Ukrainian Canadians

Ukrainians first came to Canada in the 19th century. The initial influx came as Canada solicited immigrants to arrive and establish themselves as farmers. During the First World War, thousands were imprisoned as enemies due to their origins in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. According to 2006 Census of Canada figures, Ukrainian Canadians number 1,209,085 (3.9 per cent of the country's population) and are mainly Canadian-born citizens. This makes them Canada's ninth largest ethnic group, and means Canada has the world's third-largest Ukrainian population behind Ukraine itself and Russia. However, only a little under 150,000 speak the Ukrainian language, with a third of those living in Ontario.


In the 19th century, the Russian Empire ruled 80 per cent of Ukraine; the rest lay in the Austro-Hungarian provinces of Galicia, Bukovina and Transcarpathia. As serfs in Austria-Hungary until 1848 and in the Russian Empire until 1861, Ukrainians suffered from economic and national oppression. When attempts to establish an independent Ukrainian state from 1917 to 1921 collapsed, the greater portion of Ukraine became a republic in the USSR, while Poland, Romania and Czechoslovakia divided the remainder. Following the Second World War the western Ukrainian territories were annexed by the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. In 1991, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukraine became an independent state. The Ukrainians constitute, after the Russians, the largest Slavic nation in Europe.

Migration and Settlement

Isolated individuals of Ukrainian background may have come to Canada during the WAR OF 1812 as mercenaries in the DE MEURON and de Watteville regiments. It is possible that others participated in Russian exploration and colonization on the West Coast, came with MENNONITE and other German immigrants in the 1870s, or entered Canada from the US. The first major immigration (170,000 rural poor, primarily from Galicia and Bukovina) occurred between 1891 and 1914. After the arrival of Ivan Pylypiw and Wasyl Eleniak (generally considered the first two Ukrainian immigrants to Canada), the movement grew after 1896, when Canada solicited agricultural immigrants from Eastern Europe.

With the outbreak of the First World War, immigration virtually ceased and unnaturalized Ukrainians were classified as "enemy aliens" by the Canadian government. At the same time, over 10,000 Ukrainians enlisted in the armed forces. Between both world wars some 70,000 Ukrainians immigrated to Canada for political and economic reasons. They included war veterans, intellectuals and professionals, as well as rural farmers. Between 1947 and 1954, some 34,000 Ukrainians, displaced by the Second World War, arrived in Canada. Representing all Ukrainian territories, they were the most complex socioeconomic group. While the Prairie provinces absorbed the bulk of the first two waves of immigration, displaced persons settled mainly in Ontario. From the mid-1950s through the 1960s, only a few Ukrainians entered the country annually. In the 1970s and 1980s, however, limited renewed immigration from Poland and the Soviet Union saw perhaps 10,000 ethnic Ukrainians and Soviet Ukrainian Jews come to Canada. Since 1991, independent Ukraine has contributed a modest but growing number of immigrants.

Urban and Rural Patterns of Settlement

By 1914, the Prairie provinces were marked by several rural Ukrainian block settlements, extending from the original Edna (STAR) colony in Alberta through the Rosthern and Yorkton districts of Saskatchewan to the Dauphin, Interlake and Stuartburn regions of Manitoba. While most Ukrainians chose to homestead, some became wage workers in resource industries in such places as the Crow's Nest Pass, northern Ontario and Cape Breton. Around 1900, immigrants and migrants from the rural blocks also began to develop Ukrainian urban communities in selected Canadian towns and cities. Winnipeg was by far the largest and most important. In the early 1990s, approximately 15 per cent of the residents of Winnipeg, Edmonton and Saskatoon had at least some Ukrainian heritage, compared to 2.5 per cent in Toronto. In 2006, 52 per cent of Ukrainian Canadians resided in the Prairie provinces, 28 per cent lived in Ontario and 16 per cent in British Columbia. Of the 1,209,085 Canadians who reported Ukrainian origins, 300,590 reported Ukrainian as their only ethnic origin and another 908,495 reported partial Ukrainian ancestry.

