Page Heading




Dr. Roman Yereniuk

Centre for Ukrainian Canadian Studies


St. Andrew’s College,

University of Manitoba


This paper is a series of observations on how multiculturalism has influenced public education over the past thirty years (1971 - 2001) and how this has impacted the Ukrainian Canadian community. The observations will be somewhat personal and reflect my experiences working in the Ukrainian Canadian community as well as in the Winnipeg School Division no. 1 in Manitoba as a school trustee.

The Policy of Multiculturalism

Multiculturalism, at its inception in 1971, had as its goal "that Canada would be a tolerant, ethnically diverse, pluralistic and politically stable society. The means of attaining this goal were to be generated from various sectors and spheres of Canadian society, including the social, educational, economic and political ones. Thus the challenge of multiculturalism was to give Canadians a greater respect for all its citizens, and to allow society to better mirror the reality of all citizens, by recognizing their various, cultural, racial, ethnic or religious backgrounds.

Multiculturalism has progressed in thirty years through several phases. In the first phase, much attention was placed on the protection of the cultural and linguistic rights of all Canadians. This phase emphasized the values of all ethno-cultural minorities in Canada and tried to place value on cultural and linguistic retention, cultural programming and cultural sharing between communities. To achieve this, much emphasis was placed on the concept of community development and the enhancement of the resources of each ethno-cultural community. The second phase placed more emphasis on issues of fairness and justice, particularly in dealing with minorities and matters of immigration. Here the emphasis was placed more on visible minorities, the elimination of racial discrimination, civil and political rights, and issues of equality. The focus now was on nurturing attitudes, creating an environment for the acceptance of racial and cultural diversity and providing real equality and real opportunities for all Canadians. The third and last phase heightened the issue of equality and called for positive measures in various sectors of society, including employment equity. Here the accent was placed on providing a level playing field for all in society and recognizing that all peoples are part of the Canadian mainstream.

Public education has been strongly impacted by Canada's policy of multiculturalism over the past thirty years. In fact, all three phases of the evolution of multiculturalism are evident in public education today. If multiculturalism was to become an important force in shaping the character of future Canadians, many believed that it had to be done to a large extent by schooling and education. Consequently, education accepted the challenge of multiculturalism and adapted schooling to reflect the "New Canadian Policy". Here are a few examples of how education has been modified over the past thirty years:

  • Language education has been enhanced (whereas many school divisions offered 2 to 4 languages thirty years ago, today some school divisions are offering up to 15 language opportunities);
  • Language programming has been improved to provide more fluency through immersion, bilingual as well as conversational and core programs;
  • Social Studies programs have been greatly changed to include more Canadian content, including multicultural content. Also a Eurocentric curriculum has been replaced by a more international one. Studies of different world societies including those of many of Canada's "ethnics - both old and new" are now the norm. Heritage festivals have been instituted in various school divisions and perhaps will be able to rival the "science fairs" within a few years;
  • Multicultural, antidiscrimination, and antiracism days or weeks (celebrations and festivals) are mainstays in most schools;
  • Staffing has been enhanced by multiculturalism. For example, teacher preparation at universities now includes a strong component of courses on multiculturalism and crosscultural education; professional days are used to in service teachers and other staff in numerous themes of multiculturalism across the curriculum; and school staff are now more reflective of society as a whole as more emphasis is placed on employment equity (staff are important role models for the youth). An interesting concrete example is the fifteen year tradition of the Winnipeg School Division #1 in hiring community liaison officers for the most recent immigrant communities to assist these communities with the transition from home to school (we Ukrainians did not have such resources for our first three waves of emigrants); and
  • Policy development has been enhanced in all school divisions due to multiculturalism. Policies pertaining to various aspects of multiculturalism, including language and culture acquisition, antiracism, antidiscrimination and equality issues have been created or enhanced. Many of the employee group contracts, also contain policy statements to reflect the above.

These are but a few examples of how public education has been influenced due to the impact of multiculturalism.


