On September 7, 1891, my grandfather, John (Ivan) Pylypiw stepped off the gangplank of the steamship Oregon at Montreal, Quebec. He had boarded the Oregon at Hamburg, Germany, a month earlier. The occasion was a historic landmark in that a Ukrainian from Galicia (at that time a political unit of the Austro-Hungarian Empire) had ventured to come to Canada.

What was the background of this historic trip across the Atlantic Ocean to a far-away country? What intuition prompted John Pylypiw to leave his wife and family behind and depart for Canada? Did he have a vision or a dream? What did he visualize as he sailed across the Atlantic? What type of man and what type of person was he? Why did he tackle the unknown and uncharted, when the familiar (i.e., Galicia, Ukraine) promised more security and more peace of mind?

Some details of the Pylypiw family background are in order so that the motives for coming to Canada in the first place can be understood. There was more involved than just plain adventure, which John Pylypiw did not seek. Perhaps in the family lineage there was an instinct to go farther afield, a yearning to experiment, a quest for other areas, a search for higher ideals. In the Pylypiw ancestral heritage, there may have been the spirit of conquest - not conquest by aggression, but conquest of new lands through colonization and settlement. Whatever the motive, the "germ" was there - not to stand still but to develop and realize a vision of settlement in a new country, in a strange land. It would not matter that this new country was thousands of miles away. The vision would have to be fulfilled whatever the cost in dollars and in spirit.

Going back in history, Galicia had been under the political control of several different governments. Galicia was an integral part of Poland up to 1772. In that year occurred the first partition of Poland, whereby Austria obtained Galicia, peopled predominantly by Ukrainians. Thus Galicia became a political part of the sprawling Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the Ukrainians of Galicia became one of the minority peoples within the confines of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Austria (and Hungary) had little regard for the Slavic people within its borders. As a result, the Galician Ukrainians were subject to social, economic, political and religious oppression from 1772 and onward into the 19th century. At best, the Ukrainians lived under conditions of semi-serfdom. Polish or Austrian landlords owned 95% of the land; the peasants lived in villages and owned a few acres of land. Traditionally, they laboured for the landlord, and if anything was paid for the labour it was little indeed. The standard of living of the peasants was low. The peasants could not advance socially, economically, or politically - nor were they expected to. The system was rigid in that no material or economic progress was possible for the peasants.

Southwestern Galicia is adjacent to, and forms a part of the Carpathian Mountain Range. The Carpathian Mountains are an extension of the Alpine fold system and extend to Slovakia, Poland, Romania and western Galicia. The total effect of the Carpathian Mountains on the lives and living habits of the people in the area has been at least three-fold:
1. the isolated regions became havens of refuge in time of war;
2. they became nuclei for the development of separate community groups; and
3. they promoted the development of distinctive traditional ways of life, folklore and costume.

In addition, there developed a spirit of individual independence, ruggedness and adventure. Thus, the physical background of the area from which my grandfather came had an effect on his personality and his character. He was forward-looking and venturesome; the physical environment encouraged these qualities.

John Pylypiw was born in the year 1859 in the village of Nebyliw, whose administrative center was Kalush. He was the eldest of six children in the family of Hawrylo Pylypiw. John Pylypiw's mother was Jewish, but she had fully accepted the Orthodox religion. The closest city was Stanislav, presently Ivano-Frankivsk. John Pylypiw took as his bride Mary (Mariya) Luniw, who had inherited several morgs of land. In those days several morgs of land was an excellent dowry, since the ordinary peasants lacked the financial means to purchase land. Little did Mary realize, when marrying John, that in approximately 12 years she would be settled in a new country - Canada - a stranger with no knowledge of the English language.

In September, 1891, John Pylypiw was accompanied on the epic voyage to Canada by another Ukrainian from the same village, William (WasyI) Eleniak. The two of them proceeded westward by train as far as Winnipeg, the outlet to the west. They worked in the harvest fields at Gretna, Manitoba, for some Mennonite farmers. Then they proceeded to Langenburg in the Northwest Territories (later Alberta and Saskatchewan) to look over the region for a possible homestead. However, no homestead was filed at that time. After doing some travelling in the Northwest Territories, John Pylypiw decided to return to his native land. This was in December, 1891.

