University of Manitoba - Faculty of Arts - Centre for Ukrainian Canadian Studies - Page Heading
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 Dr. Oleh W. Gerus
Department of History


Centre for Ukrainian Canadian Studies
University of Manitoba





In 1991 the one million Canadians of Ukrainian descent commemorated the centenary of the beginning of their ancestors' arrival in this country. But who are the Ukrainian Canadians? What is their culture? What has been their life's experience here? What contributions have they made to Canada? The interested reader should find answers to these and perhaps other questions in the concise historical overview that follows.

The Ukrainian Background

Ukrainian people belong to the eastern branch of the Slavic nations. Their homeland, Ukraine (Ukraina) with a population of over 50 million lies north of the Black Sea, between Russia and Poland. Geography has played a critical and paradoxical role in the destiny of Ukraine and its people. Abundant, rich, agricultural land and a moderate climate gave Ukraine a reputation as the "bread basket of Europe". But this natural resource lacked adequate geographic barriers against powerful outsiders, and throughout history Ukraine has been an easy prey to invasions from all directions. As a result, following the Mongol destruction in the 13th century of the original Ukrainian state, the highly civilized Kyivan Rus', the Ukrainian lands had been dominated by the neighboring countries, mainly Russia, Poland and Austro-Hungary. Because the Ukrainians had been for so long a subjugated, fragmented nation, their national development was delayed until the 19th century. Furthermore, because the Ukrainian aristocracy tended to assimilate with the ruling nationality, the Ukrainian nation remained essentially peasant in character. Even when extensive industrialization began, the Ukrainian urban classes were small and politically insignificant. Russians, Jews and Poles predominated in urban centres (Kyiv, Odessa, Kharkiv, Lviv), which became non-Ukrainian islands in a Ukrainian sea.

At the beginning of Ukrainian immigration to Canada in the 1890s, the bulk of the Ukrainian territory ("Greater Ukraine") and approximately 25 million people were within the tsarist Russian Empire. The tsarist regime pursued harsh policies of centralization and Russification of the subject nationalities (nearly 50% of the total population). All manifestations of Ukrainian nationalism were severely repressed; even the Ukrainian language was prohibited. Economically, however, conditions in Russian Ukraine were gradually improving after the abolition of serfdom in 1861, and a strong rural class, the farmers (khliboroby), emerged.

Western Ukraine, the home of another four million Ukrainians (often called Ruthenians) was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and consisted of the provinces of Galicia (Halychyna), Bukovyna and Transcarpathia. The vast majority of Ukrainian immigrants to Canada came from Galicia and Bukovyna, both areas of dense and mixed population, where the Ukrainians shared the land with the Poles and Romanians respectively. In Galicia, where the Polish gentry formed the ruling class, religious affiliation provided a simple and clear means of national identification. The Ukrainians were members of the Greek-Catholic (Uniate) Church which recognized the Pope but adhered to Byzantine and Ukrainian ecclesiastic traditions, including married parish clergy. The Poles, on the other hand, were staunch Roman Catholics. The Ukrainian priests provided much of the national leadership for the Ukrainian community in Galicia. In Bukovyna, the religious situation was less clear since both the Ukrainians and the Romanians belonged to the Orthodox Church, but the liturgical language differentiated them. The Romanian gentry dominated Bukovyna politically and economically.

The old Austro-Hungarian Empire maintained itself by constitutional means and the politics of "divide and rule". It skillfully balanced the various nationalities by pitting one against the other. In Galicia, the Polish gentry was granted political and economic advantages over the Ukrainians. In the face of this, the Ukrainian leadership waged an unceasing struggle for equality in the educational, political, cultural and economic spheres. During this struggle, a new secular and pro-active intelligentsia emerged from the ranks of the clergy and the peasantry. Although Polish domination remained entrenched (until 1939), compared with their co-nationals in the repressive Russian Empire, the Ukrainians in Galicia made remarkable political and cultural progress.

The public school system, while weighted in favour of the Polish nationality, provided Ukrainian children with educational facilities in their own language, a right that eastern Ukrainians did not enjoy. Village reading clubs (chytalni) were created by enlightenment societies (prosvita) to address adult illiteracy. The reading clubs provided a valuable multidimensional, educational experience and they were recreated in Canada where a community hall has characterized every Ukrainian grouping to this day.

The Ukrainians in Galicia had some political experience that was absent in the Russian Empire until 1905. They had a number of political parties, representing the entire ideological spectrum, from socialism to clerical conservatism, from which to elect their deputies to the Imperial Parliament in Vienna and to the local assembly in Lviv. Under the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Ukrainians suffered mainly from economic rather than political conditions.

The Austro-Hungarian government designated Galicia as an agricultural zone and marketplace for products from the industrially advanced western parts of the empire. This policy made the Galician peasants, both Ukrainian and Polish, economically dependent on the large landowners who controlled over 40% of the land. The acute land shortage, reflected in small peasant land holdings (2-7 hectares), and technological underdevelopment made village life very difficult. A cooperative movement developed as a means of improving the economic condition of Ukrainians. By the turn of the century, Ukrainians had a network of agricultural and dairy cooperatives, credit unions and mutual-aid associations which, for the first time, gave the people collectively significant economic power. Still, many peasants remained frustrated and ready to seek a better life elsewhere.

