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Ukrainians Come to Western Canada

Many settlers from Ontario and the United States acquired additional quarter sections and railway lands at the same time they filed homestead applications. It was apparent to them that a profit could not be made on a 160 acre homestead. Ukrainian immigrants lacked the financial means and in most cases the foresight to purchase additional lands when they first arrived in Alberta. Official estimates indicate it was not unusual for some to arrive with four, five or even $10,000 in cash and equipment. On the other hand, the 1917 Woodsworth survey of Ukrainian rural communities revealed that 50 per cent of Ukrainian immigrants arrived in Western Canada with no capital whatsoever and 42 per cent arrived with less than $500. Of 433 families surveyed in east central Alberta (about 400 of them Ukrainian), 185 had no money, 70 had $1 to $100, 46 had $1 to $500, 115 had over $100 and 17 had over $500. Similarly, while all English-speaking settlers hoped to establish commercially viable farming operations, most Ukrainian settlers...expected to continue practicing semi-subsistence peasant agriculture in Canada. In the Old Country the average peasant farm had fewer than three hectares (7 1/2 acres) of land. As a result, the typical Ukrainian settler assumed that 160 acres would be more than enough for his family.

As Andrij Nahachewsky has pointed out, three factors - money, contacts and time of arrival - determined the ease with which the immigrants adjusted to the life of homesteaders. Money allowed the immigrant family to subsist from the time of their arrival until their first small crop was harvested. A contact - a friend or a relative who had emigrated earlier - could orient the new arrivals, recommend a neighbouring quarter-section for claim, and offer food and shelter for the first winter. Finally, by arriving in the early spring the settlers would have enough time to plant a few potatoes and sow some grain. Those who arrived in the autumn or winter could not find work and spent most of their money (if they had any) just living though the winter.

From Martynowych, Orest T. The Ukrainian Bloc Settlement in East Central Alberta, 1890-1930: A History. Occasional Paper No. 10, 1985 (1990).

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