Emma Woikin

When Igor Gouzenko defected from the Soviet Embassy in Ottawa in September 1945, Emma Woikin was one of the 22 Canadians he named as spies. Woikin was the first to plead guilty, the first to stand trial, and the first to go to prison. She was 26 years old.


Emma Woikin, as she looked in the mid-1940s. Her hair had turned grey when she emerged from prison in 1948. Saskatoon Public Library – Local History PH-98-113-7

Woikin boarded with Leo Malania and his wife at 357 Chapel St. from 1944 to 1945 in a house that is still standing. In 1945 she was hired by Albert Choquette to look after his four children in the evening, in exchange for free room and board. She lived with Albert Choquette and his family at 289 Somerset St. E. until she was arrested there on February 15 1946. The house has since been replaced by an apartment building, convenience store and tea room.

Woikin was born Emma Konkin in Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan to Doukhobor parents. The language of the household was Russian. When she was 17 she married Bill Woikin, a member of a Doukhobor farming family from a nearby community. They were devoted to each other but had many hardships, the worst being the death at birth of Emma Woikin’s only child. Bill Woikin developed severely debilitating headaches but refused to see a doctor because they couldn’t afford one. In 1942, at the age of 27, he killed himself.


Emma Woikin, now just twenty-one, went to live with her brother. He paid for her to take a two year secretarial course which she managed to complete in one year. Finding that there were no secretarial jobs in the nearest city, Saskatoon, Woikin wrote the federal government civil service exams. In September 1943, Woikin took her first train ride to go to Ottawa to start a job at External Affairs.

At External Affairs she became responsible for deciphering coded communications sent between London and Ottawa. Her social life revolved around the Russian émigré community which included Russian embassy staff. Befriended by a Russian embassy official she started to give him information on what was in the communications. After having been named by Gouzenko as a spy Woikin was arrested in the early morning, charged, tried, and sentenced to two years and six months. When she was released in 1949 she returned to Saskatchewan, married again, and became Emma Sawula. She went on to be a successful legal secretary working for a long time for the law firm Kyle, Ferguson and Hnatyshyn in Saskatoon which included Ray Hnatyshyn, before he became Governor General. She died in 1974.