Boychuk, John

Boychuk, John aka Boychuck, Boachuk, Iwan Bojczuk [Бойчук, Іван; Bojčuk], b 15 November 1892 in Mohylnytsia, Ternopil county, Galicia, d 28 September, 1976 in Toronto. Tailor and Communist political activist in Canada. In his youth, Boychuk would travel to Germany with his brothers for seasonal work. There he trained as a tailor, joined a trade union, and became politically radicalized. He emigrated to Canada in 1913 and worked as a tailor in Toronto, where he also became active in the labor movement. He helped to establish the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America Union in 1915 and was on the executive for many years. He also became a member of the Ukrainian Social Democratic Party of Canada (USDPC) and wrote articles for the Ukraïns’ki robitnychi visty. He also became a member of One Big Union (OBU) for a short period. Boychuk was arrested under the War Measures Act in February 1919 during an unsuccessful attempt with several other political activists to establish a Communist Party. He was sentenced to a year in the Burwash prison near Sudbury but served only part of the sentence. In 1920 he was in Vancouver and then in Vegreville, Alberta where he raised funds for medical aid to Soviet Russia. In 1920 and 1921, as a union organizer, he visited Sarnia and also Timmins to organize a trade union among Ukrainian miners. He attended the founding meeting of the ‘underground’ Communist Party of Canada (CPC) in Guelph, Ontario on 23–25 May 1921. He was elected to the provisional executive of the proposed Workers’ Party of Canada (WPC), a front for the illegal CPC, and was the Ukrainian representative at the founding of the WPC in February 1922. He was elected to the first Central Executive Committee (CEC) of the WPC.

Boychuk was a founding member of the Ukrainian Labour-Farmer Temple Association (ULFTA) and was the main organizer of the building of the Ukrainian Labour Temple in Toronto in 1927. He was particularly concerned that the ULFTA provide Ukrainian language lessons to illiterate male and female immigrants so that they could become familiar with the labor movement and improve their working conditions. During the growing pressure from the Comintern and Communist Party of Canada for greater ‘bolshevization’ of the ULFTA and other Ukrainian organizations, he was involved with other leaders (the Ukrainian caucus) of the ULFTA in discussions to limit the direct control of the ULFTA by the ‘English-speaking’ leadership of the CPC. This was an internal CPC dispute as Boychuk was on the Central Committee in 1931. Although some Ukrainian members left ULFTA and CPC as a result of these and other disputes, Boychuk and the ULFTA in general remained within the orbit of the CPC.

In April 1931 Boychuk was a member of the ULFTA delegation on a six-week tour of Soviet Ukraine. After his return to Canada, he was arrested under Section 98 of Criminal Code as member of the CPC, an illegal organization. He was sentenced to five years in prison and served his sentence in the Kingston Penitentiary with the other CPC leaders including Tim Buck. Released in July 1934, he became member of the national board of Workers’ Unity League (WUL), established by the CPC. In 1935, he was elected Secretary-Treasurer of the CEC of the ULFTA and moved to Edmonton. In 1937 he was later elected to the National Executive Committee of the Communist Party of Canada. In 1939 he was a member of the Politburo of CPC and Secretary-General of the Canadian Slav Committee. He was arrested in Winnipeg in November 1940 under the Defence of Canada Regulations (DOCR) and held in the Hull Jail (Gatineau, Quebec) with other CPC and ULFTA leaders until September 1942. Boychuk was elected to the National Committee when the Labor Progressive Party (LPP) was founded in August, 1943 in Toronto. He was a member of a delegation to Ottawa on 25 March, 1944 to lobby for the return of ULFTA properties confiscated by the federal government in 1940. In 1946 he was elected to the National Executive Committee of the new organization, Association of United Ukrainian Canadians (AUUC) and moved back to Toronto. He held this position until 1966.

Boychuk appeared before the Senate Standing Committee on Immigration and Labour in Ottawa on 29 May 1946 to oppose the entry of Ukrainian displaced persons (DPs) to Canada. He was a member of a Canadian delegation that attended the First World Congress of Partisans for Peace in Paris in April 1949. He stood as the LPP candidate in the 1953 federal elections in the Parkdale riding in Toronto. He visited Soviet Ukraine in 1954 to mark the 300th Anniversary of the ‘reunion’ of Ukraine and Russia (see Pereiaslav Treaty of 1654). He led a delegation to the Soviet Union in 1957 to mark the fortieth anniversary of the Bolshevik October Revolution of 1917.

During his activism for the Communist Party of Canada, the Ukrainian Labour-Farmer Temple Association, and subsequently, the Association of United Ukrainian Canadians, Boychuk was part of various political disputes that undermined the unity of these pro-Soviet organizations and threatened to destabilize their work. Among the highly contentious issues were the Danylo Lobai crisis in 1935, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact in August 1939, and especially the denunciation of Joseph Stalin by Nikita Khrushchev in 1956. In spite of that, Boychuk remained a loyal backer of all of these organizations, the USSR, and the communist ideology until his death.

Myron Momryk

[This article was written in 2022.]

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