The process and pattern of Ukrainian rural settlement in Western Canada, 1891-1914

Thumbnail Image
Lehr, John.
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Between 1891 and 1914 Ukrainian settlers established large blocks of settlement in Western Canada along the broad transition zone between the aspen parkland and the southern fringe of the boreal forest. The choice of environment made by the first groups to settle in the West reflected the resource perception and socio-economic needs of capital deficient peasant farmers who intended to practice subsistence agriculture. The fraqmentation of Ukrainian settlement into a series of large blocks arcing from Edmonton to Winnipeg resulted from the determination of the Canadian Government to combat the immigrants' tendency to settle together and to prevent the growth of a single massive settlement around Star, Alberta, where the first immigrants had located. The Government initially experienced great difficulty in persuading immigrants to settle away from their already established countrymen and to locate in new settlement nuclei. This resulted partly from immigrant intransigence and a suspicion of Government motives which had been heightened by misapprehensions generated by immigration propaganda, but was mainly due to a general reluctance to venture into an alien social environment away from compatriots and kin. To prevent the growth of large blocks of ethnic settlement, which it feared would reduce the impact of assimilative forces, the Government occasionally resorted to force and deception in order to create new nodes of Ukrainian settlement and effect their dispersal throughout the West. The contiguity and high density of Ukrainian settlement was furthered by the actions of Colonization Agents who were anxious to achieve the placement of their charges with the minimum of effort and fuss. By accomodating the desires of those settlers who wished to locate with their compatriots, Agents reduced their own workload and lessened Government responsibility. Needy immigrants obtained aid from friends and the Government did not become involved in controversial programs of assistance. The internal geography of the Ukrainian block settlements showed the strength of social ties transferred from the "old country". Settlements were clearly stratified according to kinship, village, district, regional and national loyalties. In this respect their geography replicated that of the Western Ukraine in microcosm. The desire to secure a familiar social and linguistic environment led many settlers to disregard the unsatisfactory physical aspects of the areas they were homesteading. Thus social factors were of primary importance in explaining the Ukrainians occupance of much marginal agricultural land throughout the West.