First Ukrainian immigrants to Canada were from the western Ukrainian regions - Halychina (Galicia), Bukovina and Transcarpathia - and somewhat later, from the Dnieper regions. Those who left their homeland for the "new world" were predominantly landless peasants or peasants with small holdings who were promised "lots of land" by agents of shipping companies and the Canadian government. Their destination was Western Canada, where they settled by the thousands on homesteads, often in wilderness, where the "drowsy bears" loafed in the forests and the coyotes howled on the plain.
First Ukrainian immigrants settled in compact communities. After the first settler established himself on a homestead, he was followed by others - his family or fellow countrymen - who settled in the same area. Thus, as time went on, Ukrainian colonies of settlers were established in the provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta.
During the early, formative stages, these communities existed in an unorganized fashion. Administration came later - municipalities were formed, postal areas, post offices and school districts established. When the railway came through, railway centres were added. These in turn had to be recognized by name, and in most cases the geographic name chosen by the settlers in a given community. It was also cartelistic that if the majority of the settlers came from the same country, city, village or area, they chose the same name for their community in the new land. That is how many Canadian communities were given Ukrainian names.
A resident of Ukraina in Manitoba (near Dauphin) tells how, in 1897, a group of Ukrainian immigrants settled on virgin territory some 200 miles from Winnipeg. Once established, the immigrants met to agree on the geographic name to be given the settlement. A proposal that the new settlement bear the name "Ukraina" out of respect for their native land won general agreement. The next step was a letter to Ottawa with a request that the name be officially registered. A request that the near-by railway station be called Dnipro was also fowarded at the same time. The government agreed to the request for Ukraina but rejected the other request with the explanation that there was already a community named Dnipro in Saskatchewan. That is how the first place name ''Ukraina" appeared in Canada. Altogether there are three - one in each of the western provinces. Place names borrowed from the homeland also crop up in names like Halicz, Zbaraz. Komarno, Seech, Dnieper, Poltava, Ternopol, Luzan, Sniatyn, Sokal, Kiev, Boian, Jaroslaw, Stry, Shepenge, Dniester, Zbruch, Prut, Karpati, and others.
When cultural-educational activities began to develop in the Ukrainian Canadian communities, names based on Ukrainian history began to appear. It is interesting to note that the greatest number of these names come from the Cossack period in Ukrainian history - the Zaporizhyan Sich and the Haidamaki. From these the following place names in Canada emerged: Zaporozhya, Seech, Cossack, Khmelnitsky, Sirko, Honta and others.
A whole number of towns and villages carry the names of well-known figures in Ukrainian literature and music. Among the first was a settlement in Manitoba named after Shevchenko, the great Ukrainian poet. This name existed till 1908, when the town was renamed Vita, though the district high school retains the name of Shevchenko. Besides the above there are schools near Ethelbert, Manitoba, and in Saskatchewan, named Taras, and these were obviously named after the poet.
There are three schools named after Ivan Franko in Canada, one in each of the prairie provinces. Ukraine's great founder of Ukrainian classical music, composer Mykola Lysenko, also has a school named after him near Insinger, Saskatchewan. Schools were also named after such outstanding writers as Gogol and Drahomanov in Saskatchewan and Shashkevich in Manitoba.
Another group bearing characteristic Ukrainian names are included in such towns as Volia, Svoboda, Prawda, Zhoda, Slava, Myrnam and Zoria. These names, in particular, have a deep social meaning. Having settled on their homesteads in Saskatchewan, the first Ukrainian immigrants were inspired by the thought of having gained the freedom they never had under the despotic Austro-Hungarian monarchy and Poland.
The name Zhoda was quite possibly chosen as a result of the desire of the community to live in harmony. Myrnam in Alberta came from the desire of that settlement to live in peace. It could have happened that someone in that original meeting stated "peace be with us" during the discussion and that this statement so appealed to those present that they decided to name their community Myrnam ("mir nam"). The origin of such community names as Zoria, Slava, and Svoboda can be similarly explained. Some towns, which at first glance may seem not to be of Ukrainian origin, in reality are. Take Krydor in Saskatchewan for example. This town was named after its founders, two Ukrainian farmers, Peter Krysaka and Theodore Lutsyk, through uniting the first syllable of one surname with the third syllable of the second given name. The name Meleb also originated this way - from the names of a Ukrainian farmer, Melnyk, and a Jewish storekeeper, Lebman. There are, no doubt, many such examples, but they have not as yet been fully researched. For instance, place names like Gonor, Rama, Dana, Chitek, Smiley, Lena, Okno, Hayek, Ledvin and many others have a definite Ukrainian phonation and the majority of the population in these communities is Ukrainian. Yet these are not included among place names that are recognized as Ukrainian in origin.
Besides, there are hundreds of communities in Canada with English or French place names (Vegreville, Mundare, Willingdon, Two Hills, Creek, Ethelbert, Brokenhead, Broad Valley, Fisher Branch, Shorncliffe, Morvina) where the majority of the inhabitants are of Ukrainian descent. There are also a whole number of communities in Canada that carry names of Slavic origin generally, like Volga, Vostok, Moscow, Tolstoy, Gogol, Polonia, Plevna, Warsaw, Visia, Hamerlik and Shuta, to name a few.
It must be said that not all communities with Ukrainian names in Canada were organized by Ukrainians. Some of them have no Ukrainian population whatever. They were named long before Ukrainian immigration to Canada. As an example, there are two communities in Canada named after the Black Sea port of Odessa (in Saskatchewan and Ontario). There is no information as to the origin of Odessa in Saskatchewan, but Odessa in Ontario, according to historic sources, got its name in 1854 in connection with the Crimean war, some 40 years before a Ukrainian immigrant set foot in Canada.
In Manitoba there are two communities named Chortitz and Chortitza (Khortitsya). The Canadian Geographic Council gives the following background story on the naming of these two centres. "Chortitza - a village of Mennonites; a settlement established in 1875 and named after a Russian island on which, some 150 years before, the first Mennonite settlement in Russia was founded and which became a Mennonite centre for that period." About the second Chortitz the Geographic Council says: "Chortitz - a Mennonite settlement established in 1876."
Thus the Ukrainian name Chortitza was brought to Canada by a religious sect of German settlers, the descendants of German colonists brought to Russia by Tsarina Catherine II and settled on the island of Khortitsya on the Dnieper river after the destruction of the Zaporizhyan Sich. The greater number of these communities in Canada carry not only geographic place names but also have a Ukrainian national character. This applies in the same measure to the many communities that do not carry Ukrainian place names but where the predominant population is Ukrainian.
The Ukrainian Canadian community has also preserved, though somewhat altered in character, the old country traditions in such communal rites and events as weddings, christenings, funerals and religious holidays. During these events you hear Ukrainian music such as the popular "kolomiyki," the Christmas and Easter "kolyady" and "schedrivki". The most colourful of these come from the western Ukrainian province of Bukovina. Intermingled with these, it must be said, are many Ukrainian Canadian songs reflecting Ukrainian Canadian community life with all its joys and sorrows, the hard work of the early years, nostalgia for the homeland, etc.
Peter Krawchuk, "The Ukrainian Canadian" magazine, September 1980