Puneet Varma (Editor)

Ukrainian Canadians

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Ukrainian Canadians

Ukrainian Canadians (Ukrainian: Українські канадці, Україноканадці; translit. Ukrayins'ki kanadtsi, Ukrayinokanadtsi) is a term that refers to Canadian citizens of Ukrainian descent or Ukrainian-born people who immigrated to Canada. In 2011, there were an estimated 1,251,170 persons of full or partial Ukrainian origin residing in Canada (the majority being Canadian-born citizens) making them Canada's ninth largest ethnic group, and giving Canada the world's third-largest Ukrainian population behind Ukraine itself and Russia. Self-identified Ukrainians are the plurality in several rural areas of Western Canada. Of the 1,251,170 who identify as Ukrainian, only 144,260 (or 11.5%) can actually speak either the modern Ukrainian language or the archaic Canadian Ukrainian dialect.


Unconfirmed settlement before 1891

Some have theorized that a small number of Ukrainians might have first set foot in Canada as infantrymen alongside Poles in the Swiss French "De Meurons" and "De Watteville" regiments who fought for the British on the Niagara Peninsula during the War of 1812 – and that Ukrainians were among those soldiers who decided to stay in Upper Canada (southern Ontario). Other Ukrainians supposedly arrived as part of other immigrant groups; it has been claimed that individual Ukrainian families may have settled in southern Manitoba in the 1870s alongside block settlements of Mennonites and other Germans from the Russian Empire. "Galicians" are noted as being among the miners of the British Columbia gold rushes and figure prominently in some towns in that new province's first census in 1871 (these may have been Poles and Belarusians as well as Ukrainians). Because there is so little definitive documentary evidence of individual Ukrainians among these three groups, they are not generally regarded as among the first Ukrainians in Canada.

Settlement – first wave (1891–1914)

During the nineteenth century the territory inhabited by Ukrainians in Europe was divided between the Austro-Hungarian and Russian empires. The Austrian crownlands of Galicia and Bukovyna were home to many Ukrainian speakers. Austrian Galicia was one of the poorest and most overpopulated regions in Europe, and had experienced a series of blights and famines. Emigration on a large scale from Galicia to the Balkans (the north-south border region between Croatia and Bosnia) and even to Brazil was already underway by 1891.

The first wave of Ukrainian immigration to Canada began with Iwan (Ivan) Pylypow and Wasyl (Vasyl') Eleniak, who arrived in 1891, and brought several families to settle in 1892. Pylypow helped found the Edna-Star Settlement east of Edmonton, the first and largest Ukrainian block settlement. However, it is Dr. Josef Oleskow, along with Cyril Genik, who are considered responsible for the large Ukrainian Canadian population through their promotion of Canada as a destination for immigrants from western (Austrian-ruled) Ukraine in the late 1890s. Ukrainians from Central Ukraine, which was ruled by the Russian monarchy, also came to Canada – but in smaller numbers than those from Galicia and Bukovina. Approximately 170,000 Ukrainians from the Austro-Hungarian Empire arrived in Canada from 1891 to 1914.

Clifford Sifton, Canada's Minister of the Interior from 1896 to 1905, also encouraged Ukrainians from Austria-Hungary to immigrate to Canada since he wanted new agricultural immigrants to populate Canada's prairies. After retirement, Sifton defended the new Ukrainian and East European immigrants to Canada – who were not from the United Kingdom, the United States, Scandinavia, France, Germany or the Netherlands – by stating:

This Ukrainian immigration to Canada was largely agrarian, and at first Ukrainian Canadians concentrated in distinct block settlements in the parkland belt of the prairie provinces: Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. While the Canadian Prairies are often compared to the steppes of Ukraine, the settlers came largely from Galicia and Bukovina – which are not steppe lands, but are semi-wooded areas in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains. This is why Ukrainians coming to Canada settled in the wooded aspen parklands – in an arch from Winnipeg and Stuartburn, Manitoba to Edmonton and Leduc, Alberta – rather than the open prairies further south. As well, the semi-feudal nature of land ownership in the Austrian Empire meant that in the "Old Country" people had to pay the pan (landlord) for all their firewood and lumber for building. Upon arriving in Canada, the settlers often demanded wooded land from officials so that they would be able to supply their own needs, even if this meant taking land that was less productive for crops. They also attached deep importance to settling near to family, people from nearby villages or other culturally similar groups, furthering the growth of the block settlements.

