Historic Sites of Manitoba: Wasyl Negrych Pioneer Homestead (Municipality of Gilbert Plains)
The Wasyl Negrych Homestead, in the Municipality of Gilbert Plains, was occupied until 1990 by descendants of Wasyl and Anna Negrych who settled here in 1897. That year, the Negrychs, with their seven children, left their home in the highlands of western Ukraine, and boarded a ship in the German port of Hamburg bound for Quebec City. They traveled by train to Winnipeg, where 53-year-old Wasyl bought a quarter-section of land for $10, then on to Dauphin where Anna and the younger children stayed in an immigration shed until Wasyl and the older children could investigate their new homestead.
Wasyl and his three brothers bought the four quarter-sections of one square mile (Wasyl the southeast quarter, Anton the northeast, Ivan the northwest, and Jan the southwest) and built homes on the inner corners so they created, in effect, a small Ukrainian village. Initially, the family built “buddas,” temporary structures we have talked about before in this series, made of local poplar poles covered in cowhide bought in Dauphin. They built their main house in 1899, in a style typical of ones in the Carpathian mountains of eastern Europe, and it still stands today.
The 15-foot by 35-foot structure is made almost entirely of wood with minimal metal hardware. Its walls are squared tamarack logs covered inside and outside, along with the interior ceiling, with homemade mud-plaster—made by mixing clay, straw, cow dung, and water—made strikingly white by adding laundry bluing to the wet mixture prior to application. The roof is covered with wood shingles. Following a floorplan popular in their Ukrainian homeland, the Negrych home had three rooms: one large central room with a smaller side room on each side. Beneath the building was a root cellar excavated into the ground for storing potatoes, onions, and carrots through the winter.
Here, the Negrychs had five more children, bringing their family to 12 children: six girls and six boys. They also built nine other buildings on the site, including a bunkhouse (built in 1908 for the boys), cow barn, pigpen, chicken coop, and three granaries (1898, 1908, 1940), all made of logs. Inside the bunkhouse is a working peech, a log-and-clay cook stove that was once the heart of every Ukrainian home, and which probably also provided the additional benefit of heating the bunkhouse. Surrounding the buildings was a vegetable and herb garden, an orchard (with plums, sour cherries, and six varieties of apples), and fields cut from the surrounding forest where the Negrychs grew grain and hay for their livestock.
Wasyl Negrych died in 1927. His wife Anna lived until 1944. Both were buried in the Kolomyja (Negrych) Cemetery nearby. The youngest of the six Negrychs daughters, Annie, born in 1907, continued to live in the original house into her 80s. The homestead had no electricity; lighting was provided by kerosene lamps, as they had years earlier, and heat was provided by stoves fueled by firewood. There was no running water other than the water flowing in the Drifting River about 100 feet away from the house, into which Annie dipped buckets to collect water for household use. There was no telephone service to the site. Right into the 1980s, the surviving Negrychs lived pretty much as their ancestors had done for generations.
Stephen Negrych was born in 1903 and, after attending Wesley College in Winnipeg, taught for 38 years in ten country one-room schools until retirement in 1968, when he returned to live in the bunkhouse. His sister Annie moved into Gilbert Plains in the spring of 1988, and died there on 16 December 1988. He lived at the site until October 1990 when he moved into Dauphin. When he died at the Dauphin Hospital on 23 June 1992, he was the last of the pioneer Negrychs. He was buried in the Kolomyja Cemetery along with his parents, his sister Annie, and many other members of his extended family.
The buildings survived, largely unaltered, because they remained occupied by descendants of the original builders. Late in his life, Stephen Negrych is reported to have said he hoped the homestead his parents built would be preserved for its historical significance in commemoration of his parents’ pioneer spirit. Before he died, in 1991 the local Lions Club began developing plans. Initially, these entailed relocating the buildings to the Selo Ukraina Museum south of Dauphin, home of the National Ukrainian Festival. However, that would have destroyed the context for the buildings, which is their unique feature. The move never happened; instead, the Gilbert Plains and District Historical Society commited to protect and preserve the buildings. Consequently, the 118-year-old Negrych residence is the oldest-known Ukrainian-Canadian dwelling on its original site.
The Negrych homestead began opening for public visits in 1994 and restoration continued through the 1990s. Owned by the Municipality of Gilbert Plains, and leased to the Gilbert Plains and District Historical Society, the homestead was designated as a Provincial Historic Site in 1992, and as a National Historic Site in 1996.
The Negrych Homestead is open daily in July and August, Tuesdays to Saturdays, from 10:00 AM to 4:30 PM, or at other times by appointment. The site is almost a half-mile from the nearest public road along a twisting, tree-encroached driveway.
Photos & Maps
Land Grants of Western Canada, 1870-1930, Library and Archives Canada.
“Brother and sister still at home on farmstead,” Dauphin Herald, 4 September 1984, page 13.
“Negrych Homestead” by Randy Rostecki, Historic Resources Branch Report, February 1985, 11 pages.
Obituary [Annie Negrych], Dauphin Herald, 3 January 1989, page 30.
“Parkland is rich in heritage,” Dauphin Herald, 13 May 1992, page 5.
Obituary [Stephen Negrych], Dauphin Herald, 8 July 1992, page 13.
“Gilbert Plains Historical Society honors Negrych family at annual meeting,” Dauphin Herald, 13 December 1994.
“Historical society meeting held,” Dauphin Herald, 4 February 1997, page 35.
“The Negrych home hasn’t changed in 101 years,” Dauphin Herald, 2 June 1998, page A13.
Page revised: 18 March 2017
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