John Pylypiw returned to Nebyliw in January, 1892. Immediately he was plied with questions by the curious villagers: Where had he been? Whom did he see? What was Canada like? Was there land available? What type of people lived there? Was immigration to Canada possible?

In a painstaking and patient manner, John Pylypiw answered their questions. He informed the villagers that land was available in unlimited quantities and practically free. In addition, he stated that the people were friendly and hospitable. The peasant villagers were excited. They began to ask themselves: Why can't we emigrate for Canada, where there is freedom and plenty of land? After centuries of feudalism and servitude, the news was almost unbelievable.
Here was an opportunity to break the bonds of oppression and begin a new life. John Pylypiw reinforced their views and encouraged the villagers to emigrate.

By-and-by the Austrian authorities got word of what was going on, that John Pylypiw was spreading stories about Canada being "a land of milk and honey". In addition, the authorities were advised that he was encouraging the peasants to immigrate to Canada - the sooner the better. John Pylypiw was forcibly taken from his house by the Austrian gendarmes and lodged in a jail cell at Kalush. In due course he was taken to Stanislav and tried on charges of sedition and corruption. It should be mentioned that the Austrian government feared that, once emigration began in earnest, the village populations would be depleted and few people would be left to work on the estates of the lords and nobles. However, at the trial, the testimony from witnesses was in John Pylypiw's favour; he was sentenced to only one month in jail, mainly to justify the actions and appease the feelings, of the Austrian government officials.

John Pylypiw emigrated for Canada for the second time in April, 1893. In the interval, a number of families from Nebyliw had preceded him. John Pylypiw arrived in Canada for the second time on May 8, 1893 together with his wife and four children, the youngest, a babe in arms. Now they were truly in Canada, strangers in a strange land.

John Pylypiw has been given credit for the mass immigration of Ukrainians from Galicia to Canada in the 1890's and the first decade of this century. Once it was known in Galicia that one could file a homestead (160 acres) in western Canada for $10.00, the concept of "free land" spread like a prairie fire. Immigration to western Canada was encouraged by the Liberal government, from 1896 to 1911 under Prime Minister Sir Wilfred Laurier. This immigration policy was made more effective by an energetic federal minister of the interior, Clifford Sifton. The West had to be opened for settlement; the Canadian government was anxious to obtain settlers who were "land people"; the Slavic peoples of central Europe met this requirement. Accordingly, definite pockets of Slavic settlement occurred in Manitoba and the Northwest Territories (proclaimed as Alberta and Saskatchewan on September 1, 1905).

The most significant changes that have occurred relative to the Ukrainians in Canada since mass Ukrainian immigration are that the Ukrainians have accepted Canada as their country - a country that has also accepted them. The Ukrainians have become part of the multicultural picture in Canada, as they have endeavoured to preserve their own cultural heritage. In addition, the Ukrainians have advanced materially and in the professions. In other words, they have added their contributions towards the enrichment of Canada as a whole.

The Ukrainian people have been assimilated into the Canadian cultural mosaic in that they have adopted the living patterns of an Anglo-Saxon country. The Ukrainians realize that Canada is bilingual French and English, and they have not challenged the majority groups. On the contrary, they have accepted their position as one of the Canadian minority ethnic groups. There are approximately 600,000 Canadians of Ukrainian descent across the country. There has been no difficulty relative to integration as the Ukrainians have realized that, at least in part, they have to accept the cultural habits of the majority. In other words, integration has proceeded smoothly, with no noticeable evidence of resistance.

The total culture of Canada has been affected by the Ukrainians only to a limited degree. The main feature has been that the Ukrainians have utilized and accepted the majority culture. At the same time their own culture has been maintained in particular areas such as music, dancing and singing. This has served to preserve the Ukrainian cultural identity with respect to Canada as a whole. As an example, Ukrainian bilingual programs are being set up and promoted in schools across the country.

credits: Kobzar Publishing


Ivan Pylypiw's farmhouse
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Ukrainian Historical Pioneer Village, Alberta, Canada