The Immigration Story of William Procyk (Polish immigrant)

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The Procyk family, consisted of 3 children named Mary Procyk age 10, William Procyk age 6 and James Procyk age.

We boarded the SS Pilsudski August 19, 1939 in the morning. By 5 p.m. we were out to sea past the 2 mile limit on International Waters when 2 German subs stopped our ship and the Germans were wanting the Captain to return to port. They claimed our ship was carrying a boatload of Jews trying to escape Poland heading for Canada and the USA. The captain claimed that all he had were immigrants of Polish and Ukrainian origin. The Germans did not believe him and ordered him to return to port or they would sink the ship. At That point the captain radioed to England and France to send them help because England and France had an agreement with them to give them safe passage of Polish ship through the English Channel. The next morning all passengers were told to go on deck and prepare to disembark the ship in the lifeboat. At the time there was a terminal on the ship with all the passengers and their children because there were not enough small boats or life jackets for all. That brought on sheer panic on the ship. At around 10:00 a.m. I looked out to sea and saw two large ships coming toward us. The first thing I noticed was that one ship flew the Union Jack flag and the other ship had a red white flag stripe flag also large tubes striking out of the front. When the people saw these ships coming they all realized that the French and English Counties had sent some help and saved us. There was one big hurrah with people crying and hugging one another as they had been saved from the Germans. Both ships came real close to us and boarded our ship. The officers from the two battleships and the German officers came on board and discussed our position. Apparently in an hour or so they all disembarked and we finally sailed on to Canada.

The balance of our trip was not bad except after about 4 days we hit a storm and rough waters. That’s when almost all passengers got sea sick except myself, so I had the run of all the meals to myself. First time I ate oranges and bananas.

We landed in Halifax about the 26th of August, 1939 and boarded a train on the Canadian National Railway and headed to Windsor, Ontario, where a cousin of mine picked us up and took us to her father’s farm who lived in Tilbury, Ontario. He had immigrated to Canada a number of years earlier.

Then, shortly thereafter, a government agent came to see us and showed my father a few farms because the agreement with the Canadian Government was that we could come to Canada if we would deposit $3,000.00 with the Canadian Embassy in Warsaw, Poland, so that we could buy at last a 50 acre farm in Canada and become farmers. After a month or so they found a farm on the edge of Tilbury which was¼ mile from town. Along with the money my father deposited with the government he was allowed to bring 2 fur coats so that he could raise some money for his other needs so that we could farm. A few days after we got to Tilbury, war broke out in Poland. During those years my father worked in a factory in town called Odette Van Body helping to build army trucks and troop carrier small tanks He worked night shift all the time so that we could farm. My mother and us kids grew sugar beets, tomatoes and cucumbers and had 4 cows and a team of horses called King and Queen. We also went to public school.

We farmed there until 1947. That is when my father heard from some friends that land in Norfolk County was more like the land was back in Poland and that there were a lot of Polish Ukrainian people farming there. So he took a train to Brantford where he had the phone number of a family called Yarek who’s father had worked for my great grandfather in a flour mill run by a water wheel. It was the first one built in that part of Poland. He had seen one in his travels as a young man in England and brought that technology back home and built one. He learned to be a blacksmith in his younger days andhad the talent to make flour from grain.

My father spent a month in the Brantford area and found the farm he liked because it reminded him of his own farm that he had in Poland only it was 4 times larger with a big cattle barn with room for 24 cows, 4 horses, 200 pigs and 100 chickens. It was just what he was looking for but it was not cheap and a very large brick 2 story house with 5 bedrooms, inside toilet and big kitchen, 2 living rooms and a dining room. When he saw all this he thought he went to heaven. He bought the farm and made a deal to move in by April 1st, 1947. On April 1st, 1947 we moved in with 5 cows, 25 chickens, 2 horses, 1 dog and a new Massey Harris 22 tractor and all the equipment for both horses to pull and tractor equipment. It was a big change for us kids but very challenging for my father and me but well worth the effort. That is when we had to roll up our sleeves and work. We started to grow more tomatoes for Canadian Canners in Simcoe and pickles and strawberries for canners in Waterford. My father bought more cows, got a deal with a dealer to raise 200 pigs and 100 chickens. All this had to be looked after as the years went by. We had some real good years, some mediocre years and a few poor years, the usual farming business.

In 1955 my mother took sick and went to the hospital with gallstones. In 1956 my father had some problems which hospitalized him, and poor years on the farm which took its toll on my father’s bank account and nothing got any better for the next 3 years. My father had a heart attack and then developed cancer at the end of the year. Before he died my father and I had a father and son conversation. My father laid the business out as to what he wanted me to do with the farm and we discussed all the financial problems he was going to leave me and asked if I thought I could handle them. I agreed I would do my best to get the Procyk family out of the financial debt they were in with some help from him if that were possible, seeing where he was going and he promised me that he would do his best if that was at all possible.

