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Alberta Online Encyclopedia

Ukrainian Immigration

Yar Slavutych (Ukraine)

Slavutych was a fifteen-year-old boy when his grandparents passed away during the Ukrainian famine of 1932-1933 when Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union. While there are no official statistics for how many perished, it has been estimated that anywhere from seven to ten million Ukrainians lost their lives. Slavutych’s grandfather made him promise to inform the world of what Soviet leader Joseph Stalin was doing.

During World War II, Slavutych was a member of the Ukrainian underground army, launching raids on German trains. At the end of the war he was a Displaced Person in Berlin and then Bavaria where he was selected to move to the United States. There he lived in Pennsylvania, attending university for his PhD. In 1960 the University of Alberta was hiring its first Ukrainian language professor; Slavutych applied for and got the job. While a professor at the U of A, Slavutych published many texts on the Ukranian language. He also kept his promise to his grandfather by doing research and publishing books in both Ukrainian and English on the atrocious loss of life during the Ukrainian famine. His work has led to greater recognition, including official state recognition, of the event that had been largely ignored by the world. Currently, he is Professor Emeritus of Slavic and East European Studies at the U of A.

Andrew Shandro (Ukraine)

Shandro was born in 1886 in Bukovyna, then a province in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In 1898 he and his family immigrated to Canada. They settled near the farming community of Andrew, east of Edmonton. There Shandro became a well-known farmer and postmaster and in 1907 he became a federal homestead inspector. Shandro capitalized on his renown by running for the Provincial Liberal party in the riding of Whitford, located in the area north of Vegreville. He was elected to the Legislature in 1915, becoming the first Ukrainian-Canadian to be elected to the Alberta Legislature. Another election was held in 1917, during World War I. Because Shandro was serving as a lieutenant in the Canadian Army he was automatically acclaimed under Section 38 of the Election Act which stated that ridings of men fighting in the war would not be contested. This was the last election Shandro won.


George Ryga (Ukraine)

Ryga was born in Deep River, Alberta, in 1932 to Ukrainian immigrant parents. He spent his childhood in the Ukrainian community attending school in a one-room school. When he was sixteen a teacher recommended he enter a competition being run by the Banff Centre for the Arts. He won the competition and a scholarship sponsored by the Imperial Order of the Daughter of the Empire to study at the centre. However, a year later the scholarship was revoked over an anti-war poem he wrote.

In 1955 he spent a year in Europe before returning to Edmonton to perform odd jobs. It wasn’t until 1962, when his first play, Indian, was produced for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) that he became a full-time writer. In 1967 he became famous across Canada for his play The Ecstasy of Rita Joe. Many still consider it to be the most important English-language play written by a Canadian. It was first performed in Vancouver. In 1969 it was the first play performed in the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, where the audience included Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau and the provincial premiers. In 1971 it was performed by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet.

Ryga wrote many other plays, three novels, and a collection of poems, and he left behind a large volume of unpublished work when he passed away in 1987.

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