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Reasons for Ukrainian immigration pre-1914

Overview of the set

This set of History Docs invites students to rank the factors which encouraged Ukrainian immigration to Canada prior to 1914 after examining a variety of primary and secondary sources including advertising cards and posters, government letters, interviews, pamphlets, journal articles, and books.

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Primary sources

1. North Atlantic Trading Company advertising card |

2. CPR immigration poster


3. Mary Yurichuk’s story |

4. Yuri Vyrostok’s story |

5. Pro vilni zemli (About free land) |

6. Letter from Commissioner of Immigration to Deputy Minister of the Interior |


7. Interview with Ivan Pylypiw |

8. Motivation to immigrate|

9. Order-in-council by the Canadian federal government |


10. House of Commons debate transcript |

Secondary sources

1. Peasants in the promised land |


2. Emigrant views of the Canadian west |


3. More push than pull? |


4. The role of the North Atlantic Trading Company |

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Student tasks

Question: Rank the factors that encouraged Ukrainian immigrants to come to Canada prior to 1914, from most important to least important.

When determining what reasons accounted for Ukrainian immigration to Canada prior to 1914, you may want to consider the following aspects:

  • the political, economic and social conditions in the Austro-Hungarian and Russian Empires during the late 19th century
  • advertising from the Canadian government to attract immigrants to Canada
  • employment opportunities in Canada
  • the importance of family and friends.

Teacher notes

The following notes on topics addressed in the History Docs are intended to enhance teachers' understanding of the sources and ability to guide students in interpreting them.

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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 controlled by 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 Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier’s cabinet.
  • Sifton wanted to populate western Canada with immigrants and farmers to supply eastern Canada and the world with agricultural exports, create a growing market for goods manufactured in Central and Eastern Canada and prevent American expansion into Canadian territory.
  • Sifton’s advertising campaign, "The Last Best West", enticed immigrants with the promise of virtually free land. Between 1896 and 1905, the Canadian government’s recruiting budget for immigrants increased from $900 000 to $4 000 000. Under Sifton’s direction, the Canadian government sent posters, agents, exhibits, mobile museums, fairs, testimonies, factbooks and other information to nations all over Eastern and Western Europe in hopes of convincing potential immigrants to move to Canada.
  • Most posters offered 160 acres for free or for as little as $10. The reality was often different. Frequently, land was far away from rail transport or local settlements, and very few people received 160 acres for ten dollars. Many land speculators had already taken the good land and were selling it for inflated prices.
  • Sifton identified various cultures as being more desirable than others. British (Scottish Crofters) and American immigrants were most desirable because they were easily assimilated into Canadian life. Sifton also favoured Ukrainians, Russians and Scandinavians because they were used to farming in a similar environment and climate.

Arrival in Canada

  • Ukrainian immigrants arrived in Canada with either Austrian or Russian passports, and Canadian immigration officials classified them depending on the region or province they were from whether it was Galicia, Bukovyna or Ruthenia.
  • Canadian immigration authorities wrongfully assumed that most Ukrainian immigrants were from the steppelands of Central Ukraine, which was similar in land and climate to the prairies of western Canada; however, most of the immigrants were from the rolling wooded countryside of Western Ukraine, which was more similar to the climate and conditions in southern Ontario.
  • Approximately 171 000 Ukrainian immigrants came to Canada between 1892 and 1914, the majority of which came from the provinces of Galicia and Bukovyna in western Ukraine that was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Many Ukrainians received homesteads on marginal or heavily wooded land on the northern edge of the prairies. They settled primarily in areas that resembled the climate and terrain of western Ukraine—the aspen parkland regions that stretched from southern Manitoba to the Peace River area of northern Alberta.
  • Ukrainian immigrants often settled close to each other in order to maintain their language, customs and religious traditions.
  • Map: Ukrainians, Ruthenians, Galicians, Bukovynians in the Austro-Hungarian and Russian Empires       Jaroslav Petryshyn with L. Dzubak, Peasants in the promised land: Canada and the Ukrainians—1891–1914 (Toronto, ON: James Lorimer & Company, 1985), p 29.