Community Profile

The recognized voice for the Ukrainian Canadians is the Ukrainian Canadian Congress. Since its
inception, the UCC has evolved into a sort of Ukrainian parliament in which Ukrainian
community organizations participate on a regular basis. The UCC has managed to reconcile the
old-line organizations with those of the Third Immigration and in this way has provided the
necessary stability within the Ukrainian community. Ukrainian organizations in Canada had
realized a long time ago the philosophical and political importance of the concept of general
cultural pluralism, or multiculturalism, for their own ethno-cultural survival. As a response to
assimilation, they pioneered the idea of multiculturalism and have been vigorously advocating it
since the 1920s. The formal re- designation of Canada in 1971 from a British to a bilingual
(English and French) and multicultural nation was, in large part, due to the persistent efforts of
the UCC. It was only appropriate that Prime Minister Trudeau made this historic policy
announcement at the national congress of the UCC.

The Ukrainian intelligentsia has traditionally regarded the retention of the native language as the
key to the preservation of its heritage and identity. During the pioneer era in Canada, Ukrainian
language retention was made relatively easy by the nature of bloc settlements and the educational
provisions of the prairie provinces which allowed limited use of Ukrainian in rural public
schools. Anglo-Canadian assimilations pressure eliminated bilingual facilities in 1916, and
Ukrainian was kept out of the school curriculum until the 1960s when, as a result of long and
hard lobbying, the Ukrainian language returned in a piecemeal and limited fashion into the
public schools of the prairies and later was introduced in Ontario. In the late 1970s, the first
bilingual Ukrainian classes opened in Alberta and Manitoba. The Ukrainian determination and
drive to win a place for their language in the public school system has served as a model for
other ethnic minorities. But it has been the community based Ukrainian private (ridna shkola)
and Catholic schools, which have contributed most positively to the preservation of the language
and in inculcating students with the rudiments of their culture and history.

On a more advanced level, there had been a steady growth of Ukrainian studies at Canadian
universities. Ukrainian scholarship entered the academic mainstream mainly due to the efforts of
two non-Ukrainian professors, George Simpson of the University of Saskatchewan and Watson
Kirkconnell of Acadia University. Beginning with the University of Saskatchewan in 1944,
where a Winnipeg native, Constantine Andrusyshen headed Canada’s first Department of Slavic
Studies, Ukrainian studies and research (language, literature, culture and history) have been
introduced at a number of Canadian universities. The most significant centres are the Canadian
Institute of Ukrainian Studies at the University of Alberta, the Centre for Ukrainian Canadians
Studies ( St. Andrew’s College) at the University of Manitoba and the Chair of Ukrainian Studies
at the University of Toronto. In addition, there are community based learned societies, such as
the Shevchenko Scientific Society (Toronto) and the Ukrainian Academy of Arts and Sciences in
Canada (Winnipeg), and resource centres, such as the Ukrainian Cultural and Educational Center
(Winnipeg) and the Ukrainian Museum of Canada (Saskatoon).

Apart from education, the print media have been a major vehicle of cultural continuity.
Ukrainians in Canada have produced hundreds of different publications, ranging from popular
literature to internationally acclaimed academic studies, in their native language. Until the 1970s,
the Ukrainian press played a particularly crucial role. The press not only fulfilled the traditional
function of keeping its readers abreast of Ukrainian activities in Canada and the world, but also
assumed a definite community leadership role, stressing the dual responsibilities of Ukrainian
Canadians to their heritage and to their new homelands, Canada. In addition, the newspapers
generously opened their pages to both established and budding poets, writers and memoirists
and, in this manner, encouraged the development of Ukrainian literature in Canada. Today,
however, with the declining use of Ukrainian, the press is becoming more bilingual. In some
way, the press has been supplanted by Ukrainian radio and community access television.
While the traditional Ukrainian Churches, the Catholic and Orthodox, have remained an
important cornerstone of the Ukrainian community, their membership has been steadily
diminishing. A growing number of Ukrainian Canadians has been turning to Roman Catholicism
and Protestantism; some have abandoned organized religion altogether.

The most visible and successful manifestation of Ukrainian cultural heritage in Canada can be
found in the performing and fine arts. Throughout Canada, Ukrainian festivals with colourful and
artistic dances, performed by such renowned ensembles as Shumka of Edmonton, and the robust
and melodious choirs, such as O. Koshetz of Winnipeg, have long been focal points of Ukrainian
gatherings. From its humble origins, the intricate Easter egg (pysanka) has evolved into the
symbol of Ukrainian identity in Canada. In a similar way, the unique church architecture
characterizes the Ukrainian presence in rural and urban settings. The Ukrainian names of the
declining rural communities on the prairies (Zhoda, Prawda, Sirko, Komarno, Petlura, Ukraina,
Myrnam, etc.) complete the picture.

However, behind the facade of ethno-cultural vibrancy, the Ukrainian community in Canada is in
a state of flux. The underlying cause of apprehension is the steady decline of the Ukrainian
language as a viable means of communication. Thus, while in the 1990s nearly 50% of Ukrainian
Canadians still recognize Ukrainian as their mother tongue, less than 20% actually speak it with
any regularity. This language situation has been caused, in part, by the absence of any significant
immigration from Ukraine, first, due to Soviet restrictions, and now, due to Canadian
requirements. Unlike most other ethnic groups which have been steadily reinforced by the
continuing arrival of their countrymen, the Ukrainian community had become overwhelmingly
Canadian-born. Consequently, until 1991 Ukrainians in Canada have had to rely on their own,
local resources for their ethno-cultural preservation and continuity.

