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Ukrainian Immigration

Mrs. Fred (Sophie) Hrynchuck, Ukrainian settler, Redwater, Alberta, 1912. Born in Galicia, 1891. Ukrainian immigration commenced in 1891 when Ivan Pylypow of Nebyliv, Kalush district, Galicia, learned about the "free lands" available on the Prairies from Galician German acquaintances who had emigrated some years earlier. After investigating settlement possibilities in Manitoba and Alberta with Wasyl Eleniak, a fellow villager, Pylypow returned to Galicia to bring back both men's families and as many friends and relatives as could be persuaded to accompany them. Although he was arrested and tried for sedition by the Austrian authorities, and prevented from making his way back to Canada until 1893, the publicity generated by his trial advertised to Canada more effectively than he himself could have done. By 1894 a Ukrainian settlement had emerged in the vicinity of Star, Alberta.

Ukrainian immigration assumed mass proportions in 1896. It was accelerated by Dr. Joseph Oleskiv, a young agronomist of populist sympathies. Oleskiv collected data on Western Canada, visited the region, met with representatives of the Department of the Interior, lectured widely about Canada, and penned two popular pamphlets that were published and distributed to their reading clubs by the Prosvita and Kachkovsky societies. He envisaged an orderly and controlled immigration of hand-picked and well-capitalized peasant farmers who would be assisted by the Canadian government. Their poor countrymen would follow a few years later when the former group would be in a position to help them.

Clifford Sifton, the new Liberal Minister of the Interior (1896-1905) on the other hand, was determined to bring the Prairies with Britons, Americans and northern Europeans, he was a pragmatist who was indifferent to the ethnic background of the settlers provided they were thrifty and industrious agriculturalists. Consequently agreements were concluded with European agents to recruit east European immigrants, including Ukrainians. As a result Ukrainian immigration to Canada was not the orderly and controlled process envisaged by Oleskiv (who, in any case, was dead by 1903). The majority of Ukrainian immigrants who came to Canada were illiterate and without capital. Even after Sifton's successors, Frank Oliver and Robert Rogers, curtailed efforts to recruit east European agriculturalists, Ukrainian immigration continued to increase, sustained by a momentum of its own. Moreover, after 1905, the demand of industry, primarily the railroad companies and mining interests, for cheap labour stimulated the influx of single men seeking work rather than land. The majority of Ukrainian immigrants who entered Canada between 1905 and 1914 fell into this category. By 1914 about 170,000 Ukrainians had entered Canada and about 20-25% of the Ukrainian-Canadian population was in Alberta.

The outbreak of war in 1914 terminated Ukrainian immigration. In 1919, confronted with a labour surplus, the federal government bowed to nativist pressure and barred most east central Europeans from entering Canada. Within five years however, a massive exodus of unemployed Canadian labourers and the inability to find suitable replacements in Britain caused the ban to be lifted.

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            For more on the history of settlement in Alberta, visit Peel’s Prairie Provinces.