During the 19th and 20th centuries, thousand of East Europeans immigrated to Canada. Frank Dojacek, an emigrant from Bohemia, tapped into this huge market for foreign-language books and other products from the "Old Country." In addition to his retail, printing, and publishing operations, he established a lucrative mail-order business supplying new Canadians with printed materials in the language of their choice as well as other culturally familiar products.

Alongside department store catalogues, specialist purveyors of foreign-language books and other items of particular interest to European immigrants retailed their wares by mail order. The availability of this type of merchandise to these first-generation Canadians played a key role in ensuring their cultural survival and integration into Canada.

Due to obvious differences in the language, culture, religion, and societal values of mainstream British Canadians, central European immigrants were at a particular disadvantage in Western Canada from the mid-1880s to the mid-1910s. In an effort to build communities that could maintain and strengthen links with people from their own world, new arrivals es Read More
During the 19th and 20th centuries, thousand of East Europeans immigrated to Canada. Frank Dojacek, an emigrant from Bohemia, tapped into this huge market for foreign-language books and other products from the "Old Country." In addition to his retail, printing, and publishing operations, he established a lucrative mail-order business supplying new Canadians with printed materials in the language of their choice as well as other culturally familiar products.

Alongside department store catalogues, specialist purveyors of foreign-language books and other items of particular interest to European immigrants retailed their wares by mail order. The availability of this type of merchandise to these first-generation Canadians played a key role in ensuring their cultural survival and integration into Canada.

Due to obvious differences in the language, culture, religion, and societal values of mainstream British Canadians, central European immigrants were at a particular disadvantage in Western Canada from the mid-1880s to the mid-1910s. In an effort to build communities that could maintain and strengthen links with people from their own world, new arrivals established churches and other institutions. However, adapting to the ways of the New World was that much more difficult when most sources of information were only available in English or French. How were homesteaders to get information about their new country if they could not understand the language?

Frank Dojacek, Bookseller and Publisher

By the late 1800s, Winnipeg had become the gateway to homesteads in the West for thousands of immigrants. A significant number stayed in the city's North End, a vibrant community of people of many origins, talents, and interests. One of these new arrivals was Frank Dojacek (František Dojacek), who, in 1903, emigrated from Bohemia, a region now in the Czech Republic. Originally trained as a tailor, the environment in Winnipeg fostered his entrepreneurial skills.

Frank Dojacek soon realized that immigrants from central Europe represented a largely untapped market, especially for foreign-language books. At the time, most printed material in languages other than English or French were imported from Europe and there was no efficient means of distribution to people isolated on rural farms.

By 1904, Dojacek was peddling books door to door across the Prairies. Within two years he established a shop in the North End of Winnipeg and purchased the stock of John Bodrug, one of the first people to import books from Eastern Europe.

© Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation

Painting of Frank Dojacek

Frank Dojacek (1880-1951), founder of Ukrainian Booksellers & Publishers Limited/ Winnipeg Musical Supply Co. Painting by Eugenia Greinert (1951), oil on canvas.

Photo : Harry Foster. Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation

2001.130.1.
© Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation


Black and white photo of Storefront

Main window of Ruthenian (later Ukrainian) Booksellers and Publishers Ltd., ca 1918. The store's name is written in German, Ukrainian and Polish.

Manitoba Museum

12134
© Manitoba Museum


Central European Immigrants

Although Dojacek was a Czech national, as an astute businessman he recognized the power of demographics. By far, his largest client base was ethnic Ukrainians. From 1891 to 1914, about 170 000 Ukrainians from Eastern Europe entered Canada; another 60 000 arrived between 1925 and 1934. In light of this, Dojacek named his business Ruthenian Booksellers and Publishers, "Ruthenian" being the more commonly used term to describe a Ukrainian at the time. The store's name was modified in 1920 to Ukrainian Booksellers & Publishers Ltd. (Ukrainska Knyharnia i Nakladnia) to reflect the changing identity of the Ukrainian community in Canada.

While acknowledging the importance of the Ukrainian community as a client base, Dojacek did not forget the other central European groups that made up the Western Canadian immigrant community. He built a bond with the consumer in several ways. In his advertisements to the German community, he referred to his business as the German Book and Music Store (Deutsches Buch- und Musikgeschäft). Likewise, Polish consumers shopped at the Polish Book and Music S Read More
Central European Immigrants

Although Dojacek was a Czech national, as an astute businessman he recognized the power of demographics. By far, his largest client base was ethnic Ukrainians. From 1891 to 1914, about 170 000 Ukrainians from Eastern Europe entered Canada; another 60 000 arrived between 1925 and 1934. In light of this, Dojacek named his business Ruthenian Booksellers and Publishers, "Ruthenian" being the more commonly used term to describe a Ukrainian at the time. The store's name was modified in 1920 to Ukrainian Booksellers & Publishers Ltd. (Ukrainska Knyharnia i Nakladnia) to reflect the changing identity of the Ukrainian community in Canada.