Fraternal and benevolent organizations established by these settlers include the Ukrainian Labour Farmer Temple Association (ULFTA, affiliated with the Communist Party of Canada), the Ukrainian Catholic Brotherhood (UCB, affiliated with the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Canada), and the Ukrainian Self-Reliance League (USRL, affiliated with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada). The ULFTA transformed itself into the Association of United Ukrainian Canadians in 1946, the UCB and USRL are part of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress today.

By 1914, there were also growing communities of Ukrainian immigrants in eastern Canadian cities, such as Toronto, Montreal, Hamilton, and Windsor. Many of them arrived from the provinces of Podillia, Volhynia, Kyiv and Bessarabia in Russian-ruled Ukraine. In the early years of settlement, Ukrainian immigrants faced considerable amounts of discrimination at the hands of non-Slavic, non-Southern European Canadians, an example of which was the internment.

Internment (1914–1920)

From 1914 to 1920, the political climate of the First World War allowed the Canadian Government to classify immigrants with Austro-Hungarian citizenship as "aliens of enemy nationality". This classification, authorized by the 1914 War Measures Act, permitted the government to legally compel thousands of Ukrainians in Canada to register with federal authorities. About 5,000 Ukrainian men, and some women and children, were interned at government camps and work sites. Although many Ukrainians were "paroled" into jobs for private companies by 1917, the internment continued until June 20, 1920 – almost a year after the Treaty of Versailles was signed by Canada on June 28, 1919.

There are some two dozen Ukrainian-specific plaques and memorials in Canada commemorating Canada's first national internment operations, including several statues – on the grounds of the Manitoba Legislative Building and at the locations of the former internment camps in Banff National Park, Alberta, Spirit Lake (La Ferme), Quebec, and Kapuskasing, Ontario. Most were placed by the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association (UCCLA) and its supporters. On August 24, 2005, Prime Minister Paul Martin recognized the Ukrainian Canadian internment as a "dark chapter" in Canadian history, and pledged $2.5 million to fund memorials and educational exhibits although that funding was never provided.

On May 9, 2008, following the 2005 passage of Inky Mark's Bill C-331, the Government of Canada, under Prime Minister Stephen Harper, established a $10 million fund following several months of negotiation with the Ukrainian Canadian community's representatives, including the UCCLA, Ukrainian Canadian Congress and Ukrainian Canadian Foundation of Taras Shevchenko (also known as the Shevchenko Foundation), establishing the Canadian First World War Internment Recognition Fund (CFWWIRF). The Endowment Council of the CFWWIRF uses the interest earned on that amount to fund projects that commemorate the experience of Ukrainians and other Europeans interned between 1914 and 1920. The funds are held in trust by the Shevchenko Foundation. Amongst the commemorative projects funded by the Endowment Council was the unveiling, simultaneously across Canada, of 115 bilingual plaques on August 24, 2014, recalling the 100th anniversary of the first implementation of the War Measures Act. This was known as Project "Сто" (translit. Sto) (meaning "one hundred"), and organized by the UCCLA.

Settlers, workers and professionals – second wave (1923–1939)

In 1923, the Canadian government modified the Immigration Act to allow former citizens of the Austrian Empire to once again enter Canada – and Ukrainian immigration started anew. Ukrainians from western Volhynia – the Polesie and Wołyń Voivodeships (under Polish rule), and southern Bessarabia – also known as the Budjak (under Romanian rule), joined a new wave of emigrants from Polish-governed Galicia and Romanian-governed Bukovyna. Around 70,000 Ukrainians from Poland and Romania arrived in Canada from 1924 to 1939, although the flow decreased severely after 1930 due to the Great Depression.

Relatively little farmland remained unclaimed – the majority in the Peace River region of northwestern Alberta – and less than half of this group settled as farmers in the Prairie provinces. The majority became workers in the growing industrial centers of southern Ontario and the Montreal region and the Eastern Townships of Quebec; the mines, smelters and forests of northern Ontario; and the small heavy industries of urban western Canada. A few Ukrainian professionals and intellectuals were accepted into Canada at this time; they later became leaders in the Ukrainian Canadian community.

The second wave was heavily influenced by the struggle for Ukrainian independence during the Russian Civil War, and established two competing fraternal / benevolent organizations in Canada: the United Hetman Organization (UHO) in 1934 – which supported the idea of a Ukrainian "Cossack kingdom" led by Pavlo Skoropadskyi; and the rival Ukrainian National Federation (UNF) in 1932 – which supported the idea of an independent Ukrainian republic and politically supported the armed Ukrainian nationalist insurgency in Polish-occupied Western Ukraine. The UHO ceased to exist by 1960, while the UNF continued to expand and became the largest and most influential Ukrainian organization in Canada, spearheading the creation of the Ukrainian Canadian Committee (later Ukrainian Canadian Congress) during World War II.

