Culture and History
July 9, 2023
Behold the beautiful Ukrainian steppes, a land of rich and fertile black soil, the breadbasket of the World! Wait, that’s not Ukraine? No, we’re looking at a scene from the steppes of Western Canada, an enormous area in the Prairie Provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta. How did we miss our target by 8000 km? Read on, as there is a closer connection between Canada and Ukraine than many realize.
Ukrainians have a rich and enduring history in Canada, dating back to the late 19th century when the first immigrants arrived, drawn by the promise of free land as they were simultaneously repelled from their native land by political upheaval and persecution. Now, Canada hosts one of the largest Ukrainian diasporas in the world, with over 1.3 million people of Ukrainian origin according to the census of 2016. These Ukrainian-Canadians make important contributions to the multicultural mosaic of Canada and are especially concentrated in the Prairie Provinces. They've left indelible marks on Canadian culture, politics, and economy, fostering an enormous patchwork of Ukrainian institutions, including churches, cultural centers, and schools. These institutions not only preserve and promote Ukrainian heritage and traditions but also symbolize the enduring ties between Ukraine and Canada.
The first significant wave of Ukrainian migration to Canada occurred between 1891 and 1914, during the period known as Canada's "Last Best West" campaign. The Canadian government was eager to populate the vast prairie provinces and attract immigrants to farm this land. It made offers of free homesteads of 160 acres, an offer particularly attractive to Ukrainians given the lack of arable land and political turmoil in their home regions, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
The second wave of immigration was fueled by the aftermath of World War I and the establishment of the Soviet regime following the Russian Revolution. The period between the two World Wars saw an increased migration of political and economic refugees, with many seeking to escape the harsh conditions of the newly-formed Soviet Union.
The third wave, from 1945 to the early 1950s, consisted mainly of refugees following World War II. These individuals were often vehemently anti-communist and brought a heightened sense of Ukrainian nationalism. Given that Ukrainians had earlier established communities in Canada, these new migrants were naturally drawn to the region.
The fourth wave, from 1991 onward, followed the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the establishment of a free and independent Ukraine. These more recent immigrants have often come for economic opportunities, family reunification, or to escape political instability and conflict, such as the Russo-Ukrainian War that started in 2014.
Ukrainian immigrants have historically shown a preference for settling in the Prairie Provinces of Canada, namely Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan. The initial wave of Ukrainian immigrants was enticed by the promise of free land in these areas for farming. The city of Edmonton, in Alberta, has a prominent Ukrainian population and is the home of the Ukrainian Canadian Archives and Museum of Alberta.
Manitoba, another Prairie Province, also has a high concentration of Ukrainians, particularly in the capital, Winnipeg, and surrounding rural areas. Dauphin, a city in Manitoba, hosts Canada's National Ukrainian Festival annually. Saskatchewan, especially the city of Saskatoon, has been another popular destination for Ukrainian immigrants.
Over time, as economies shifted from agricultural to industrial and later technical, Ukrainians established communities in other parts of Canada, particularly in the major urban centers of Toronto, Ontario and Vancouver, British Columbia. The province of Ontario, given its economic opportunities, has attracted a significant number of more recent Ukrainian immigrants
Ukraine has one of the largest and fastest-growing pools of IT professionals in Central and Eastern Europe. This development can be attributed to a strong focus on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education (STEM), as well as fluency in English among many Ukrainians.
In Canada, cities like Toronto, known for their thriving tech industry, are highly attractive to skilled Ukrainian immigrants in the tech and IT sector. Toronto's tech scene is one of the fastest-growing in North America, with opportunities in sectors like software development, artificial intelligence, and cybersecurity. The city also has several initiatives and programs to attract and retain global tech talent, making it an attractive destination for Ukrainian IT professionals seeking new opportunities. Toronto’s diverse multicultural environment, including a well-established Ukrainian community, has provided a welcoming environment for new Ukrainian immigrants, offering networks for social support and cultural connection.
From the vast wheat fields of the Prairie Provinces to the dazzling tech hubs of Toronto, Ukrainians have authored a fascinating story of migration in Canada. Over more than a century, they've transitioned from early homesteaders to key contributors in Canada's modern, diverse economy. Through every wave of migration, Ukrainians have carried with them a spirit of resilience and innovation, enriching Canada's multicultural tradition while maintaining unbreakable connections to their heritage. Their story, rooted in the rich soil of the past and reaching towards the promising digital horizons of the future, is a testament to the enduring strength and adaptability of the Ukrainian-Canadian community.
The link between Canada and Ukraine isn’t just about history and past migrations, or the present booming tech industry in Toronto and Vancouver. The bonds between Canadians and Ukrainians are revealed in the selfless volunteering activities of Canadian volunteers working in Ukraine right now. Read about one amazing volunteer from Winnipeg here, and then check out our website to find opportunities that might match your interests.
September 8, 2023
Culture and History