Synopsis of “Adventures in Baba’s Trunk”
“Adventures in Baba’s Trunk” is the story of a Ukrainian Canadian family who explore the lives of their ancestors by examining various items found in an old trunk. The family sits down one evening when they notice some coverage of Ukraine on the news. This sparks a conversation about how their ancestors came to Canada and how these pioneers began their new lives.
The family opens Baba and Dido’s trunk, which was full of things the first pioneers cherished or needed to start their lives in the “New World”.
To begin, the family discuss the significance of the rushnyk, which decorated items such as icons and portraits. The rushnyk symbolized good luck, unity, never-ending love, loyalty, and was also believed to provide protection against evil. The grade 6 students performed traditional songs about leaving Ukraine in the hope of a better future in a distant land.
Next, the children in our Ukrainian Canadian family hear the story about one of the most important tools the pioneers brought with them – the axe.
They also find an empty bag in the trunk, and learn that their great-grandparents used it to bring a few handfuls of soil from their homeland. In this way, the pioneers brought a small part of Ukraine with them. The grade 4 boys depicted scenes of hardship that the farmers endured as they tried to grow their crops.
The next item found in the trunk was a variety of seeds that the Ukrainian pioneers brought with them to the new country. According to some agronomists, at least 50 different types of plants were introduced to Canadian soil by Ukrainians. These include sunflowers, hollyhocks, and a type of mint.
We then learn about the most treasured item brought over to the New World – the icon. This was important because religion permeated every aspect of the settler’s life. It was their deep faith in God that helped them overcome the many obstacles they met as pioneers in the Canadian wilderness.
As the story progresses, the little girl of the Ukrainian Canadian family is fascinated with Baba’s coral beads, which are the same colour as the kalyna. Kalyna, or high bush cranberry, was one of the things that brightened the eyes and warmed the hearts of the Ukrainian settlers. Kalyna was used to cure many medical conditions, and it symbolized beauty, love, loyalty, and Ukraine itself. The grade 5 students expressed the pioneer’s love of the kalyna by singing traditional songs about this beautiful shrub.
Next, information was given about the kylym, a type of carpet that often covered walls, floors, or even benches in the home. The audience also learned that through hard work and sacrifice, Canada became a “promised land” for the Ukrainian settlers. The girls of the Grade 4 class expressed in song the feelings of warmth and safety given by the family home.
Another item found deep in the trunk was Baba’s shawl or hoostka. The grade 1 students dressed up as mosquitoes and sang about how they added to the hardship endured by early pioneers. In the play, Baba used her hoostka to “shoo” the mosquitoes away!
After a basket is found in the trunk, Mom and Dad tell the kids that Baba would use it for blessing pasta and pysanky at Easter, but would also use it when she went to the market. The grade 3 class then sing a song about Baba going to market.
The final item pulled from the trunk was Dido’s violin or skrypka. He loved music, as do all Ukrainians. A group of K-8 students showed how Dido’s love of music still lives among Ukrainian Canadians today.
The historical significance of these first Ukrainian settlers was emphasized throughout the play. They taught us to be proud of our cultural identity, to respect our rich religious customs, and to cherish our freedom and democracy in Canada.