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Ukrainians in Canada, 1900-1930


The coming of the immigrants made for an exciting time on the Canadian Prairies. It was a time when Canadian trains were filled with European immigrants travelling west in search of free land.


Pre-1900 period

The coming of the immigrants made for an exciting time on the Canadian Prairies. It was a time when Canadian trains were filled with European immigrants travelling west in search of free land. These pioneer families, disembarking from the railroad coaches, travelled in ox-drawn wagons to their new homes through untamed forests or followed buffalo trails on the seemingly endless plains. It was a time when wild animals were unhindered by barbed wire fences or ploughed fields. The spirit of adventure was in the air. A great future beckoned one and all.

A polyglot of tongues

By 1900 Eastern European immigration into Canada was in full swing. The Great Prairie West was being tamed by the sturdy peasants of the Steppes and the Carpathian Mountains of Ukraine, the Baltic Lowlands of Poland and the Plains of Hungary. Their passports showed only Austrian or Russian citizenship, because Western Ukraine, Poland and Hungary were part of the Austrian Empire, and Eastern Ukraine belonged to the Russian Empire. A polyglot of tongues was heard in the colonial coaches of Canadian trains heading west Magyar, Rumanian, Ukrainian, Polish, Slovak, German and Russian. The immigrants of each linguistic group settled near each other or in colonies, so that a mosaic of ethnic settlements emerged on the Prairies, based on their mother tongue and/or religious persuasion.

The German and Ukrainian-speaking Mennonites led the way to the Canadian West in 1874, leaving the marshlands of southern Ukraine and settling in southern Manitoba and in north-central Saskatchewan. The Ukrainians from Western Ukraine first arrived in eastern Alberta in 1891, then spread to southern Manitoba and across the parklands of central Saskatchewan. Then came the Russian Doukhobours, a Christian sect of 'spirit wrestlers' from Siberia, in 1899, settling in the Kamsack and Blaine Lake areas of Saskatchewan, with some of them later moving on to the Kootenay valley in southeastern British Columbia.

All of these immigrants were looking for free land, freedom of worship, or adventure, or running away from oppressive governments, unfeeling, greedy and cruel landlords, debts, compulsory military conscription, and persecutions of all sorts. They sold whatever property they had, bundled up their children and took the train to Hamburg, then a German ship to Halifax and another train to the Canadian West. Ending up in the Winnipeg or Edmonton immigrant sheds, they purchased food and farm supplies and spread out to settle on empty quarter sections of land across the Prairie provinces.

Between 1900 and 1910

The Ukrainian immigrants who came from the provinces of Galicia and Carpatho-Ukraine were Eastern rite (Greek) Catholics, while those who originated in the Bukovina area of the Carpathian Mountains, and from Eastern Ukraine, were Eastern rite Greek Orthodox. Both Greek Catholic and Greek Orthodox Churches are of the Byzantine rite. These Ukrainians were not Greeks: their religious tradition originated from the Greek Church in Constantinople, the capital city of the Eastern Roman Empire. There were also among the settlers a small number of Ukrainian Latin rite Catholics and Protestant Baptists, but these were generally lost in the huge sea of Greek Catholics and Greek Orthodox.(1)

Religious problems

In the 1890s the Ukrainian Catholic settlers to Canada were not accompanied by their clergy. Their priests were mostly married men with families who chose to stay in Ukraine. Without their clergy the Ukrainian settlers found themselves exposed to the preaching of various Protestant denominations and the visits of the priests of the Russian Orthodox Church. Some Ukrainians were attracted to the teachings of Bishop Seraphim (Stefan Ustovolsky) of the Russian Orthodox Church, who worked for the establishment of an interim, artificial Greek Independent Church, in order to wean away the Ukrainian Catholic settlers from their Byzantine rite Catholic faith. His priests began proselytizing among the Ukrainian Catholic faithful as early as 1903. At this time only a handful of Basilian Fathers and some concerned French-Canadian missionaries brought the Word of God and administered the Sacraments to the pioneers. These Eastern Church Ukrainians did not trust the French Catholic clergy on the Prairies, since they had unfavourable experiences with the Polish Roman rite Catholic clergy in Europe who were constantly trying to convert them to Latin-rite Catholicism.

