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Ukrainians arrive in Canada

This story was initially published in 2001

On April 30, 1891, the first of a large wave of Ukrainian immigrants arrived on Canadian soil. Between 1891 and 1914, more than 170 000 Ukrainians came to Canada, forever changing the prairie landscape.

Ukrainian family harvesting

Ukrainian family harvesting
© LAC / George E. Dragan Collection / PA-88504

Manitoba and British Columbia entered into Confederation in 1870 and 1871 respectively. As part of the National Policy set in place to promote Canada's economic development, the Canadian government made it a priority to settle and cultivate the prairie territories between these new provinces. New immigration policies meant to entice agricultural workers paved the way for Ukrainian immigration.

In Ukraine, Dr. Jósef Olesków, a prominent academic, was concerned with the political and economic difficulties of Ukrainians. They came from the poor and overpopulated countryside of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Olesków influenced many emigrants mainly through pamphlets and speeches promoting emigration to Canada. He believed that the vast agricultural lands in the prairies best matched the skills that Ukrainians possessed.

In Canada, Cyril Genik, an early immigrant, became a central figure in settling Ukrainian immigrants in the Canadian west. An educated man, Genik had knowledge of foreign languages, including English. Possessing these skills, he was quickly hired by the Canadian government as an immigration agent to help Ukrainians settle in the prairies. He became a prominent figure in the Ukrainian community.

Most of the early Ukrainian immigrants were peasants who came to Canada for the free agricultural land offered by the federal government. These homesteaders occupied the region between southeastern Manitoba to northwestern Alberta  a distance greater than 2500 km  where they cleared and cultivated the land. Ukrainians transplanted their traditional "four-corner settlement" pattern where farmsteads were built at road intersections, with agricultural land behind, to be closer to neighbours and family. They later built schools and architecturally distinctive churches close by to develop strong communities.

The Negrych house as seen from the fenced orchard/garden

The Negrych house as seen from
the fenced orchard/garden

© Parks Canada / J. Mattie / 1996

Although they fulfilled Canada's need for prairie settlement and agriculture, Ukrainians encountered discrimination. Despite this, Ukrainians fought successfully to be recognized as part of Canadian society. They have contributed to the multicultural fabric of Canada.

Jósef Olesków and Cyril Genik are both commemorated as persons of national historic significance for their important roles in the settlement of Ukrainians in the Canadian West. Elaschuk House in Roblin, Manitoba, and Wasyl Negrych Pioneer Homestead near Dauphin, Manitoba, both national historic sites, commemorate Ukrainian pioneer prairie settlement.

For more information about Ukrainians and Ukrainian immigration to Canada, visit the website Harvest of Dreams.

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