the most part, the western prairies remained relatively empty
until around 1896. Between 1874 and 1896 an average of only
3000 homestead entries were made yearly and very many of these
were cancelled shortly thereafter. Although the Canadian Pacific
Raily, the first transcontinental line, had been completed in
1885, fear of grasshopper infestations, global economic
depression, lacklustre promotion and the fact that the railroads
had yet to select the lands to which they were entitled, all
combined to reduce levels of immigration to the region.
During the 1880s a few individual Ukrainian peasants had arrived
in the west but, for the most part, large-scale Ukrainian
emigration from Galicia and Bukovyna to Canada began in 1896 and
did not assume mass proportions prior to 1898. Upon
arrival in Canada, most Ukrainian immigrants did not settle on the
open prairie lands which stretched across the southern half
of the Prairie provinces. Instead they chose to settle on
lands in the "park belt" and forest areas further north.
The oldest and largest Ukrainian settlement on the Prairies is
located in east central Alberta, and straddles the frontier
between the "park belt" and the forest region.
Prior to World War I approximately 170, 000 Ukrainians had made
their way to Canada, most of which settled in Alberta,
Saskatchewan and Manitoba. By 1916, the bloc settlement in Alberta
covered a region of approximately 2500 square miles.
For the most part many Ukrainians who settled in east central Alberta
Canada by train to Strathcona, which was, at that
time, one of the largest colonization centres in
Western Canada, second only to Winnipeg. From Strathcona the journey to
the homestead was rarely direct. Many of the immigrants had to
wait for some time before they were settled. Women and children
were usually left in the Immigration Building in Strathcona or at
the home of an established farmer, while the men went out to find
a suitable homestead. The men tended to travel alone, or in groups
accompanied by an immigration agent.
Selecting a suitable
homestead was a difficult process for many new Ukrainian
immigrants as, quite often they were illiterate peasants who knew no English.
For all new homesteaders it was imperative that they understand
which homesteads had already been claimed, and which were
When a homestead had been selected, and the fund secured for
transport, the rest of the family
When compared to settlers from Ontario and the United States,
many of whom acquired
additional quarter sections and railway lands at the same time
they filed homestead applications, the Ukrainian settlers were at
quite a disadvantage upon arrival. Many Ukrainian immigrants sold
all their belongings to simply raise the funds for their passage
to Canada and, as a result, lacked the financial means and in most cases the
foresight to purchase additional lands when they first arrived in
Alberta. In comparative terms, official estimates indicate that it
was not unusual for some Ontarians and Americans 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 nearly 50 per cent of Ukrainian immigrants
arrived in Western Canada with no capital whatsoever and 42 per
cent arrived with less than $500 cash at their disposal. While English-speaking settlers hoped to
establish commercially viable farming operations, most Ukrainian
settlers simply hoped to continue practicing semi-subsistence
peasant agriculture. In the Old Country the average
peasant farm had fewer than three hectares (7 ½ acres) of land.
As a result, the typical Ukrainian settler assumed that 160 acres
would be more than enough for his family.
In the years prior to the outbreak of World War I the federal government began to take an active role in the settlement of Ukrainian immigrants when it became apparent that most Ukrainians wished to settle among their countrymen near the Star settlement in east central Alberta. The prospect of a solid Ukrainian bloc settlement covering hundreds of square miles clashed with the government's objective of assimilating and
effectively "Canadianizing" new arrivals. On the other
hand, it was clear that a complete dispersal of Ukrainian settlers was not a viable
solution either. As a result, a compromise was implemented that
successfully combined the advantages of bloc settlement with rapid assimilation.
A number of smaller bloc settlements or "settlement parcels" were established throughout the Prairie region. Wooded areas and lands adjacent to established (non-Ukrainian) settlements or industries were chosen so that the settlers might have an opportunity to generate capital by selling cordwood or seeking "off farm" employment. A number of the new sites chosen by government agents, especially the Whitemouth district in southern Manitoba, were vastly inferior to the settlement in east central Alberta, although there is no evidence to suggest that the agents were conscious of this fact.
With the outbreak of World War I, local attitudes towards
Ukrainian settlers began to change. The war years were
particularly harsh on Ukraine, and by 1921, despite an attempt to
gain its independence, Ukraine was merged into the fledgling
Soviet Socialist Republic. Social and economic factors forced many
Ukrainians out of their homeland in search of a new beginning. As
international affairs began to realign and settle down during the
1920s, the Canadian government also implemented a shift in its
immigration ideals. While Ukrainian settlers had initially been
welcomed, and even encouraged to immigrate to Canada, the federal
government's priorities became attracting the educated and more
sophisticated settlers from Britain, the United States and
northern Europe. As a result, Ukrainian immigration to Canada was
slowed somewhat during the 1930s.
The third wave of immigration by Ukrainians to Alberta coincided with the displacement of
thousands of peoples across Europe following World War II. During
the war thousands of Ukrainians had been deported by both the
Soviets and the Germans to work camps and concentration camps
across Europe. At the end of the war, many refused to return to
their homeland, fearing continued persecution by the Soviet
administration as collaborators or German spies. As a result of
their determination not to return to Ukraine, many were granted
refugee status across Europe, and many more traveled to North
America seeking similar status. By that time, the Ukrainian
presence in Canada had become quite substantial. Ukrainians had
built up around them a strong community which was influential in
putting pressure on the Canadian government to accept the
displaced Ukrainian refugees. As a result, over 34, 000 Ukrainian
immigrants entered Canada between 1947 and 1953 as displaced
The Ukrainian population remains quite substantive in Alberta. The
bloc settlement in east central Alberta, while in decline, remains
visible to this day through the spattering of Orthodox churches
located on the hilltops and countryside throughout that region.
With more and more Albertans of Ukrainian descent being born and
raised in the province, knowledge of the Ukrainian language
and traditions have begun to wane somewhat. Intermarriage has
increased and the majority of Ukrainian youth have begun to trade
in rural life for professional opportunities that await them in
the urban centres. Despite these changes, the Ukrainian community
within Alberta continues to grow and maintain special aspects of
their culture, including religion, arts and crafts, culinary
delights and music and dancing.
This digital collection was
produced with financial assistance from Canada's Digital
Collections initiative, Industry Canada.