Why the Ukrainian diaspora settled in the Canadian Prairies

February 25, 2022

By Tri-Cities News |

As Russia invades Ukraine, descendants of the Ukrainian diaspora are watching with concern to what’s happening to their ancestral homeland.

Canada has one of the largest populations of Ukrainians outside Ukraine. In 2016, there were 1.36 million people in Canada that said they had Ukrainian ancestry, about four per cent of the population.

Of those, almost 700,000 live in the three Prairie provinces, where they make up around 11 per cent of the population.

Who were the first Ukrainian settlers in Canada?

According to official sources, the first Ukrainian settlers to come to Canada were Ivan Pylypiw and Wasyl Eleniak in 1891.

At that time, what’s now the country of Ukraine was divided between Austria-Hungary in the west and the Russian Empire in the east.

Pylypiw and Eleniak were from what was then called Galicia, located in the Austro-Hungarian part of Ukraine. According to Library and Archives Canada, they were the start of a wave of 150,000 immigrants that mostly came from Galicia and another part of Austro-Hungarian Ukraine called Bukovina that lasted until 1914.

Pylypiw returned to Ukraine in 1892 to bring his family over.

“People asked me where I had been and what I had seen,” Pylypiw told William A. Czumer, who later published the interview in his book Recollections About the Life of the First Ukrainian Settlers in Canada. “I told them about Canada and said, ‘Run, run from here, because here you have nothing, but there you’ll have land free and be your own master.’”

Why did Ukrainians choose the Prairie provinces?

The Ukrainian immigrants between 1891 and 1914 were attracted by the promise of free land.

“There was land everywhere; land wherever you went, all empty. Just take a plough and start ploughing. Not like in the Old Country, where people worked small, narrow strips or didn’t even have a bit of garden,” Pylypiw said.

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