Beginnings of Emigration

Before overseas emigration captured the imagination of the Ukrainians, their experience with large-scale migration was limited. In Russian Ukraine, the only significant migration began in the late 19th century when the government encouraged colonization of newly annexed territories in Central Asia and the Far East. The overseas emigration from the Russian Empire was largely limited to the persecuted Jews. In Austro-Hungary, seasonal migration, in search of work beyond its borders, was widely practiced. The Ukrainian inhabitants of Transcarpathia were the first to leave for the United States in the 1870s, destined for the coal mines of Pennsylvania. The first group of Ukrainians from Galicia, lured by the rumors of well-paying jobs, followed in 1879. These early immigrants were by and large experienced migrant labourers whose original intention was to return home, after making fortunes in America.

Attracted by exaggerated offers of free lands and free passage, between 24,000 and 30,000 impoverished peasants from Galicia left for Brazil in the 1880s. Their initial illusions were quickly and painfully shattered by the radically different climatic conditions, tropical diseases, hard contract labour on plantations and a corrupt immigration bureaucracy. Anguished letters home caused concern among the intelligentsia and prompted Joseph Oleskiw, a professor of agriculture in Lviv, to investigate alternative destinations for resettlement. In September 1891, two peasants from the village of Nebyliv, Wasyl Eleniak and Ivan Pillipiw, became the first documented Ukrainian settlers in Canada when they began homesteading in Alberta. Their news that plenty of virtually free land was available for homesteading caused a sensation at home. In 1895 Oleskiw published a pamphlet, About the Free Lands, which concluded that Canada was the most suitable country for Ukrainian agricultural settlements. The same year he made a fact-finding tour of Canada as guest of the government. He presented Ottawa with a scheme for Ukrainian colonies in Western Canada. However, the fall of the Conservative government, with which Oleskiw had been negotiating, put an end to the proposed assistance plan, but not to the idea of colonization. Oleskiw's intensive campaign to shift immigration from Brazil to Canada paid off, as the number of Canada-bound Ukrainians began to increase.

The lack of reliable emigration and immigration data makes it impossible to establish the exact numbers of the original exodus or its specific social and ethnic composition. Nonetheless, it is generally assumed that between the late 1870s and 1914 some 650,000-700,000 Ukrainians left the Austro-Hungarian Empire for North and South America; over 400,000 landed as miners and labourers in the United States; some 170,000 settled in Canada, mainly as farmers; and upwards of 70,000 of the most impoverished peasants headed for Brazil and Argentina.

Initially, the Ukrainian intelligentsia in Galicia was divided on the issue of emigration. Conservative elements, notably the Church, opposed mass emigration because a reduced population threatened the Ukrainian-Polish balance in Galicia. Progressive parties, on the other hand, saw emigration as the quickest way for the impoverished peasants to better themselves economically.

The Liberal government of Canada, elected in 1896, actively promoted immigration to fill the huge expanses of an under populated country (1891: less than 5 million, with around 250,000 in the West). Clifford Sifton of Manitoba, the minister of the interior who was responsible for immigration policy, believed that only farmers were desirable immigrants and that, if Britain, Northern Europe and the United States could not provide the required numbers, new sources of agricultural immigrants must be sought. The surplus rural populations of Southern and especially Eastern Europe were the most promising alternatives. Recruitment was aggressive as the Austro-Hungarian Empire was blanketed with immigration propaganda and agents. As a result, Oleskiw's scheme of carefully selecting suitable colonists was replaced by a virtual stampede of anxious peasants. By the time the First World War ended the initial phase of Ukrainian immigration in 1914, an estimated 170,000 Ukrainians had arrived from Galicia and Bukovyna.

The goal of most of these immigrants was land, and the Canadian homestead policy, which offered a quarter section of land (160 acres) for a $10.00 fee and minor settlement obligations, seemed a bonanza to those accustomed to subsistence plots in the Old Country. Although the Ukrainians were late-comers in the scramble for prairie homesteads and much of the best land was already gone, they preferred wooded land for timber and fuel supplies. The vast majority of Ukrainian immigrants settled in Western Canada in a wide arc along the southern edge of the Canadian Shield, from the rock-strewn Stuartburn area of south-eastern Manitoba through the scrub lands of the Interlake to the Yorkton-Saskatoon district and along the valley of the North Saskatchewan river to Vegreville, east of Edmonton. Not surprisingly, they settled in close-knit communities to give each other material and psychological support in this new and inhospitable land. The pioneer generation met the demanding challenges facing it with hard work and tenacity, and in the process made a major economic input in the opening of Western Canada, a legacy which its descendants remember with justifiable pride.

Although farm land was the initial objective of almost all of the Ukrainian immigrants, a significant number of men found employment in resource industries and with the railroads. Some remained in the ethnic, working-class North End of Winnipeg, or found their way to similar districts which soon appeared in Saskatoon and Edmonton. Many lacked the will, the experience or the capital to adapt to extensive prairie agriculture and turned to unskilled urban jobs. Just as in the rural areas, the urban immigrants clung to each other for support and ethnic neighbourhoods sprang up in towns and cities across the Canadian West.

