My mom was more than a mother, she was my best friend. Her funeral was at the United Church in Whitehorse, Yukon. My dad and I were in the front row along with aunts, uncles, and my granny. Several friends and colleagues filled the church and accompanied us to a graveside ceremony, followed by a reception at our home. I was thirteen years old.
Anne Kulchysky was born on December 22, 1938 on a farm near Gronlid, Saskatchewan. Her parents, Fedora Moskal and Mykola Kulchysky were both immigrants from Ukraine, who traveled to Canada in 1911 and 1913 respectively. They married in 1920 and proudly farmed their quarter section of land.
Anne was the youngest child of eight, all of whom were born on the farm. Her siblings from oldest to youngest were Mary, John, Katherine, Walter, Millie, Stephen, and Pauline. Stephen died within the first year of his life. Mary was an invalid from a farm accident and died at 30 years of age.
Anne Kulchysky was baptized at St. Mary’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church on March 9, 1939. She first learned to speak Ukrainian and later English from her siblings and at school. Anne loved animals: The earliest photo of Anne showed her barefoot in a dress with the family dog Sport. She had a pet chicken with a red stripe painted on its head and she rode the family horse King back and forth to school, often with friends or neighbours on the back. In fact, all pictures of Anne while she was on the farm included animals.
She helped with farm chores and was a tomboy. She played hockey and baseball with her school pals from Taelman and Freedom Schools, both one-room farm schools. She completed grade 10 and then moved to Prince Albert where she completed secretarial courses at Prince Albert Business College.
Anne loved music and became a proud member of the Elvis Presley fan club in 1957. She loved country and western music artists such as Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline and Buck Owens. In fact, she loved everything country and western, from comics to movies.
She moved to Edmonton in approximately 1958 where her siblings Pauline and Walter lived and she worked at Alberta Government Telephones as a telephone operator. She went on holiday with her good friend Helen to Mexico in November 1963. They had a fun time exploring, seeing bullfights, meeting boys and dancing to a mariachi band as described on the inscriptions of several black and white photographs. She had several friends and went on picnics and to parties, where she would drink one Tia Maria and
Anne bought a green Plymouth Fury and often drove to visit her parents who lived with her brother John and his wife Audrey on the family farm. Two families in a farmhouse with two small children was a difficult situation, which was remedied when Anne bought her parents a small house in the hamlet of Gronlid. She also bought a stove and furnace for the house. The house was rustic without running water but served as their home.
In 1969, at age 31, after a fight with her brother Walter, she moved to Haines Junction, near Whitehorse. Anne and her girlfriend Avril, who also worked for Alberta Government Telephones, got in Anne’s Plymouth Fury and drove 2,152 km on the Alaska Highway… all the way to the Yukon Territory.
Anne worked at the Kluane Park Inn near Whitehorse for the winter, part time as a waitress in the café and part time in the lounge. John Higgins was eating his lunch in the café and saw Anne for the first time – he knew instantly he was attracted to her. He was traveling the highway for his job with the Department of Public Works.
In the summer, Anne moved to Whitehorse and rented a room from people she knew from Saskatoon. She got another job as a toll operator, this time with Canadian National Telecommunications.
Anne and John were formally introduced for the first time on August 9, 1970 through mutual friends. They were talking and John mentioned that he might drive over the Top of the World Highway into Dawson City for Discovery Days. Anne said she was also thinking about going to Discovery Day Celebrations and John hoped they would see each other again.
Two weeks later, Anne was walking down one of Dawson’s boardwalks and ran into John. They had supper together and explored. The town was full and there were not any available accommodations, so they slept in Anne’s Plymouth Fury. That was it; they started going together from then on. She moved into John’s house, and they became a “Yukon Couple”, but she never told her parents about it! She found out
on May 17, 1972 that she was pregnant and John asked her to marry him. After a short 48-hour engagement, they married at the Whitehorse courthouse in a civil ceremony with two of their closest friends standing up for them, Arnold and Della Jeffers.
Anne wore a white dress with a gauzy white wrap with light brown polka dots, a red corsage, white gloves and high heels. She had short brown hair and wore cat’s eye glasses. They later went to the 202 Club, the best steak house in town.
Linda Ann Higgins, the light of Anne’s life, was born on December 28, 1972 at Whitehorse General Hospital. She was a healthy baby girl weighting 6 lbs. and 4.5 ounces.
John worked on road construction crews, for Finning Tractor, had his own company and was a heavy equipment mechanic. He worked while Anne stayed home and took care of Linda, ran the household and was a partner in the family business. Anne turned the entire back yard into a garden with rows of vegetables, berry and rhubarb patches. She carefully weeded and tended the garden, while Linda sampled, canning and preserving the fruits of her labour for the winter.