Spiritual succour

Ironically, the spiritually and educationally neglected Ukrainian settlers in Canada did become the concern of the French-Canadian hierarchy in the West. As early as 1896 Archbishop Langevin of St. Boniface Diocese in Manitoba went to Europe to get Ukrainian priests and teachers, but to no avail. Two years later he sent Bishops Pascal (Prince Albert Diocese) and Legal (Edmonton Diocese) to Europe to search for help. No results. In 1904 a direct appeal to the Austrian Emperor brought no response. But spiritual succour had already come, and it first arrived from south of the border. A few Ukrainian Catholic priests from the United States began sporadically to visit the Ukrainian Catholic settlements in Canada. The first Ukrainian Catholic priests in Canada were Nestor Dmytriw who celebrated the Divine Liturgy in 1897, Paul Tymkewich in 1989, and Damaskin Polywka, OSBM, in 1901. (2) The fourth Ukrainian Catholic priest in Canada was Rev. Ivan Zaklynsky who arrived in 1902. (3)

Because of the proselytizing of the Russian Orthodox Mission and the various Protestant sects among the Ukrainian Catholic settlers, Metropolitan Andrew Sheptytsky of Lviv sent Rev. Basil Zholdak to Canada on a fact-finding mission. As a result of his report to the Metropolitan, Zholdak, a Basilian, brought with him three more Basilian Fathers to Canada in 1902 Rev. S. Didyk, Rev. A. Strotsky and Rev. P. Filas as well as four Sister Servants of Mary Immaculate. This core of Ukrainian Catholic clergy was joined by Belgian-born Roman rite Redemptorist Fathers headed by Rev. Achille Delaere, and by a few French-Canadian priests. They learned the Ukrainian language and customs and were permitted to celebrate the Divine Liturgy in the Eastern Byzantine Rite, and also to baptize, marry and bury the Ukrainian settlers, using the Ukrainian language. These non-Ukrainian clergy sacrificed much to gain the trust and respect of the settlers.

One reason for the scarcity of Ukrainian Catholic priests in Canada was that the coming of married Ukrainian Catholic diocesan clergy was opposed by the Latin rite Catholic hierarchy both in Canada and the United States. (4) This ban on married Eastern rite clergy in North America was reinforced, in 1929, by a Papal Decree entitled Cum Data Fuerit, (5) and was in force until 1998. On September 1st of that year the Archeparchy of Pittsburgh passed new legislation rescinding that Decree within its jurisdiction. (6)

The second reason for the scarcity of married Ukrainian Catholic priests in Canada had to do with the differences in liturgical rites. The Ukrainian Catholic clergy did not wish to be subservient to a Latin-rite hierarchy. (7)

Protestant proselytizing among the Ukrainians

The efforts of the various Protestant groups to turn Ukrainian Catholics on the prairies into Orthodox and Protestants continued unabated. The Presbyterians tried to convert the Ukrainians to their unliturgical form of worship of sermonizing, a worship foreign to Ukrainian mentality, thought and tradition. They failed miserably. When Bishop Seraphim's 'Russian Mission' ran out of steam and most of his so-called 'priests' defected to the Presbyterian church, the Presbyterians tried another method to wean the Ukrainian Catholics away create an interim church called the Greek Independent Church. The idea was to gradually introduce the Protestant form of worship to the Ukrainians over a number of years. It proved to be a fiasco since the Ukrainian 'priests' refused to cooperate! (8)

The Methodists tried to convert Ukrainians to their brand of Christianity by building hospitals in Ukrainian block settlements, such as Hafford, SK, and Pekan, AB, and staffing these hospitals with their own Methodist-preacher-medical-doctors and nurses. The Methodist women organized the Ukrainian schoolgirls into clubs to teach homemaking, sewing, cooking and childcare. Religious training was interspersed among these subjects, hymns were sung and short Methodist interpretations of the Bible took place. As M. Shykula notes, "The Ukrainians accepted this ministering with gratitude, but very few of them became Methodists. The Methodists, seeing that their missionary efforts were not bringing the desired results, gradually folded up the missions by selling the hospitals to the municipalities in the various communities."(9)

Between 1910 and 1920

This exciting and controversial decade saw the religious disputes and upheavals among Ukrainian immigrants boil over and come to a head, with the resulting emergence of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Saskatoon, and the appointment and installation of Bishop Nicetas Budka as the first Ukrainian Catholic bishop for the entire Dominion of Canada, with his eparchy established in Winnipeg. It also witnessed the incarceration of over 8,000 'enemy aliens,' of whom over 5,000 were Austro-Hungarians (mostly Ukrainian immigrants), in 24 labour camps and stations across Canada, just because Western Ukraine happened to be part of the Austrian Empire. Ironically, during World War I the Ukrainians in Canada supplied 10,000 men to the Canadian Armed Forces, and had one of their own, Corporal Philip Konowal, earn the Victoria Cross for valour in battles against the Germans.