The Ukrainians found adjustment to Canada difficult but not impossible. There was no "welcome wagon". They had to rely on their own survival skills. For those who came as family units and settled on the land, the husband was often gone for months at a time, working as a farm-hand or an unskilled labourer on one of the several railways being built. It was a hard and lonely life for women stuck on their homesteads. Only few pioneers had enough capital to equip a farm. There were no government subsidies for the Ukrainians, as there had been for the Mennonites and Icelanders who had arrived in Manitoba earlier.

In terms of their religious outlook, the vast majority of the immigrants were Ukrainian Greek-Catholics. In a peasant Ukrainian culture, the natural rhythms of birth, marriage and death were religious celebrations expressing an intense sense of community, and the resident clergy was thus extremely important to group survival. But the settlers were not accompanied by their clergy and so became vulnerable to the influences and proselytizing efforts of the Protestant missionaries, who assumed that the only dependable immigrant was an English-speaking Protestant. The Vatican ban on married clergy in North America had effectively excluded most of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic priests who, in accordance with their rite, were married. In addition, the Vatican placed Ukrainians in the jurisdiction of the French Catholic hierarchy, which they resented. The few eligible Ukrainian priests, who emigrated, went to the United States. The hasty formation of special Byzantine-rite missionaries from the Belgian Catholic clergy merely complicated the situation and alienated the faithful. It would take nearly twenty years of struggle before a separate Ukrainian Catholic diocese would be formed in Canada in 1912. It was headed by Bishop Nykyta Budka. The minority Orthodox Bukovynians and a number of immigrants from Russian Ukraine were served by itinerant Orthodox priests from the Russian Mission in the United States.

During the pioneer phase, there was a remarkable burst of journalistic activity. The small but dynamic Ukrainian intelligentsia - teachers and university students-turned to journalism as a means of informing, influencing and directing the baffled immigrant masses. Many of the newspapers were ephemeral; almost all served special interests. They did, however, hold in common the desire to bind the Ukrainians closer together, to end their isolation, both physical and psychological. They stressed education as the key to prosperity and acceptance. Before 1914, the most important Ukrainian language newspapers, all published in Winnipeg, were the Kanadiiskyi farmer/Canadian Farmer (1903), which tried to cater to everybody, the Kanadiiskyi rusyn/Canadian Ruthenian (1911), which spoke for the Ukrainian Catholic Church, and the Ukrainskyi holos/Ukrainian Voice (1910 and still publishing), an active supporter of the nationalist movement which founded an independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church in 1918. Other important newspapers in the pioneer era included Ranok/Dawn (1905), a proselytizing vehicle of the Presbyterian Church and Robochyi narod/Working People (1909), which represented the radical views of the small but vocal Ukrainian socialist party.

Language retention was deemed crucial for community integrity. It was spoken at home, at church and at community events. It was also a bond between the adult generation, who had difficulty in learning English, and the children, who were quickly influenced by the dominant British culture of the school curriculum.

An unexpected means of language retention, available to this initial wave of Ukrainians, was an ironic legacy of the Manitoba School Question. The provincial Public School Act of 1897, which tried to reconcile French and English interests in the province, included a clause which provided for bilingual education. There were no linguistic restrictions to the provision, and many of the new immigrants were quick to take advantage of it. Soon there were bilingual schools teaching in English and German, Polish or Ukrainian. Indeed, to meet the need for teachers, the Manitoba government was obliged to open a Ukrainian ("Ruthenian") teachers' training school in the city of Brandon. The graduates of Brandon and other public school teachers became the Ukrainian community elite in Western Canada. These teachers would play a key role in the creation and direction of community organizational structures. The preoccupation with ethno-cultural continuity was, of course, a luxury of the educated, urban minority of the original Ukrainian immigrants. The reality of life for most Ukrainians was grinding physical labour on rocky farms, railway rights-of-way or city work gangs. Their children could expect an abbreviated education and an early entry into the lowest stratum of the work force.


Canadian Attitudes towards the Ukrainians

Unlike North Europeans, immigrants from Eastern Europe could not blend immediately into the majority Anglo-Canadian population. The distinctiveness of the Ukrainians-in dress, culinary habits, and especially in language and religion-provoked a backlash which the Canadian government had not anticipated. To the majority group, they were so utterly different. They were not Protestants, like the Scandinavians nor mechanically sophisticated, as the Germans were thought to be. But the negative reaction of the host society was not uniform. Ukrainians were generally perceived as a "problem" by society's leaders, resented by most ("half-civilized Galicians"), especially in the rural areas, feared as economic competitors by organized labour and exploited for their votes by politicians at all levels. Yet all agreed that, if East Europeans were to be allowed into Canada, they must be assimilated with the British majority. While the adult immigrants were considered irredeemable, the younger generation was targeted for assimilation through such channels as the Y.M.C.A., Frontier College and the Protestant churches, all of which assumed that Canadian meant British and Protestant. Most important of all, however, was the public school system; its function was assumed to be the training of "good Canadians". As early as 1908, the Manitoba Free Press, the most influential newspaper in Western Canada, was predicting the balkanization of Canada and demanding the end of bilingual education.

