Rural Canadian Immigrant Customs




Pysanka at Vegreville, Alberta Arthur Sri Mesh courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Both my mother’s parents, the Huchulaks, and her grandparents, the Tokaruks, left Ukraine in 1898. Canadian government representatives came to Eastern Europe and urged the people to leave their lives as serfs on overcrowded farms in Bukovina to settle the northern Canadian plains.

They crossed the Pacific on ships to Halifax, then on Canadian Pacific Railroad trains that made such settlement possible. Where they settled the plains in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and east central Alberta, their onion-domed Orthodox churches served both as places of worship and also as community centers.



I met 50 cousins and their families at a 2009 Huchulak reunion in Alberta. We toured the living history museum and bought Pysanka, intricately decorated Ukrainian eggs, still made by my family members. We stopped for a photo at the giant Pysanka Ukrainian egg at Vegreville. These eggs remain a symbol of new life after the hard winter. In Russia this symbol evolved into the priceless Faberge eggs.

We gathered at the cemetery on the Orthodox Church grounds to meet our forebears. Each gravestone held a Ukrainian cross with a characteristic slanted crosspiece.

Life was hard and often short for pioneer families. At Easter celebrations people brought food and braided bread to be blessed by the priest. After the service families gathered to eat outdoors. Adults brought cakes, fruit, and candy for the children. To this day the custom continues for families to gather at the cemetery on Easter for a picnic — a custom reminiscent of the Mexican  Day of the Dead.

So many of us bury our roots. My Ukrainian Canadian forebears celebrate theirs. I’m glad I’ve been able to add my branch to the family tree.


10 responses

    • I met these 50 cousins when I was 76. The 5 from my clan were the only US members, one each from London, Prince Edward Is. and Toronto. The rest haven’t strayed. My mother left home at 19,changed her name several times, never told me about her Ukrainian immigrant family that faced turn of the 20th century prejudice. She was the first in the family to go to school since schooling was only provided for English speakers. A smart woman, I never understood why she lip read each word and moved her finger across the line when she read.

    • I hope to see some of them again, now on Vancouver Is. on my next Northwestern trip. This may be on my tentatively scheduled February book launch when I now also hope to meet more”cousins,” my father, Hans Pederson’s first wife’s descendents.

    • At 19 my mother left Canada ashamed of her family. Her father was the town drunk, her mother, a seeker of salvation through her donation of icons to the church. Had she stayed around she would have seen her family overcome their pioneer hardships and create vibrant new lives.

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