Ukrainians of Canada

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Ukrainians of Canada

ETHNONYMS: Bukovynians, Galicians, Ruthenians, Ukrainian-Canadians


Identification. Ukrainian-Canadians are one of the larger and more prominent ethnic groups in Canada. These people, or more likely their ancestors, originated in Ukrainian territory in Eastern Europe. Ukrainian ethnographic territory corresponds roughly (not exactly) with the area of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in the Soviet Union. The Black Sea lies to the south of this land, and its northern neighbors include Russia and Poland. The political boundaries of this territory have undergone many changes up to and during the twentieth century. Only rarely throughout these permutations were the governing bodies controlled by Ukrainians themselves. Indeed, Ukrainian immigrants to Canada carried Austrian, Polish, Russian, and other passports, and could be identified better on the basis of their language, culture, and religion than by their citizenship. Ancestry and culture continue to be the primary criteria for the identification of Ukrainian-Canadians. Language and religion have tended to decline as perceived prerequisites for inclusion in the group, replaced somewhat by participation in the organized Ukrainian community and by a personal sense of Ukrainianness. The Ukrainian-Canadian community does not have sharply defined membership. Large segments of its population live more or less closely in relation to it.

Location. The first settlements of Ukrainians in Canada were concentrated in the prairie provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta. In the earlier years, most were rural homesteaders. Although the prairie provinces still maintain large communities, Ukrainians have been spreading Somewhat more randomly across the country. Migration within the country reflects the search for economic advantages and the best personal quality of life. The trend to urbanization has been pronounced for a number of decades, and now 75 percent of the Ukrainian population of Canada lives in cities. In this respect, the Ukrainian community now resembles the general population of the country.

Demography. Ukrainian people have historically been quite sedentary, and only small numbers emigrated beyond Ukrainian territories prior to the end of the nineteenth Century. In the last 120 years, however, they have dispersed widely. Some two million live in North America, two million in Siberia, 250,000 in South America, 90,000 in other countries in Europe, and 35,000 in Australia. In the 1981 census, 529,615 Canadians declared Ukrainian ancestry, and another 225,000 claimed partial Ukrainian heritage. Representing some 2.7 percent of the population, Ukrainian-Canadians are the fifth largest ethnic group in the country. Only about 15 percent of these individuals are immigrants themselves; the remainder are Canadian-born. The city of Winnipeg has had a large Ukrainian population since early in this century. In 1981, the major Ukrainian-Canadian urban centers included Edmonton (63,000, 10 percent of the city's population), Winnipeg (59,000, 10 percent), and Toronto (51,000, 2 percent). Over 20,000 additional persons in each of these cities reported partial Ukrainian ancestry. Particularly in the prairies, numerous small towns and rural areas continue to record a high incidence of Ukrainian settlement, sometimes exceeding 50 percent of the local populace.

Linguistic Affiliation. Ukrainian is a Slavic language. Though many Ukrainians use the more formal literary language, others speak a Galician dialect with varying degrees of English influence. The community is increasingly English-speaking, with Ukrainians in French-speaking Canada often bilingual or trilingual. The percentage of Ukrainian-Canadians who use Ukrainian in the home has decreased in recent decades, dropping below 20 percent. Those who do speak Ukrainian regularly are often older.

History and Cultural Relations

Ukrainian immigration to Canada took place in three major waves. The first and largest influx (170,000 individuals) took place between 1891 and the beginning of World War I. The vast majority of this group left from the provinces of Galicia and Bukovyna, a small segment of western Ukrainian territory controlled by the Austro-Hungarian Empire at that time. They were mostly peasant farmers wanting to escape poverty, exploitation, and overpopulation. Canada was then actively soliciting such agricultural immigrants to develop its vast and empty prairies. Ukrainian immigrants settled in somewhat compact blocks on homesteads across the large belt of aspen parkland spanning the prairies. The 67,000 Ukrainians who arrived in the interwar period composed the second wave of immigrants. Manitoba was the most popular destination for this group. Work in agriculture and railway construction awaited many. The third immigration consisted primarily of persons displaced after World War II, which was particularly devastating in Ukrainian territories. This group of up to 40,000 people tended to be more urban, more educated, and more politically and nationally motivated than their earlier counterparts. They settled primarily in Canada's urban areas, with Ontario receiving almost half of their number. Since 1952, immigration of Ukrainians to Canada has been light.