The assimilationist drive of the majority was intensified at the outbreak of the First World War in August, 1914, when the negative image of Ukrainians was reinforced by the groundless suspicion of disloyalty, simply because they had come from the Austro-Hungarian Empire which was at war with the British Empire. All those Ukrainians in Canada who were not yet naturalized, automatically became "enemy aliens" when Canada entered the war. Under the emergency powers of the War Measures Act, the federal government began to register and intern enemy aliens suspected of being anything other than peaceful and loyal residents of Canada. Over 80,000 were so compelled to register, and a total of 8,579 male enemy aliens were interned in twenty-four detention camps, located largely in Canada's wilderness. Of those interned, some 5,954 were described as Austro-Hungarians and the overwhelming majority of them were almost certainly Ukrainians. The Canadian government has yet to make amends for this flagrant miscarriage of justice. In addition, many Ukrainians had been hard-hit by the economic depression of 1913, losing their jobs through ill-luck or discriminatory employment practices since they were usually the first to be fired. Those unemployed could also be interned. Those Ukrainian men who attempted to enlist in Canada's armed forces were generally rejected as untrustworthy. Nonetheless, several thousand did serve, mainly by adopting English names or by posing as Russian nationals; Corporal Filip Konowal was awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery.

The anti-foreign sentiment engendered by the war led to other assaults on the non-British immigrants. By 1916 the newly-elected Liberal government of Manitoba, despite earlier promises, abolished bilingual education in the province and created a unilingual and compulsory public school system. The federal government, to ensure its reelection in 1917, introduced a War Time Elections Act, which disenfranchised all enemy alien immigrants naturalized after 1902. This carefully selected date meant that almost every naturalized Ukrainian lost his political rights. Finally, responding to the growing fear in Canada generated by Russian communism, in 1918 the federal authorities temporarily suppressed all non-English and non-French publications suspected of disloyalty. The mainstream Ukrainian press was obliged to provide parallel translation in English. Ottawa also banned all allegedly radical political groups, such as the Ukrainian Social Democratic party. Taras Ferley, the lone Ukrainian in the Manitoba Legislature vigorously protested the human rights violations of his countrymen. Even after the war, the wide-spread unemployment and labour unrest, especially the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919, further fueled the Anglo-Canadian antagonism toward Ukrainians, the convenient scapegoats. But despite this hostile environment, the Ukrainians persisted in their adaptation to Canada and in the organization of their community institutions.

The Second Immigration, 1919-1939

The Russian Revolution in 1917 ended the tsarist regime and allowed the radical Bolsheviks/communists to seize power. The revolution also gave the Ukrainians an opportunity to break out of their repressive condition and create an independent nation-state. However, in the ensuing bloody struggle between the newly established Ukrainian National Republic and communist Soviet Russia, the Russians emerged victorious. By 1921 Greater Ukraine once again was forcibly returned to Russian control, this time in the form of Soviet republic. Western Ukrainians were equally frustrated in their efforts to break away from Polish domination after the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Poland not only continued to hold Galicia but expanded into Volyn, a Ukrainian Orthodox region formerly under tsarist Russia. Romania and Czechslovakia also absorbed parts of Ukraine. Thus, in the interwar period Ukrainian people in Europe remained divided and subjugated. Many were ready to emigrate.

The First World War had cut off further overseas immigration to Canada. The severe economic slump after the war and a discriminatory attitude prompted a major revision of Canadian immigration policy. The vagueness of the Immigration Act of 1910 (which was not seriously revised until 1952) allowed the federal government to satisfy the growing public demand for immigration restriction. Asians were excluded; Jews were treated separately and the rest of the world was divided up into "preferred" and "non-preferred" countries as sources of future immigrants. Needless to say, Ukrainians fell into the second category. So it was not until late in the decade that any substantial addition to the Ukrainian Canadian community occurred. As agricultural commodity prices increased, Canadian railroads undertook rapid branch line extension in the northern prairies, increasing the demand for labour. The federal government agreed in 1925 to allow the railroad companies to recruit immigrants from Eastern Europe. For a few brief years, at the end of the 1920s, Ukrainian immigration once more reached significant proportions as 68,000 entered Canada.

In contrast to the first phase of immigrants, the interwar arrivals were better educated and more nationally conscious. While the majority headed for Western Canada, a number remained in southern Ontario, attracted by the employment opportunities of Canada's industrial heartland. Manitoba, however, continued to boast the largest Ukrainian population in Canada with nearly 30% of all Ukrainian Canadians (306,000 in 1941) living there. Winnipeg, with its concentration of Ukrainians press, numerous community organizations and head offices of the Ukrainian Catholic and Orthodox Churches, became the undisputed centre of Ukrainian life in Canada.

