I lived near the Royal University Hospital on the eastern side of town during my recent visit to Saskatoon. Located across the South Saskatchewan River on the west bank is the Ukrainian Museum of Canada. The museum is governed by a board of directors under the authority of the Ukrainian Women’s Association, which was instrumental in establishing the museum in 1936, and for its move to the present location in 1979. The museum has been collecting artifacts from across Canada to preserve the Ukrainian heritage in this country .
The museum has three exhibit areas. The Main Gallery has a permanent exhibition on the history of Ukrainian immigration to Canada, the Special Collection Gallery is dedicated to the paintings of William Kurelek, and a Feature Gallery displaying the other collections of the museum, which otherwise are stored in the basement, on a periodic basis.
The Main Gallery features articles collected primarily from the first wave of immigration of the Ukrainians to Canada. The exhibits tell the story of how hardship in Ukraine around 1890 -1913, combined with the promotion of immigration from Canada motivated many Ukrainians to leave their homes and travelled to Winnipeg, Edmonton and Saskatoon. The Canadian government gave each family 160 acres of land–a homestead–for the value of only $10 with the only condition that the immigrants must farm the land. There are immigration documents, land deeds, birth certificates and baptism papers on display. Household artifacts–farming implements, spindle and loom–and a large collection of costumes and accessories from western Ukraine are among the exhibits. The embroidery is complicated and delicate. There were an entire cabinet of pysanky (Ukrainian painted Easter eggs) and detailed explanations on the symbolism of the colours and how a pysanka is made.
The first wave of immigration was halted by the First World War. When it resumed, the second wave continued up to the Second World War, and the third wave took place in the 1950’s. The last two waves were not as massive an exodus, because there was no incentive from the Canadian government. After Ukraine became an independent state in 1981, immigration continued at a steady pace.
The collection is well presented and educational. At the end of my tour, I develop a deep respect for the Ukrainian women in the pioneer days for their hard work in maintaining the household and daily routine while the men were occupied in farming and mining. Their influence has carried on into the present day with the establishment of this museum and their effort to secure a special collection of William Kurelek’s paintings. More on this when I write about the Kurelek collection.
Ukranian Museum of Canada, 910 Spadina Crescent E., Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.