This decade also witnessed the warning from Fatima in far-off Portugal, whose Heavenly Messenger in 1917 predicted new wars in the future, and forecast the emergence of Russia as a superpower and the evil role that Soviet Communism would play in the world, not least with the lives of Ukrainians in their homeland and in the diaspora.

The nationality of early Ukrainian immigrants to Canada came under a variety of names. These pioneers were listed in the Canadian censuses of 1901 and 1911 as Austrians, Bukovinians, Galicians, Ruthenians, Hungarians or Russians, according to their place of birth as registered in their passports because the ancient Ukrainian lands had been divided as spoils of war by surrounding nation states. In North America most Ukrainians were known as Ruthenians (from the Latin word rutheni). After 1914, the word 'Ukrainian' came in vogue, and its usage was strengthened by the declaration of Ukrainian independence in 1917. Marunchak writes, "This modern proper name has become a common denominator for all former 'Ruthenians,' 'Galicians,' 'Bukovinians,' 'Russians,' 'Austrians,' 'Lemkos,' and so on." (10)

Petitioning Rome for a bishop

As previously mentioned, the Ukrainians' first decade in Canada was without the benefit of their Catholic or Orthodox priests, yet they built their churches on the empty, windy, lonely prairies and held impromptu services in them, always waiting for their clergy to come. The occasional priest would come from the USA to baptize, marry and bury them, but it was only in 1910 that their desperate religious plight was taken seriously by Rome. In that year Metropolitan Andrew Sheptytsky of Lviv arrived for the Eucharistic Conference in Montreal, spoke with the French-Canadian hierarchy in French about the need for priests, then toured the Ukrainian settlements on the plains. His recommendations to the Holy Father brought results. In 1912 Bishop Nicetas Budka was appointed the first Ukrainian Catholic bishop for all of Canada. By the time he arrived in Canada on December 6, the clergy of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in the Dominion consisted of five Basilian priests, seven diocesan, four Belgian-born Redemptorists and five bi-ritual French Canadian priests a total of twenty-one, along with four small communities of Sister Servants. These looked after the spiritual needs of Ukrainian pioneers whose farms were scattered over thousands of square miles of land stretching from Winnipeg to Edmonton and beyond. When Bishop Budka received his Dominion Diocesan Charter in 1913, he took under his control over 80 parishes in Western Canada.


In the field of education, there was a scarcity of qualified teachers to look after the needs of the children of the settlers. Two developments in the Ukrainian community furthered the cause of schooling. The first was the institution of the Ruthenian Training School in Winnipeg in 1905 by the Manitoba government. This school was transferred to Brandon in 1907. Called the Ukrainian Teachers' Seminary by the Ukrainian settlers, this special school was established for the training of bilingual school teachers to teach in the one-room schools in the rural Ukrainian settlements. Saskatchewan opened its Training School for Teachers in Foreign Speaking Communities in Regina in 1909. One of its more illustrious graduates was John Diefenbaker, the future Prime Minister of Canada. Alberta's English School for Foreigners opened in Vegreville in 1913. All three 'Training Schools' closed in 1916, as a result of the federal government's war hysteria and the fear of all things foreign.