While acknowledging the importance of the Ukrainian community as a client base, Dojacek did not forget the other central European groups that made up the Western Canadian immigrant community. He built a bond with the consumer in several ways. In his advertisements to the German community, he referred to his business as the German Book and Music Store (Deutsches Buch- und Musikgeschäft). Likewise, Polish consumers shopped at the Polish Book and Music Store (Polska Ksiegarnia). Being fluent in seven languages himself, Dojacek ensured that customers in the shop were served in their own language.

Mail-order Business

By way of mail-order catalogues printed in separate language editions, Frank Dojacek reached clients too far away to shop in his stores. Catalogues in German, Ukrainian, Polish, and Czech-Slovak were distributed to homes throughout the West. Although there were some categories of items common to all versions of his catalogues, he customised each edition to the target community's interests and needs.

Bibles, Dictionaries, and Guide Books

From the beginning, the mainstay of the Dojacek operation was an extensive inventory of multilingual printed materials, especially in German and Ukrainian. There were dictionaries, bibles and other religious books and documents, political books, novels, and books for children. Many publications addressed topics relevant to a new immigrant's adjustment to life in Canada: educational primers for adults, self-help books and guides covering home medical care, farming practice, and letter writing.

The primers were very popular adult educational tools, as many immigrants had not had extensive schooling before coming to Canada. By 1924, Frank Dojacek had sold 11 000 primers in ten editions. The Ukrainian-English dictionary he published had a sale of 10 000 copies. By 1944, the annual catalogue increased in size until the listing of Ukrainian dramatic works alone comprised 600 titles.

© Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation

Cover of Ukrainian Booksellers & Publishers Catalogue

Ukrainian Booksellers & Publishers Ltd. Catalogue, ca 1953.

Photo: Harry Foster, Canadian Museum of Civilization

997.21.3675
© Canadian Museum of Civilization


Cover of Book and Music Store Catalogue

Book and Music Store Catalogue, 1934, in Czech and Slovak.

Photo : Harry Foster. Canadian Museum of Civilization

997.20.1085
© Canadian Museum of Civilization


Printing and Publishing Business

Frank Dojacek was also a shrewd businessman who owned his own printing and publishing company to supply his stores and catalogue operations. Originally located in the basement of his Winnipeg store, his printing operation produced many of the books that he sold in the store and by mail order as well as newspapers in Ukrainian, German, Polish, and Croatian. This business was later known as National Publishers Limited and was a leader in ethnic publications in Canada.

Dojacek clearly understood the importance of these communication tools: printed information that could provide an immigrant with news of the homeland, a piece of literature, or perhaps some practical information for everyday living. He also knew that the full benefit of these materials could only be attained if they were available in a language that could be understood by the reader.

Musical Merchandise

Within a few years, Dojacek supplemented his published offerings with musical instruments and supplies in recognition of the sales potential of another important ce Read More
Printing and Publishing Business

Frank Dojacek was also a shrewd businessman who owned his own printing and publishing company to supply his stores and catalogue operations. Originally located in the basement of his Winnipeg store, his printing operation produced many of the books that he sold in the store and by mail order as well as newspapers in Ukrainian, German, Polish, and Croatian. This business was later known as National Publishers Limited and was a leader in ethnic publications in Canada.

Dojacek clearly understood the importance of these communication tools: printed information that could provide an immigrant with news of the homeland, a piece of literature, or perhaps some practical information for everyday living. He also knew that the full benefit of these materials could only be attained if they were available in a language that could be understood by the reader.

Musical Merchandise

Within a few years, Dojacek supplemented his published offerings with musical instruments and supplies in recognition of the sales potential of another important central European cultural expression. In the early years of his business in the 1910s and 1920s, he stocked an extensive range of accordions, harmonicas, violins, round-back mandolins, guitars, trumpets, and drums, as well as traditional Slavic instruments such as the tsymbaly (hammered dulcimer) and the balalaika.

As tastes changed, so did Dojacek's stock. By the 1930s he had replaced the old-style round-back mandolins with flat-back models and balalaikas were no longer offered. One item that remained in the catalogues for decades was the violin package that included the instrument, case and accessories and in 1953 was selling for $24.95.

© Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation

Colour photo of the covers of four books

Books in Ukrainian: Captain of Industry by Upton Sinclair (translation), Ukrainian spelling book, cookbook, letter writing guide.

Photo : Harry Foster. Canadian Museum of Civilization

997.22.313,997.21.3677,997.21.3657,997.20.984
© Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation


Catalogue page of wall calendars in black and white

Wall calendars, early 1950s.

Photo : Harry Foster. Canadian Museum of Civilization
c. 1950
997.20.947
© Canada Museum of Civilization


Housewares and Calendars

The various businesses grew steadily, but not spectacularly, in the 1910s and 1920s. Dojacek survived the 1930s in large part due to his astute business sense. It is not clear when he first started publishing his catalogues, but a 1918 edition offered a full range of books and other publications as well as a selection of musical instruments, sheet music and accessories, sewing supplies and household giftware, and other items for the home. The range of stocked goods increased gradually to include records and record players, radios, clocks, pens, appliances, jewellery, and toys.

A mainstay of the business in the 1970s was a wide offering of decorative and pictorial wall calendars depicting religious images, central European patriotic themes, literary works, scenic pictures, and images of children and animals. These were often fitted with renewable calendar pads so that clients could keep a favourite image year after year.

Patent Medicines and European Goods

In addition to being able to purchase items that they could read, new immigrant Read More
Housewares and Calendars

The various businesses grew steadily, but not spectacularly, in the 1910s and 1920s. Dojacek survived the 1930s in large part due to his astute business sense. It is not clear when he first started publishing his catalogues, but a 1918 edition offered a full range of books and other publications as well as a selection of musical instruments, sheet music and accessories, sewing supplies and household giftware, and other items for the home. The range of stocked goods increased gradually to include records and record players, radios, clocks, pens, appliances, jewellery, and toys.

A mainstay of the business in the 1970s was a wide offering of decorative and pictorial wall calendars depicting religious images, central European patriotic themes, literary works, scenic pictures, and images of children and animals. These were often fitted with renewable calendar pads so that clients could keep a favourite image year after year.

Patent Medicines and European Goods

In addition to being able to purchase items that they could read, new immigrants could always find culturally familiar household items through Ukrainian Booksellers. Patent medicines ("Blood Bitters," "Persia Balm," and "Florida Water"), blade strops, scythes and sickles, embroidery thread, and religious items were imported directly from Europe. Dojacek avoided competing with mainstream Canadian department stores by concentrating his efforts on merchandise not generally carried by the larger companies. Stores such as the Hudson's Bay Company and Eaton's eventually realized the value of stocking these specialty items and came to him to obtain their supplies of blade strops and other wares.

© Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation

Import Business

The buying and importing of goods for sale through Dojacek's catalogue, "Book & Music Stores," and the retail outlets was carried on through F. Dojacek Importers and Jobbers, whereas his retail operations were carried out under the names of Winnipeg Musical Supply Co. and Ukrainian Booksellers & Publishers Ltd. In time, at least in the Winnipeg area, Winnipeg Musical Supply became the more familiar name to customers.

At its height, the mail-order business catered to customers in all parts of Canada and some areas of the United States. Shoppers making orders sent a one-third-down payment and paid the balance by Cash on Delivery (COD) when the merchandise arrived by mail. Processing COD orders required a great deal of clerical work, however. When staff was short, for example, during the Second World War, this policy was suspended and customers were requested to remit an approximate amount to cover the order; balances were refunded.

If an item could not be found in one of Dojacek's catalogues, clients could make special orders. Winnipeg Musical Supply catalogues (in English) als Read More
Import Business

The buying and importing of goods for sale through Dojacek's catalogue, "Book & Music Stores," and the retail outlets was carried on through F. Dojacek Importers and Jobbers, whereas his retail operations were carried out under the names of Winnipeg Musical Supply Co. and Ukrainian Booksellers & Publishers Ltd. In time, at least in the Winnipeg area, Winnipeg Musical Supply became the more familiar name to customers.

At its height, the mail-order business catered to customers in all parts of Canada and some areas of the United States. Shoppers making orders sent a one-third-down payment and paid the balance by Cash on Delivery (COD) when the merchandise arrived by mail. Processing COD orders required a great deal of clerical work, however. When staff was short, for example, during the Second World War, this policy was suspended and customers were requested to remit an approximate amount to cover the order; balances were refunded.

If an item could not be found in one of Dojacek's catalogues, clients could make special orders. Winnipeg Musical Supply catalogues (in English) also advertised a mail-order repair service for musical instruments and phonographs, but all work had to be shipped prepaid by the customer.