Workers and professionals – third wave (1945–1952)

From World War II to 1991, most Ukrainians coming to Canada were political refugees and Displaced Persons who tended to move to cities in southern Ontario, southern Quebec and the Lower Mainland of British Columbia – there are now large Ukrainian communities in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. They established a number of new organizations and affiliated newspapers, women's and youth groups, the most prominent of which was the Canadian League for the Liberation of Ukraine (renamed the League of Ukrainian Canadians after the collapse of the USSR in 1991). The League joined the Ukrainian Canadian Committee (later Ukrainian Canadian Congress) in 1959.

Political refugees – fourth wave (1970s–1991)

Relatively few Ukrainians came to Canada during the Brezhnev and Gorbachev years, as exit visas could take several years to get approved.

Post-independent Ukraine – fifth wave (1991–present)

After the dissolution of the USSR, emigration from Ukraine increased. Rising levels of corruption, the dismantlement of some social services, low-paying employment and loss of jobs in Ukraine, made immigration attractive once again.


Having been separated from Ukraine, Ukrainian Canadians have developed their own distinctive Ukrainian culture in Canada. To showcase their unique hybrid culture, Ukrainian Canadians have created institutions that showcase Ukrainian Canadian culture such as Edmonton's Cheremosh and Shumka troupes – among the world's elite Ukrainian dancers; or the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village – where Ukrainian pioneer buildings are displayed along with extensive cultural exhibits.

Ukrainian Canadians have also contributed to Canadian culture as a whole. Actress and comedian Luba Goy, singer Gloria Kaye, and painter William Kurelek, for example, are well known outside the Ukrainian community.

Historically Ukrainian Canadians were among Canada's poorest and least educated minorities; but as the process of cultural integration has accelerated, this is no longer the case and Ukrainian Canadians are currently near the national economic average.

Perhaps one of the most lasting contributions Ukrainian Canadians have made to the wider culture of Canada is the concept of multiculturalism which was promoted as early as 1964 by Senator Paul Yuzyk. During and after the debates surrounding the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism Ukrainian leaders, such as linguist Jaroslav Rudnyckyj, came out in force against the notion of English - French biculturalism which they believed denied the contributions other peoples had made to Canada. Partly in response to this, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau shifted Canada to a policy of official multiculturalism.


The Western Ukrainian agricultural settlers brought with them a style of folk architecture dominated by buildings made of unprocessed logs, which were much better suited to the wooded parkland belt rather than the "bald prairie". The first house built – usually a burdei – used some sod; but was not exactly a sod hut, more like a dugout. The second house was often a white-washed and plastered log cabin usually with thatched roof, very similar to those seen in Ukraine. Barns, chicken coops, granaries, and so on were all built using the same techniques as the houses. By the 1930s most Ukrainian Canadians adopted the building styles of the North American mainstream including framed homes and barns built from commercial plans and using milled lumber.

Early churches, built by pioneer farmers rather than trained builders, were basically log cabins with a few added decorations. They aspired to the designs of Ukraine's wooden churches, but were much more humble. Latter churches – such as the "prairie cathedral" style of Philip Ruh, using a mixture of Byzantine and Western influences – were much more decorative.


In addition to the official English and French languages, many prairie public schools offer Ukrainian language education for children, including immersion programs. Generally second language students are taught the local Canadian Ukrainian dialect, rather than Standard Ukrainian.

There are a few Ukrainian Catholic elementary schools in the Greater Toronto Area including St. Josaphat Catholic Elementary school (Toronto), Josef Cardinal Slipyj Elementary school (Etobicoke) and St. Sofia Catholic Elementary school (Mississauga); as well as Holy Spirit Eastern Rite Elementary School in Hamilton.


Many Ukrainians fled Russia, Poland, and later, the Soviet Union, to find freedom and a better life in Canada. For them Canada became "an anti-Russia", where they could realize their political and economic ideas. Most Ukrainian Canadians were anti-Soviet, yet a minor group of Ukrainians has since 1910 supported Canadian socialism and contributed to the formation of the Communist Party of Canada, and formed a significant bloc within that group. They were also active in other Marxist organizations like the Ukrainian Labour Farmer Temple Association (ULFTA). Ukrainians also played a central role in the 1930s formation of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) and the 1960s formation of the New Democratic Party. Ukrainians were a notable portion of the Mackenzie–Papineau Battalion of Canadians who volunteered and fought in the Spanish Civil War on the side of the leftist republican government against the nationalist troops of Generalísimo Francisco Franco.

