Three case studies of mutual aid in the Ukrainian immigrant community of Winnipeg, 1900-1918
Wasylkewycz, Maria N. B.
Between 1896 and 1914 an estimated 170,OOO Ukrainians from the Austro-Hungarian provinces of Galicia and Bukovyna streamed into Canada. Lured at first by the offer of the Canadian Government of free homestead land of 160 acres, few of the Ukrainian immigrants had the financial resources to immediately start up a farming operation. Consequently, at least 8O per cent entered the work force for a brief period of time, and more than 20 per cent took up permanent residence in the urban centres. By 1905 the nature of Ukrainian immigration had changed. In place of the land-hungry peasant eager to work the soil came the immigrant labourer in search of the myriad employment opportunities available in Canada as a result of the rapid industrial expansion taking place after the turn of the century. As the portal to the prairies and the clearinghouse for Western labour, Winnipeg became home to the greatest number of Ukrainian-Canadian immigrants and the centre for many Ukrainian organizational efforts. For the Ukrainian immigrants who chose to establish themselves in an urban-industrial setting, the transformation from peasant-farmer to industrial-labourer, and the relocation from a rural to an urban seuting in an alien country, was fraught with difficulties. Not only were there nativist hostilities and assimilationist pressures to contend with, but there were the financial insecurities inherent in a wage-centered money economy. Because of the lack of government social welfare programs and the animosity of unions as well as the host society towards Ukrainian labourers, Ukrainian immigrants were compelled to turn inward and look to traditional forms of mutual aid to assist them with their adjustment to the altered socio-economic circumstances they encountered in Canada. This study examines some of the forms of mutual assistance and welfare provision in existence in Galicia prior to the start of the emigration movement. It focuses on the role of the family, the commune, voluntary artisan associations, Orthodox church brotherhoods, reading halls and enlightenment societies, and co-operative ventures. In the Canadian context it discusses three distinct modes of mutual aid employed by Ukrainian immigrants in Winnipeg - the reading halls, mutual benefit organizations and emergency relief committees. The Shevchenko and Prosvita Reading Halls and the Ukrainian National Home were the cases selected for discussion in the chapter on reading halls; the St. Nicholas Mutual Benefit Association was focused on in the discourse on mutual benefit organizations; and the Canadian Ruthenian Relief Association of 1915 was analyzed in the section on relief committees. To facilitate the adaptation to the new set of socio-economic circumstances and ethno-cultural milieu in Canada, Ukrainian immigrants re-established those institutions which were effective in meeting contingencies in their homeland and which coincided with their needs in Canada. Where no appropriate traditional structures existed in Galicia, Ukrainian-Canadian immigrants were quick to borrow from their countrymen in the United States who had preceded then to an urban-industrial environment and had already resolved some of the issues of this transition. Many of the mutual aid organizations established by Ukrainians as well as other immigrant groups were the forerunners of later government social welfare prograns.