This cultural self-reliance has been steadily undermined by the natural assimilationist forces,
especially inter-marriages, which have made the predominant majority of Ukrainians
functionally Anglophones. Those Ukrainian Canadians concerned with ethno-cultural survival
have responded to the situation in two ways. The traditionalists – the older intelligentsia and
some third generation activists – have renewed their efforts to regenerate the language. In the
1970s the Soviet repression of Ukrainian culture injected a new sense of urgency into the
language issue, and the preservation of the Ukrainian language in Canada acquired an almost
messianic dimension for the traditionalists. Such activist groups as Parents for Ukrainian
Education have demonstrated a remarkable success in initiating heritage language programs in a
number of public schools in the prairies and Ontario. The majority Anglophone Ukrainians, on
the other hand, have been substituting English as a medium of Ukrainian Canadian cultural and
religious expression. This majority believes that language no longer defines one’s ethno-cultural
identity; one does not have to speak Ukrainian to feel Ukrainian. They reject hyphenated
Canadianism and see themselves as Canadians of Ukrainian ancestry. They stress the importance
of English language publications on Ukrainian subjects and emphasize the non-verbal
dimensions of traditional culture such as folk dancing, handicrafts, native cuisine, adherence to
religious festivities (Ukrainian Christmas) and other forms of ethnicity.

These seemingly contradictory approaches to the preservation of the Ukrainian ethno-cultural
identity in Canada have generated most stimulating, albeit inconclusive, debates in the Ukrainian
community about the validity of the reconstituted Ukrainian Canadian culture, the future of the
Ukrainian fact itself in Canada and relations with Ukraine. It is difficult to quantify the impact
that the limited number of Ukrainian immigrants from Poland and the post-Soviet Ukraine has
made on the Ukrainian Canadian fabric. But as the trickle of immigration continues, it will, of
course, become part, although as yet undetermined, of the Ukrainian Canadian equation.
The majority of Ukrainians in Canada have considered Russia, both tsarist and communist, their
historical enemy because it had been the prime oppressor of Ukraine’s freedom. Community
organizations, except for the pro-communist, have consistently believed in the ideal of an
independent Ukrainian state. The UCC and its member organizations regularly lobbied the
federal government to support Ukraine’s independence. But because Canada pursued a cautions
foreign policy towards the Soviet Union, Ottawa refrained from officially supporting the
Ukrainian cause. However, in 1991 the outwardly mighty Soviet Union suddenly and
unexpectedly began to disintegrate as a result of the disastrous failure of communist policies.
Soviet republics moved towards separation. The political leadership of Soviet Ukraine joined
forces with the popular reform movement Rukh, quickly abandoned communism and, on August
24, declared the country’s independence. On December 1, Ukraine’s independence was
overwhelmingly confirmed by a national referendum (92%). Canada was the first Western nation
to recognize formally Ukraine’s statehood.

Ukrainian Canadians were naturally delighted by the dramatic change in Ukraine’s international
status, that from a colony to a sovereign nation. For many, this was a fulfillment of an age-long
dream. Collectively and individually, Ukrainian Canadians have been extending generous
material aid and professional expertise to their ancestral homeland. Canada has also been
providing a range of assistance. And the struggling Ukraine needs a great deal of help to
consolidate the viability of its independence. The transformation of Ukraine’s entrenched Soviet
dictatorial system into a Western-like democratic society has been a slow, difficult and painful
process. The national economy is in disarray and the communists, who are opposed to economic
reforms and the rule of law, are still a political force. However, there is room for optimism. After
decades of repression, Ukrainian religious life, so important to the nation’s moral well-being, is
flourishing once again. The Ukrainian people are rediscovering the value of personal initiative,
self-reliance and mutual cooperation: the survival techniques of the Ukrainian Canadian
pioneers.

With the relaxation of travel restrictions, extensive reciprocities visits between the governments
of Ukraine and Canada have become an important form of cultural exchange. In 1995 the
president of Ukraine, Leonid Kuchma, paid a state visit to Canada during which he met with the
Ukrainian community. Canada’s Prime Minister Chrétien visited Ukraine in 1999. President
Victor Yushchenko paid a state visit to Canada in 2008 and the Governor General Michealle
Jean visited Ukraine in 2009.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his government have made many contributions to
the Ukrainian Canadian community, both at home and abroad, including the passage of An Act
to establish a Ukrainian Famine and Genocide (“Holodomor”) Memorial Day, making Canada
one of the first countries to adopt legislation to recognize the Holodomor of 1932-33 as an act of
genocide.The establishment by Prime Minister Harper of the “Canadian First World War
Internment Recognition Fund” in 2008 was the culmination of many years of effort by our
community to recognize the unjust internment of Ukrainian Canadians and others from 1914 –
1920.

Prime Minister Harper has been an active proponent of democratic reforms in Ukraine as
evidenced by his recent trip to Ukraine in October 2010 where he publicly expressed Canada’s
commitment to human rights, democratic development, and free and fair elections in Ukraine.
This was preceded by Canada sending 200 election observers to Ukraine for the 2010
Presidential elections.One of the highlights of the Prime Minister’s trip to Ukraine was
thesigning of a Youth Mobility Agreement to facilitate travel and exchanges between Canadian
and Ukrainian youth. Prime Minister Harper has also been an active proponent of Ukraine’s
accession into NATO and in 2009 his government entered into Free Trade negotiations with
Ukraine and renewed Ukraine’s status as a country of priority for international assistance
through CIDA.