Ukrainians in Canada at first supported the Liberal Party federally and provincially, a minority moved towards the 1930s protest parties of Social Credit and the CCF federally and provincially. The strident anti-communism of John Diefenbaker in the 1950s led the more nationalist-minded to support the federal Progressive Conservatives. Today's Ukrainian community tends to vote based on economic class interests and/or regional preferences.

The nationalist movement, through the Ukrainian National Federation and the Canadian League for the Liberation of Ukraine, was also an important part of the community. After Ukraine became independent Canada was one of the first nations to recognize Ukraine. Later Ukrainian Canadians were vital in fundraising to build the Embassy of Ukraine in Ottawa. As well, Canada has recognized the Holodomor (Ukrainian Famine) as an act of genocide. Canada also sent many observers to Ukraine during the disputed 2004 presidential election (see: Orange Revolution). The Government of Canada as well as its provincial governments – especially the Ukrainian strongholds in Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan – do much to support Ukraine's economic and political development.

The Ukrainian Canadians had and have much more influence in Canadian society and policy than any other East European group; therefore they have had several prominent figures in top positions: Ray Hnatyshyn was the 24th Governor General of Canada (1990–1995) and the first Governor General of Ukrainian descent. Ukrainians were also elected leaders of Canada's prairie provinces in alternating order: Gary Filmon was Premier of Manitoba (1988–1999), nearly simultaneously with Hnatyshyn; and Roy Romanow was Premier of Saskatchewan (1991–2001), also partly at the same time as Filmon and Hnatyshyn.

Ed Stelmach became Premier of Alberta in 2006 as the third provincial prime minister of Ukrainian descent. He succeeded Ralph Klein (1992–2006), who had cabinets with many Ukrainian ministers. Stelmach himself is the grandson of Ukrainian immigrants and speaks fluent Ukrainian. He left office in October 2011.


Most Ukrainians who came to Canada from Galicia were Ukrainian Catholic and those from Bukovyna were Ukrainian Orthodox. However, people of both churches faced a shortage of priests in Canada. The Ukrainian Catholic clergy came into conflict with the Roman Catholic hierarchy because they were not celibate and wanted a separate governing structure. At the time, the Russian Orthodox Church was the only Orthodox Christian church that operated in North America – because they had arrived first via Alaska, and traditionally Orthodox churches are territorially exclusive. However, Ukrainians in Canada were suspicious of being controlled from Russia, first by the Tsarist government and later by the Soviets. Partially in response to this, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada was created as a wholly Ukrainian Canadian-controlled alternative. As well the Ukrainian Catholic clergy were eventually given a separate structure from the Roman Church.


Canada is home to some very vibrant Ukrainian dance groups. Some examples of Ukrainian dance ensembles in Canada are the Ukrainian Shumka Dancers and the Cheremosh Ukrainian Dance Company in Edmonton, the Rusalka Ukrainian Dance Ensemble and Rozmai Ukrainian Dance Company in Winnipeg, the Svitanok Ukrainian Dance Ensemble in Ottawa, and hundreds of other groups.

The Ukrainian Canadian Foundation of Taras Shevchenko provides some financial support for Ukrainian Canadian performing, literary and visual arts.

Ukrainians in general are noted for their elaborately decorated Easter Eggs or pysanky, and that is also true in Canada. The world's largest pysanka is in Vegreville, Alberta.

Ukrainian Canadian churches are also famous for their onion domes, which have elaborately painted murals on their interior, and for their iconostasis, or icon walls.


Ukrainian Canadian musicians and groups include Randy Bachman, the Canadian Bandurist Capella, Ron Cahute, Rick Danko, Victor Mishalow, Chantal Kreviazuk, Gordie Johnson, and Canadian Idol season 2 runner-up Theresa Sokyrka. The Edmonton-based group the Kubasonics focuses on a folk fusion of traditional Ukrainian music with modern touches.


Cultural food is an important part of Ukrainian culture. Special foods are used at Easter as well as Christmas that are not made at any other time of the year. In fact on Christmas Eve (January 6 in the Gregorian calendar), a special twelve-dish meatless meal is served. The best-known foods are: borshch (a vegetable soup, usually with beets), holobtsi (cabbage rolls), pyrohy or varenyky (dumplings often called "perogies"), and kovbasa (garlic sausage).

Several items of Ukrainian food and culture have been enshrined with roadside attractions throughout the Prairie provinces. These are celebrated in the polka Giants of the Prairies by the Kubasonics. For example, the world's largest perogy is in Glendon, Alberta, and the world's biggest kovbasa is in Mundare, Alberta.