After my father died and all the farm problems were left on my shoulders, many a time I wondered promised father the promise I made to him but according to the Procyk code of ethics, a promise is a man’s honor. That’s when I decided to stick it out heart burn or not, stick to your beliefs and sure enough things started to look better. In 1960, I met my wife. She fell into my arms by accident. When I first saw her in our yard with her father and sister I thought to myself now there is a girl aman would not mind having for a wife, but I looked again and thought she is much too young for me. Within four months that was not the case. In 1962, we got married, went on a honeymoon to Florida and nine months later she had a baby girl named Christine Ann, a beautiful girl. A few years later shehad a boy named Michael, a couple of years later another boy named Paul and then, a year later another boy Danny. From then on, our time was spent looking after our children and ourselves. Christine, when she was old enough, took figure skating. All three boys played hockey in the winter.

In the summer and as the children were growing up they would help us on the farm doing whatever they could in between their play time. As they grew up they would take on more responsibility, learning to become responsible adults. The next phase was finding a soul mate. First was Christine. By the time she was 18 years old she had a boyfriend named Rod Wheeler who I thought was a nice boy. When he asked me if he could have my daughter’s hand in marriage that’s when I thought he was a real gentleman worth having for a son-in-law and then, after a while, when both of them asked me if I could help both of them and give Rod a job for the summer because jobs were hard to get and the share growing tobacco deal he had was gone. I thought why not, it will give us a chance to get to know one another a lot better. He must have been very good because he is still with us and is a shareholder in my son’s private company.

With Christine’s marriage comes Michael’s soul mate and her name is Tracey Woodford who went to high school with Michael. She was my Christine’s girlfriend and bridesmaid and Michael’s partner at the wedding. Four years later, Michael and his wife had 2 children, Kyle and Adison, both boys. Both boys playhockey and now are going to high school.

Next Paul, who after high school, went to 2 years at University of Waterloo and 2 years University at Guelph, Business Administration and Agriculture. Paul met his wife at an ice cream stand in Brantford, ON, where he and his friend would go to meet girls. Cindy was the manager of the stand for a friend of her parents. He got to know her for a few years and got married. Cindy is the mother of 2 children, Bailey, 14 years, going to high school and Carly, 11 years, in 7th grade.

When Mike had finished high school he had worked in his spare time at a friend’s garage learning auto repairs.

After Danny completed high school he went to college in Toronto for 2 years in computer electronics/repairs. He met his soul mate in high school. After Danny completed his education he and Tanny dated for a few years. Then they got married and have two girls, Chelsy, 14 years old and Abby 11 years old. After they completed their education they got jobs in the city. Danny got a job in Simcoe repairing and installing electronic equipment working there 3 years. Tanny got a job with Bell Canada Phone Co., doing office work but got laid off because of employee cut backs, old and new.

From 1980, Procyk Farms started a new farming method of supplying chain stores with produce by growing the veggies, marketing and trucking our own veggies and also repairing all our equipment. We were able to cut expenses as much as possible to be competitive with the USA growers. The only way we could do this was to have a family owned operation where it can be handed down from generation to generation and pray to God that it works by setting up some strict rules and a code of ethics that is fair and just to all company share holders and companies that you deal with big or small. Treat everybody fairly and honestly. Today the system is working as we are doing business with all chain stores from the largest to the smallest including independent stores and fruit and vegetable stands in large cities in Ontario and Eastern Provinces and as far away as Alberta and Winnipeg and the USA. This kind of success I feel is based on our Procyk code of ethics that was handed down to me from my father when I was a young man of 20 and I have done my best to live up to his standards hoping someday it will pay off and it does.

A New Company is Born - Mike, Paul, Danny and Rod Wheeler

In 1994 the four boys decided to form their own company so that they could expand the operation to their hearts’ content. That same year Danny wanted to come into the new company and with his education I felt that he would be a big plus for the company because sooner or later new grading systems run by computers would be doing the grading and sizing of produce which would make operations much faster than by doing them all by hand. In my travels to British Columbia I had seen the beginning of modern machines grading greenhouse cucumbers, tomatoes, papers and potatoes which opened my eyes to the future and the produce game of efficiency on a large scale. And the way the boys were talking before long they would have to double and triple the production to stay in business. Today, that is what they are doing. Ninety percent of the produce that they pack is done by machines that are run by computers and electronics as Danny understands how to adjust them to run at peak efficiency and triples their packing time.

At this time I would like to thank the Canadian government for allowing our family to immigrate to Canada and save us from the slaughter that went on in Poland not only by Germans but also by the Communists from Russia.

Also, I would like to thank the two governments, one from England and the other from France, for protection from the 2 German submarines that I am sure would have sunk us because their captains believed our ship was carrying a boat load of wealthy Jews.

I would also like to thank Pier 21 to hear our story of our success as a family that immigrated to Canada. May God bless all of you!

Written by William Procyk, who was 6 years old in 1939 and remembers this experience like it happened yesterday.

When the boys came to me and asked if I could find room for them I said yes, I will try but they have to remember one thing that it is very important, that the farm operation comes first and everything else is second and I must warn you that the hours are going to be long at times for about 6 months. After that, you can pick your own time for vacation or travel. The pay will be based as a monthly amount, not by the hours, and in due time you boys will take over first operation of the business, the ownership of the operation and I will give each man 4 - 5 years a training program.

First to Rod Wheeler - 1982

Second to Mike Procyk - 1985

Third to Paul Procyk - 1988

Fourth to Danny Procyk - 1994