During the 1930s immigration of Ukrainians again slowed to a trickle. The onslaught of the Great Depression hit first at the most vulnerable-the unskilled, the unorganized and the inarticulate. On drought-ravaged prairie farms or sharing the desperate idleness of the urban unemployed, Ukrainians suffered at least as much as any other group in Canadian society. When the bleak decade began, the overwhelming majority of Ukrainians (85.7%), three-quarters of whom were rural, lived in the prairie provinces. Their relatively poor lands condemned them to years of isolated poverty. As the unemployment rolls grew longer, a disproportionate number of urban Ukrainians were thrown out of work and job discrimination became a fearful reality. Hundreds of Ukrainians, especially the younger ones who could speak unaccented English, Anglicized their names (Chornyi became Black, Horniatkevych-Horn, Kowalchuk-Coval, etc. ) to hide their ethnic identity. However, the majority, like the Andrusyshen family in Winnipeg, stubbornly remained true to their origin.

Community Organizations

The bloc settlements had allowed the Ukrainian pioneers to establish community organizations at the initial stage of their arrival. Basically, the organizations that appeared in Canada, the village church and the secularized community or reading hall (narodnyi dim and chytalnia-prosvita), reflected those of the Old Country. There was, however, one significant difference: the absence of a state-supported church. On the prairies, parishes were established and churches built before there was any meaningful involvement by the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church whose role in Canada had been frustrated by the Vatican and French Canadian church politics. By the time structured religious life took root within the Ukrainian Catholic community (1912), the nationalistic and secular Ukrainian intelligentsia had begun to assert themselves in Canada. The ensuing struggle for power with the Ukrainian Catholic leadership led to a schism and the resulting formation of the Ukrainian Greek-Orthodox Church. The new church, formed in 1918 in Saskatoon by the dissident Catholic laity, based itself on democratic and nationalistic principles. Through the interwar period, the Greek Catholic and the Orthodox Churches, despite their intense rivalry, held the allegiance of approximately two-thirds of the bitterly divided community. The Ukrainian Evangelical and Presbyterian Churches, benefiting from rural missionary work and urban intermarriages, grew steadily. But since the Ukrainian Protestants showed a greater propensity towards assimilation, they did not play a prominent role in the cultural and political life of the Ukrainian community.

The Ukrainian struggle for independent statehood in Europe had a major impact on Ukrainians in Canada. It strengthened the sense of national consciousness and identity. Regional labels of Bukovynian, Galician and Ruthenian were rapidly replaced by Ukrainian. It's a curious fact, but the majority of Ukrainian immigrants actually became Ukrainianized in Canada.

With the spread of communism, a number of the Ukrainian socialists in Canada embraced the ideals of communism, with its atheism and utopian vision of a just society. They formed a network of pro-Soviet labour temples (Ukrainian Labour-Farmer Temple Association) throughout Canada and were closely associated with the Communist Party of Canada. The Ukrainian radical left flourished briefly during the Depression, as it attracted the less educated and unemployed workers and impoverished farmers to its socio-economic agenda.

At the same time, however, alarming news about the Stalinist terror in Soviet Ukraine, especially the bloody purges and the genocidal man-made famine (1932-33), which killed an estimated seven million Ukrainians, galvanized the anti-communist camp.

Politically then, the Ukrainian community was divided. It was deeply and irreconcilably split between the communists and their sympathizers, on the one side, and the feuding anti-communists-democrats, monarchists and nationalists-on the other. In 1927 the founders of the Ukrainian Greek Orthodox Church organized a Canada-wide secular body, known as the Ukrainian Self-Reliance League (SUS), committed to the preservation of Ukrainian ethno-cultural identity and to the full integration of Ukrainians into Canadian society as equal citizens. The Ukrainian Catholics in 1932 founded their own organization, called the Brotherhood of Ukrainian Catholics (BUK), which stood for "Catholic religion, Ukrainian culture, Canadian citizenship". It became the largest single group within the community, but was not nearly as dynamic as the other organizations. The Ukrainian National Federation (UNO) was also formed in 1932. It was supported by the recently arrived militant nationalists who had fought for Ukrainian independence. These nationalists decried the religious squabbles in Canada and sought to unite all anti-Communist Ukrainian Canadians under their banner. There were other organizations as well. Out of this disharmonious mix, the Second World War was to forge the first national body of Ukrainian Canadians which could represent most of their community before their fellow citizens and the government.

Community Consolidation

Since 1918, there had been sporadic but unsuccessful attempts at cooperation among the competing non-communist organizations. With the outbreak of war in 1939, there was a strong compulsion to present a united patriotic front to the Canadian government, since there were still many bitter memories of the experiences of the previous war. The federal government, for its part, was anxious to ensure a united Canadian war effort and moved to arbitrate differences within the community. It sponsored a meeting in Winnipeg, in November 1940, which led to the formation of the Ukrainian Canadian Committee, known as the Ukrainian Canadian Congress since 1989. This national coordinating body, which spoke for all but the Communists, who rejected it and were rejected by it, has played an indispensable role in coordinating the encouragement, preservation, and development of Ukrainian ethno-cultural life in Canada, and thus promoting multiculturalism, since its creation.

Just as the Second World War pulled the country out of depression, it impelled Ukrainian Canadians closer to the mainstream of national life. This time there was no enemy alien stigma as a barrier to participation and military enlistment figures (app. 35,000) from within the community were heavy. A high proportion of the Winnipeg Grenadiers, who suffered in Hong Kong and spent the war as Japanese prisoners, were Ukrainian Canadians. The demonstrated patriotism and large enlistment helped to make Ukrainians more acceptable in the eyes of the critical Anglo-Canadian society and, at the same time, instilled in the Ukrainians themselves greater self-confidence as full-fledged Canadian citizens. The patriotic war effort changed the stereotypical image of Ukrainians as quaint peasants, fanatical nationalists and potential revolutionaries into one of normal citizens deeply committed to Canada.

