Michael StarrStarr Canadian Legacy Continues

By John Pidkowich

The Michael Starr Oshawa and Canadian legacy continued as the 100th Anniversary of the Birth of Michael Starr (Starchevsky) was celebrated in Oshawa, Ont. on November 19, 2010. Initiated by the Ukrainian Canadian Congress – Durham Region Branch, the anniversary committee ultimately involved many representatives from the broader community at the municipal, provincial and federal levels.

Mr. Starr’s legacy was highlighted in a large photo exhibit displaying his successful career as a politician, from Alderman to Mayor of Oshawa, then federally in Ottawa from MP leading to Minister and then Opposition House Leader, followed by federal Citizenship Court Judge and prestigious provincial appointments. More personal and family photos showed Mr. Starr’s popularity among friends and devotion to his wife Anne, children and grandchildren.

Among the some 300 distinguished guests at the Lviv Hall, most attractively decorated for the special occasion, notable colleagues, friends and admirers spoke in praise of “Mike”, his “stellar” qualities and home-town “Oshawa’s favourite son”, including Jim Flaherty, Terry Kelly, Jerry Ouellete, Borys Wrzesnewskyj, Allen Pilkey, Dr. Colin Carrie, and Bill Davis as Keynote Speaker, among others.

Guests attendees at Michael Starr 100th Anniversary BanquetThe Starr Anniversary Banquet MC was Walter Kish, who also chaired the anniversary committee that organized the event, programme and week-long activities in Oshawa. Earlier that week Michael Starr was inducted posthumously into the Oshawa Walk of Fame by City Councillor Nestor Pidwerbecki and Starr’s grandson, Mike Nicol.

On behalf of the Starr Family, grandson Mike Nicol (son of Starr’s daughter Joan), delivered a stirring and fond remembrance of his grandfather, who cared for his family and fellow man, and concluded with a heart-felt thank-you to the organizers and guests who helped make the anniversary event possible and to continue the legacy of Michael Starr.

Proceeds from the event’s fundraising gala banquet have gone toward creating Michael Starr Scholarships at two post-secondary institutions in Durham Region - Durham College and the University of Ontario Institute of Technology.

Excerpts of what was said...

The Hon. Jim Flaherty, Minister of Finance and MP for Whitby-Oshawa

I want to start by paying tribute to an honoured guest who is with us tonight. He was a close friend of Mike Starr’s and is the man responsible for naming the Ontario government building in downtown Oshawa for Mr. Starr.

I speak of course of the Honourable William Grenville Davis, our Premier from 1971 to 1985. 

Following in the footsteps of his predecessor as Premier, John Robarts, Premier Davis always put country first. He led on the national stage, and both Canada and Ontario are better today because of his leadership.

Mr. Davis will remember that Mike Starr was one of the candidates in 1967 to succeed John Diefenbaker as leader of our party… His candidacy was historic. After all, here was a Ukrainian-Canadian vying to lead the party of Sir John A. Macdonald, D’Arcy McGee and Georges-Eteinne Cartier.

By the time Mr. Starr entered that race, he had already served as this area’s MP for nearly 20 years.  A ground-breaking former Mayor of Oshawa who started the transformation of this city into the modern community it is today, he proudly referred to his roots during his maiden address on the Hill.

“I do not know at what precise point in time one ceases to be a new Canadian and becomes an old Canadian, nor does it matter,” he said frankly during that first Common’s speech, delivered in December of 1952.  He went on, “If I may speak for those most closely concerned, I think it can be said that they care not what the first adjective may be as long as the second word is ‘Canadian.’

“Nor will it matter much to them or to any of us what they may be called, seriously or in jest, as long as the son of a poor immigrant from the Ukraine can take his place in this House, as I have done, commended to your favour by a group of Canadians old and new, of many creeds and faiths, of different positions and occupations in life, from the city, towns, villages and farms of (this) riding including the historic old townships of Whitby, East Whitby, Pickering, Reach, Uxbridge, Scott and Scugog,” [said Michael Starr].

Now, in reviewing Mike’s first Commons’ speech, I was pleased, particularly as Minister of Finance, to read his thoughts about taxation…

“None of us, Mr. Speaker, has any doubt about the power of this present administration to tax us, but we do ask that in these things which so closely touch our daily lives they heed (US Chief Justice) John Marshall’s warning to all who have taxing powers: ‘The power to tax, is the power to destroy.’”

I can assure every one here tonight that I am doing my best to heed Mike’s advice!

Less than five years after entering Parliament, Mike made history. After the June 1957 election, he ‘followed John’ into cabinet as Canada’s Minister of Labour.

The reception Mike received – particularly in Western Canada – was enthusiastic and often emotional. When Mr. Diefenbaker went to the polls in 1958, Mike campaigned in Western Canada.  He was in great demand.

“I got the biggest thrill in some of those small places out west,” he said later. “The halls would be filled with people, and sitting there in the front would be the first Ukrainian immigrants with shawls and hands gnarled from work. I would speak for about twenty minutes in English and then I would switch to Ukrainian and the tears would start to run down their faces. A man came to me one day and said, ‘Now I can die, I have met a minister of Ukrainian extraction.”

Mike Starr – the first Ukrainian-Canadian Mayor of Oshawa or any other city its size in Canada, and the first Ukrainian Canadian to sit in a Canadian cabinet – lived to witness the day Canada became the first nation to recognize the independence of Ukraine. To him – seeing his ancestral home free of Soviet oppression -- that was perhaps the greatest honour of all.

To say that Mike Starr was a ground-breaking Minister of Labour is an understatement. He introduced and guided the Diefenbaker Government’s Winter Works Program for example…

Near the end of his life, John Diefenbaker paid the following tribute to Mike in his memoirs, One Canada.

“He was one of the best Ministers of Labour in our history,” Mr. Diefenbaker wrote. “Of Ukrainian parentage, to me his life epitomizes all those who have come to Canada from abroad to become Canadians. For I see a Canada not as a mosaic, but rather as a peopled garden in which the flowers of different lands lend richness and beauty and the strength of their diversity to our body politic.”

I want to close my remarks by thanking the members of the Michael Starr Anniversary Committee for all their hard work… a new generation of Oshawa and area residents have had the opportunity to learn about the stellar legacy of Michael Starr.

All of us in the Oshawa area – the so-called “Old” Canadians or “New” Canadians - still walk in the footsteps he blazed that benefit our community and country to this very day.

The Hon. William G. Davis, Former Premier of Ontario, Keynote Speaker

“I appreciate for one, the intervention of the Government of Canada in some fields of post secondary education. I happen to believe that we have a long way to go if we are going to compete with our neighbours to the south and other parts of the world. And that’s why I accepted the invitation, not just because of my affection for Michael Starr, but because I believe in what the committee said in terms of where the funds will go…

“I happen to know what we need to achieve in the field of education at the elementary, secondary and now, particularly, the post-secondary level… The head of Durham College will tell you, what that College has meant to education here in this province. I can tell you we have now university students go from university back to the college system, and the rate of employment of those graduates…

“Jim (Flaherty) was very kind to point out that when I was Premier (not that this was not true before, and not since) most Ontarians are Canadians first.  I believe that to be true today and that’s why Ontario has been a “cornerstone” of the growth of this country, in the sense that we are in fact one. We may have different views…but in the final analysis, we all have the same interest in terms of our future.  And so much of that future is involved in what we commit and our support for education… 

“I’m not here to preach, but… what Michael Starr meant to me and… how you remember him, is fundamental to our future as a province and as a country.”


1 - Michael Starr

2 - Guests attendees at Michael Starr 100th Anniversary Banquet