The Response of the Ukrainian Community in the Area of Linguistic Retention

The Ukrainian Canadian community, which has been a part of Canada for over 110 years (1891-the present), has been influenced by Canada's policy of multiculturalism. As an "old ethnic community", it greeted the advent of multiculturalism at a time when the community's future was challenged by many issues. Of significance is the fact that multiculturalism provided the Ukrainian Canadian community with a major challenge to rethink and reevaluate its future direction, especially in the areas of the arts, culture, education and linguistic retention.

In public education, the major challenge for the Ukrainian Canadian community was the loss of language fluency as indicated by the Canadian census reports and by indicators in the community: the "Ridni Shkoly" (native language schools), which were usually held on Saturday mornings, and core Ukrainian programs were not producing the level of fluency deemed appropriate to maintain the Ukrainian language. As a result, influenced by multiculturalism and to some degree by the "French immersion movement" across Canada, Ukrainian Canadians began to petition provincial governments and school boards for English-Ukrainian bilingual programs - half a day in English and half a day in Ukrainian. It is interesting that these programs had existed in the 1904-1916 period in the Canadian prairies but were quickly curtailed and cancelled because of political pressures. These requests, due to strong political and community lobbying and influenced by the "new climate" of multiculturalism, were approved quickly by the three prairie legislatures and soon the programs were initiated in Alberta (beginning in 1974-75), later in Manitoba (1979-80), and still later in Saskatchewan (1981-82). Today some 2100 students on the prairies are studying in the English-Ukrainian bilingual schools in 11 school divisions and 23 schools, from kindergarten level to grade 12, with a greater concentration in the early and middle school programs. In the 25-year history of the Alberta program (currently in 4 school divisions and 12 schools with 1066 pupils for 2000-2001), the 20-year history of the Manitoba program (currently in 6 school divisions and 10 schools with 840 pupils for 2000-2001), and the Saskatchewan program (currently 1 school division and one school with 185 pupils), the educational progress has been significant. Altogether approximately 10,000 pupils in the three prairie provinces have been enrolled in the program since its inception.

In the Ukrainian Canadian community the English-Ukrainian bilingual program became a major success due to the influence of multiculturalism and its "concept of community development," one that involved the active support of parents and the community. The program quickly created new community organizations - English-Ukrainian bilingual parent councils at each school and umbrella provincial parents organizations: the Alberta Parents for Ukrainian Education and Manitoba Parents for Ukrainian Education (MPUE). These "new" community organizations sought out and brought out the generation of young parents (aged between 25-40), who became involved in language education in multiculturalism (when at this time many of the traditional Ukrainian Canadian organization had average ages of between 55 and 70). The commitment of these parental groups has been an important new force in the Ukrainian Canadian "hromada" (it should be pointed out that many are third and fourth generation Ukrainian Canadians, while on occasion they are from a mixed marriage or sometimes not even from a Ukrainian background).

In Manitoba, one of the challenges of MPUE and its school parent councils has been to offer assistance for the success of the English-Ukrainian bilingual program (EUBP) with recruitment initiatives, resources, cultural outreach and lobbying. Just like hockey had its "hockey moms and dads," the bilingual program now also has its "Ukrainian bilingual moms and dads." This organized force in all three prairie provinces has played a most important role as the promoter of a very unique Canadian multicultural linguistic program.

In Manitoba, MPUE soon expanded its work and, in order to assist the EUBP it created a publishing house called Dzvin (the purpose of which was to develop and publish new pedagogical materials and readers, in consultation with the Ukrainian Language Consultant of the Department of Education), established a foundation called Osvita (the purpose of which was to guarantee funding for the parental recruitment drives, outreach activities and lobbying activities). Dzvin published an initial series of twenty-one readers for the program, which have also been widely disseminated across North America. The Osvita Foundation has an annual fundraising banquet honouring prominent Ukrainian community leaders (fifteen have taken place so far) and has also received a number of bequests. It now boasts a capital fund of over a million dollars with the interest generated funding MPUE and the bilingual program.

