Ghosts in a Photograph a chronicle by award winning writer, Myrna Kostash
In Ghosts in a Photograph, award-winning nonfiction writer Myrna Kostash delves into the lives of her grandparents, all of whom moved from Galicia, now present-day Ukraine, to Alberta at the turn of the twentieth century. Discovering a packet of family mementos, Kostash begins questioning what she knows about her extended families’ pasts and whose narrative is allowed to prevail in Canada.
From the Foreword:
Eventually we inherit the family photographs. In shoeboxes, frames, pasted, taped or affixed in albums, on cardboard backing or slotted into plastic sleeves. Mine go back as far as a wedding in Edmonton in 1911 and to early threshing scenes on a homestead in 1915, then move on through Mum and Dad’s courtship and wedding, other weddings, my baby pictures, reunions, again funerals, and so on, until I began to make photo albums of my own.
But it was an incomplete record. My parents each had grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins of their own, back there in the Old Country. I never asked about them and they never told. Within a generation the two branches of the family had become strangers to each other, or at least strange.
At the point of emigration or immigration, a family history splits in two. Ghosts in a Photograph is a Canadian granddaughter’s account of her grandparents’ lives in Canada and the mystery and strangeness of the lives left behind in Galicia, now Ukraine.
I have looked and looked and looked again at family photographs — some a hundred years old — and there are faces of relatives, in Canada and in Ukraine, that I cannot identify. This is where I step in, with the self-assigned creative task of their recovery.
I pick up a photograph, lay an imaginary grid over it, and, starting at the little square in the top left corner, describe what I see, square by square — it could be a wave of a hairdo, a moustache, a string of pearls, the brim of a hat casting a shadow across a face, a hand resting lightly on a vintage carbine — until I pull away and look at the whole photo again.
Eventually we inherit the family photographs. In shoeboxes, frames, pasted, taped or affixed in albums, on cardboard backing or slotted into plastic sleeves.
The photo on this page is a copy of original portraits in large frames that currently hang in a cousin's home in Ottawa. They are my great-grandparents on my paternal grandmother's side, Maria (Dolyniuk) and Ivan Svarich. It has been much-reproduced each time a new generation of their descendants becomes interested in their ancestry.
Ivan and Maria emigrated from their village, Tulova, in Galicia (now in western Ukraine) in 1900, together with all their children, one son-in-law and two grandchildren. At that point, the family history splits in two. My book, Ghosts in a Photograph, is an account of my grandparents' lives in Canada and of the mystery and strangeness of the lives left behind in Galicia.
Visit this page as I roll out two photographs each week from each of the eleven chapters that constitute Ghosts in a Photograph. Alongside the photographs, I will be posting the excerpt from the book that describes them.
Myrna Kostash is an acclaimed writer of literary and creative nonfiction who makes her home in Edmonton when she is not travelling in pursuit of her varied literary interests and passions. These have taken her from school halls in Vancouver, BC, to Ukrainian weddings in Two Hills, Alberta; from the site of the mass grave of Cree warriors in Battleford, Saskatchewan, to a fishers’ meeting in Digby, Nova Scotia; from the British Library in London, UK, to the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. She is inspired in her work by her childhood in the Ukrainian-Canadian community of Edmonton, her rites of passage through the Sixties in the US, Canada and Europe, by her rediscovery of her western Canadian roots in the 1980s, by her return to her spiritual sources in Byzantium and the Eastern Christian (Orthodox) Church, and, most recently, by her re-education in the history of Indigenous and Settler relations in western Canada.
Myrna is in demand at home and abroad as a public speaker, lecturer, reader and panellist, appreciated for her impassioned opinions, wide-ranging commitments and concerns as a writer and citizen, and her career-long advocacy for her beloved genre, literary nonfiction.
"Myrna Kostash is an extraordinarily gifted writer"
“An incisive chronicler of social history.”
Globe and Mail
“One of Canada’s most intelligent and conscientious writers.”
Books in Canada
“Kostash writes with a poetic grace that vividly captures…her subjects.”
“Myrna Kostash…is a national treasure.”
~ Stan Perskey, The Globe and Mail
"For a work of non-fiction to become a classic means that it has made a significant contribution to a particular culture by creating a breakthrough in its consciousness and by heralding a new stage in its evolution. All of Baba's Children achieved this by its vibrant, radical, and revisionist perspective on multiculturalism. . . . All of Baba's Children has become a manifesto that has yet to be surpassed.”
~ George Melnyk for All of Baba’s Children
“Kostash has invented a rich literary genre: the erotic-political memoir. With grace, intelligence, knowledge and humour, Kostash leads us through her romantic odyssey, a voyage that records her own sentimental education, but also major events of this waning century’s political history.”
~ Alberto Manguel, The Globe and Mail for The Doomed Bridegroom
“Kostash writes with a poetic grace that vividly captures the look, feel, and smell of her subjects…the book goes beyond the numbers to bring its young women to life. No Kidding should join Dr Spock on every parent’s bookshelf.”
~ Maclean’s for No Kidding: Inside the Life of Teenage Girls
“Kostash shapes an intriguing patchwork tale in which she reconciles what she thought she knew about her family with fuller truths, examining their wider place in Canadian history.”
~ Karen Rigby, Foreword Reviews