Religious schism among the Ukrainian settlers

The other development in the educational field was the establishment of the bursa, a dormitory home for out-of-town students a semi-educational Ukrainian institution quite prevalent in Ukraine. The bursa's residents were usually young adults attending high school or institutions of higher education. It was also the place where the Ukrainian language, culture and traditions were taught. The setting up of bursas across the prairies was a reaction to the closure of the three training schools and the abolition of the Ukrainian language in public schools by the three provincial governments. In 1916 Ukrainians met in Winnipeg to set up the first bursa on Canadian soil. Immediate disagreements arose over its general character, whether it was to have a national character or one that was religiously (Catholic) oriented. Two bursas were organized that year in Winnipeg, the Adam Kotsko (neutral) bursa and the Andrew Sheptytsky (Ukrainian Catholic) bursa. The Mohyla Institute (bursa) in Saskatoon, established in 1917, was probably the spark which ignited the schism leading to the creation of Canada's Ukrainian Orthodox Church. A disagreement occurred between the directors of the Institute and Bishop Budka. "The latter was upholding the position that the Institute should be conducted in the Catholic spirit because the students were predominantly of Catholic faith while the leadership of the Institute insisted on religious neutrality." (11) Because of this clash "... there came into being the Ukrainian Orthodox Brotherhood which set out to organize the Ukrainian Greek Orthodox Church in Canada." (12)

Bursas were set up in Edmonton in 1917, in Sifton and Teulon in Manitoba, and in Vegreville in Alberta. A bursa still exists in Saskatoon (2001). Called the Sheptytsky Institute, it was built in 1953, and belongs to the Ukrainian Episcopal Corporation of Saskatchewan. Its predecessor was the Markian Shashkewich bursa, set up in Saskatoon by the Ukrainian Catholic Brotherhood in 1935.

Bishop Budka also established St. Joseph's (High) School in Yorkton in 1919, for Ukrainian Catholic male students. Because there was no Ukrainian religious teaching order of male teachers, he invited the English-speaking, Latin rite Brothers of the Christian Schools to teach there. Sacred Heart Academy in Yorkton was instituted for Ukrainian Catholic female students in 1915 by the Sister Servants of Mary Immaculate.

Internment camps for Ukrainian immigrants

The Ukrainian settlers and Bishop Budka were all dumbfounded by the unbelievable problems they encountered during the First World War. Because Ukrainian immigrants to Canada mostly originated from Galicia, an old Ukrainian principality that fell under the Austrian Empire, they held Austrian citizenship. When a Bosnian Serb assassinated the heir to the Austrian throne on June 28, 1914, precipitating the First World War, Bishop Budka had the misfortune of issuing a pastoral letter on July 27 urging all Ukrainians to support the Austrian cause. The next day Austria declared war on Russia, because Serbia was her ally. Imperial Germany sided with the German-speaking Austrians. When Great Britain declared war against Germany on August 4, Bishop Budka quickly had to reverse his stand and issued another pastoral letter, this time supporting the British Empire. But the damage had been done, and the loyalty of the Ukrainian immigrants was suspect by Canadian authorities.

On August 15 the Canadian government declared that all subjects of enemy countries living in Canada were liable to arrest and detention if they tried to leave the country. A week later, the federal government brought in the War Measures Act, which gave it sweeping emergency powers of media censorship, arrest, detention, deportation, and the appropriation and control of dispossessed property. (13)

Of the 80,000 or so aliens registered in Canada during the war, 8,579 were interned in labour camps. Of these, 5,954 were classified as Austro-Hungarian; most of them were Ukrainian. Accommodations, available only at Spirit Lake and Vernon camps, provided support to 81 women and 156 children. (14)

Five receiving stations for prisoners were established in Montreal, Toronto, Niagara Falls, Sault Ste. Marie and Winnipeg, while "most of the camps were situated in Canada's western provinces, the well-known and traditional region of Ukrainian settlement in this country."(15)

Internment camps were established in such places as the old Fort Garry building in Winnipeg, the armouries in Niagara Falls, the Malleable Iron Works in Amherst, Nova Scotia, the National Parks building in Banff Castle, Alberta, and the militia camps in Petawawa, Ontario. Other internment camps for enemy aliens were set up throughout the Canadian provinces, except for Saskatchewan. There is no record of French-Canadian or English-Canadian sympathies for the internees mentioned anywhere.

The prisoners were employed in such occupations as clearing forests around Kapuskasing, road building in Jasper National Park, and maintaining railway lines across the Dominion. Some camps had inmate-run schools, and religious services were held within the camps. Newspapers, censored, were allowed, as were books, and canteens were set up in most camps and sold tobacco and sweets.

