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90th Anniversary Speech

Dr. Alexandra Pawlowsky
Assistant to the Director
Centre for Ukrainian Canadian Studies

It is truly a pleasure to have been invited by Mr. Fred Mykytyshyn, the president of the Ukrainian National Home, to speak at this, the occasion of the 90th anniversary of the Ukrainian National Home Association of Winnipeg. My personal association with the Ukrainian National Home goes back many years to the time when I attended Ukrainian school, also known as ridna shkola, here. It was then taught by the late Mrs. Natalia Bashuk, a true leader of the Ukrainian community in Winnipeg and her association with the National Home reflects the caliber of people that this organization attracted over the years of its existence. Personally, for me, this reminiscence brings back fond memories of my youth and the development of friendships that have withstood the test of time. Later, while a teenager I attended many rehearsals of the Ukrainian young people's theatre here and while at university meetings of the students' group Hromada. When I began my professional career at the Centre for Ukrainian Canadian Studies at the University of Manitoba, I soon began to teach Conversational Ukrainian courses here, courses that were fully accredited by the University and for years funded by the Home. The course was taught here at the Home for some 20 years. My own personal experiences reflect the essence of what the Ukrainian National Home Association is and always has been, a home, in Ukrainian, a dim, a domivka, for the activities of the Ukrainian Canadian community in Winnipeg.

The Ukrainian National Home Association is the oldest secular Ukrainian organization currently in existence in this city. In Ukrainian the phrase "national home" translates as "narodnyy dim" and the narodnyy dim concept was brought to Canada by the pioneering Ukrainian immigrants. Narodni domy were established throughout western Ukraine in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to serve as vehicles of enlightenment for the Ukrainian populace, which under the yoke of foreign bondage, suffered from an extremely high illiteracy rate. It was under the auspices of the narodni domy that enlightenment did indeed begin to flourish as not only did literacy rates rise due to the tutelage provided there, but socio-cultural activities, choirs, dramatic circles and so on, sprung up around them. When the Ukrainians began arriving in North America in the late 1800s it is therefore not surprising that narodni domy or national homes were established wherever they settled.

With this historical background in mind, one can understand why the first, the pioneering group of Ukrainian immigrants to Winnipeg, felt the need to establish a National Home or narodnyy dim here. The Ukrainian National Home Association in Winnipeg was incorporated in 1913, but its roots extend back to 1905, when a first, albeit shortlived, National Home was established in the city by the pastor of St. Nicholas Church. The newly incorporated Home was a non-denominational organization to which memberships were sold in the form of ten dollar shares and whose first members, included members of the Ukrainian choral and dramatic ensembles, Mariya Zan'kovets'ka, Vynnychenko and Boyan, which were then all housed here. Once the National Home purchased this building in 1916 at the southeast corner of Burrows Avenue and MacGregor Street, it began to host lectures, dances, serve as a rehearsal hall for its member ensembles, provide music and handicraft lessons, maintain a lending library, sponsor evening and summer schools for children, provide a meeting hall and hold student club activities. For a year, the Adam Kotsko bursa, a residence for rural students studying in Winnipeg, was also housed here. Overall, in a very short span of time the Ukrainian National Home Association became the leading Ukrainian community organization in Winnipeg.

The Ukrainian National Home throughout the nine decades of its existence has undertaken a number of significant initiatives. In 1914, for example, the three artistic ensembles housed at the Home undertook to organize the Ukrainian community in Winnipeg and the surrounding areas, including all of the organizations, both religious and secular, to observe the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Taras Shevchenko.. It was also at the initiative of the National Home that the First Educational-Economic Congress of Ukrainians in Canada took place in December 1923 and it undertook to deal with issues relevant to all Ukrainian Canadians. In the late 1920s the work of the National Home was further vitalized by the arrival of Mykyta Mandryka, a representative of the Ukrainian Party of Socialist Revolutionaries, who was sent to Canada to organize émigré North American Ukrainians to support the Ukrainian cause in the homeland. In Winnipeg, Mandryka also devoted his efforts at further organizing the Home's cultural and educational programs and met with much success.

In the interwar period such luminaries as Vasile Avramenko held Ukrainian dance rehearsals and lessons in the National Home hall. The well known philanthropist Mrs. Anna Yonker, the Ukrainian born wife of the locally renowned physician, Dr. Henry Yonker, served on the executive of the Lesia Ukrayinka women's organization. Concerts, plays, dinners and dances were held here weekly and popular among the Ukrainians in Winnipeg.

In the almost sixty year period after World War II activity continued at the Home. Now there was not only a Ukrainian language school, but also an art school, established by the late Ukrainian artist, Kateryna Antonovych, which still bears her name today, dance and choral ensembles continued to hold rehearsals here, particularly the Hoosli folk ensemble, which has done so for many years and entertained us so well this evening. It was at the initiative of the Home that the empty lot across the street was revitalized and designated as Taras Shevchenko Park. Meetings and social events continue to be held at the Home.

The Home's activities are coordinated by its president and board of directors, on which I had the privilege to serve over a number of years. The Home can be proud of its executive for it is a group that is farsighted and ambitious and supports many community undertakings. Most of these are, of course, Ukrainian ones, but, and few might know this, other mainstream community ones, such as programs offered by Strathcona School, just across the street, are also supported. A central endeavour undertaken by the Home and its board of directors was to sponsor and for a number of years even fund, the previously mentioned Conversational Ukrainian course offered by the Centre for Ukrainian Canadian Studies with which I personally was so integrally involved. This undertaking was a fortuitous collaboration between the Ukrainian National Home and the Centre as both share similar aims, specifically, the preservation of the Ukrainian heritage in Canada. And, in fact, Mr. Fred Mykytyshyn, the longtime president of the Home served on the Centre's Policy Council for a number of years.

We have gathered here this evening to mark the 90th anniversary of the Ukrainian National Home Association in Winnipeg and by doing so we celebrate its many achievements. Ukrainian history ties ancient Ukraine Rus' with the Norse Vikings who are said to have ruled their world with their langen, the long ships, and it has occurred to me that our organizations, particularly those in Canada, rule with our version of such, our dovhi stoly,or long tables, which fill all Ukrainian halls, as they do this one. At these tables Ukrainians have shared communal bread, thought and purpose in over a century of their domicile in Canada. Many of the names and the personalities who were so integral to the Ukrainian National Home as it established itself and evolved into what it is today, have faded into the distance of time, but their contribution to the Ukrainian community remains significant and evident. We know that someone cared then and their spirits should know that the torch has been passed on and we continue to care and to carry the work they initiated on into the future.