The general attitude of the Canadian establishment in the earlier years was to anglicize or "Canadianize" the Ukrainians once they arrived. Ukrainian community development was more or less tolerated depending on how the elite Perceived that the organizations might help facilitate assimilation. Attitudes also varied according to economic and Political trends. "Anti-alien" sentiments rose sharply during World War I. Bilingual education systems were dismantled and thousands of Ukrainians were kept under surveillance, interned, and sometimes deported with little justification. In spite of a few such experiences, however, Ukrainians have been generally quite pro-Canadian. They perceive Canada as a country that treated them much better and offered them greater prospects than Austro-Hungary, Poland, the Russian Empire, or later the Soviet Union. Ukrainians were very instrumental in establishing Canada's policy of multiculturalism in the 1960s. In theory at least, this policy promotes the cultural identity of the myriad of peoples that populate the country, seeing strength in this diversity. Support for multiculturalism seems to be somewhat on the wane in "English" Canada in the 1980s. Cultural relations between Ukrainians in Canada and those in the Soviet Union, at least until recently, have been somewhat distant. They have been deterred by the wars, the distance, and the cold war attitudes on both sides.


Agriculture was by far the predominant occupation of Ukrainians in the first half of the twentieth century. Other occupations tended to be in the primary sector and included logging, mining, construction, and building railroads. This situation gradually changed, however, and the structure of the Ukrainian-Canadian work force now resembles that of the general population in almost all respects. But Ukrainians are still somewhat overrepresented in agriculture (7 percent work on farms as compared to the 4 percent Canadian average) and underrepresented in most of the elite groups that hold power in the country.

Kinship, Marriage and Family

Ukrainian-Canadian marriage and kinship practices do not differ substantially from general Canadian norms. Predominant are monogamous marriage, nuclear families, and bilateral descent. Ukrainian kinship terms in many dialects exhibit a degree of bifurcation; terms differ for maternal versus paternal uncles and aunts. Such perceptions are being supplanted by a more classical Eskimo-type kinship system, especially since English is now often used. Godparents have traditionally been regarded as significant relatives. In-group marriage was encouraged by Ukrainian-Canadian society, particularly by parent generations, though the rate of intermarriage is high.

Socialization. The means and degree of socialization of Ukrainian-Canadians varies a great deal depending on the size of the local community, the commitment of family members, and personal choice. The church has traditionally played a major role in this process, as has upbringing. More involved families in larger centers often choose to take advantage of Ukrainian kindergartens, Ukrainian schools (and, recently, public bilingual education), Ukrainian scouts, choirs, dance groups, sports organizations, and many other pursuits. The adult community reaffirms itself in many performances, meetings, and other social events.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. The Ukrainian community has more organizations than any Canadian ethnic group its size. The plethora of organizations reflects the division of the mommunity into Catholic and Orthodox sectors, each with religious and secular institutions, and men's, women's, and youth divisions. Differences in immigration history, region of origin, political views, generation, past membership in military units, professions, and other factors are all reflected in the organizational scheme of the Ukrainian-Canadian community. Recently, a great number of somewhat independent organizations have been set up to deal with academic pursuits, various art forms, local history, and other specific interests. The Ukrainian Canadian Committee was established in 1940 as an umbrella organization for the noncommunist Ukrainian community. It has achieved varying degrees of success in coordinating the diverse groups. There is no specific effective mechanism for exerting social control or resolving conflict in the Ukrainian-Canadian community.

Political Organization. Ukrainians in Canada have no overarching political structure. Most earlier Ukrainian settlers were not politically sophisticated, partly because of their relative exclusion from political power in their native territories. Disenchantment over living and working conditions in Europe (and, later, often in Canada) promoted radical leftist views in the first decades of this century. Later, immigrants tended to the right of the political spectrum. At present, Ukrainians are a complex and varied electoral group, still demonstrating some tendency to marginality on the left and the right in comparison with the general populace. Politicians sometimes perceive the Ukrainian community to be a significant voting block and address it accordingly. The great majority of the Ukrainian community does not approve of the Present Soviet Ukrainian state under Russian domination.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs and Practitioners. The Ukrainian Catholic and Ukrainian Greek Orthodox churches are the predominant traditional denominations in the Ukrainian-Canadian community, claiming some 190,000 and 99,000 adherents, respectively (the latter figure includes a minority of other Orthodox denominations as well). In the 1981 Census, Ukrainians also reported adherence to Roman Catholicism (89,000), the United church (71,000), and many other forms of Christianity. Some 42,000 indicated no religious preference. In spite of declining attendance in the two traditional Ukrainian churches, especially among the younger generations, they continue to maintain substantial significance in Ukrainian-Canadian society. The Ukraine adopted the Byzantine form of Christianity one thousand years ago, and thus eastern Christian traditions of worship are followed. Compared to most western Christian practices, the rites are quite ancient and ritualistic. The older Julian calendar is traditionally retained by these churches, and thus Christmas is celebrated on January 7. The Ukrainian Catholic (Uniate, Greek Catholic) church acknowledges the leadership of the pope in Rome, although theoretically it retains its Orthodox rite. The Ukrainian Greek Orthodox church of Canada, established in 1918, is independent. Both the Ukrainian Catholic and the Orthodox communities in Canada have undergone some westernization in terms of their spiritual culture. General acceptance of latinized rituals, the English language, and the newer Gregorian calendar is more widespread among the Catholics.