"Those incarcerated in Fort Henry represented a diverse admixture of nationalities,...Germans and bona fide Austrian POWs were incarcerated there. However, many of the so-called Austrians were Ukrainians....It is certain that numbers of the POWs were Jewish, Turkish, Slovak, Czech, Polish and Bulgarian." (16)

To add insult to injury, the federal government proclaimed the War Times Elections Act in 1917 which took away the right to vote for many immigrants from Ukraine. "Anyone not naturalized before 31 March, 1902, was included in this disenfranchisement." (17)

Bishop Budka's first pastoral letter recommending loyalty to the Austrian Emperor was to haunt him for the duration of the war. On July 8, 1918, the Bishop and Rev. Ludwig Boske, a Belgian Redemptorist priest, were arrested in Hafford, SK, for sedition. The plaintiff, a farmer from Wakaw, objected to Father Boske's sermon. (18) They were released on $1,000 bail, raised by the Ukrainian Catholic faithful. The case was dismissed after the plaintiff withdrew his charge, and apologized to Fr. Boske. (19)

The federal government which had sent agents to Eastern Europe to persuade the farmers of the Austrian and Russian Empires to leave their native lands and homes and settle in and tame the wilds of the Canadian territories, was the same government which did an about turn and declared these same farmers enemy aliens in time of war! The government which welcomed with open arms over 170,000 Ukrainians to its Canadian shores prior to 1914, was the same government which imprisoned over 5,000 of these immigrant people.

Bishop Budka

During the war years, Bishop Budka was instrumental in establishing parishes, building schools and bursas in his nation-wide eparchy. It was during this time that a dispute between the bishop and some Ukrainian-born immigrants erupted over the transfer of Ukrainian Catholic parishes to the Ruthenian Episcopal Corporation and the management of the Saskatoon Mohyla bursa. The malcontents also took pot shots at the bishop on many other issues, to the point that the bishop, a frail man by nature, began to experience serious health problems.

In all fairness to Bishop Budka, history reveals to us the vast number of difficulties and problems which nearly overwhelmed him in Canada. He suffered many misfortunes and faced adversaries on every side. In the media he was depicted as an enemy of the nation rather than a Prince of the Church. He suffered unnecessary anguish and scorn at the hands of those more educated Ukrainians who probably considered themselves to be (and who probably were) of the intellectually elite class in a wild and woolly Canadian West. However, through all this, Bishop Budka showed his mettle in dealing with these antagonistic forces. He stood fast but ruined his health in the process. He returned to Ukraine in 1927, never to return.

In Lviv, he was appointed auxiliary bishop of that city, and in this capacity he restored the famous Marian shrine of Our Lady of Zarwanytsia near Ternopil, which he called the 'Ukrainian Lourdes.' Although he kept his British citizenship (Canadian citizenship only emerged in 1949), in 1944 he chose to remain in Lviv with the departure of the German army, knowing full well the menace of the advancing Red Army.

He was arrested by the Soviets on Good Friday, April 11, 1946, after Stalin had ordered the dissolution of the Ukrainian (Greek) Catholic Church and enforced its physical absorption into the Russian Orthodox Church. Over a thousand parishes were handed over to the Orthodox. The entire Ukrainian Catholic hierarchy was arrested and sent to labour camps throughout the Soviet Union. Bishop Budka was taken to a Siberian concentration camp in Karaganda in eastern Kazakhstan where he died of slow starvation. His mortal remains were placed in a canvas body bag, tagged, and dropped in the forest. All that was found of him was a piece of shirt sleeve from his prison gown. (20) He died as a true Confessor of the Catholic faith, and as another Martyr of the Catholic Church.

1920 to 1930

This decade witnessed a certain measure of prosperity in the Prairie West as the land was cleared by hundreds of thousands of immigrants. Ukrainian settlers helped in the Cooperative Movement that was sweeping the West at the time. Farmer-owned wheat pools were formed, as were locally-controlled credit unions. Farmers even helped each other in "bees" when misfortune struck one of them, and the others pitched in to work, plant, or harvest his fields, or even build his barns. This decade was part of the great boom when Model T and Model A Fords began appearing on the rural dirt roads, when telephone poles were erected and telephone wires were strung up. It was part of the great boom before the collapse of the stock market in October, 1929, and the beginning of the great economic depression. The drought that produced the Dirty Thirties, moreover, transformed the prairies into a huge dust bowl.

