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THE FULLNESS OF TIME: Ukrainian Stories from Alberta
Immigration History
Legacy

In 1991, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukraine became an independent state. Also in 1991, 406,645 Canadians claimed Ukrainian origins, while another 647,650 reported partial Ukrainian ancestry. With Ukraine independence, Ukrainian Canadians can look forward to a renewal of spirit, of sorts, through both immigration and previously impossible communication with their homeland(12).

Alexander Szpak's grandson, for example, is Albertan author and filmmaker Harvey Spak who takes comfort and pride in remembering the stories and heritage of the first Ukrainian immigrants and where they came from. Harvey Spak's grandparents were Ukrainian-Catholic and the church, Spak remembers, played a pivotal role in the history of the Szpak family. And indeed, of all Ukrainians immigrants.

While Ukrainians from Galicia were Eastern-rite Catholic, those from Bukovina were Orthodox. No priests immigrated initially and other denominations - especially the Methodist and Presbyterian churches - tried to fill the religious vacuum. Ukrainian Catholics were under Roman Catholic jurisdiction until 1912 when they acquired their own church and an independent hierarchy. The Russian Orthodox Church worked among Orthodox immigrants but lost popularity after 1917. In 1918 Ukrainians founded the Ukrainian Greek Orthodox Church of Canada, which since 1989 has been called the Ukrainian Orthodox Church(13).

Ukrainian immigrants were profoundly Christian people. The faith was deeply ingrained in them and they brought this deep faith with them when they came to Canada. The first public buildings they erected as a community were the churches. The church was central in preserving the language, culture and identity of Ukrainian Canadians. And their distinctive church architecture, with their majestic domed roof tops, towered above the prairie landscape(14). As Harvey Spak describes them, "They are like a ship in full sail, a metaphor for heaven on earth."

In 1991, 23.2% of Ukrainian Canadians belonged to the Ukrainian Catholic church, 18.8% to the Orthodox church; 20.1% were Roman Catholics, 10.9% United Church members, and 12.6% reported no religion(15). Many of the distinctly Ukrainian churches still dot the Western landscape. Most of these churches are still active and maintained by the local communities, who take pride in their heritage.

Most agricultural pagan-Christian rituals of Ukrainian peasant life were discarded with urbanization and secularization. But traditional art forms such as embroidery and Easter egg ornamentation, Ukrainian dance, music and foods have gained widespread appreciation outside the Ukrainian Canadian community(16). Many Ukrainian artists, like Harvey Spak, look to their heritage in both Canada and Ukraine for inspiration and subject matter. In a way, Harvey Spak claims the story of his ancestors as his own story.

Endnotes:
12,13,14,15,16 - The 1998 Canadian & World Encyclopedia
(McClelland & Stewart, Toronto, 1998).

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