Anne wanted to have more children and became pregnant three years after Linda was born but tragically there were complications about 7 months into her pregnancy and she delivered a still born baby girl. Anne was devastated and decided not to try for any more children. Baby Higgins was buried on July 18, 1975 at Grey Mountain Cemetery.
When Linda was old enough, Anne walked her to preschool, which was about two blocks away. She would stay with Linda until she felt comfortable, as she was a shy child. She would return to walk her home and continued to do so when Linda went to Selkirk Street Elementary School, which was about four blocks away.
Anne bought Linda a green tricycle to ride and then a green two-wheel bike. There were not any training wheels, so Anne would patiently hold the seat for Linda to learn how to ride. Eventually, despite Linda’s protests, Anne let go and Linda was riding on her own. From then on, Linda was able to ride to school on her own and eventually moved on to a ten-speed bike.
Anne took Linda to her figure skating and swimming lessons. Linda was not able to go down the slide without Anne being in the pool, promising to catch her as soon as she touched the water. Anne would watch all of her skating practices and carnivals, sewing all of her ice carnival costumes.
At Christmas Anne honoured her Ukrainian roots by putting a star and a manger with straw under the dining room table. She would stay up late making fruit salad, cucumber mould and preparing for Christmas dinner. She would always have a bath Christmas Eve hoping Linda would fall asleep so she could fill stockings and put out Santa’s presents. Anne would put mixed nuts and Christmas oranges in stockings and always made sure there were many presents under the tree.
Anne was in the bathtub one day when she discovered a lump in her breast. She was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a partial mastectomy followed by chemotherapy. During her illness, it was the first time Linda was cared for by a baby sitter. Anne was very sick and John and Linda visited her in the medical surgical ward of Whitehorse General Hospital. Anne never felt quite right afterwards, despite having a complete mastectomy after chemotherapy.
Anne eventually went back to work as a telephone operator at NorthwesTel. Anne enjoyed her independence and being able to earn her own money. Linda was not keen on being left alone and would insist on going with Anne and was once caught in the work bathroom. She also waited in the car once and then she started waiting on her own at home. One time Linda found some candles above the fridge and lit them out of curiosity. Anne was terrified and furious when she got home which scared Linda so badly that she behaved from then on.
John lost his job at Finning Tractor in 1982 during the recession but found a job in Prince Rupert for Foundation Skanska where they were building grain silos. Anne did not want to move there because of some previous family history so John rented an apartment, worked hard and provided for his family while Linda and Anne stayed in Whitehorse.
Anne and Linda often traveled to Gronlid in the summers in the old Plymouth Fury until she bought a new grey Chevrolet Citation. Anne would do chores including repainting the outside of the house. She always gave her mother a pedicure, set her hair in pin curls, and dyed her sister Katherine’s hair. The majority of the town was Ukrainian and Anne was at home there.
Anne crocheted delicate dollies with beads and warm afghans. She learned to knit gloves and made several pairs. Whenever she was knitting or crocheting, the Edmonton Oilers were on the television. She loved to watch the Oilers especially when Gretzky led the Oilers to several Stanley Cup victories. If the Oilers were not on, she watched the Tommy Hunter show and Dallas.
Anne and Linda drove to Saskatchewan in July 1985 for the wedding of her niece Sonya. On the way back, twelve-year old Linda drove occasionally for which she felt very proud and grown-up; however, it was likely because Anne was not feeling well. Anne admitted to her brother John that this would likely be her last visit to the farm.
The cancer got worse but Anne did not tell her husband. She kept it to herself because she knew she would not have chemotherapy again. John came home from an extended work trip and was concerned with how gingerly Anne was walking. John convinced Anne to see a specialist and she flew to Vancouver for treatment the next day.
Anne spent Christmas in the hospital with her husband and daughter. It was a tearful parting when they left so Linda could go back to school. Anne came back to Whitehorse in February and went straight to Whitehorse General Hospital where she died on May 24, 1986. She was 47.
John and Linda bought Anne a rose-coloured headstone engraved with wheat stocks and a colt – Representing her Saskatchewan farm roots, her love of horses and the color pink. She was laid to rest beside Baby Girl Higgins at Grey Mountain Cemetery.
My mom left a legacy of independence and adventure. She was kind to people and animals alike: my dad said my mother was the kindest person he has ever met. She was a private woman who was loyal and hard working. She loved me fiercely and gave me the foundation to become the strong woman I am today.