Events in Europe caused another major influx of Ukrainians to Canada, this time as refugees. With the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian and the Russian Empires in 1917 and the surrender of Germany a year later, the short-lived Ukrainian National Republic and Hetmanate state (1917-1923) was overrun by hordes of the newly formed Russian Bolshevik forces. Ukraine became a submerged nation within the Russian dominated Soviet Union. Western Ukraine (Galicia) was given to Poland by the Council of Ambassadors meeting in Paris in 1923. Within a few years refugees were fleeing from Polish pacification 'pogroms' and the harsh rule of the Polish dictator, General Pilsudski.


When Bishop Budka departed for Europe in 1927, he left behind 47 priests, 299 churches and chapels, and 200,000 faithful. "Of the 42 priests whom he ordained, 20 of them found their way into service to the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Canada. Fifteen were ordained or found their way into the United States, three into Poland, two into Yugoslavia, one into England and one into Germany." (21) Bishop Budka was replaced by Bishop Basil Ladyka, OSBM, Canada's second Ukrainian Catholic Bishop.

In Canada the agriculturally-oriented Ukrainians immersed themselves in the Cooperative Movement. In politics they elected their own countrymen as Members of Parliament and members of provincial legislatures. In the business sector Ukrainians became merchants, farm machinery salesmen, service station operators and bulk fuel dealers. In education, bilingual Ukrainian teachers, Ukrainian-born and Canadian-born, were teaching in the one-room country schools in Ukrainian settlements. In the cultural field, dancing, choral and drama groups were formed. Self-reliance and self-support groups and organizations sprang up. Ukrainian newspapers and periodicals flourished. The Ukrainian Catholic and Orthodox churches organized their own men's, women's and youth organizations.

The Ukrainians in Canada not only endured; they thrived.


  1. M.H. Marunchak, The Ukrainian Canadians: A History (Yorktown: Redeemer's Voice Press, 1970), p. 99.
  2. M. Shykula and B. Korchinski, Pioneer Bishop: The Story of Bishop Nicetas Budka's 15 Years in Canada (Regina: Distributed by Bishop Budka Knights of Columbus Council #5914, 1990), p. 21.
  3. M.H. Marunchak, op. cit., p. 103.
  4. M.B. Kuropas, Ukrainian Americans: Roots and Aspirations 1884-1954 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991), pp. 40, 45-46.
  5. Kuropas, op. cit., p. 65.
  6. Prairie Messenger (Muenster, SK Benedictine St. Peter's Press), January 22, 1997, May 6 and August 26, 1998).
  7. Kuropas op. cit., p. 65
  8. Marunchak, op. cit., 108, 110-111; Shykula, et al., op. cit., pp. 18-19
  9. Shykula, et al., op. cit., p. 20.
  10. Marunchak, op. cit., p. 119.
  11. ibid.,p. 157.
  12. ibid.
  13. F. Swyripa and J.H. Thompson, Loyalties in Conflict: Ukrainians in Canada during the War Years (Edmonton, University of Alberta, 1983), pp. 1-2.
  14. W.D. Otter, Internment Operations 1914-1920 (Ottawa: King's Printer, 1921), p. 3.
  15. L.Y. Luciuk, Internment Operations: Th role of Old Fort Henry in World War I (Kingston, Ont., Delta Educational Consultants, 1980), pp. 3-4.
  16. L.Y. Luciuk op. cit., p. 22.
  17. ibid p. 28.
  18. J.W. Stechishin, Iuveleina knyha ukrains'koho insitutu im. P Mohyly v Saskatuni (Winnipeg: Ukrainian Voice Press, 1945), pp. 92-94.
  19. Saskatoon Daily Star July 16, 1918, p. 10.
  20. M. Shykula et al., op. cit., pp. 83-84.
  21. ibid., p. 82.




Joseph Lozinsky. "Ukrainians in Canada, 1900-1930." Catholic Insight vol. 9, no. 5 (June 2001).

Reprinted with permission of Catholic Insight.

The Author

Joseph Lozinsky obtained his PhD in Canadian history in Germany, and has had a lifelong interest in Ukrainian history and culture. He's retired and sides in Saskatoon.

Copyright © Catholic Insight
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