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The Heritage Trails are presented courtesy of CKUA Radio Network and Cheryl Croucher

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Ukrainian Settlement, Part Three : Joseph Oleskiw

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One person who helped Ukrainian farmers emigrate to Western Canada was a man named Joseph Oleskiw. As historian Radomir Bilash explains, Joseph Oleskiw was a complex man.

He was educated. He was an agronomist. Perhaps a little bit of an entrepreneur. And he was also involved in certain social movements that existed from 1848, which was the emancipation of serfs in the Austral-Hungarian Empire, more or less the same time that slaves were being freed all over the world.

Like many of his Ukrainian countrymen, Joseph Oleskiw wanted to come to Canada, too.

He approached the immigration departments in Canada and the United States and asked for permission to review various regions for potential settlement. In return, he promised to find good immigrants.

In 1895, he toured western Canada, visiting Ukrainian settlers at Stony Plain and Starr.

He liked what he saw, and he wrote pamphlets telling his fellow Ukrainians to come to Canada and the United States, but he warned them to stay away from Brazil.

They turned out to be the plantation owners, who did not have any success with labour, with local Indian labour. In fact, the Indians were rebelling and causing uprisings and killing people, and so they advertised for people in Eastern Europe to come and work. And when the people got there, they were handed a bill for their passage, and shown their quarters on the plantations, and told that they would be required to work-off the bill before they would be allowed to do anything else.

Joseph Oleskiw channeled people towards Canada.

He took care of every detail, organizing the immigrants into boatloads of 70 to 80 each. The first boatload of people Oleskiw sent over was supposed to go to Dauphin, Manitoba. But the immigration officials directed them instead to poorer land at Whitemouth.

Then the people looked at that and said, well, this is fine, but we were promised something a little different. So, if this is the best you can do, we've heard that there are some more of our people at a place called Starr, and we'll go on there.

And that's why the first group of people, that were intended to go to Manitoba, wound-up in Alberta.

By the 1920s, the territory of Ukrainian settlement covered 2500 square miles in east-central Alberta, making it the largest Ukrainian settlement outside of the Ukraine.

On the Heritage Trail,

I'm Cheryl Croucher.

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