Steponas Šetkus in 1935
University student book
Certification of marriage required at DP camp
Shortly after arriving in Cadillac to work in the gold mines
Completion of the 1 year contract with the Dept. of Labour
Publication of Lithuanian community in Noranda
Response from the Prime Minister of Canada
Steponas and Maryte Šetkai
Visiting Lithuania with his son
Steponas in later life
Gallery of Art
Click on the painting to open a gallery of works by Steponas Šetkus
I was born on December 13th, 1912 in the city of Telšiai, the capital of the Žemaitija (Samogitian) region in the North West of Lithuania. My father worked in construction. We lived well when there was lots of construction going on and not so well when it slowed down.
I completed grammar school and two years of high school in Telšiai, continued school in Panevėžys and finally completed my education in Kaunas. Although my parents were unable to help financially, I always found the means to earn what I needed and paid for my education on my own.
Upon completion of high school I fulfilled my obligation and served the compulsory term in Lithuania’s army. I was then accepted for studies at the Faculty of Economics at Vilnius Magnus University in Kaunas.
Starting a life together
Since I was proficient in several languages, I found employment with the Lithuanian Railways’ Travel Agency and had occasion to travel to various neighbouring countries to learn more about how their travel agencies functioned.
In Kaunas I met and married a young nurse, Marija Genys. I continued my studies.
When Lithuania’s capital city of Vilnius was returned to Lithuania, the Faculty of Economics was transferred from Kaunas to Vilnius. My wife and I then moved to Vilnius so that I could continue my studies. While studying I also taught Lithuanian history at the Vilnius School of Commerce.
In 1942 we moved to the city of Panevėžys where I began teaching introductory economics at the school of commerce. Life was good and the future looked promising. However, this did not last for long.
The Red Army on our doorstep and we flee
When we heard that the Red Army was nearing Lithuania, we decided that we had to flee to the West, but always with the intention of returning home as soon as it was safe to do so. But fate had other plans in store for us.
Life in the camps
When WWII ended, we did not want to return to our homeland which was by then occupied by the soviets. We ended up at the displaced persons camp D.P. Blumberg in Germany. Here, I got a job working in the camp’s administration as the English language translator. Then, in 1945-46 I worked for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Agency (UNRRA). I was dressed in the British military uniform, spoke English well, and as a result was able to provide a lot of assistance to my fellow countrymen.
When the Baltic University was established in Hamburg, I began studying architecture while also teaching English at this same university. As a result of pressure by the soviets, the Baltic University was renamed the “D.P Education Centre” and was transferred out of the big port city of Hamburg to the much smaller town of Pinneberg.
Life in the mines in Quebec, Canada
Emigration from the camps started. I succeeded in obtaining a work contract in Canada and in 1948 arrived in the small town of Cadillac, Quebec. Here, together with a large group of Lithuanian refugee men, I started life as a miner. We worked deep underground in the gold mines of Noranda-Rouyen, Quebec.
Per our contract, after a year we were able to sponsor the families we had left behind in the DP camps in Germany so that they could join us in Canada. And so, my wife Marija and 2 year old son Marijus joined me in Cadillac. Once I had completed my work contract with Noranda Mines, I moved my family to the larger town of Noranda. Marija got a job as a nurse in the local hospital. Here we found a larger community of Lithuanians who had organized themselves into a formal community association. In 1949 I was elected president of the Lithuanian Community of Noranda. Our life as Lithuanians in Canada was very active. We organized a community choir, folk dance group, published a community newsletter called “Krivulė”. We organized commemorations of events that held significance to our Lithuanian heritage and invited local dignitaries to participate. We were a very active and engaged community group in Noranda.
The move to St. Catharines, Ontario
After several years we decided to move to the city of St. Catharines in the province of Ontario. Marija worked as a nurse in the city hospital and I worked for General Motors and then as an engineer with the firm T.R.W. Canada Ltd. until I retired.
The larger Lithuanian community that I found in St. Catharines enabled me to live a second life – I could fulfill my life as a Lithuanian. I was elected to several boards and executives of various Lithuanian organizations. I often gave presentations and lectures at commemorative events.
My two parallel lives
I fulfilled my duties as a Canadian citizen and I enjoyed my jobs and professional life in the Canadian community. But I also led a second life – a very fulfilling life of a Lithuanian in Canada. Being active in the St. Catharines Lithuanian community gave me the opportunity to live this second life fully.
I loved writing about politics and following the course of current events. For many years the Lithuanian newspapers: Toronto’s “Lights of Homeland” (“Tėviškės Žiburiai”) and the Montreal-based “Independent Lithuania” (“Nepriklausoma Lietuva”) published my articles and memoirs. Eventually, the local newspaper, the “St. Catharines Standard”, began publishing my letters to the editor and my articles on topics related to current events and politics, especially those countering soviet propaganda about Lithuania.
Because of my articles I was publicly attacked in the Lithuanian communist newspaper “Land of my Birth” (“Gimtasis Kraštas”), a soviet propaganda tool aimed at the Lithuanian emigree communities in the diaspora.
Through my speeches at commemorative events in our community and through my various articles in the Lithuanian press, I urged my fellow Lithuanians to never give up hope that Lithuania will one day be free. There is no power greater than the thirst for freedom.
I joined the Eastern & Central European occupied nations’ organization and served as its chairman for a few years for which I was awarded the golden “Cross of Merit”. I was also a member of the Baltic Veterans’ League and earned their “Medal of Merit.
Rewarding life as a painter
From the first time I held a brush in my hands in grammar school, I fell in love with colours, form and artistic expression. From then on, that brush never left my hands for the rest of my life. I tried to capture memories of a homeland far away and found parallels in scenes of nature between Lithuania and Ontario. I particularly enjoyed painting portraits – capturing the essence of the person before me. I am particularly honoured that my works have found a welcome home with friends across Canada, the US and Lithuania.
I played the violin, the piano and loved singing. Anytime a group of my friends and I got together we would raise our voices in song, thus remembering a land we could not return to, but that we revived through our spirited songs.
Image sources: family albums, used with permission.
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