Economic Life

Ukrainians homesteaded initially with limited capital, outdated technology and no experience with large-scale agriculture. High wheat prices during the First World War led to expansion based on wheat, but during the 1930s, mixed farming prevailed. Since the Second World War mechanization, scientific agriculture and out-migration (movement to a different part of a country or territory) in the Ukrainian blocks have paralleled developments elsewhere in rural western Canada. Largely unskilled, Ukrainian male wage earners found jobs as city labourers, miners, and railway and forestry workers; their female counterparts became domestic servants, waitresses and hotel help. Discrimination and exploitation radicalized many Ukrainian labourers. As a group, Ukrainians benefited from occupational diversification and specialization only after the 1920s; teaching was the first profession to attract significant numbers of both men and women.

By 1971, the proportion of Ukrainian Canadians in agriculture had decreased to 11.2 per cent, slightly above the Canadian average, and unskilled workers to 3.5 per cent of the Ukrainian male labour force. In 1991, Ukrainians remained overrepresented in agriculture compared to Canadians as a whole, but they were well distributed across the economic spectrum, including the more prestigious and semi-professional and professional categories.

With Ukrainian integration into Canadian society, it has become increasingly difficult to determine if or how ethnicity affects the occupational and career patterns of younger Canadian-born generations.

Social Life and Community

The first Ukrainian block settlements and urban enclaves cushioned immigrant adjustment but could not prevent all problems of dislocation. Local cultural-educational associations, fashioned after Galician and Bukovinan models, maintained interest in the homeland and instructed the immigrants about Canada. In subsequent decades, the existing Ukrainian Canadian community assisted the adjustment of both interwar and postwar immigrants. It also extended material and moral aid to various humanitarian and political causes in Ukraine, including state-building efforts after independence.

National organizations emerged in the interwar years. The pro-communist Ukrainian Labour-Farmer Temple Association (established in 1924) attracted the unemployed in the 1930s. The Ukrainian Self-Reliance League (established in 1927) and the Ukrainian Catholic Brotherhood (established in 1932), together with their women's and youth affiliates, represented Orthodox and Catholic laity. Organizations introduced by the second wave of immigration reflected Ukrainian revolutionary trends in Europe. The small conservative, monarchical United Hetman Organization (established in 1934) was counterbalanced by the influential nationalistic republican Ukrainian National Federation (established in 1932).

Despite tensions, all non-communist groups publicized Polish pacification and Stalinist terror in Ukraine in the 1930s. The Ukrainian Labour-Farmer Temple Association criticized foreign rule in western Ukraine but condoned the Soviet purges and artificial famine of 1932–33 that killed six million people; its successor, the Association of United Ukrainian Canadians (established in 1946), has declined steadily, first with the Cold War and then the collapse of the Soviet Union. In 1940, to unite Ukrainian Canadians behind the Canadian war effort, non-communist organizations formed the Ukrainian Canadian Committee (now Congress). It became a permanent coordinating superstructure with such political objectives as the admission of Ukrainian REFUGEES after 1945, support for MULTICULTURALISM and Canada-sponsored projects in independent Ukraine.

Organizations of the third wave

The major organizations introduced by the third wave of immigration were the intensely nationalistic Canadian League for Ukraine's Liberation (established in 1949; now the League of Ukrainians in Canada), and Plast, a scouting youth group (established in 1948). Both groups maintain ties with like-thinking Ukrainians around the world. In the 1970s, the Ukrainian Canadian Professional and Business Federation (established in 1965) was politically significant, and was able to secure public benefits for the Ukrainian community.

With few exceptions, outside pro-communist circles, women's organizations have always been responsible for activities in the stereotypically feminine sphere, which have traditionally emphasized education, culture, handicrafts, museums and child rearing. Youth affiliates have had both ideological and social dimensions. Only 10 to 15 per cent of Ukrainian Canadians belongs to the organized community; others identify with its cultural but not its national-political goals.

