Selling out most of its performances, Winnipeg’s Strike! musical returned after a five year hiatus to re-live the events of the 30,000 labour strike in 1919 Winnipeg and June 21’s ‘Bloody Saturday’. Receiving positive reviews, most media outlets neglected the fact the main character in the story is based off of Mike Sokolowski – a discriminated poor Ukrainian immigrant murdered during a demonstration in front of city hall.
Unfortunately Canada’s official biography website does not pay tribute to this man and his injustice:
Almost nothing is known of Mike Sokolowiski beyond the few (and sometimes contradictory) details recounted by Winnipeg newspapers reporting on his death.
Even assuming that Sokolowiski was, as described, of “Austrian birth,” the Austro-Hungarian empire of the late 19th century had many ethnic groups.
Western Ukraine (the lands of Galicia and Bukovyna) was apart of the Austro-Hungarian empire at the time and immigrants fleeing that area were deemed “enemy aliens” in Canada during WW1. Thousands were even interned and endured slave labour during and after war time.
Sokolowski was shot through the heart on the supposed charge of hurling a brick through a window, believed to be the work of police agent-provocateurs (a practice sadly still used in Canada today).
Sokolowiski was apparently one of these “aliens.” Also helping to inflame matters was a large contingent of Canadian war veterans, who had for some time been protesting against the aliens and who began demonstrating in support of the strikers at the end of May. Fearful of the pro-strike sympathies of the city’s police force, the authorities replaced them on 9 June with special police who created a riot the next day with their heavy-handed tactics. These specials would soon be replaced on the front lines by the Royal North-West Mounted Police, who had been stationed in the city from the onset of labour troubles.
His family, fearing redemption from the government, did not even claim the body and was disposed of in a paupers grave. More then 80 years later of being relatively unknown, the musical’s maker, Ukrainian Canadian Danny Schur gives Mike Sokolowski an honourable tribute:
In addition to paying tribute to Sokolowski in the $575,000 (about $461,000 U.S.) production, Mr. Schur has also made a personal gesture to remember the man who died tragically during the Winnipeg General Strike. Two years ago, Mr. Schur arranged to have a headstone donated from a Winnipeg company and be placed on Sokolowski’s previously unmarked grave at Brookside Cemetery.
The Bloody Saturday victim is remembered on the three-foot-wide monument as the "forgotten immigrant."
Also inscribed on the headstone is a message for the ages, which reads, in part: "The Winnipeg General Strike was one of the watershed events of 20th century Canadian history … [that] lasted for six weeks, but divided the city along ethnic and class lines for decades thereafter. While today viewed as a struggle for better wages and collective bargaining, the strike had an anti-immigrant undercurrent, and culminated in riot and bloodshed."
This past May on the 90th anniversary of the strike a motion was made by the Hon. Bill Blaikie to the Manitoba Legislature:
The third WHEREAS, Mr. Speaker, has to do with the events of Bloody Saturday. I want to put on the record the name of Mike Sokolowski, who was the person who was unfortunately killed in the events of Bloody Saturday. It came to my attention only recently that there was another person who actually passed away as a result of that event–but some time later, as a result of infection from gangrene from a wound that occurred on that day. So another person died as a result of that event, Steve Schezerbanowes.
Sadly, less is even known about Steve Skezerbanovicz.