There are a number of Ukrainian Canadian institutions, such as:

  • the Ukrainian Canadian Congress – a national umbrella organization, established in 1940, represents the Ukrainian Canadian community. The UCC has branches and provincial councils across the country and has dozens of member organizations. The UCC leads and represents the Ukrainian Canadian community to the government of Canada and to the provincial governments.
  • the Ukrainian National Federation of Canada, the largest Ukrainian Canadian organization founded in Edmonton in 1932 to unite Ukrainian Canadians on a non-sectarian basis for the prime objectives of preserving Ukrainian language and culture in Canada, promoting good citizenship, and supporting the establishment of an independent and democratic Ukrainian state. The UNF is a member of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress.
  • the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association, an independent group dedicated to the articulation and defence of the Ukrainian Canadian community's interests
  • the Association of United Ukrainian Canadians, the main pro-Communist cultural association
  • the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies, jointly at the University of Alberta in Edmonton and the University of Toronto
  • St. Andrew's College – the seminary of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada (affiliated with the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg) and a non-profit university student residence, Ukrainian culture summer school, and youth hostel
  • the Ukrainian Museum of Canada, based in Saskatoon with branches in the other major cities of western Canada (Winnipeg, Regina, Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver) and Toronto
  • the Ukrainian Cultural and Educational Centre (also known as "Oseredok") in Winnipeg
  • the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village, a living-history museum approximately 39 kilometres east of Edmonton
  • the Ukrainian Canadian Foundation of Taras Shevchenko (Shevchenko Foundation) – based in Winnipeg, provides some financial support through grants for Ukrainian Canadian performing, literary and visual arts.
  • the Centre for Ukrainian Canadian Studies at the University of Manitoba
  • the Ukrainian Cultural Centre of Toronto (UCCT)
  • the Kule Folklore Centre at the University of Alberta
  • the Ukrainian Canadian Archives & Museum Of Alberta in Edmonton
  • the Prairie Centre for the Study of Ukrainian Heritage at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon
  • the St. Petro Mohyla Institute in Saskatoon – a non-profit university student residence, Ukrainian culture summer school, and youth hostel.
  • the Ukrainian Canadian Students' Union (SUSK/СУСК), a national organization of students at post-secondary institutions
  • the Canadian Ukrainian Immigrant Aid Society, a community agency providing settlement assistance for newcomers to Canada
  • Ukrainian Canadian Social Services, a community agency providing nutritional and financial assistance to Ukrainian Canadian senior citizens.
  • the Taras Shevchenko Museum in Toronto
  • Distribution

    Ukrainians by main cities

    Information in this section taken from 2006 Census Community Profiles.

    The provinces with the largest Ukrainian populations (single and multiple origins, 2006) are: Ontario, 336,355; Alberta, 332,180; British Columbia, 197,265; Manitoba, 167,175; Saskatchewan 129,265; and Quebec, 31,955. In terms of proportion of the total population, the most Ukrainian provinces and territories are Manitoba (15%), Saskatchewan (13%), Alberta (10%), Yukon (5%), British Columbia (5%), and Ontario (3%).

    The metropolitan regions with the largest Ukrainian populations (single and multiple origins, 2006) are: Edmonton, 144,620; Toronto, 122,510; Winnipeg, 110,335; Vancouver, 81,725; Calgary, 76,240; Saskatoon, 38,825; Hamilton, 27,080; Montreal, 26,150; Regina, 25,725; Ottawa-Gatineau, 21,520; St. Catharines-Niagara, 20,990; Thunder Bay, 17,620; Victoria, 15,020; Kelowna, 13,425; Oshawa, 12,555; London, 10,765; and Kitchener 10,425.

    The Census Divisions with the largest percentage of Ukrainians are: Manitoba #12 (25%), Alberta #10 (20%), Alberta #12 (19%), Manitoba #11 (15%), Manitoba #7 (13%), Manitoba #10 (12%), Manitoba #9 (12%), Manitoba #2 (10%).

    It is impossible to know which are proportionately the most Ukrainian municipalities in Canada since Statistics Canada does not release such information for communities with less than 5,000 people, and Ukrainians are the most concentrated in the smallest communities in the rural West. That being said, the following are communities (total greater than 5,000) with a high percentage of Ukrainians: Vegreville, Alberta (41%), St. Paul, Alberta (town) (31%), St. Paul County, Alberta (26%).


    Ukrainian Canadians Wikipedia