Rich Ukrainian history in Saskatchewan

March 5, 2014 - 2:01pm Updated: March 5, 2014 - 4:47pm
Tavria Ukranian Folk Dance Ensemble members practice. Photo by Courtney Mintenko, News Talk Radio.
Tavria Ukranian Folk Dance Ensemble members practice. Photo by Courtney Mintenko, News Talk Radio.

As tensions remain high in Ukraine, the country’s impact on Saskatchewan is not lost on a local author.

"The Ukrainian impact has been absolutely profound," Alan Anderson, author of Settling Saskatchewan, said.

Today, a string of Ukrainian settlements from southeastern Manitoba to the east of Edmonton are found on the Prairies. At the heart of the immigration movement is Saskatchewan.

The earliest Ukrainian settlements in Saskatchewan date back to 1896. By the 1930s, Western Canada had over 200,000 Ukrainians, Anderson said.

"Those original settlers who came in that period have multiplied. Their descendents have multiplied so today we are talking about a quite substantial Ukrainian chunk of the Western Canadian population,” Anderson said, estimating that one in five people in Saskatchewan have Ukrainian roots.

Clifford Sifton was the minister of the interior for the Canadian government from 1896 to 1905. He adopted a policy which ran counter to the prevailing immigration policy that favoured British and northwestern European immigrants.

It was derogatorily nicknamed “Clifton’s folly” but his policy cast a net to bring eastern Europeans to settle the West as quickly as possible. The bulk of Ukrainian settlers who immigrated to Saskatchewan came from Western Ukraine.

"The idea was that these would be very good settlers. They were regarded as hardy people. They were drawn from what were conceived as overpopulated or let's put it this way, disadvantageous parts of Europe," Anderson explained.

The immigrants were persuaded to come to Canada with the hopes of having more freedom and bigger farms. Among many other places, they settled in Yorkton, Canora, YellowCreek, Garden River and the Redberry Lake areas.

While many immigrants settled on good soil, some were disappointed when they were given rocky farmland which led to some minor demonstrations.

Today there are communities that are still predominantly Ukrainian, including Hafford and the Redberry Lake settlement which has street signs that are bilingual in English and Ukrainian.

In the context of other ethnic groups in Saskatchewan, Ukrainians have done well to preserve their culture.

"If you compare different ethnic groups, which I have done quite a lot in looking at settlement history, it is interesting. Some of them lost quite a bit of their traditional culture quite fast in the Canadian context and others didn't. Certainly Ukrainians didn't although there has been some perhaps erosion, diminution of the ability to speak Ukrainian in the younger generation,” Anderson said.

"It's fun to be Ukrainian," Anderson said, pointing to festivals, dance groups, and choirs.

Saskatchewan's ties to Ukraine have increased over the years, Anderson said. It's extremely easy to find people, old and young, from Saskatchewan who have gone back and visited Ukraine since the country became more liberal.

"There's a whole generation of people of Ukrainian origin now that have found it easy to visit Ukraine and to travel there," he said

"Given that history and where those people came from, I think that their sympathies overwhelmingly here would be with what's being labeled the opposition in Ukraine."

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