Ceremonies. Ukrainian culture was very rich in traditional lore into the beginning of the twentieth century, in part, because it was relatively isolated from cosmopolitan influences and the leveling pressures of industrialization. Most emigrants, then, identified with a rich tradition of rituals and customs. Social life was generally disrupted upon migration because of the isolation and because Canadian policies for settling the prairies precluded tight-knit village settlements. Nonetheless, in many communities, various customs were maintained, adapted, and sometimes reconstructed to establish a unique Ukrainian-Canadian ritual culture. The most important ceremony dealing with the life cycle is the wedding, which is often large and features food, drink, socializing, dancing, and gift-giving.

The cultural response to death has been partially influenced by the community's Eastern Christian spirituality as well as by connections with its peasant origins. These factors are reflected in the services conducted during burial, a lessened tendency to isolate the living from the corpse, somewhat particular grave markers, and traditional cemetery visitations at prescribed intervals. In general, however, funeral practices and attitudes now conform closely to those of the Canadian mainstream.

The most important calendar holidays are Christmas (Rizdvo ) and Easter (Velykden' ), both of which retain many Ukrainian features. The main focus at Christmas is on the Christmas Eve supper, consisting traditionally of twelve meatless dishes. Caroling, church service, and visiting follow. Christmas is celebrated twice each year by many Ukrainian families in Canada, once on December 25 and again, Somewhat differently, on January 7. The highlight at Easter is breaking the Lenten fast with a blessed family meal on Sunday after church service. A pre-Lenten party (Pushchennia ), New Year's Eve (Malanka ) on January 13, and harvest festival (Obzhynky ) celebrations are common in many communities.

Other holidays include Ukrainian Independence Day, the anniversary of Taras Shevchenko (Ukraine's national poet), and numerous smaller religious feasts. Ukrainian-Canadians also participate in Canadian holidays such as Valentine's Day, Canada Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and so on.

Arts. The arts are very important to Ukrainian-Canadian culture. Indeed, they compose the most prominent aspect of Ukrainian-Canadian life in the minds of many Ukrainians and non-Ukrainians alike. Many folk arts were brought over from Europe by the early immigrants, as they lived in a culture where domestic objects were mostly handmade and activities were directly organized. In Ukraine, the style and form of these arts were quite specific. The arts came to be closely identified with Ukrainian consciousness itself. With the transition to the urban, technological, and consumer-oriented world of twentieth-century Canada, the old activities and crafts lost much of their practical worth. On the other hand, many retained or even gained value as symbols of Ukrainianness, markers of a special subculture within the Canadian milieu. This function has remained relevant in the contemporary North American context. In association with this process, many of these "folk arts" changed radically in form, materials, and context. The terms "pseudo-folk arts," "national arts" or "Ukrainian pop" have been proposed to reflect some of the contemporary features of this type of activity. Popular contemporary manifestations of Ukrainian-Canadian material culture include folk costumes, weaving, embroidery, Easter egg painting, church architecture, various styles of pottery, and miscellaneous novelty items. The fine arts of literature, painting, and sculpture have vibrant Ukrainian variants in Canada. Staged folk dance and choral singing are extremely popular in many communities. The Ukrainian music industry includes recording artists in many different styles.

Medicine. Folk medicine was strong in western Ukrainian villages and in rural Canada in earlier years. Local specialists developed much knowledge and expertise dealing with a wide variety of health problems. Remnants of this lore exist unofficially, sometimes dealing with problems outside the realm of traditional medicine. Ukrainian-Canadians participate in the Canadian health care system.


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