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Ukrainian Culture

Who they are

  • Ukrainians are typically kind-hearted, friendly, hospitable and well-wishing to both fellow countrymen and foreigners; they are cautious (обережні) yet inclined (схильні) to romanticism and sentimentality. They are determined (рішучі), resourceful (кмітливі), brave, staunch (непохитні), ready for self-sacrifice.
  • Ukraine is a rich farming and industrial country in south-eastern Europe. Ukraine is the second-largest country in Europe, bordered by Belarus in the north; Russia in the north and east; Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Moldova in the west; and the Black Sea and Sea of Azov in the south.
  • The modern name Ukraintsi (Ukrainians) is derived from Ukraina (Ukraine), a name first documented in 1187.There are several scientific theories about the etymology of the term, Ukrainian historians such asHryhoriy Pivtorak, Vitaly Sklyarenko and other scholars, translate the term “u-kraine” as “in-land”, “home-land” or “our-country”.
  • Ukrainian mentality was formed, influenced by many factors: geographical location at the crossroads by the West and the East, specific climatic conditions, agricultural land and complex at times tragic historical destiny.
  • Since time immemorial (давні) Ukrainians have been known as hard-working, thrifty, skilled farmers emotionally strongly affiliated to their native parts, good family men and devoted wives.

When they arrived

  1. Ukrainians came to Canada for many reasons, including national and social discrimination at home and economic hardships, which offered no future for the immigrants and their families. In the late 19th Century Canada, on the other hand, was encouraging immigration to open and settle its vast prairies, to build its railways, to develop its industries and urban infrastructure, and to work its mines and forests. Ukrainian peasants, predominantly from the Western Ukraine filled a need for hardy settlers and cheap labour. Source: The Taras Shevchenko Museum.
  2. The first wave of Ukrainian immigration to Canada began with Iwan (Ivan) Pylypow and Wasyl (Vasyl’) Eleniak, who arrived in 1891, and brought several families to settle in 1892. Pylypow helped found the Edna-Star Settlement east of Edmonton, the first and largest Ukrainian block settlement.
  3.  By 1916, a Ukrainian Community had been established in the Bayview area -walking distance from the Steel Mill in Sault Ste Marie area.
  4. Ukrainian settlement in Canada has occurred in three mass immigrations. –        First wave (1891 to 1914),some 170,000 Ukrainians entered Canada, The Internment (1914-1920)Over 5,000 were Ukrainians who had emigrated to Canada from territories under the control of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.-        The second wave(1923-1939), In 1923, the Canadian government modified the Immigration Act to allow former citizens of the Austrian Empire to once again enter Canada and Ukrainian immigration started anew. Ukrainians from Volhynia (under Polish rule) and Bessarabia (under Romanian rule) joined a new wave of emigrants from Galicia and Bukovyna. Around 70,000 Ukrainians from Poland and Romania arrived in Canada from 1924 to 1939.

–        The third wave (1945-1952) approximately 34,000 displaced persons or war refugees arrived between 1947 and 1954.

Language:  Ukrainian

  • Ukrainian is the only official language in Ukraine. The majority of the Ukrainians are bilingual. Both Russian and Ukrainian languages are equally popular in Ukraine due to the Soviet domination from 1920’s to 1990’s.
  • Ukrainian (украї́нська мо́ва, ukrayins’ka mova, [ukraˈjinʲsʲka ˈmɔʋa) is a language of the East Slavic subgroup of the Slavic languages.
  • In Sault Ste Marie, the Ukrainian language has been taught for over eighty years. Today (2012), Mrs. Veronica Recfio (Ukrainian) teaches Ukranian to elementary-aged children through the Algoma District School Board. The classes are one day a week for two and a half hours of instruction.
  • Ukrainian leaders saw education as a part of self- knowledge and moral values.  They believed that it was an individual’s education that provided a deep understanding of living, making one a complete human being and equal to their fellow Canadians. Ukrainians on the Prairies countered assimilation through provincial provisions for bilingual education. .
  • The first Ukrainian newspaper Kanadyiskyi Farmer was published in 1903. Over 350 Ukrainian newspapers and journals have been launched since 1945.
  • In the early 1990s approximately 3,900 students were studying Ukrainian in Prairie schools – considerably fewer than the approximately 9,100 doing so in the mid-1970s.