Ukrainian Canadians have published nearly 600 newspapers and periodicals, most of which espouse a particular religious or political philosophy. Increasingly, Canadian-born generations no longer find the ethnic press relevant, but there is still a healthy interest in Ukrainian topics and affairs. English and bilingual publications compensate for the decline in Ukrainian-language readers.


While Ukrainians from Galicia were Eastern-rite Catholic (see CATHOLICISM), those from Bukovina were ORTHODOX. No priests immigrated initially, and other denominations — especially the Methodist and Presbyterian churches — tried to fill the religious and social vacuum. Until 1912, when they acquired an independent hierarchy, Ukrainian Catholics were under Roman Catholic jurisdiction. The Russian Orthodox Church worked among Orthodox immigrants but rapidly lost popularity after 1917. In 1918, Ukrainians who were opposed to centralization and Latinization in the Ukrainian Catholic Church founded the Ukrainian Greek Orthodox Church (since 1989, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church) of Canada. Both churches became metropolitanates (or bishoprics): the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada in 1951 followed by the Ukrainian Catholic Church in 1956.

Long central in preserving the language, culture and identity of Ukrainian Canadians, the two churches have seen their religious dominance, moral authority and social influence undermined by assimilation. In 1991, 23.2 per cent and 18.8 per cent of single-response Ukrainian Canadians belonged to the Ukrainian Catholic and Ukrainian Orthodox churches respectively; 20.1 per cent were Roman Catholic and 10.9 per cent United Church adherents; another 12.6 per cent reported no religion.

Most agricultural pagan-Christian rituals of Ukrainian rural life were discarded with urbanization and secularization. Embroidery, Easter egg ornamentation, dance, music and foods remain popular and have also won widespread appreciation outside the Ukrainian Canadian group. Ukrainians also introduced a distinctive church architecture and decoration, characterized by exterior domes, interior wall murals and a partition (the iconostasis) separating the nave from the sanctuary.

Cultural Life

Many Ukrainian Canadian artists look to their heritage in both Canada and Ukraine for inspiration and subject matter. Community archives, museums and libraries — like the Ukrainian Cultural and Educational Centre in Winnipeg — actively preserve the Ukrainian Canadian heritage. They have recently been supplemented by government-funded public institutions, most notably the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village east of Edmonton.

Certain art forms have remained static while others have evolved. Dance ensembles have experimented with Ukrainian Canadian themes and Ukrainian Canadian country music has combined Ukrainian folk and western Canadian elements. Church architecture has skilfully integrated traditional Ukrainian with contemporary North American designs. The paintings of William Kurulek, inspired by his Ukrainian prairie pioneer experience, have been widely recognized in Canada. In the musical field, the 1980s Juno-winning Luba Kowalchyk began her career in Ukrainian popular music. Numerous Ukrainian-language poets and prose writers have described Ukrainian life in Canada; George RYGA is one of a handful of English-language writers of Ukrainian origin to achieve national stature. Since the 1970s, several films have recorded and critically interpreted the Ukrainian Canadian experience. Once-vibrant live theatre, particularly important to immigrant generations, has all but disappeared. Ukrainian Canadians publicly celebrate their heritage through a number of annual events — the best known is Canada's National Ukrainian Festival in Dauphin, Manitoba.


After 1897, Ukrainians in Manitoba took advantage of opportunities for bilingual instruction under specially trained Ukrainian teachers. Bilingual schools operated unofficially in Saskatchewan until 1918 but they were not allowed in Alberta. Criticized for retarding assimilation, they were abolished in Manitoba in 1916 despite Ukrainian opposition.

