THE FIRST UKRAINIANS TO MANITOBA
by George Siamandas
On August 11, 1896 the first large party of 27 Ukrainian families arrived at Stuartburn to begin their new lives in Manitoba. Others followed setting up communities in Dauphin on the banks of the Drifting River. Wasyl Yatchew was the first permanent Ukrainian Settler in Manitoba in the Brokenhead area. He arrived in June 1892 from Kalush in southwestern Ukraine at age 29. He could not find work in Winnipeg or Altona and found work in Neche USA. In 1893, he bought a shanty at 479 King St. Had two cows and earned 42 per day. Later Yatchew homesteaded in Ladywood. Their son Frank was the first child to be born to UK immigrants in Winnipeg.
Two agricultural professors were active in bringing Ukrainians to Manitoba. Prof Joseph Oleskow a teacher of agriculture helped Ukrainians come to Manitoba. He toured Canada in 1895 being the first one to travel Canada. He looked at the Mennonite settlements and spoke to the Yatchews. Thousands came as a result of his arrangements with Clifford Sifton the immigration minister. They settled ares of Stuartburn, Dauphin-Sifton, Pleasant Home-Gimli, Brokenhead and Strathclair Rossburn. They took over lands that were left over from the Mennonite migration and filled in many parts of the south-east, the area north of Winnipeg and the inter-lake area.
The other was Dr Osyo Oleskiv an agronomist from Galicia. Oleskiv produced two booklets on agricultural opportunities and encourage Ukrainian settlers to come to Manitoba instead of Brazil.
Most came from Galicia and Bukovyna provinces in the Austrian Empire. And most were hard working peasant farmers that simply did not have enough land to work in their homelands. What Canada offered them was land, and lots of it. Manitoba turned out to be a popular destination. By 1901 there were 11,000 immigrants in Manitoba: 5,000 in Dauphin, 3,000 in Stuartburn and another 3,000 spread elsewhere. Their numbers tripled to 31,000 in another decade.
Their land grants were not as good as land that earlier immigrants had taken over particularly in the south. Here they had to take rocky, forested or otherwise marginal land that others had turned down. The land around Dauphin and near Shoal Lake was good though. Interestingly the Mennonites had refused this land near Dauphin as it was too far away from the Winnipeg market. While many remained farmers, other Ukrainians became railway workers, or went out to work in mines and lumber camps. Others became seasonal agricultural workers. Prior to 1914, very few immigrants had any professional training.
For most immigrants, it was the first time they had been on a train or travelled in an ocean liner. They liked to settle on land with wood on it and wanted to live close to their people. Pioneers recount stories of how at the very beginning they lived literally under the trees. Then they built huts. There were no roads and they marked trails so that they could find their neighbours. During one particularly bad winter 17 people lived out the harsh winter in one little cabin.
Besides the cultural discrimination there was also the loyalty issue in WW1 when the Ukrainian Catholic bishop called on Ukrainians in Canada to go fight against Canada. Their ability to become citizens ceased during 1919.
Theodore Stefanuk became the first alderman in 1911 and Taras Ferley the first MLA in 1915 representing Gimli. Steve Juba Mayor of Winnipeg during the 1960s and early 1970s is probably the most famous one. Another distinguished Ukrainian would be Leo Mol. And so is Garry Filmon, Joan Karasevich and Dale Howerchuk. Ukrainians have also contributed onion dome churches, and created the variety and colour of the Winnipeg’s North End.