Bill Konyk, who brought Ukrainian food to Vancouver and successfully fought to maintain his company’s name, Hunky Bill’s, despite objections that it was an ethnic slur, died on Tuesday in Ladner, British Columbia. He was 88.
His youngest son, Mark, said the cause was cancer.
Mr. Konyk was a sales manager for a Vancouver radio station in 1967 when he bet a friend $10 that he could get a booth at the Pacific National Exhibition in Vancouver to sell Ukrainian food, which his family had trouble finding in the area. He succeeded, and his company has been a mainstay at the fair ever since, selling pirogies (sometimes spelled perogies), kielbasa and cabbage rolls.
Mr. Konyk eventually opened numerous restaurants and retail outlets in the Lower Mainland under the Hunky Bill’s name. He also bought the Dover Arms pub in the West End neighborhood of Vancouver.
Hunky Bill was Mr. Konyk’s self-adopted nickname and the trademark for his pirogi, restaurant and retail businesses. The name prompted a formal complaint in 1980 by the Ukrainian Canadian Professional and Business Association under the British Columbia Human Rights Code. The group said the word “hunky” was an ethnic slur historically aimed at people from Eastern Europe.
The complaint was dismissed by the Human Rights Branch chairman, Dermod Owen-Flood, who acknowledged that many Canadians of Ukrainian descent found the term offensive but paraphrased Lewis Carroll: “Words mean exactly what the speaker intends, nothing more and nothing less.”
Mr. Konyk’s restaurants and stores were sold in 2000. But the family still runs a food truck, maintains a booth at the Pacific Exhibition and is slowly getting back into the food-store business.
Mark Konyk said that his father worked almost to the end of his life. “He was used to doing the deliveries and doing everything else,” the son said. “Up until about a year ago, he was still running everything, doing the deliveries and making sales wherever he could.”
Mr. Konyk was born on May 15, 1931, in Winnipeg. Mark Konyk said his father had sold newspapers on a Winnipeg street corner, worked for The Winnipeg Free Press and sold cash registers for a company in Chicago. Before going into the food business he was general manager of sales at CFUN radio in Vancouver.
In addition to his son Mark, Mr. Konyk’s survivors include his wife, Kay, and two other sons, Bill Jr. and Clayton.
The New York Times contributed reporting.
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