  • According to Statistics Canada (2006) the population of Ukrainian ethnic origin in Sault Ste. Marie is 375 people.
  • At the end of the First World War there were close to 2,000 Ukrainian residents in Sault Ste. Marie. Source: “The Ukrainian Canadians”, Maruchak (1970) Page 218.
  • In 2006 there were an estimated 1,209,085 persons of full or partial Ukrainian origin residing in Canada (mainly Canadian-born citizens) making them Canada’s ninth largest ethnic group and giving Canada the world’s third-largest Ukrainian population behind Ukraine itself and Russia. Self-identified Ukrainians are the plurality in several rural areas of Western Canada.
  • In the early 1950’s, a major wave of Ukrainian immigrants started to arrive in Sault Ste Marie and the local St. Mary’s Parish (Catholic) began to flourish. The parish grew to approximately 90 families and was always one of the busiest places in Sault Ste. Marie.
  • In 2011, the Ukrainian-Canadian population in Ontario is more than 336,000 residents. Source: Bill 155, Ukrainian Heritage Day Act, 2011.


  • Ukrainians have made many contributions to Canada and Sault Ste. Marie since the 1800’s. From museums to dance groups, churches and schools, the Ukrainian culture is an important part of the Canadian identity.
  •  Between 1920’s and 1940’s, in the Bayview area (Bayview is the square of city blocks made by Wallace Terrace, Goetz Street, Bonney Street, and Glasgow Avenue.), Mr. George Smilanetz opened a butcher shop and  grocery store.  He and his son, Ed Smilanetz, operated this business named “Smilanetz Grocery” for seventy years. Mr. Ed Smilanetz died on February 24, 2006 in Sault Ste. Marie.  Source: Mrs. Cathy Beaudette, Mrs. Veronica Refcio and SooToday http:/
  •  “Over forty years ago, (1970’s), Mrs. Mary Coulterman and Mr. Mike Prozar started the Ukrainian School of Language and dance in Sault Ste. Marie” Source: Mrs. Sharon Yukich, President of Ukrainian School of Language and dance in Sault Ste. Marie.
  • Ukrainians are considered to be among the architects of the Canadian Multiculturalism Act which was passed in 1988.
  • The Ukrainians introduced the First Postal (ZIP) Code in the worldin December 1932.
  • The Ukrainian Fyodor Apollonovich Pirotsky  was a Ukrainian-born Russian engineer and inventor of the world’s first railway electrification system and electric tram.

Holidays and celebrations

  • UKRAINIAN HERITAGE DAY IN ONTARIO September 7. Members of Provincial Parliament from the Liberals, Conservatives and NDP legislated that September 7th would be known as Ukrainian Heritage Day in Ontario, in honour of the 120th anniversary of Vasyl Eleniak and Ivan Pylypiw, the first Ukrainian immigrants to Canada in 1891.
  • IVAN KUPALA DAY June 23 or July 07.  Day of summer solstice, celebrated on July 7th (Julian calendar) or June 23rd (Gregorian calendar). This holiday is a pagan fertility rite which has been adopted and accepted by the Christians and has been linked to St. Andrew.
  • CHRISTMAS DAY January 7.  Historically the Julian calendar is sometimes called Old Style (O.S.) and the Gregorian is called New Style (N.S.). All the Orthodox countries which preserved the Julian calendar into this century had a 13 day lag. Thus a date would be written January 4/17, 1918, meaning the 4th in new style and 17th in the old style calendar. Sviata Vecherya or “Holy Supper” is the central tradition of the Christmas Eve celebrations in Ukrainian homes on January 6th.
  • MASLENITSA  also known as Butter Week, Pancake week, or Cheesefare Week, it is an Eastern Slavic religious and folk holiday. It is celebrated during the last week before Great Lent—that is, the seventh week before Pascha . The name of the holiday, Maslenitsa (derived from maslo, which means butter or oil in Russian) obviously owes its existence to the tradition of baking pancakes.
  • CARROUSEL OF NATIONS Multicultural Festival July. The Carrousel of Nations began in 1976 as a festival of the multicultural communities in Windsor. In the first year, the Ukrainian village was held at Sts. Vladimir and Olga Ukrainian Catholic Church Hall and was sponsored by the Ukrainian Canadian Committee.

