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Manitoba History: Review: June Dutka, The Grace of Passing: Constantine H. Andrusyshen—the Odyssey of a Slavist

by James Kominowski

Number 44, Autumn / Winter 2002-2003

This article was published originally in Manitoba History by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make it available here as a free, public service.

Please direct all inquiries to webmaster@mhs.mb.ca.

June Dutka, The Grace of Passing: Constantine H. Andrusyshen — the Odyssey of a Slavist. Edmonton: CIUS Press, 2000. Pp.125, Illus., index, ISBN 1-895571-31-6, $14.95.

Constantine Henry Andrusyshen (1907-1983), the Winnipeg-born linguist and literary scholar, is considered the founder of the modern day Slavic Studies program, which today has become an important established department throughout major Canadian Universities. A well-established and respected slavist, Andrusyshen is often remembered for his monumental Ukrainian-English Dictionary (1955), still considered one of the best and most thorough ever produced. This biography written by June Dutka, Andrusyshen’s niece and Librarian Emeritus of the University of Manitoba, follows the life and career of this son of Ukrainian immigrants from the close knit Ukrainian community in Winnipeg’s North End, to his years of struggle in establishing a separate Slavic Studies program in Canadian Academia—eventually becoming the first head of such a program at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. Dutka delves into her uncle’s papers, personal correspondences, his numerous works, as well as interviews with family members, colleagues, acquaintances and former students, in order to draw a picture of both the man and the scholar. Included is a comprehensive bibliography of Andrusyshen’s published works, translations, collaborative works, reviews, as well as unpublished papers, addresses and manuscripts. In a preface to the book Oleh Gerus of the University of Manitoba’s Department of History provides the background, conditions and barriers faced by Andrusyshen and others in their quest to establish a separate Slavic Studies program in Canadian academic institutions.

Andrusyshen’s personal and professional relationship with Watson Kirkonnell, the former president of Acadia University in Wolfville, is examined. Throughout his career, Kirkconnell had championed the cause of a deeper understanding between the Anglo-Saxon and non-Anglo Saxon communities in Canada—especially by way of introducing to the North American continent the works of such literary geniuses as Ukraine’s Shevchenko, and Poland’s Mickiewicz. In Kirkconnel, Andrusyshen found a friend and a mentor who would encourage and develop his potential as an academic. The years of professional collaboration between the two men proved fruitful in introducing the non-Ukrainian audience to the literature and history of Ukraine, a nation state of 50 million people. Two important works which resulted from this collaboration were the translations of a set of collected poetry: The Ukrainian Poets, 1189-1962 (1963); and The Poetical Works of Taras Shevchenko: The Kobzar (1964). In Dutka’s words, “ Kirkconnell and Andrusyshen’s years of collaboration consolidated their lifelong friendship. Their correspondence reflects the admiration and affection they had for each other.”

Andrusyshen’s admiration and gratitude to Kirkconnell would later be expressed through his contribution of a paper entitled, “Canadian Ethnic Literary and Cultural Perspectives” to a Festschrift honouring Kirkconnell at Acadia University, where he credited his lifelong friend for the many years spent interpreting the literatures of Canada’s various ethnic communities. To this day, when one hears the name Watson Kirkconnel, it is inescapably linked with the name Constantine Andrusyshen, and visa versa, to a large extent because of their many collaborative projects.

Dutka effectively portrays the professional and personal aspects of Andrusyshen’s life—the two are often intertwined. The joy of becoming the first head of a Slavic Department in Canada is followed by sorrow a few years later with the death of his first wife Helen. Helen’s death is a tremendous loss for Andrusyshen, having been with him during those difficult years as a doctorate candidate and instructor at the University of Toronto, as well as during his years as an associate professor at the University of Saskatchewan. He displayed his courage and tenacity by rising above this tragedy to become a well respected international academician. He later remarried, and with his new wife Anne Zwizdarek enjoyed the support and encouragement needed to rebuild his life and foster a successful career. Throughout his life he remained a dedicated scholar and eventually became a much sought after leader and spokesperson for the Ukrainian community in Canada. He was often called upon to address various community functions, including the national Ukrainian Canadian Congress, where he focused on such matters as Ukrainian education and Ukrainians in the context of Canadian multiculturalism. His input in creating the English-Ukrainian bilingual programs in the Saskatchewan education curriculum would provide the impetus for the establishment of such future programs throughout Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario.

Included in the book are several unknown facts about this multifaceted man. Dutka mentions Andrusyshen’s brief involvement with provincial politics in the early 1930s. As an independent candidate for Winnipeg’s North End, he made history as one of Canada’s youngest ever candidates, losing the election riding by only 252 votes. Although his political career was short-lived, he had made his mark outside the circle of the close knit Ukrainian community. Many may be surprised by the fact that Andrusyshen did not begin his academic career in Slavic studies, but had studied Romance languages and literatures; his doctoral thesis compared the ideologies of Anatole France and Ernest Renan. At the time, he was the only person on the North American continent of Ukrainian decent to hold a Ph.D in Romance languages. Besides being fluent in English and Ukrainian, he spoke Russian, Polish, French, Spanish and Italian, as well as possessing a working knowledge in several other languages including Greek and Latin. This passion of learning new languages had been nurtured in him from childhood and remained with him throughout his life. One other notable footnote is the publication of his philosophical novel, An Olympian Adventure: A Serio-Comic Fantasy (1981) under the pseudonym of Andrus. It was only after his retirement that he was able to complete this novel which he had begun some thirty years earlier during his time at the University of Saskatchewan. It was to be one of his last published works.

Dutka’s well documented book provides an insight into one of Canada’s leading Slavists, as well as an in depth look at the evolution of an academic discipline. Those who only remember Andrusyshen for his dictionary will soon become aware of his many other contributions to the field of Slavic Studies, i.e. his numerous translations, articles and papers.

Andrusyshen’s translations of Ukraine’s literary masters has left an indelible mark in the area of Slavic literature study. His many publications added to the prestige and legitimacy of both Ukrainian literary and language study in a Canadian university setting. This in turn has inspired many students to pursue this avenue of study. Throughout his career he promoted the idea of Canada as a multicultural society, and with this he gave Canadians a more accurate perception and understanding of Ukraine and Ukrainians. Dutka’s book is a wonderful tribute to her uncle and a welcome addition to the study of this specialized discipline.

Page revised: 8 February 2015

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