“I think a stalwart peasant in a sheep-skin coat, whose forefathers have been farmers for ten generations, with a stout wife and a half dozen children, is good quality."
– Sir Clifford Sifton, Minister of the Interior in Sir Wilfrid Laurier’s government, defining the ideal immigrant

Between 1891 and 1914, 250,000 Ukrainians came to Canada from the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  Of these, some 171,000 stayed in Canada.  The majority settled on homesteads in western Canada.  There one could buy 160 acres (65 ha) of Crown land for a $10 registration fee.

The Ukrainians who came to Canada in the late 1800s brought traditional music and dance.  They built schools and churches.  They also brought with them sacred objects, seeds for farming and clothing that suited Canada’s cold winters. 

At this time, up until around 1910, most of the land-clearing and farm work was done entirely by hand.  Despite this, Ukrainian labourers and other immigrants cleared land and roads equivalent to the distance between Winnipeg and Edmonton, which is 1,360 km. That is the length of 11,000 soccer fields.  Clearing the land and building the transcontinental railway were regarded as critical to the overall development of Canada as a nation.

However, this is not only a time of nation building but also of international conflict. On August 4th 1914, the British Empire entered the First World War against the German, Ottoman Turkish and Austro-Hungarian Empires.  Here at home, Canada prepared to go to war and passed the War Measures Act.

Thousands of Canadians of Ukrainian origin had been born in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, in the region that is now western Ukraine.  When Canada entered the First World War as a part of the British Empire, Ukrainian Canadians were considered enemy aliens despite all their contributions and hard work.  Under the authority of the War Measures Act, 8579 "enemy aliens" were incarcerated between 1914 and 1920. Among them were women and children. 5000 of them were of Ukrainian origin. Some Poles, Italians, Bulgarians, Croats, Turks, Serbs, Hungarians, Russians, Jews and Romanians were also imprisoned or registered as "enemy aliens".

Despite these hardships, the agricultural know-how of Ukrainian Canadians became a defining factor in the future of Western Canada.  In particular, they introduced a Ukrainian wheat strain known as Red Fife Wheat.  This grain gave Canada the title of “granary of the Empire”.
Royal Ontario Museum
Historical Advisors: Ukrainian Museum of Canada - Ontario Branch; Dr. Lubomyr Luciuk, Department of Politics and Economics, Royal Military College; Professor Andrij Makuch, University of Toronto; Oseredok: Ukrainian Cultural and Educational Centre

© 2006, Royal Ontario Museum. All Rights Reserved.

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