With this very good start, the program and MPUE in Manitoba became an example to other ethnocultural communities. In the spirit of multicultural cooperation, the "English-Ukrainian bilingual experience" shared its success and knowledge with two other communities and assisted them with the creation of the English-German bilingual program (1981-2) and the English-Hebrew bilingual program (1982-83), which also have strong parental component organizations. A major successful outgrowth of this relationship has been an annual exchange between students in the three programs. This project is referred to as "Project HUG" and entails a one-day language- and culture-sharing exchange between students at a selected grade level. This project has now been in existence for over a decade. Finally, it should be pointed out that the three bilingual programs and their parent committees were instrumental in the creation of the Manitoba Association for Bilingual Education (MABE) and Manitoba Association for the Promotion of Ancestral Languages (MAPAL) which play a leadership role in the provincial languages umbrella consortium.

The English-Ukrainian bilingual programs are all funded by their provinces and school divisions. They are dependent on significant numbers of students at all class levels. Each school division defines these numbers differently. Generally 20-25 students are needed at the various class levels. Appropriate numbers are especially necessary for the entry years - Kindergarten and Grade I. The numbers taper off somewhat at the higher grades and a number of split classes are sometimes instituted. All of this exists within the public school systems in western Canada as part and parcel of the Canadian educational system. The contribution and assistance of the English-Ukrainian bilingual parent committees is important however, for they support many of the cultural outreach activities for the students as well as additional resources for the schools and teachers. Thus these parent committees do much fundraising to support the various activities.

The provincial councils, APUE and MPUE, which coordinate the bilingual programs in each province, have received significant funding from both the federal and provincial offices of multiculturalism to support these initiatives. In the beginning this was considered especially important by the government funders as a major exercise in "community development." Over the past decade this support has started to decline and today the two provincial umbrellas receive only small grants for the support of their initiatives. This parallels the slow decline of the concept of "community development" in the areas of cultural and linguistic programming by the policies of multiculturalism in Canada.

Challenges for the Future

Today, however, there are a series of challenges for English-Ukrainian bilingual education within the public schooling system in Canada as part of multiculturalism. First, the gains made in this area took much effort and many resources, and played an important role in "community development" in the Ukrainian Canadian community. This could all be lost over the next decade. The community must be vigilant that these achievements do not disappear and that multiculturalism continues to support in part these initiatives.

Second, the parents involved in the bilingual schools and in the provincial umbrellas must continue to be proactive and creative in their work. The same proactive work that initiated the program must now be channeled to new endeavours. One of the interesting new directions for the bilingual program could be the harnessing of resources to improve fluency by establishing "living" contacts with students in Ukraine (through pen pals, e-mailing, school exchanges and student visitations). Ten years ago this was not possible.

Third, the bilingual program must continue to work in partnership, to build new, exciting approaches and initiatives in education. The forging of a partnership with the aboriginal community (for whom language retention is also an important issue) or with the visible minorities (for example in the area of the arts) could be initiated. Additional funding probably would be available. The sharing we see in the Manitoba model of "Project HUG" could easily be replicated and expanded in new models.

Overall, the English-Ukrainian bilingual program in public schools probably serves as one of the best examples within the Ukrainian Canadian community of taking advantage of Canada's multiculturalism policy and implementing a dynamic linguistic and cultural community initiative.

Roman Yereniuk is the Acting Director and Lecturer in the Centre for Ukrainian Canadian Studies, University of Manitoba and Associate Professor of St. Andrew’s College. He has written extensively on the Ukrainian religious tradition and Eastern Christianity in Ukraine as well as in Canada. For fourteen years, he was a school trustee in the Winnipeg School Division. Previously he was involved with Manitoba Parents for Ukrainian Education (Provincial Esrecutive), Osvita Foundation and the Ralph Brown English-Ukrainian Bilingual Program. Recently, he also served as a consultant on community voices in public education to the school boards of the cities of Lviv, Ternopil and Ivano Frankivsk in Ukraine. In addition he has spearheaded Project “Liubov-Love”, that assists poor youth in Ukraine,  and has organized five successful youth camps for teenagers – Camp Tabir “Zustrich” in Ukraine and Canada.