Ukrainians came to Canada for many reasons, including national
and social discrimination at home and economic hardships, which
offered no future for the immigrants and their families. In the
late 19th Century Canada, on the other hand, was encouraging immigration
to open and settle its vast prairies, to build its railways, to
develop its industries and urban infrastructure, and to work its
mines and forests. Ukrainian peasants, predominantly from the Western
Ukraine filled a need for hardy settlers and cheap labour.
The immigrants, driven by hardship at home and the lure of a brighter
future in the new world, abandoned family, friends and their native
soil for the perilous voyage abroad. Most brought little material
with them -- a few tools and other supplies, a bit of money to help
establish themselves. But they also brought with them a willingness
to work hard and a love of their culture and traditions, which flourish
even to this day.
They also brought a deep love and reverence for
Taras Hryhorovich Shevchenko -- a poor peasant orphan who, bought
out of serfdom, came to embody the finest of Ukrainian tradition.
An artist, a poet, a writer, a fighter for the rights and dignity
of his people and, at the same time, a champion of the common
humanity of all, Taras Shevchenko has twice been recognized
and celebrated by UNESCO as an intellect of world stature. His
legacy is today celebrated throughout the world.
The early Ukrainian immigrants knew Shevchenko well and many brought
his poetic works with them to the new world in the form of brochures
and the immortal Kobzar. Shevchenko's love of common humanity, his
courage in the face of adversity, served the immigrants well in
their daily struggles to establish themselves and build a better
future for their children. Shevchenko was their inspiration.
V. Kassian, Emigration of villagers
from Pokuttya to Canada
Organized community and cultural-educational life established
themselves early amongst the first immigrants. While much
of the focus of community life was centered around the various
churches, a network of reading rooms to educate the immigrants
and their families was well established already during the
second decade of Ukrainian settlement in Canada. For example,
a T. H. Shevchenko Reading Room was operating in Winnipeg
by 1903 and the first recorded Shevchenko Concert took place
on May 1, 1904. Celebration of Shevchenko's heritage continue
to this day. Monuments to the Bard of Ukraine can be found
in Oakville (the first in the Americas) near the original
Taras Shevchenko Museum and in Winnipeg.
One should note that from the beginnings of community life in Canada,
the Ukrainian immigrants and their descendants have never been a
homogeneous body in terms of religion, politics or social status.
However, respect for Shevchenko and acknowledgement of his place
in the traditions of the Ukrainian people is perhaps the one issue
around which all Ukrainians will agree. There have been many changes
since the first Kobzar was brought to Canada by early immigrants
from Ukraine. Their descendants can be found in all walks of life.
But the humanity and pride in our Ukrainian traditions which can
be found throughout the works of Taras Shevchenko continue to inspire
us and give direction to our cultural life.
For many Canadians, both of Ukrainian and other backgrounds, knowledge
of Shevchenko, his life and work, is now learned in the English
language. This in no way diminishes his importance in our lives
and upbringing. This does not in any way diminish our homage to
Shevchenko, for Taras Shevchenko is integral to our sense of identity,
to our very Canadianism.
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