A Family Business

As Ukrainian Booksellers/Winnipeg Musical Supply grew as a business, Frank Dojacek opened adjunct branches in Edmonton, Regina, and Vancouver, often under the supervision of a member of his family. For Dojacek, community service overlapped his business. He often hired central European immigrants to work at the store. The presence of these immigrants on staff provided further familiarity and comfort to the central European customers. In turn, many of these staff members had long associations with the Dojacek business.

Dojacek's business remained family-run after his death. The second generation changed their name to Dojack to simplify it. The mail-order business survived into the 1970s, before telephone orders became common. Frank Dojacek's grandson Tom Dojack remembers his father Frank Dojack Jr. loading the daily mail order to take to the post office. He says the store's unofficial motto for mail order during this era was "no order was too small." Ukrainian Booksellers rarely disposed of unsold stock. Shelves of publications printed in the 1910s and 1920s remained in the basement storage when the store closed in the 1980s.

© Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation

Catalogue page with black and white drawings of children's toys

Children's toys, 1948.

Photo : Harry Foster. Canadian Museum of Civilization
1948
997.20.946
© Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation


The Business in Decline

By the 1970s, sales changed. For example, some of the European medicines that had been sold for decades became suspiciously popular in the late 1970s. That was until the Manitoba liquor commission suddenly banned their sale!

By the 1970s, with changes in demographics and markets, the mail-order business was in serious decline. Although certain items such as the calendars, the Ukrainian-English dictionary, and harmonicas remained popular, sales had tapered off. This change can be traced to a number of causes. For instance, many items could be had more cheaply from other suppliers. Third-generation descendants of immigrants born in Canada who spoke fluent English no longer required the services of a business such as Ukrainian Booksellers. There was simply not the same demand for multilingual publications as there had been early in the century. With the improvement of transportation to move more goods westward and into rural areas, the advent of the shopping mall, and the migration of many people into urban centres, residents of the Prairies were not nearly as isolated as they had once been. Read More
The Business in Decline

By the 1970s, sales changed. For example, some of the European medicines that had been sold for decades became suspiciously popular in the late 1970s. That was until the Manitoba liquor commission suddenly banned their sale!

By the 1970s, with changes in demographics and markets, the mail-order business was in serious decline. Although certain items such as the calendars, the Ukrainian-English dictionary, and harmonicas remained popular, sales had tapered off. This change can be traced to a number of causes. For instance, many items could be had more cheaply from other suppliers. Third-generation descendants of immigrants born in Canada who spoke fluent English no longer required the services of a business such as Ukrainian Booksellers. There was simply not the same demand for multilingual publications as there had been early in the century. With the improvement of transportation to move more goods westward and into rural areas, the advent of the shopping mall, and the migration of many people into urban centres, residents of the Prairies were not nearly as isolated as they had once been.

As a result, there was little need for a catalogue service to market merchandise by mail. The Winnipeg store, run since 1949 by Frank Dojack Jr., eventually found itself a remnant of a former immigrant community that had long since moved away from its traditional home in the North End of the city. In 1984, two years after the death of Frank Jr., Ukrainian Booksellers quietly closed.

Ukrainian Booksellers Recreated in Museum Exhibit

The Canadian Museum of Civilization has recreated an early 20th-century version of Ukrainian Booksellers in its permanent history gallery, Canada Hall. On display now are thousands of goods, publications, and catalogues once stocked by the business.

Conclusion

It has been argued that the mail-order catalogue ushered in the era of mass consumption in Canada, encouraging residents of rural areas to purchase an ever-increasing array of goods previously unavailable to them. In the case of Ukrainian Booksellers, its mail-order catalogue also provided an essential link with the outside world, and in particular, with the Old World.

The goods and services that Frank Dojacek was able to supply through his stores and catalogue business had several positive outcomes. As well as strengthening immigrants' bond with the Old Country and with other members of the ethnic community in Canada, they were effective at providing immigrants with another means of preserving their language, cultural ties, and traditions. Most importantly, they also acted as a measure for easing the difficult transition to the ways of a strange new land.

© Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation

Mail-order form in English and Ukrainian

Ukrainian Booksellers & Publishers mail-order form, 1940s.

Photo : Harry Foster. Canadian Museum of Civilization

997.20.473.62
© Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation


Learning Objectives

The learner will:
  • observe and identify the characteristics of early 20th century lifestyle;
  • compare the evolution of the Canadian and Quebec society over several decades;
  • explain the similarities and differences between past and present society;
  • discuss the main events of the 20th century (economic crisis, World Wars, unionization, feminist movement) and the impact that they had on Canadian and Quebec societies.

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