Photo courtesy of v.ivash from Freepik
When I was undertaking research on my ancestry, and later for my historical fiction novel, Heart Stones, my sister shared one of her books with me: Ukrainians in Canada – The Formative Period: 1891-1924 by Orest Martynowych (1991). Orest Martynowych studied history at the University of Manitoba (BA Hons., MA) and at the University of Toronto. He was Research Associate at CIUS Press, University of Alberta, from 1985 to 1989. His book is a scholarly book about the role that Ukrainian immigration played in settling Canada.
Martynowych’s book provides great background information about why Galician Ukrainians left their homeland and what they experienced once they arrived in Canada. He details facts about literacy rates, the high rates of child and mother mortality, how most peasants earned a living and even the primitive state of agriculture before WWI. Interestingly, he also presents some of the perspectives that other new Canadians held after Ukrainians immigrated to join them.
Rich estate owners had opposed industrialization for decades since it would deprive them of cheap agrarian labor. They wanted to maintain control of workers, they didn't want to promote socialism.
When I asked my father why our family left their ancestral village for Canada, he replied that his family were akin to “tenant farmers”, trapped by rich estate owners, with no hopes of having their own farm.
Ukrainians remained the most illiterate ethnic group in the Austro-Hungarian empire at the turn of the century. In fact, their lack of literacy would have stood out amongst others who'd already immigrated to Canada.
My grandfather, Wasyl Nykoluk, was among the minority that knew how to read and write when he came to Canada. What family circumstances allowed him to become educated, I wondered?
Ukrainian immigration to Canada assumed mass proportions between 1901 and 1914. My grandfather came to Canada in 1914, while other residents from my ancestral village, Melnytsya Podilska, had been immigrating since the late 1800’s. Many of them settled in the Mountain Road district of Manitoba.
By 1912, the CPR operated branch offices in all Austrian provincial capitals and in several Galician and Bukovynan towns, with a vast network of local agents in both crownlands. On my grandfather’s 1914 passenger list, the destination for almost all of the men with him was the CPR yards in Winnipeg.
Opposition to emigration from Galicia was strongest within the estate-owner and upper class circles. Most of the Ukrainians leaving Galicia were younger military-aged men. Large estate owners feared the loss of their cheap labor. I find it interesting that the Austrian government was letting the CPR promote emigration within its territory, while the military and powerful estate owners were opposed to emigration.
If you are specifically interested in the Ukrainian faith, as it developed in Canada, this book is for you! Martynowych goes into great detail about how Ukrainians rejected the Catholic faith practiced in Canada (ie. controlled by French Roman Catholic Bishops in Winnipeg), seeking to attend a church more closely resembling their faith as practiced in the old country.
My curiosity, and my desire to fill in gaps of knowledge, eventually led me to write my historical fiction novel called Heart Stones: A Ukrainian Immigration Story of Love and Hope, which was published in mid-February 2023.
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Martynowych, O. 1991. Ukrainians in Canada – The Formative Period: 1891-1924. Edmonton: University of Alberta - Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies Press.