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 Ukrainians in Canada, Identity, and our Ukrainian Canadian House

This virtual exhibit contains a tour of the Mazeppa House and historic photos of their homestead at the bottom of the page

In our collection of historic buildings Tipple Park Museum cares for a beautiful log house built by a family that began homesteading in the area in the early 1900's. Stefan and Helena, along with their children, made their way to Canada from what is now Ukraine in 1907 eventually settling in the Reno District just south of Evansburg. The log house that is in the museum's collection today was built in 1911 and stood in its original location on the homestead until it was moved into Evansburg to be displayed by the Pembina Lobstick Historical Society. We do not have many photographs, or any interviews, to tell us what life what like on the Mazeppa's Ukrainian-Canadian homestead or to give us specific information about their early experiences in Canada. 

The following is a short, general background on Ukrainian immigrants and some of the problems they experienced with their identity in a new land. The title "Мазпа-Mazeba-Mazeppa" refers to a common problem immigrants had, and have to this day, in navigating identity in the new world. Name changes can happen for a variety of reasons. We can view a papertrail of these changes for the Mazeppa, but cannot understand the impact, or the all of the reasoning, behind it.

Western Canada - The New Eldorado.jpg

Photo from Library and Archives Canada. Accessed here

Background: The Dominion Lands Act and Canada's New Immigrants

The Dominion Lands Act of 1872 prescribed specific uses to the land of Western Canada, laying out regulations for how the land would be granted to settlers, colonization companies (companies that co-ordinate settlement and immigration), the HBC, railways, municipalities, and certain religious groups. It was modelled off of similar homesteading acts in the United States and South America. The Dominion Lands Act lead to the largest land survey ever conducted as the Canadian prairies were divided into neat parcels of land. The homestead policies of the act encouraged settlement in the west. New immigrants from many European countries were encouraged to come and settle in Western Canada. In part this act helped to prevent the west of Canada from being claimed by the United States.

The act came into being after Treaty 1 and 2 were signed. The signing of the treaties allowed Canada to annex indigneous land and act out plans to assimilate the indigneous people to a more Anglo-Canadian way of life, and to settle the lands in the way the Government of Canada saw fit.

Traditions in a New Land

When Ukrainian immigrants first settled in Canada many held on to pieces of their traditional ways of life for some time. This can be seen in the way that many Ukrainian immigrants first set up their homesteads, and the methods in which they built their first prairie homes. Many elected to build houses in the same style and layout as they would have lived in in Ukraine. Today some of these clay plastered houses still stand east of Edmonton, and can of course be visited at the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village. Small details about these houses can remind us of the traditions of the people who first built them: the original orientation of the house, the layout commonly being two rooms, the clay plaster, thatched roofs, perhaps a clay oven. These are all small clues about the identity of the people who lived in the house. Learn more about these small clues in the tour of Mazeppa House that can be viewed at the bottom of the page.

Ukrainians also brought their faith with them. Most Ukrainians belong to Eastern Rite churches (often Ukrainian Orthodox or Ukrainian Catholic churches). Eastern Rite churches very notably follow the Julian calendar, which means that major holidays such as Christmas or Easter are not celebrated at the same time as those who are more familiar with western churches are used to. Many people on the prairies today are probably familiar with the Ukrainian tradition of decorating pysanky for Easter.

Ukrainians of course brought their traditional foods with them, some of which became extremely familiar to all people living on the Canadian prairies. Cabbage rolls (holubsti), perogies (pyrohy/verenyky), sausage (kovbasa) probably beign among the most popular.

The Ukrainian Settlers

Ukrainians took advantage of the homesteading scheme offered by the Dominion Lands Act for a variety of political and socio-economic reasons. The homesteading scheme afforded opportunities for the Ukrainian settlers to have more farmland, to own their own farmland, and to live in a much different political climate. Many of the Ukrainians settled in Alberta are due to the work of one man, Dr. Josef Oleskiw. Oleskiw conducted extensive research to decide which of the countries offering a homesteading scheme was the most suitable. He wrote "Pro vilni zemli" (On Free Lands. A copy is available to view here), encouraging Ukrainians to think of moving to Canada. He came to Canada himself to determine where the best land for farming was located. He greatly encouraged Ukrainian emmigration and even hand picked one of the first groups of settlers that arrived in Alberta. This first group settled at the Edna-Star colony east of Edmonton. Many communities east of Edmonton are a part of a bloc settlement, or an area that is settled by one ethnic group. The bloc settlement in Alberta, in broadly defined boundaries lies between highways 28 and 16, and highways 830 and 36.

