At the end of the summer of 1891, Wasyl Eleniak, joined by fellow villager, Ivan Pylypiw left their village in the Carpathian Mountains and proceeded to Hamburg where they boarded the S.S. Oregon and sailed to Canada. For four years Wasyl worked as a herdsman in Manitoba before he brought his family to Canada in 1898 and settled on a homestead within the Edna-Star district. Ivan Pylypiw spent a few months in Canada then returned to his homeland in 1892 to bring his family for permanent settlement. He convinced six families from his home village of Nebyliw to move to Canada. In 1892, the so-called Nebyliw Group established the first permanent Ukrainian settlement in Canada in the locality of Edna-Star, near Edmonton.

The tide of immigration began in earnest in 1896, after Dr. Joseph Oleskiw, an agriculturist from Halychyna, had visited Western Canada and had personally confirmed that homesteading could be successfully carried on. The immigrants came as families and settled in colonies in the treed areas of what are now the Prairie Provinces – on land that was not always good -and quickly earned a reputation for perseverance and hard work.

By 1914 170,000 Ukrainians had come to Canada. With leadership provided by their few intellectuals, Ukrainians began to develop an awareness of themselves as a separate group and to take an interest outside their farming occupation. Early in their settlement, “Prosvitas” or local reading rooms and “National Homes” or community centres were started, along with several newspapers. By 1915 there were over 400 predominantly or all-Ukrainian schools. The settlers supported the bilingual school system in Manitoba under which English and another language could be taught in public schools.

Fearing the creation of “another Quebec” Manitoba abolished its bilingual schools in 1916 and Dr. Thornton, the Minister of Education, ordered their schoolbooks burned. In 1915 Canada had created a chain of 24 concentration camps for the internment of Ukrainians and others as “Enemy Aliens” who had come from the multi-ethnic Austro-Hungary. These camps were not closed until 1920.
Thus Ukrainian immigrants to Canada pioneered more than just the land for future immigration. It is notable that Senator Paul Yuzyk, a Ukrainian-Canadian, proposed the concept of multiculturalism in a senate speech in 1964. 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 is hailed as “the father of multiculturalism.”

The Canadian Multicultural Act was enacted by the Parliament of Canada July 21, 1988, two years after Senator Yuzik’s death.


For many it may seem a mystery as to why early Ukrainian settlers in Canada had their nationality designated as “Ruthenian”. (Genealogists take note) And why is it that we call them all Ukrainian today?

Historically, Ukrainians called themselves Rusyny. This name comes from the old name of their country, Rus’. (The apostrophe indicates a soft sounding S, pronounced somewhat more like Roosh than Roos.) The actual political state called Rus’ had ceased to exist after the fall of Kyiv to the Mongol Horde in 1240, but people continued to call themselves Rusyny (plural of Rusyn), and the land was still referred to as Rus’. Western mapmakers had a habit of ending country names in “ia” so Rus’ became Russia or Ruthenia in Latin script, and Rossia in Greek. And the term Rusyn was Latinized as Ruthenian.

At that time, the country to the north-east of Rus’ was Muscovy, or Moscovia in Latin (Ukrainians called it Moskovshchyna). Centuries later, after Muscovy had annexed the lands of Rus’, the Czar decided to use the term Rossia (from the Greek) in lieu of Moscovia, declaring in 1721 the creation of the Rossian Empire. This caused no end of cartographic problems in the West, and as recently as 1848, Prime Minister Disraeli of Great Britain continued to refer to “Muscovites” as the ones causing him problems in Afghanistan.

In the 1600’s the term Ukraine (actually Ukrayina meaning either “country” or “frontier” depending on which historian you talk to) began to be used interchangeably with Rus’ as the name of the land and eventually replaced it. However ethnicity and the name of a territory were separate matters. In the mid 1800’s the poet Shevchenko referred to Ukraine but never to Ukrainians. It was in those mid 1800’s that the concept of the ethnic name change was introduced – primarily to reduce confusion between Rusyny (Ukrainians) and Russki (Russians).

This changeover was a slow process. Ukraine’s western province of Halychyna, (whence most early immigrants to Canada came), was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, thus the Rusyny (Ruthenians) that lived there did not feel the same urgency to re-identify themselves as Ukrainians. This name change process was championed among others by Ivan Franko, the great writer, but this re-identification was not completed in Western Ukraine until the beginning of World War I. In fact, in the Transcarpathian region the concept was not accepted until the late 1930’s.

So the answer to the mystery is simple – a Ruthenian is a Ukrainian, or more accurately, a Ukrayinets is simply a renamed Rusyn.

Ukrainians are not alone in this. A Romanian was once a Wallachian; and a Belorusian was a Lytvyn…. But then those are separate stories.