Notable Ukrainians decent in Sault Ste. Marie

  •  Dr. Roberta Lynn Bondar (Роберта Бондар), Ukrainian ancestor. Born in Sault Ste. Marie. She is Canada’s first female astronaut and the first neurologist in space. Bondar has received many honours including the Order of Canada, the Order of Ontario, the NASA Space Medal, over 22 honorary degrees and induction into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame.
  • John Rowswell (May 18, 1955 – August 31, 2010) Ancestor of Ukrainian–Polish immigrants. He was a Canadian politician who served as the mayor of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario from 2000 to 2010.
  • Veronica Refcio Ukrainian Language instructor for elementary-aged students through the Algoma District School Board in Sault Ste. Marie.
  • Cathy Beaudette 2008 Chairperson, Ukrainian Cultural Committee of Sault Ste. Marie. Cathy taught kindergarten in Sault Ste. Marie for nine years. She wrote a book for young children “The Boss of Me”. Very active member of the Ukrainian community.
  • G. R. Wasyliniuk Crown attorney in Sault Ste Marie.
  • Sharon Yukich President Ukrainian School of Language & Dance -Marichka Ukrainian Dancers of Sault Ste. Marie.
  • Mike Zuke Retired professional ice hockey centre man who played eight seasons in the NHL between 1978 and 1986.
  • Dr. Robert G. Korneluk Had some tremendous accomplishments in the research that involves the study of apoptosis and its relevance to cancer progression and therapy. Dr Korneluk is a professor in the departments of Paediatrics and Microbiology and Immunology, Faculty of Medicine at the University of Ottawa.
  • Ms. Melanie Borowicz Canadian lawyer practicing in Sault Ste Marie, Ontario, Canada
  • Helen Wenger Born in Ukraine in 1893 and immigrated to Canada in 1907, settling in Gimli, Manitoba. She returned to Ukraine in 1912, before permanently settling in Canada in 1914. She and her husband, Peter, lived in Sault Ste. Marie, where they used $50.00 they had brought from their homeland to open up a general store. They moved to Windsor in 1936.
  • Ray Hnatyshyn 24th Governor General of Canada (1990–1995) and the first Governor General of Ukrainian descent.
  • Walter Gretzky Order of Canada and Order of Ontario recipient.  He is best known as the father of NHL legend Wayne Gretzky. The elder Gretzky is well known in his own right for his contributions to minor hockey in Canada, and for his dedication to helping many local, provincial, and national charities, for which he has been honoured and recognized.
  • George Alexander “Alex” Trebek Born in Sudbury on July 22, 1940, is a Ukrainian- Canadian television personality. He has been the host of the syndicated game show Jeopardy! since 1984. Prior to that he hosted other game shows including The Wizard of Odds, High Rollers, and Pitfall
  • Dr. Isydore Hlynka. (February 17, 1909 – May 18, 1983) Born in Ukraine. He was a Canadian biochemist and Ukrainian Canadian community leader. Dr. Hlynka was a pioneer in the concept of multiculturalism in Canada in 1963.
  • Paul Yuzyk (24 June 24, 1913 –July 9, 1986) A Canadian historian and Senator remembered as the “father of multiculturalism”. Yuzyk is remembered for being an early advocate of the concept of multiculturalism, which he first broached in a senate speech in 1964. In the speech he criticized the Lester Pearson government for consecrating “Biculturalism” in the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, which Yuzyk said ignored the reality that Canada was in fact a “multicultural” society. For this Yuzyk was hailed as “the father of multiculturalism”.

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