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A View on the Ukrainian Canadians

by the late Dr. Alexander J. Hunter
Teulon, Manitoba

MHS Transactions, Series 3, Number 10, 1953-54 season *

MHS Transactions were originally published by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make online versions available as a free, public service. As an historical document, Transactions may contain language that is no longer in common use and which may offend some readers. They should not be construed to represent the views of today’s Manitoba Historical Society.

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Fashions of thought leap quickly across international boundaries just as do fashions of dress. Because so many modern national groups have achieved autonomy and the right to free development of their own national personality, the suppressed nations feel that they have been wronged. They wish to be allowed to emulate the others.

So the brilliant success of the United States of America in the new experiment of a federal republic kindled the imaginations of Slavic thinkers. In Kiev in the time of Shevchenko a little secret group was formed (1846), known as the Brotherhood of Cyril and Methodius. It included, besides the famous poet, Kostomarov the historian, Kulish, who translated the Bible into Ukrainian, and others. This little society dreamed of a federation of all the Slav peoples in a sort of Slavic United States, with cultural autonomy for each racial group. They hoped that the Czar might agree to a system of constitutional monarchy with freedom and democracy. The bright dream did not last long; the bold poet was sent to Siberia, and the others to jail. Soon the printing of books in Ukrainian was forbidden altogether.

Now the burden of developing the national ideal was transferred to the part of Ukraine under Austrian rule, namely the province of Galicia. The Austrian government found the Ukrainians a useful counterweight to the rebellious Poles, and by the eve of the Great War, Western Ukraine seemed to be on the highroad to a real degree of freedom.

The Greek Catholic Church, originally a device favoured by the Poles for turning the Ukrainians gradually into Polish Roman Catholics, became instead a national Ukrainian institution. Its members hoped by Austrian and German help to free their brethren who were still subject to Russia. Others again still favoured the religious association with Russia or with the Eastern patriarchs.

So it came about that when the Ukrainians settled in Canada there was much disputing among them as to the best church association. The majority still favoured the Greek Catholic Church as offering the best hopes for their national freedom. Indeed when the Great War broke out the chief cause of dissatisfaction on the part of our Ukrainian friends lay in this: they had hoped through Austria to win the freedom of Ukraine, and the adherence of Britain to the opposite party spoiled this dream.

We have to note, however, that there was quite a large group of our Ukrainian Canadians who were sympathetic with Russia, and a still larger number who were trying to organize independent churches free from both Rome and Russia. The Presbyterian Church for a time gave assistance to some of those independent church organizations but with rather confused results, for neither party understood the other.

There was also some socialistic sentiment among some of the Ukrainians. When I went to Teulon thirty years ago, there was a small but rather vociferous socialist group in our district. Socialism, however, had fairly well died out by 1914. Farmers who have any hope of success along individualist lines have no real taste for socialist views.

Our Ukrainian friends were not dealt with judiciously during the «gar. They were regarded with suspicion as foreigners, and those who at first wished to join our armies had great difficulty in doing so. Yet a very little intelligent and sympathetic explanation of the situation on both sides would have produced a good understanding. What they all wanted was freedom for Ukraine. At the beginning of the war that would not have suited us so well for we wanted Russia to hold together to fight Germany.

But the ending of the war was an utter tragedy for everybody. Ukraine did become an independent republic for a while, with perfectly modern liberal views. If the allies had supported it, it would have given us a great new nation occupying the best part of Russia, and would have effectively prevented the spread of Bolshevism. But France wanted to make sure of getting the Russian debt paid; Poland and Rumania wanted more territory; feudal landlords wished to regain their old privileges; so the Ukrainian republic fell, crushed by the combined forces of the Allies and the Bolsheviks.

An intelligent Ukrainian said to me that the spread of communist sentiment among the Ukrainians since the war was largely due to utter disgust at the result of the allied victory as far as their own homeland was concerned. In Western Ukraine the liberties they had gained under Austria were lost under Poland, while in the East the Bolsheviks temporarily allowed freedom to Ukrainian literature, at least so long as it taught Communism. This sympathy with Russia has now largely evaporated because of the drastic and ruthless measures used by the Communists in enforcing their theories.

As time goes on we many expect our fellow citizens of Ukrainian origin to become more and more akin in thought to ourselves-partly as we are both moulded by the same forces in this new land, but chiefly because our fundamental aspirations and ideals are really of the same type as theirs, although coloured differently by differences in past environment.


* Dr. Hunter's paper was read to the Society in 1932 but was not published at that time. The information contained in the paper has since become available in various sources; his conclusions, based on close personal experience, are however of some importance.

Page revised: 22 May 2010

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