The newly found confidence and a degree of wartime prosperity were also reflected in the increased Ukrainian participation in Canadian politics. There had been isolated electoral successes in the prairies prior to 1939 at the municipal and provincial levels, especially in Manitoba, and Alberta had sent the first Ukrainian Canadian M.P. (Michael Luchkovich) to Ottawa in 1926. Where there were heavy concentrations of Ukrainians, the technique of bloc voting would often produce local victories. But by the late 1940s, bloc voting was diminishing and, on occasion, two or even three candidates of Ukrainian origin would contest the same seat for different parties. This growing participation in political life by 1999 has seen well over a hundred Ukrainians elected to provincial legislatures and the House of Commons. The appointment of Ukrainians to provincial and federal cabinets, to the Senate, to the judiciary and to positions as provincial lieutenant governors marks the integration of the Ukrainian community into the mainstream of public life of Canada.

The Third Immigration, 1947-51

When the Second World War ended in Europe in May, 1945, more than two million Ukrainians found themselves outside their Soviet occupied homeland. Many of these refugees - German conscripted labourers and political émigrés-did not want to return to a dreaded communist system but were forcibly repatriated in accordance with an Allied agreement. By the time compulsory repatriation stopped, the number of Ukrainian refugees in Europe had dramatically declined to less than 200,000. Ukrainians in Canada, the United States and South America had lobbied their respective governments to end repatriation and to admit the refugees as immigrants.

The plight of the refugees (displaced persons or DPs) presented the Ukrainian Canadian Committee with an opportunity and a challenge. The UCC, with strong public support, approached the problem in two ways. It organized the Ukrainian Canadian Relief Fund to furnish material and moral aid; it lobbied Ottawa to allow the refugees to enter Canada.

The immigration issue was far more difficult than providing assistance. Uncertain about the economic ramifications of demobilization, the government was reluctant to admit Europe's refugees. It was largely due to the efforts of Anthony Hlynka, the MP for Vegreville and the forgotten father of the Third Immigration, that Ukrainian and other East European refugees were finally admitted into Canada. Working closely with the UCC, Hlynka vigorously and skillfully campaigned for a change in immigration policy. Aided by the post-war economic boom in the resource industry, Ukrainian pressure succeeded in opening Canada to the new immigrants. By 1952 most Ukrainian refugees in Europe were resettled, with over 32,000 coming to Canada. Entry regulations emphasized sponsorship and rigid health requirements. Because many of the refugees were sponsored by forestry and mining companies, they were sent to northern Ontario and Quebec. After they had fulfilled their contractual obligations, they, like their inter-war predecessors, gravitated to the industrial cities of southern Ontario. This by 1951, approximately 84,000 Ukrainians resided in Ontario and Toronto became the capital of the Third Immigration.

The third, and so far the last, major Ukrainian influx differed appreciably from the preceding waves. It consisted mainly of political refugees fleeing from communism and included Ukrainians from all regions of Ukraine. The injection of these highly politicized and generally well-educated immigrants into the Ukrainian Canadian social fabric energized and disrupted the established community life. The newcomers reinforced the community's nationalist face and intensified the struggle with the communist faction, best reflected in the Ukrainian press. Unexpected, yet quite normal, tension between the European and Canadian-born Ukrainians was another outcome of the post-war immigration. The newcomers were so preoccupied with the issue of the Ukrainian liberation struggle that they found the existing organizations too Canadian oriented and created their own, such as the Canadian League for the Liberation of Ukraine (LVU), the Ukrainian Youth Association of Canada (SUM) and Plast Ukrainian Youth Association. They also established their own press. The weekly, Homin Ukrainy/Ukrainian Echo became the main opinion maker of the Third Immigration. In general , many Ukrainian Canadians perceived the newcomers as arrogant and elitist political émigrés rather than as the future citizens of Canada.

Political factionalism, which had subsided during the war, was rekindled. To its immense credit, the UCC gradually incorporated the new organizations and prevented the atomization of Ukrainian Canadian community life. Nonetheless, that inter-Ukrainian bickering discouraged the majority of Ukrainian Canadians, especially the youth, from becoming involved in community structures.

The post war refugees represented the last significant Ukrainian immigration to Canada as the Iron Curtain effectively prevented further emigration from Eastern Europe until the collapse of communism in 1991. Those few thousand Ukrainians who arrived in Canada after 1952, came mainly from South America and Western Europe.

Recent Trends

The recognized voice for the Ukrainian Canadians is the Ukrainian Canadian Congress. Since its inception, the UCC has evolved into a sort of Ukrainian parliament in which Ukrainian community organizations participate on a regular basis. The UCC has managed to reconcile the old-line organizations with those of the Third Immigration and in this way has provided the necessary stability within the Ukrainian community. Ukrainian organizations in Canada had realized a long time ago the philosophical and political importance of the concept of general cultural pluralism, or multiculturalism, for their own ethno-cultural survival. As a response to assimilation, they pioneered the idea of multiculturalism and have been vigorously advocating it since the 1920s. The formal re- designation of Canada in 1971 from a British to a bilingual (English and French) and multicultural nation was, in large part, due to the persistent efforts of the UCC. It was only appropriate that Prime Minister Trudeau made this historic policy announcement at the national congress of the UCC.