Today Alberta has the most Ukrainians outside of Ukraine living here. Edmonton, and the area east of Edmonton, is full of Ukrainian culture to this day. Ukrainian bilingual schools operate, large Ukrainian dance schools can be found in the area, multiple festivals celebrating parts of Ukrainian culture are celebrated each year, and the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village displays early settler life.


Dr. Josef Oleskow

Read a biography courtesty of the Dictionary of Canadian Biography here


The Vegreville pysanka on a stamp. Photo from the Library and Archives of Canada. Accessed here.


House near Plain Lake. Photo from Library and Archives of Canada. Accessed here

Identity in a New Land:

A Short Case Study

While many Ukrainians, and immigrants of all nationalities, preserved bits of their ethnic identity through the tradtions that they continued to practice in their new home, identity was tricky for the first waves of European immigrants to the prairies.

If you have ever tried to do geneaological research into your own family you may have come up against frustrating and confusing walls when your surname seems to change, or your grandfather appears to have been born in a different country than you were lead to believe.

These small mixups, and historical confusions, created a lot of problems for the first Ukrainians to settle in Canada. Some of these problems can clearly be seen if we look at the history of the family that the log house in our collection belongs to: The Mazeppa's.

Problem: Ukraine does not exist yet, so who are the Ukrainians?

When the first waves of Ukraians came to Canada they spoke Ukrainian, might have called themselves Ukrainian, followed Ukrainian traditions, and yet were seldom recorded as being "Ukrainian". These immigrants can be found recorded as Russian, Carpathian, Russian Carpathian, Austrian. Sometimes they were recorded using the specific traditional region they had come from: Galicia or Bukovina.

This is of course confusing to us today. It also created a complicated landscape for early Ukrainian Canadians to navigate their own identity through. Looking at documents from our own Mazeppa family we can witness this confusion.

Austria Hungary.jpg

Map from Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed here.


Map courtesy of Hay Genaeology. Accessed here.

Passenger List.jpg

On this passenger list we can see the Mazeppa family was listed as "Aust Ruth" or Austrian Ruthenian. The surname has been spelled "Mazepa"

Application for homestead entry.jpg
Application for homestead entry 2.jpg

On the application for homestead entry we can see the surname spelled "Mazeba". And the family is listed as being from "Galicia".

Photo from Alberta Homestead Records, University of Alberta collection.

Census 1911.jpg

In the 1911 census the family is listed as being from Galicia, but speaking Russian instead of Ukrainian. The surname is spelled "Mazepa".

Photo from the Library and Archives of Canada.

1926 Census Pembina 552.jpg

In the 1926 census the family is finally listed as "Ukrainian". Their surname is spelled "Mazeppa"

Photo from the Library and Archives of Canada.

Problem: The Austro-Hungarian Empire

These extreme identity confusions lead to many Ukrainian Canadians being sent to internment camps during the First World War. Having documents that listed them as "Austrian" meant that many Ukrainians were listed as enemy aliens at this time as Austria-Hungary was one of the Central Powers during the war. The Canadian First World War Internment Recogniztion fund has an extensive list of resources if you are interested in learning more about this period in Canada'a history. It can be accessed here. Research has not indicated that members of the Mazeppa family were taken to internment camps.

Problem: Language Mishaps

Many immigrants experienced name changes due to misunderstanding and misdocumentation. Ukrainians experienced a problem that many immigrants at the time experienced, and many experience to this day: Ukrainian does not not use the latin alphabet like English does. Not only were Canadian officals transcribing names from another language, they were transcribing sounds from the Cyrillic alphabet into the English Latin alphabet. This can result in differnt spellings overtime in just one family. Resulting in something like: Мазпа-Mazeba-Mazeppa.This often also resulted in full name changes for some familes, or the loss of traditional naming conventions once surnames were recorded using the Anglo-Canadian system in which all members of a family shared the same surname (as opposed to systems such as patronymic naming). Some of these language mishaps can be seen in the documents above as officials spelled the surname differently over the years.

Clicking on a photo in the slider will open a larger version of the photo with a description of what is featured in each photo.

Tour of Mazeppa House as it stands at the museum today

Memories: Historical Photos from our Collection

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