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Conditions for early Ukrainian immigrants

Overview of the set

This set of History Docs invites students to determine what daily life was like for newly arrived Ukrainian immigrants to Canada in the late 19th and early 20th century after examining a variety of primary and secondary sources including government documents, photographs, political cartoons, newspaper articles, interviews, journal articles and books.

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Primary sources

1. Ukrainian immigrants arrive on the Canadian prairies |



2. Myron Kostaniuk reflects |

3. Ukrainian pioneer women clearing land |


4. Mary Prokop’s story |


5. “It must be thoroughly disheartening…” |

6. Immigration problems |


7. Interview with Mary Romaniuk |

8. Ukrainian Church in Borschiw, Alberta |


9. Interview with Anna Bokla |

10. Harvesting Time |

Secondary sources


1. Vilni zemli, free land |


2. Peasants in the promised land |


3. Religious life for Ukrainian immigrants |


4. Ukrainian-Canadian politics |


5. Daily life for Ukrainian-Canadian homesteaders |

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Student tasks

Question:What was daily life like for Ukrainian-Canadian immigrants newly-arrived in Canada in the late 19th and early 20th centuries?

When inferring what life was like for Ukrainian-Canadians in the early 20th century, you may wish to consider:

  • attitudes towards Ukrainian immigrants
  • their experiences of arriving and settling in Canada
  • employment opportunities and experiences
  • Ukrainian community organizations, including churches and schools

Teacher notes

The following notes are intended to:

  • help teachers guide student interpretation of the sources included in the set of History Docs
  • provide teachers with historical background information on the topic.

Using History Docs

View our online guide for instructions about how you might use History Docs.

Tools for investigating documents

Use or adapt these resources to suit your needs.

Historical context for teachers

Ukrainian immigration to Canada

  • Despite previous periods of independence, the Ukrainian people did not have a nation to call their own in the 19th century; instead, Ukrainian territory was controlled by two powerful empires. The crown lands of Galicia and Bukovyna in western Ukraine were part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, while eastern Ukraine was part of the Russian Empire.
  • Ukrainians began to migrate to Canada in large numbers beginning in 1891 following the incentive scheme to settle the Canadian prairies developed by Clifford Sifton, the Minister of the Interior in Wilfrid Laurier’s government.
  • Ukrainians were attracted to Canada by the promise of free land and a better life, and because mounting debts, rural overpopulation, disease, alcoholism and illiteracy made life in Ukraine during the 1890s very difficult.
  • Sifton wanted to populate western Canada with farmers to boost Canadian agricultural production and to keep the land out of American hands. The government hired agents to attract farmers throughout Europe by offering virtually free land (160 acres for a $10 fee) to immigrants from countries with similar political, religious and social institutions as Canada.
  • British, American and Northern European settlers were preferred, although settlers from central Europe were also sought after. Ukrainians from the Austro-Hungarian Empire were desirable because they were believed to be productive farmers, no matter how harsh the climate or conditions.
  • Between 1896 and 1905, the recruiting budget of the Canadian government increased from $900 000 to $4 000 000. Under Sifton’s direction, the Canadian government sent posters, agents, testimonies, factbooks, and other information to nations all over Eastern and Western Europe. Exhibits, mobile museums, fairs were held across Europe to convince people to move to Canada.
  • Immigrants were enticed by the promise of cheap land. Most posters offered 160 acres for free or for as little as $10; however, few people received 160 acres at that price. Many land speculators had already taken the good land, and were selling it for far more money.

Arrival in Canada

  • Ukrainian immigrants arrived in Canada carrying either Austrian or Russian passports, however, Canadian immigration officials often classified them as Galician, Bukovynian or Ruthenians, depending on the region or province they were from in the Ukraine.
  • Canadian immigration authorities wrongfully believed that most Ukrainian immigrants were from the central Ukraine that was similar in land and climate to the Canadian prairies. Most of the immigrants, however, were from the rolling wooded countryside of western Ukraine that was more similar in climate and conditions to southern Ontario.
  • Approximately 171 000 immigrants of Ukrainian ethnic origin came to Canada between 1892 and 1914. The majority came from the western Ukrainian provinces of Galicia and Bukovina that were part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
  • They settled primarily in the aspen parkland regions that stretched from southern Manitoba to the Peace River area of northern Alberta. Many Ukrainian immigrants settled near other Ukrainians to maintain their language, customs and religious traditions.
  • From 1905 to 1914, significant communities were established in Ontario and Québec as more Ukrainians arrived to work in the timber and mining industries, construction and various factories, rather than farming. They were more likely to settle in towns and cities than those who had come earlier. Between 1910 and 1914, 70 000 Ukrainians came to Canada, most of whom were single migrant workers.