The Ukrainian intelligentsia has traditionally regarded the retention of the native language as the key to the preservation of its heritage and identity. During the pioneer era in Canada, Ukrainian language retention was made relatively easy by the nature of bloc settlements and the educational provisions of the prairie provinces which allowed limited use of Ukrainian in rural public schools. Anglo-Canadian assimilationist pressure eliminated bilingual facilities in 1916, and Ukrainian was kept out of the school curriculum until the 1960s when, as a result of long and hard lobbying, the Ukrainian language returned in a piecemeal and limited fashion into the public schools of the prairies and later was introduced in Ontario. In the late 1970s, the first bilingual Ukrainian classes opened in Alberta and Manitoba. The Ukrainian determination and drive to win a place for their language in the public school system has served as a model for other ethnic minorities. But it has been the community based Ukrainian private (ridna shkola) and Catholic schools, which have contributed most positively to the preservation of the language and in inculcating students with the rudiments of their culture and history.

On a more advanced level, there had been a steady growth of Ukrainian studies at Canadian universities. Ukrainian scholarship entered the academic mainstream mainly due to the efforts of two non-Ukrainian professors, George Simpson of the University of Saskatchewan and Watson Kirkconnell of Acadia University. Beginning with the University of Saskatchewan in 1944, where a Winnipeg native, Constantine Andrusyshen headed Canada's first Department of Slavic Studies, Ukrainian studies and research (language, literature, culture and history) have been introduced at a number of Canadian universities. The most significant centres are the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies at the University of Alberta, the Centre for Ukrainian Canadians Studies ( St. Andrew's College) at the University of Manitoba and the Chair of Ukrainian Studies at the University of Toronto. In addition, there are community based learned societies, such as the Shevchenko Scientific Society (Toronto) and the Ukrainian Academy of Arts and Sciences in Canada (Winnipeg), and resource centres, such as the Ukrainian Cultural and Educational Center (Winnipeg) and the Ukrainian Museum of Canada (Saskatoon).

Apart from education, the print media have been a major vehicle of cultural continuity. Ukrainians in Canada have produced hundreds of different publications, ranging from popular literature to internationally acclaimed academic studies, in their native language. Until the 1970s, the Ukrainian press played a particularly crucial role. The press not only fulfilled the traditional function of keeping its readers abreast of Ukrainian activities in Canada and the world, but also assumed a definite community leadership role, stressing the dual responsibilities of Ukrainian Canadians to their heritage and to their new homelands, Canada. In addition, the newspapers generously opened their pages to both established and budding poets, writers and memoirists and, in this manner, encouraged the development of Ukrainian literature in Canada. Today, however, with the declining use of Ukrainian, the press is becoming more bilingual. In some way, the press has been supplanted by Ukrainian radio and community access television.

While the traditional Ukrainian Churches, the Catholic and Orthodox, have remained an important cornerstone of the Ukrainian community, their membership has been steadily diminishing. A growing number of Ukrainian Canadians has been turning to Roman Catholicism and Protestantism; some have abandoned organized religion altogether.

The most visible and successful manifestation of Ukrainian cultural heritage in Canada can be found in the performing and fine arts. Throughout Canada, Ukrainian festivals with colourful and artistic dances, performed by such renowned ensembles as Shumka of Edmonton, and the robust and melodious choirs, such as O. Koshetz of Winnipeg, have long been focal points of Ukrainian gatherings. From its humble origins, the intricate Easter egg (pysanka) has evolved into the symbol of Ukrainian identity in Canada. In a similar way, the unique church architecture characterizes the Ukrainian presence in rural and urban settings. The Ukrainian names of the declining rural communities on the prairies (Zhoda, Prawda, Sirko, Komarno, Petlura, Ukraina, Myrnam, etc.) complete the picture.

However, behind the facade of ethno-cultural vibrancy, the Ukrainian community in Canada is in a state of flux. The underlying cause of apprehension is the steady decline of the Ukrainian language as a viable means of communication. Thus, while in the 1990s nearly 50% of Ukrainian Canadians still recognize Ukrainian as their mother tongue, less than 20% actually speak it with any regularity. This language situation has been caused, in part, by the absence of any significant immigration from Ukraine, first, due to Soviet restrictions, and now, due to Canadian requirements. Unlike most other ethnic groups which have been steadily reinforced by the continuing arrival of their countrymen, the Ukrainian community had become overwhelmingly Canadian-born. Consequently, until 1991 Ukrainians in Canada have had to rely on their own, local resources for their ethno-cultural preservation and continuity.

