Family members used to tell Walter Mulkewich he grew up in a strawberry patch.
His parents Maxym and Maria had a well deserved reputation for the strawberries they grew on a farm near Villa Nova in Norfolk County. The Niagara Peninsula got many of its plants from the Mulkewich farm.
It was there that the former Burlington mayor, who died Feb. 28 at the age of 81, developed a work ethic that served him well in a political career that covered more than a quarter of a century.
It’s all covered in the first couple of chapters of ‘Walter Mulkewich – A Life Journey’ which the former mayor wrote and had published well before his death last week.
In his final years of elementary school and during his high school years, Mulkewich took at least a week off from his studies to help his father with cultivating and seeding in the spring or the fall harvest.
His father also had chores for him to do each day after school.
Later he worked harvesting tobacco at other farms in the area.
He would later say the farm work taught him not to start something without finishing it.
“Many of the farm jobs, whether it was collecting bales of hay or milking cows showed me the immediate results of my work, which is a good incentive for staying with the job,” he wrote in his book. “I learned to take responsibility for an assigned task and when something went wrong, such as a malfunction of equipment, to take initiative and solve the problem.”
As a child he was sometimes called a foreigner or a D.P. In 1971 when he first ran for office, his mother told him nobody would ever elect a foreigner with a name like Mulkewich.
He proved her wrong when he was elected mayor in what was primarily Anglo-Saxon Burlington in 1992.
Despite suffering defeats in earlier attempts at election in provincial and federal campaigns, Mulkewich stuck to his principles and never gave up.
He ran as an NDP candidate in three federal and two provincial elections in Burlington, which was a Progressive Conservative hotbed, choosing an opportunity to represent people from his own community over registering to run in Hamilton area ridings where the NDP was strong and he almost certainly would have been elected.
Mulkewich’s parents were born in the tiny village of Vulka in western Byelorussia, which was then a province of the Tsarist Russian Empire.
It is very close to the border of Poland and only 200 miles north of the village of Mydyka, Poland, where hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians now are fleeing as a result of the Russian invasion.
Maxym and Maria became stronger after encountering many hardships like surviving the attack by the German army on their village in 1915, the Russian Revolution in 1917, led by Vladimir Lenin, and the Poland-Soviet War.
His father arrived in Canada in 1928, only to face another huge obstacle, the Great Depression, and his mother followed in 1932.
In 1934 his parents began to share-crop in Norfolk County and Walter was born on March 30, 1940.
In 1941 they bought a small 14-acre farm in Townsend, not far from Simcoe. By the spring of 1943 they had moved up to a much larger 97-acre farm near the hamlet. Villa Nova.
Along with his wife Bev, sister Val and other friends, Mulkewich visited the Soviet Union in 1990 to see the place where his parents lived in Vulka and met many members of their extended family still living there.
But many of the buildings that were there in the early 1900s were gone, having been levelled during the two wars.
Still the lessons he learned from his parents and Bev’s faithful support remained with him in his life’s journey
By DENIS GIBBONS