A Scattering of Seeds: The Creation of Canada
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THE FULLNESS OF TIME: Ukrainian Stories from Alberta
Immigration History
Obstacles

Early Ukrainian immigrants to Canada, like Alexander Szpak and his family, came with the hopes of leaving behind the poverty and want of their homeland. But even in the promised land of Canada, the immigrants faced the hardships of homesteading and found work as low-wage labourers in order to keep their families fed and housed.

The Ukrainians who came were not, as a whole, as well educated as Canadians who came from more privileged social groups. Illiteracy - in their mother tongue as well as English - was common among the first peasant immigrants. And Ukrainian women were traditionally disadvantaged compared with Ukrainian men and Canadian women(5).

The first Ukrainian block settlements and urban enclaves did help, economically and socially, to cushion immigrant adjustment to Canada. But they could not prevent all the problems that came with being strangers in a new land(6). To begin with, Ukrainians weren't even called as such. Almost all of them came from the multi-national Austrian Empire and often didn't even have a good sense of their own identity. In Canada they were called "Galicians" or "Bukovinians," but were more commonly referred to as "filthy little Galicians," or "a bunch of dirty bohunks"(7).

The Winnipeg Daily Nor-Wester newspaper, for example, proclaimed on December 23, 1896 - at the beginning of the Christmas season - that, "The southern Slavs are probably the least promising of all the material that could be selected for nation building." On another occasion the same paper said that the "...dumping of these filthy, penniless and ignorant foreigners into progressive and intelligent communities is a serious hardship to these communities...These people bring with them disease and dirty habits. By their unintelligent methods of farming they will lower the reputation of the products of the community...It cannot be too emphatically repeated that the people of Manitoba want no such settlers as these Galicians." Even as late as the 1930s, the Anglican Bishop of Saskatchewan referred to the Ukrainians as "...these dirty, ignorant, garlic- smelling, non-preferred continentals"(8).

The physical appearance of the Ukrainians was probably their greatest liability. For the first few years after their arrival in Canada, they wore the exotic peasant garments of the Ukraine, including sheepskin coats, embroidered blouses, and in the case of women, babushka-style headdress. Back in their homeland, poor nutrition and years of manual labour in the sun had given them a bronzed, shriveled appearance. Even children sometimes appeared older than their years(9).

With the outbreak of World War I, Canadian society's discriminatory attitudes toward the Ukrainians was translated into more official policy. Unnaturalized Ukrainian Canadians, those who hadn't yet gained citizenship, were classified as "enemy aliens" by the Canadian government. Six thousand Ukrainian "enemy aliens" were interned. And any Ukrainians naturalized less than fifteen years were disenfranchised. At the same time, over 10,000 Ukrainians enlisted in the armed forces. Immigration of Ukrainian immigrants during this period virtually ceased(10).

After nearly a century of living in Canada, the Ukrainians have overcome these prejudices and obstacles. By the 1960s marriages between Ukrainians and Canadians of Anglo-Saxon and other origins had become extremely common, making it increasingly difficult to identify Ukrainian Canadians. They were no longer a visible minority and they were becoming assimilated into the mainstream of Canadian life. However, these forces of assimilation that allowed Ukrainian Canadians to be accepted in turn became an obstacle, working against the preservation of the Ukrainian language, religion and cultural heritage. Since the 1960s the Canadian-born Ukrainian population have consciously countered assimilation by working to revive interest in their heritage, aided by Canada's policies of multiculturalism(11).

Endnotes:
5,6,10,11 - The 1998 Canadian & World Encyclopedia
(McClelland & Stewart, Toronto, 1998).

7,8,9 - Ukrainian Canadian, Eh?
by Michael Czuboka(Communigraphics, Winnipeg, 1983).

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