Vernacular community-run schools expanded rapidly after the First World War to preserve the Ukrainian language and culture. They now reach only a fraction of youth; most schools exist in urban areas at the elementary level and are particularly popular in Ontario. Pioneer residential institutes provided Ukrainian surroundings for rural students pursuing their education and produced many community leaders. Four of five surviving institutes serve as Ukrainian Orthodox community centres and university residences.

Russification in Soviet Ukraine spurred Ukrainian Canadians to mobilize politically and seek public support for their language and culture. Between the 1950s and the 1980s, they obtained Ukrainian-content university courses and degree programs, recognition of Ukrainian as a language of study and subsequently of instruction in Prairie schools, and a Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies (established in 1976) at the University of Alberta. The 2006 census recorded 141,805 people who reported Ukrainian as their mother tongue (first language learned). Ukrainian and Ukrainian Canadian studies have developed as a discipline in Canada since the early 1950s; Ukrainian independence offers new opportunities for intellectual interaction with the homeland.

Illiteracy, common among the first wave of immigration, has virtually disappeared. Ukrainian women were traditionally disadvantaged compared with Ukrainian men and all Canadian women. Ukrainians as a whole were less well educated than Canadians from more privileged groups. Any persisting educational disparities between Ukrainians and their fellow citizens are largely age- and immigration-linked. Otherwise, Ukrainian educational levels generally reflect Canadian norms.


At the polls, Ukrainians initially tended to vote Liberal, but their low socioeconomic status also drew them to protest parties — later, many approved the anti-communism of the Diefenbaker Conservatives. Increasingly, Ukrainians' voting patterns reflect those of their economic class or region.

Ukrainians originally entered Canadian politics at the municipal level, and in rural areas where they were numerically dominant they came to control elected and administrative organs. William Hawrelak in Edmonton and Stephen Juba in Winnipeg were prominent mayors. The first Ukrainian elected to a provincial legislature was Andrew Shandro, a Liberal, in Alberta in 1913. In 1926, Michael Luchkovich of the United Farmers of Alberta became the first Ukrainian in the House of Commons. Since then, many Ukrainian candidates have been successful provincially and federally, and Ukrainians have been appointed to federal and provincial Cabinets. There have been six senators of Ukrainian origin. Two Ukrainian Canadians have received vice-regal appointments. Stephen Worobetz was lieutenant-governor of Saskatchewan (1970–76) as was Sylvia Fedoruk (1988–93). In 1990, Ramon Hnatyshyn became the second governor general of non-British and non-French origin. Other notable figures of Ukrainian origin have included Roy Romanow, premier of Saskatchewan, and Mary Batten, the first woman to sit as a District Court judge in Saskatchewan and the second woman to sit on the Federal Court of Canada.

Concentration Camps of the First World War

During the First World War, approximately 80,000 Ukrainian Canadians were forced to register as "enemy aliens," report to the police on a regular basis, and carry government-issued identity papers at all times. Those naturalized for less than 15 years were disenfranchised. Another 5,000 Ukrainians were placed in concentration camps (see Internment). The vast majority of detainees were men. All endured hunger and forced labour, helping to build some of Canada's best known landmarks such as Banff National Park. Some died and many fell sick or incurred injuries. In June 2013, their hardships were acknowledged in a 1,000-square-foot pavilion titled Enemy Aliens, Prisoners of War: Canada’s First World War Internment Operations 1914–1920. However, critics argued the exhibit did not go far enough in addressing Canadian government culpability.

Ukrainian Canadians form a mature ethnocultural group that celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1991 and, in light of the new political reality in Eastern Europe, can look forward to renewal through immigration and previously impossible contacts with the homeland. At the same time, low organizational membership, decline in traditional religion, intermarriage and language loss have reduced the identifiable Ukrainian Canadian community. Overt discrimination has largely disappeared, and many Canadians of Ukrainian origin retain few distinctive ethnic values. Yet, since the 1960s the Canadian-born have consciously countered assimilation by reviving interest in their heritage, aided by multiculturalism policies.