This cultural self-reliance has been steadily undermined by the natural assimilationist forces, especially inter-marriages, which have made the predominant majority of Ukrainians functionally Anglophones. Those Ukrainian Canadians concerned with ethno-cultural survival have responded to the situation in two ways. The traditionalists - the older intelligentsia and some third generation activists - have renewed their efforts to regenerate the language. In the 1970s the Soviet repression of Ukrainian culture injected a new sense of urgency into the language issue, and the preservation of the Ukrainian language in Canada acquired an almost messianic dimension for the traditionalists. Such activist groups as Parents for Ukrainian Education have demonstrated a remarkable success in initiating heritage language programs in a number of public schools in the prairies and Ontario. The majority Anglophone Ukrainians, on the other hand, have been substituting English as a medium of Ukrainian Canadian cultural and religious expression. This majority believes that language no longer defines one's ethno-cultural identity; one does not have to speak Ukrainian to feel Ukrainian. They reject hyphenated Canadianism and see themselves as Canadians of Ukrainian ancestry. They stress the importance of English language publications on Ukrainian subjects and emphasize the non-verbal dimensions of traditional culture such as folk dancing, handicrafts, native cuisine, adherence to religious festivities (Ukrainian Christmas) and other forms of ethnicity.

These seemingly contradictory approaches to the preservation of the Ukrainian ethno-cultural identity in Canada have generated most stimulating, albeit inconclusive, debates in the Ukrainian community about the validity of the reconstituted Ukrainian Canadian culture, the future of the Ukrainian fact itself in Canada and relations with Ukraine. It is difficult to quantify the impact that the limited number of Ukrainian immigrants from Poland and the post-Soviet Ukraine has made on the Ukrainian Canadian fabric. But as the trickle of immigration continues, it will, of course, become part, although as yet undetermined, of the Ukrainian Canadian equation.

The majority of Ukrainians in Canada have considered Russia, both tsarist and communist, their historical enemy because it had been the prime oppressor of Ukraine's freedom. Community organizations, except for the pro-communist, have consistently believed in the ideal of an independent Ukrainian state. The UCC and its member organizations regularly lobbied the federal government to support Ukraine's independence. But because Canada pursued a cautions foreign policy towards the Soviet Union, Ottawa refrained from officially supporting the Ukrainian cause. However, in 1991 the outwardly mighty Soviet Union suddenly and unexpectedly began to disintegrate as a result of the disastrous failure of communist policies. Soviet republics moved towards separation. The political leadership of Soviet Ukraine joined forces with the popular reform movement Rukh, quickly abandoned communism and, on August 24, declared the country's independence. On December 1, Ukraine's independence was overwhelmingly confirmed by a national referendum (92%). Canada was the first Western nation to recognize formally Ukraine's statehood.

Ukrainian Canadians were naturally delighted by the dramatic change in Ukraine's international status, that from a colony to a sovereign nation. For many, this was a fulfillment of an age-long dream. Collectively and individually, Ukrainian Canadians have been extending generous material aid and professional expertise to their ancestral homeland. Canada has also been providing a range of assistance. And the struggling Ukraine needs a great deal of help to consolidate the viability of its independence. The transformation of Ukraine's entrenched Soviet dictatorial system into a Western-like democratic society has been a slow, difficult and painful process. The national economy is in disarray and the communists, who are opposed to economic reforms and the rule of law, are still a political force. However, there is room for optimism. After decades of repression, Ukrainian religious life, so important to the nation's moral well-being, is flourishing once again. The Ukrainian people are rediscovering the value of personal initiative, self-reliance and mutual cooperation: the survival techniques of the Ukrainian Canadian pioneers.

With the relaxation of travel restrictions, extensive reciprocative visits between Ukraine and Canada have become an important form of cultural exchange. In 1995 the president of Ukraine, Leonid Kuchma, paid a state visit to Canada during which he met with the Ukrainian community. Canada's Prime Minister Chrétien visited Ukraine in 1999.

Only time will tell how Ukrainian-Canadians will fare in the next century and what impact Ukraine will have on them. But in the meantime, the long struggle for acceptance has been largely won by their toughness, resourcefulness and resilience. The original lure of free lands has transformed the unwelcome Ukrainian immigrant mass into an integral and politically important element of Canada which has played a leading role in remaking Canada into a multicultural nation. Individual Ukrainians have attained some of the highest offices in the land: other have spearheaded breakthroughs in science or won national acclaim in the arts or sports. With such prominent Canadians of Ukrainian descent as the Governor General of Canada, Ramon Hnatyshyn: the Premier of Saskatchewan, Roy Romanow: the Premier of Manitoba, Gary Filmon; the Lieutenant Governor of Manitoba, Peter Liba; the Lieutenant Governors of Saskatchewan, Sylvia Fedoruk and Stephen Worobetz; the Supreme Court Justice, John Sopinka; Senators Paul Yuzyk and Raynell Andreychuk and the hockey superstar, Terry Sawchuk, Ukrainian Canadians should feel pretty comfortable in their country as its nation builders. Indeed, in the eyes of the most recent immigrants of other ethnic and racial origin, Ukrainian Canadians appear as members of the Canadian "establishment". The long, often disheartening, struggle for acceptance has been succeeded by the realization that further struggle lies ahead for Ukrainian Canadians, if much of their original culture is to be preserved.


Prepared for: The Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC-National)

Permission granted to republish for the Centre for Ukrainian Canadian Studies, U of M.