Stan Kutcher’s parents made separate treacherous journeys to Canada from Ukraine after surviving World War II. “My dad somehow made his way as a young man to a deported persons’ camp in Germany, got into the allied sector of Berlin and came to Canada, sponsored by a religious organization,” says Stan. His mother and family laboured in German work camps, then immigrated to Toronto, sponsored by a church. “They built a life for themselves working in sweatshops. When my grandfather died, he owned three or four apartment buildings in Toronto and he couldn’t read or write English. For them, living in Canada was a dream realized.”
Stan’s father, who spoke seven languages fluently, wanted to study medicine but became a Presbyterian minister. While a student, he met his wife, who became a secretary. The family was poor, living in several rural towns across Canada. “I was always the ‘other,’” says Stan. “Every three or four years, I’d become the new kid in school; you learn to fit in or you don’t.” He believes this made him and his two brothers self-sufficient. “It forced my brothers and I to create our own identities. I saw myself as a Canadian; the Ukrainian part was part of what being a Canadian is.” They spoke Ukrainian at home and followed cultural traditions. “Kids made fun that I spoke Ukrainian, but also because I wore glasses.”
Because of learning disabilities, school was a challenge. “I still can’t spell.” But he won a scholarship, earned a B.A. in history and political theory and an M.A. in history from McMaster. Stan worked for a summer with Frontier College, exposing him to new immigrants and First Nations people. He went on to Ph.D. studies in history at York but left to complete an MD from McMaster. Stan completed his residency in psychiatry in Toronto and post-doctoral studies in neuroscience in Edinburgh. In Toronto he established Canada’s first comprehensive adolescent psychiatry research program.
It’s the kids who benefit from the lives the parents have created.
After a year of travel with his wife and three kids, including being a visiting scholar at Cambridge, Stan became head of psychiatry at Dalhousie University. Now a world-renowned expert in adolescent mental health, he has worked and researched in over 20 countries. The recipient of numerous awards, including the Order of Nova Scotia, Stan is active in the community as a mentor and helping with International Medical Graduates through ISANS. In December 2018, Stan was appointed to the Senate of Canada.
His parents expected him to work hard, fight poverty, and improve the lives of others. Connections to Ukraine remain; his adult children are aware of their culture, and his daughter complains he didn’t teach her Ukrainian.
Stan’s brother is a periodontist and the other a gastroenterologist — what Stan describes as the classic second-generation immigrant family. “The first wave when you come to the country, most of the time you spend creating a life for you and your family. It’s the kids who benefit from the lives the parents have created. The kids have an incredible opportunity to contribute to the country and to give back. For me it is a privilege to be able to try and do that.”