British Columbia

British Columbia. Canada’s most western province, with a area of 944,735 sq km and a population (2001) 4,095,934. In 2001, a total of 178,885 British Columbians claimed a Ukrainian background. Of these, 40,785 had a ‘single,’ Ukrainian-only origin, while 138,095 claimed a ‘multiple’ (Ukrainian and other) origin. They constituted approximately one-sixth of the total Ukrainian-Canadian population, and were the third most numerous in terms of provincial Ukrainian populations. Some 13,600 of them claimed Ukrainian as a mother tongue. The largest number of Ukrainians in B.C. were located in Vancouver (76,525; 18,150 [single]/58,375 [multiple]), Victoria (12,770; 2,555/10,210), and Kelowna (11,235; 2,955/8,280). Other major centers included Abbotsford (6,960; 1,390/5,570), Kamloops (6,570; 1,530/5,035), Prince George (5,465; 1,035/4,435), Chilliwack (4,050; 945/3,105), Vernon (4,000; 1,315/2,685), Nanaimo (3,695; 900/2,800), and Penticton (2,635; 685/1,950).

The earliest regular Ukrainian presence in the province was noted in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when there were reports of Ukrainian migrants working in forestry, fishing, and in the coal mining regions of southeastern B.C. (Fernie, Hosmer, Cranbrook) and Vancouver Island. They were preceded by individual Ukrainians such as Osyp Oleskiv, who visited the province during his fact-finding tour of Canada in 1895, and possibly Ukrainians among the explorers and population of ‘Russian America’ (as Alaska was commonly known before its sale to the United States in 1867). In the early 1900s localized associations began forming among the province’s Ukrainian population, many of them with a pronounced socialist orientation. Their fortunes fluctuated, however, as their members tended to migrate on a steady basis.

More stable Ukrainian communities began to develop in British Columbia in the 1920s, notably in the Vancouver area. Nevertheless, the province generally remain something of an outpost of Ukrainian life in Canada. The Prairie provinces were still the favored settlement locale of Ukrainians, and in 1931, B.C.’s 2,283 Ukrainians represented just over 1.1 percent of the Dominion’s total. This changed dramatically starting in the 1930s. By 1941, B.C.’s Ukrainian population reached 7,563 (2.6 percent of the Canadian total); by 1951, 22,613 (5.7 percent); by 1961, 35,640 (7.5 percent); and by 1971, 60,145 (10.4 percent). The majority of the increase came from the Prairie provinces, as Ukrainians were attracted to British Columbia by economic opportunities and/or the prospect of a milder climate. Most Ukrainians (78.4 percent) in 1971 were urban residents in such major centers in Vancouver (31,130 or 2.9 percent), Prince George (1,905 or 3.8 percent), Kamloops (1,545 or 3.5 percent), Kelowna (1,470 or 4.0 percent), and Vernon (1,285 or 9.7 percent). The province’s Ukrainian population subsequently continued to grow, both in absolute size and in proportion to the overall Ukrainian Canadian population: it reached 104,820 (13.9 percent) in 1981 (the higher number reflecting in part the incorporation of single and multiple responses into the census taking process), 177,885 (16.9 percent) in 1991, and 178,885 (16.7 percent) in 2001.

Organizational life among Ukrainians in British Columbia developed later than among their counterparts in other provinces. The Ukrainian Labour-Farmer Temple Association and Prosvita-style societies established themselves by the 1920s, with branches of other national Ukrainian associations establishing locals only in the 1930s–1950s. In general, the sort of rival organizational networks that developed among Ukrainians in other parts of Canada never really established themselves in British Columbia. Today a great deal of the Ukrainian organizational activity there is centered around the churches and non-sectarian cultural associations. In 1990 the British Columbia Provincial Council of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress was formed with representative local councils in Vancouver, Victoria, Kelowna, and Vernon.

Ukrainian church parishes were also established later in British Columbia than in other parts of Canada. The earliest recorded Ukrainian Catholic presence in the province dates from a mission by Rev. A. Strotsky of the Basilian monastic order to the town of Fernie in 1904. Churches were built in Mount Cartier (near Revelstoke) in 1914 and Grinrod (in the Okanagan region) in 1924 and a parish formed in Vancouver in 1926, but in general church life was sporadic. It was only in the late 1940s and early 1950s that a more regular Ukrainian Catholic church presence developed in the province. These parishes were administered by the Eparchy of Edmonton until the formation of a separate Eparchy of New Westminster in 1974 and the installation of Isidore Chimy as the province’s first Ukrainian Catholic bishop. The earliest Ukrainian Orthodox church presence in the province was in the latter 1920s, when priests served the Liturgy occasionally in Vancouver and Vernon. Parishes were not established in these locations, however, until the latter 1930s. They were joined in the latter 1940s by new church communities in such Fraser River communities as Whalley-Surrey, Chilliwack, and Mission City. Others followed. These B.C. church communities are part of the Western Diocese of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada, headed spiritually by the Bishop of Edmonton.

Ukrainians in British Columbia have long maintained so-called Saturday schools (ridni shkoly) for their youth. However, Ukrainian as a subject or language of instruction has never been taught in the province’s public schools. Ukrainian language was taught at the University of British Columbia by Valeriian Revutsky for several years in the 1970s before his retirement; the classes were later continued by sessional lecturers until the early 1980s.

The creative talents of Ukrainian origin who live or have lived in British Columbia include the writers Ted Galay, Helen Potrebenko, and George Ryga; artist Peter Shostak; and the chanteuse Juliette (Julia Sysyk-Cavazzi).

A trilingual English-Ukrainian-French monument was erected in 1981 in front of the B.C. legislature to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the treaty demarcating the boundary between the British and Imperial Russian possessions in the Pacific Northwest and, at the same time, the key role played by Petro Poletyka in the negotiations leading up to its signing.

Nimchuk, I. Ukraïntsi v Brytiis'kii Koliumbiï (Edmonton 1953)
Voitsenko, O. Do istoriï ukraïntsiv v Brytans'kii Kolimbiï (Winnipeg 1972)
Balan, J. Salt and Braided Bread: Ukrainian Life in Canada (Toronto 1984)
Huculak, M. Ukrainians in British Columbia and Their Contribution to the Cultural Life of the Province, trans M. Olynyk (s.n. 1984)
Bogdan, F. Zbirnyk pam’iati zhyttia ukraïntsiv Brytans'koï Koliumbiï (Vancouver 1985)
Tatarniuk, M. The Ukrainian Catholic Church in British Columbia: A History (New Westminster, BC 1997)

Andrij Makuch

[This article was updated in 2008.]

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