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The Ukrainian Farmyard

Homestead of Zahara family, Ukrainian settlers of Rycroft, Alberta, September 1924, Shanty in background was first Zahara home. Puppies, Chickens and geese in farmyard. To a certain degree, the main features of Galician and Bukovynian village farmyards were reproduced on the homesteads of east central Alberta during the early years. Although they were no longer as tightly clustered as they had been in the Old Country, the first years for Ukrainian settlers were fairly compact. The front of the house was usually oriented toward the south, while the out-buildings, located on the perimeter of the yard, were oriented around the house. Northwesterly winds reinforced the tradition of constructing dwellings with a southern façade in Western Canada. As in Ukraine, gardens were located on the periphery of the farmyard.

Nevertheless, there were differences in the layout of the farmyards and they became more pronounced with the passing of time. Because settlement preceded the construction of roads, because it was easier to establish the farmyard on cleared land, and because ready access to water was a major consideration, houses and outbuildings in east central Alberta were not always located close to the road as they had been in Ukraine. Furthermore, when a second home was built near the road, new buildings were erected next to the old ones creating a pattern where the house became increasingly isolated from the outbuildings. The availability of land and the acquisition of vehicles and machines which would not be maneuvered in tight compact yards, also contributed to the expanding size of the farmyard.

In Galicia and Bukovyna it was not uncommon for poor peasants to store crop yields and implements in the hallway or storage room of their dwellings. Animals were housed in lean-to outbuildings attached to the peasant's home. Where livestock was more numerous it was housed in a separate partitioned structure. Only wealthier peasants had separate specialized structures such as granaries, stables, barns, pig pens, chicken coops, etc. There were three basic functional groups of out-buildings: animal shelters, crop storage and implement shelters. All three groups appeared in east central Alberta.

The animal shelter was usually the first out-building to be completed. It was built shortly after the completion of the first permanent home. A flat or gable roofed log structure, it united the functions of cow barn, horse stable, granary and wagon shed under one roof. As livestock holding expanded, separate structures were constructed for horses and cows. Unlike the Canadian barn, which combined both a storage function and a shelter function within a single-roomed, one and one-half storey structure, the Ukrainian low stable (stainia) only sheltered livestock. A few stodoly were also built in east central Alberta during the early years. These were structures for storing hay, un-threshed crops and straw, which were equipped with flailing floors and were large enough to accommodate a wagon filled with sheaves. As Bilash has pointed out, the adoption of North American-style barns with gambrel roofs (uncharacteristic of Ukrainian architecture) which allowed for the storage of hay in the upper loft area eventually made [stodyly] redundant. The increasing popularity of threshing machines, which eliminated the need for a flailing floor, had the same effect.

Small animals such as pigs and chickens were originally kept in crude, seasonal shelters. Later, log pig and poultry houses chinked with plaster, covered with shingled roofs, and which floors of hewn logs were constructed. Rail fence enclosures surrounded these structures.

Granaries were not needed during the first years of homesteading. Grain was kept in sacks of in storage boxes in the storage hallway of the settler's dwelling. Later a small lean-to added to the house was large enough to store grain. However when improved acreage expanded and crop yields began to increase, granaries were constructed. Like the Old Country komora they were almost square or somewhat elongated log structures raised above the ground [and] . . . always constructed with floors. They were covered with shingled gable roofs and plastered on the inside to prevent the grain from leaking out.

The last out-building to appear was the implement, vehicle or machine shed. It was built only after the other structures had been erected. At first machine shed were lean-to additions to existing structures. However as more machinery was acquired separate structures had to be built. Usually they were little more than earthen-floor log frames sheathed in boards on three walls and with an ample roof to provide protection from blowing rain or snow.

Excerpted from Orest T. Martynowych The Ukrainian Bloc Settlement in East Central Alberta, 1890-1930: A History. Alberta Culture & Multiculturalism Occasional Paper No. 10, March 1985, (1990). With Permission from Alberta Community Development, Cultural Facilities and Historical Resources Division

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