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Wasyl Eleniak, one of the first Ukrainian settlers to make Canada his home, was born on 22 December 1859 at Nebyliv, district Kalush in Western Ukraine. He was the son of Stefan Eleniak and Eudokia Stefura and the eldest of five children, Ivan, Peter, Michael and Anna. In 1883 he married a local Nebyliv girl named Anna, who was the daughter of George Roszko and Maria Trenchly. During his early married life Wasyl was employed in lumbering industry, driving rafts down the river Limnytsia. His parents owned only three morgen of land (1 morgen is equal to approximately 2/3 of an acre) and, therefore, he decided to emigrate to Canada. He had heard tales of Canada from some of the German colonists who had relatives in Canada, a land, it was reported, "where the settlers received 160 acres of land for nothing."
Determined to make a better life in Canada, he was joined by two fellow villagers, Ivan Pylypow (Pylypivsky) and Yurko Panischak. At the end of the summer of 1891, they left their native village and proceeded to Hamburg where they were to board a ship and sail to Canada. Yurko Panischak, short of money, was turned back by officials; but Wasyl Eleniak and Ivan Pylypow paid the fare of 100 golden each for the passage and began their journey for Canada on the S.S. OREGON. They arrived in Quebec 7 September 1891 and proceeded to Winnipeg. Prior to settling on their own homesteads, the two new Ukrainian settlers went to work on Mennonite community farms in Gretna, Manitoba. After two years, Wasyl Eleniak had saved enough money to afford a return trip to Nebyliv, where he intended to gather his family and a few friends and bring them back to Canada with him. He obtained a regular passport from the district office in Kalush (dated 26 February 1894) and together with six other Nebyliv families proceeded to Hamburg. He found himself short of money to pay the passage for all members of the family and was forced to return to Nebyliv to work for another month driving rafts on the Limnytsia river. Once he had saved enough money for his passage he left again for Hamburg, where he boarded the S.S. MONGOLIAN which arrived at Quebec on 25 June 1894.
Early life for Eleniak on the prairies was not easy and required a lot of hard work. For the first four years in Canada he worked as a herdsman in Manitoba before he took his family to Alberta in 1898 where they settled on a homestead within the Edna-Star district (later became Chipman, Alberta). There, his family prospered. He became a successful farmer, raised a large family and on January 3rd, 1947 was chosen by the Canadian Government to be one of the honorary recipients of Canadian Citizenship Certificate during the First Citizenship Ceremony held at the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa. The Prime Minister, the Rt. Hon. William Lyon Mackenzie King, was the first recipient.
Wasyl Eleniak died in Edmonton, 12 January 1956 at 97 years of age and was survived by three sons, four daughters, 51 grandchildren, 62 great-grandchildren and on great-great-grandchild. Sunday January 15th, Bishop Neil Sawaryn celebrated the funeral rites at the St. Joseph Ukrainian Cathedral in Edmonton which was attended by the members of the family and numerous representatives of the Ukrainian community. Wasyl Eleniak was buried in Chipman, Alta.
Many of Wasyl Eleniak's descendants became active in public life, and a number of his grandchildren served in the Canadian Armed Forces during the Second World War. The Eleniak family remains a large part of the Chipman area, where many still farm and have raised families themselves. A rural road just outside of Chipman has since been named in his honour.
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