Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


Ukrainians from the provinces of Galicia and Bukovyna, two rural backwaters of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, settled large areas of the Canadian Prairies and some small areas of the Northern Great Plains. They were pushed to migrate by poor economic conditions. Most land in western Ukraine was owned by the aristocracy; peasant farms were mostly fragmented, small, and inefficient. Even for those with land, the system of inheritance promised to reduce the size of their off- springs' holdings. For most peasants the economic outlook was dismal.

In 1880s Germans from Galicia had emigrated to Alberta. News of their progress reached Ivan Pylypiv in Nebyliv, Kalush County. Contemplating emigration, Pylypiv and another Nebyliv peasant, Vasyl Elyniak, traveled to Canada in 1891 to visit the Alberta German colony at Josephburg. They returned to bring out others to settle at Star, near Josephburg, in 1892. By 1895 chain migration had brought in some thirty-eight families, all from Nebyliv and the neighboring district.

In 1895 Dr. Josef Oleskiv, a professor of agriculture at Lviv who was concerned about the growing emigration of Ukrainians to Brazil, published a pamphlet, Pro vilni zemli (About free lands), advising against emigration to Brazil and suggesting Canada as an alternative. After a visit to Canada he gave it his endorsement in O emigratsii (On emigration), a pamphlet widely circulated in western Ukraine. Oleskiv hoped to secure exclusive rights to manage Ukrainian emigration to Canada so as to prevent the emigration of unprepared or undesirable settlers. The Canadians balked at this, but they nevertheless cooperated with him. The emigrants he recruited were regarded as the best-prepared and best-led Ukrainian settlers to enter Canada.

Oleskiv's work triggered a surge of emigration to Canada in the late 1890s, over which he soon lost control. Lured by visions of free land, and often with unrealistic expectations of rapid economic progress, thousands of Ukrainians from Galicia and Bukovyna emigrated to Canada. Before 1905, families seeking land predominated; thereafter, single men, many of whom sought work in western mines and cities before taking land, formed the majority. A small proportion, a few hundred at the most, were lured to North Dakota by American agents in Winnipeg. By the time the outbreak of war in Europe halted emigration in 1914, some 170,000 Ukrainians had arrived in Canada.

Ukrainians settled in a series of large blocks that arced across the northern fringe of the aspen-parkland belt from southeastern Manitoba through Saskatchewan into central Alberta. This distinctive pattern of settlement resulted from the interplay of an array of forces: the environmental preferences of the immigrants; their economic circumstances upon arrival; the immigrants' desire to settle alongside their friends, relatives, and countrymen; the presence of German-speaking settlers from Ukraine (with whom they could communicate); the availability of off-farm work; and the concern of the Canadian government to prevent the growth of massive blocks of foreign settlers. Unchecked chain migration worried Canadian officials because it created massive blocks of Ukrainian settlements. Only with great difficulty were newcomers induced to pioneer in new areas to create new settlement nuclei, thereby fragmenting Ukrainian settlement and facilitating assimilation.

Ukrainian settlers resisted placement on the open prairie since the vast majority were from the wooded foothill regions on the eastern flank of the Carpathians and so had no experience of steppeland agriculture, nor did they have sufficient capital to contemplate immediate entry into commercial agriculture. Instead they chose to occupy wooded lands that were often marginal in terms of their long-term agricultural potential but offered a wide resource base for those bent on selfsu. ciency and mixed farming. Wood was seen as a vital resource for building, fencing, and use as fuel. Long-term economic progress was sacrificed to secure immediate survival. Most Ukrainian settlers were dependent on off-farm work to generate capital for farm development, and for decades they "worked out" on threshing crews, railroad construction gangs, and in regional resource industries.

Ukrainian settlements were also shaped internally by chain migration. Immigrants from Galicia, mostly Ukrainian Catholics, settled separately from those from Bukovyna, who were mostly Ukrainian Orthodox. Further groupings by district, village of origin, and extended family were also common.

The interwar years brought a second, smaller wave of immigration from Ukraine to western Canada. Some homesteaded on the agricultural margins but most gravitated to the cities, where they joined established Ukrainian communities. Farm consolidation and opportunities in urban centers saw Ukrainian rural communities decline, while the proportion of Ukrainians in the parkland cities of Winnipeg, Saskatoon, and Edmonton increased dramatically. The postwar years saw a third wave of Ukrainian immigration into Canada, of which a small proportion gravitated to Prairie cities. The Ukrainian community still reflects its origins in its internal divisions on the basis of religious affiliation, political orientation, and, to some extent, time of immigration.

See also: ARCHITECTURE: Ukranian Architecture.

John C. Lehr University of Winnipeg

Kaye, Vladimir J. Early Ukrainian Settlements in Canada, 1895–1900. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1964.

Lehr, John C. "Peopling the Prairies with Ukrainians." In Canada's Ukrainians, Negotiating an Identity, edited by Lubomyr Luciuk and Stella Hryniuk. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991: 30–52.

Martynovytch, Orest. Ukrainians in Canada: The Formative Period 1891–1924. Edmonton: Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies Press, University of Alberta, 1991.

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