the 600 people who attended, it turned out to be a first-time experience. The proceeds from this event were donated to furnish a room in the new east wing of the Leamington District Memorial Hospital. With the younger generation moving to greener pastures and the original immigrants passing away, the Leamington Branch of the Ukrainian National Federation folded, and the building was sold in the 1980's.

John Barna died of cancer, at the age of seventy-one, on January 4, 1969. Anna Barna passed away at the age of ninety-six, on December 2, 1990. Bohdan Barna served with the Royal Canadian Navy, on the H.M.C.S. Buckingham, as Sick Bay Attendant, during World War II. He went on to further his education, earning his Doctorate in Pharmaceutical Chemistry, at the University of Michigan. During his professional career, he developed Neo-Citran, worked on oral contraceptives and skin creams, and did other research projects. He passed away, in his eighty-first year, on February 9, 2005. He is survived by five children and eight grandchildren. Eugene Barna farmed, worked in the Experimental Kitchen at the H.J. Heinz Company, and became a realtor. He hosted a program of Ukrainian music on CJSP and CHYR, from March 1960, until September 1979. He has been involved in scouting since 1957, and with Camp Henry, a youth camp located in Point Pelee National Park since 1968, and has served about thirty years on the Point Pelee Advisory Committee. He was Multicultural Chairman for Leamington's Centennial in 1974, served on the executive of the Sun Parlour Stamp Club in the 1950s and 1960s, and was a member of the Leamington Police Services Board for five years. He is married to Marie. They have eight children and nine grandchildren. Eugene Barna was also the first county president of the Ukrainian Canadian Business and Professional Association of Windsor (1976-1977).