This column is a part of a series of articles about Ukrainian culture and history. Our mission is to be your guide to the language, culture, and history of your Ukrainian ancestors. So follow us and learn more about your roots.
Who are they? Ukrainians who long ago left their homeland and landed in a massive, cold country in a different part of the world. What did they escape, and what was waiting for them in a new place?
The immigration of Ukrainians to Canada can be divided into four waves.
1891 – 1914 – the First Wave
The Government of Canada provided peasant families for a nominal amount of $10 parcels of 160 acres in the steppe provinces. So Ukrainian families, who had some savings but couldn’t obtain their land home, took that opportunity.
The vast majority of Ukrainians, mainly from western Ukraine, settled in Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan.
These were families from peasant origins, sometimes they were illiterate but very hard-working, and they knew how to work the land. There were many young men who didn’t want to serve in Russian or Austrian armies.
Ukrainian immigrants working on railway construction, beginning of 20th century
It was the whole adventure for Ukrainians to travel so far over the ocean. Most of them saw it for the first time. They could see dolphins or even whales during a way. Many people had seasickness, and some even died.
This wave of immigrants was mainly religious. They built Orthodox and Eastern Catholic churches and brought many traditions and celebrations that their children have saved.
An old Ukrainian Catholic Church northeast of Edmonton
Interwar period – the Second Wave
Due to economic and political reasons, Ukrainians, mainly from Halychyna (Galicia) and Bukovyna, came to the western provinces, Ontario, and Quebec.
Immigrants from Halychyna on a train station in Quebec
Among immigrants were mainly soldiers, politicians, and activists who fought the Soviets. These were active people with good education and skills who immigrated mainly to industrial cities to build their careers.
Immigrants on a boat from Gdansk to America
1946 – 1954 – the Third Wave
This wave was mainly political because former German prisoners of war or soldiers who fought against the Red Army couldn’t return to Soviet Ukraine.
37,000 Ukrainians came to Canada during this period, and nearly a third of them settled in Ontario province.
During the Third Wave, Ukrainians mainly settled in big cities in the East of Canada, in Toronto and Montreal. They worked in major plants and factories.
1990 – present – the Fourth Wave
This wave is called the “Working Wave” because most immigrants left Ukraine hoping to find a better life in Canada.
From 1980 the representatives of a new immigration wave started to come. Ukrainians were able to visit their relatives in Canada, and some of them stayed there for good. In 1988 certain groups persecuted for religious beliefs (e.g. Jewish people and Protestants) asked for refuge in Canada. After Ukraine became an independent country, Ukrainians could migrate legally. With the beginning of the war in Donbas, the number of Ukrainian immigrants increased.
Distribution of ethnic Ukrainians by province 2016
Many politically and socially active people were among these immigrants, so Ukrainians organized many communities and organizations in Canada. They have also cooperated with organizations and opened businesses in Ukraine. The Canadian diaspora supports the Ukrainian army in today’s war in Donbas.
Are you from the Ukrainian diaspora in Canada? Do you know someone who is? Share your story with us in the comments.