As the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues unrelentingly and people are fleeing (more than 2 million in less than two weeks, according to theconversation.com, ‘Is Canada’s welcome to fleeing Ukrainians a new era of refugee policy?’), the free world is quickly determining how best to handle the influx, at least in the short term.
The Canadian government has “introduced special admission policies for Ukrainian nationals” that involve allowing any number to apply to stay in Canada for up to two years, as well as prioritizing applications for Ukrainians who already have family here or extending permits for those who are here for education or employment. It is not clear what happens after the two-year period, but something had to be done for the immediate emergency. The future will iron itself out.
Canada is not afraid of immigration. We would not be the country we are today without refugees choosing to leave their homeland and settle in this amazing space along with our Indigenous peoples.
In an article ‘11.6:A Melting Pot or A Salad Bowl ‘ in Socialsci.libretexts.org, Canada is described as a “multiculturalism” society, specifically designated so by the 1988 Canadian Multiculturalism Act: “multiculturalism reflects the cultural and racial diversity of Canadian society and acknowledges the freedom of all members of Canadian society to preserve, enhance, and share their cultural heritage.” I interpret this to mean that we recognise that the richness of a country depends on diversity of thought and customs. Think of building a salad (all the ingredients are individual but accentuate and complement each other and work together to make one great end product ) as opposed to a melting pot (all the ingredients meld together into one 'blob' which is nice-tasting but you can’t differentiate the parts). Canada wants to be a salad bowl.
The Canadian Encyclopedia article, ‘Immigration’ (thecanadianencyclopedia.ca), provides a timeline of "significant migrations” into Canada, along with milestone decisions affecting our immigration policies, making it clear how we became who we are today. It began with the German settlers arriving in the mid 1770’s and, subsequently, Blacks, United Empire Loyalists, Scottish, British, Chinese, Japanese, Europeans, Sikhs, Russians, East Indians, Hungarians, West Indians, Vietnamese, and so on. Aside from the 'significant migrations', Statistics Canada (www12.statcan.gc.ca), provides an interesting graph that shows just how many people we have from each and every different country in the word. I smile when I think back to the 1970’s small prairie town in eastern Alberta and the last names of students in my rural school – Renschler, Rompfor, Schnell, Adolf, Kneller, Klassen, Bognar, Sivek, Marquart, Steinwand, Miquelson, Boettcher . . . . . it doesn’t take an Ancestry.com search to realize that our little town would not even have ‘been’ if these children did not have forefathers who came from somewhere!
Accepting Ukrainian immigrants is nothing new for Canada - we already have the third largest population (next to Ukraine and Russia) of people of Ukrainian ancestry in the world (1.36 million, according to thecanadianencyclopedia.ca 'Ukrainian Canadians'). The first documented Ukrainians (Vasyl Eleniak and Ivan Pylypiw) came to Canada in 1891, followed by approximately 150,000 more, the majority settling in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta (The Library and Archives Canada (bac-lac.gc.ca,, ‘Ukrainian’). Second and third waves occurred after WWI and WWII, settling more frequently in cities. Ukrainians actively fought for Canada during the two World Wars.
Devin C. Tasa, in sasktoday.ca, 'Explainer: Why the Ukrainian diaspora settled in the Canadian Prairies', reports that 11% of the population of our three prairie provinces has some degree of Ukrainian ancestry and explains that the first wave was attracted by free or affordable farmland. (I get it - maybe our prairies reminded them of 'home'; and, now, doesn't the symbolic yellow and blue that has become synonymous with Ukraine remind you of a canola or wheat field under our big prairie sky?) Taking from a book by William A. Czumer, Tasa quoted Ivan Pylypiw as stating, “I told them about Canada and said ‘Run, run from here, because here you have nothing but there you’ll have land free and be your own master . . . there was land everywhere; land wherever you want, all empty. Just take a plough and start ploughing.” And the federal government was actively promoting Ukrainian immigration. Tasa highlighted a quote from the federal Minister of the Interior at the time, who stated (in a comment that would in no way be acceptable today!), “I think that a stalwart peasant in a sheepskin coat, born to the soil, whose forefathers have been farmers for ten generations, with a stout wife and a half-dozen children, is good quality.” The Ukrainians wanted to be here, and we wanted them.
So important were the Ukrainians to the prairies that the Ukrainian Museum of Canada is located in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. But Alberta has the second largest number of Ukrainian descendants in Canada, 369,090, making up 9.3 percent of the population in 2016 (Wikipedia, from Statistics Canada). They brought with them a culture that now makes up a significant part of Alberta's being. There is a driving tour of Ukrainian churches in east central Alberta. There are some eight Ukrainian schools of dance in Edmonton alone. There is the Ukrainian Cultural Centre , a reconstructed traditional village, northeast of Edmonton. They brought food - we all know borscht and dumplings! The University of Alberta even has the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies. Alberta has it's own branch of the Ukrainian Museum of Canada. And, of course, there is the town of Vegreville and the world's largest 'pysanka' (Easter egg), along with the annual Pysanka Festival.
(Photo credits: St. Vladimir Ukrainian Catholic Church, Red Deer, Facebook; Pysanka and festival, Town of Vegreville, vegreville.com)
So Ukrainians choosing to live in Canada is nothing new. They have already contributed so much. They have helped settle our country. They have fought with us in wars. They have brought us another culture to add to our mosaic. I say, toss ‘em into the salad that is Canada! This time around, chances are that they will not be a “stalwart peasant in a sheepskin coat", but they will bring with them skills, talents, personal strength, bravery, hard work, perseverance, fearlessness, and a colourful culture and will not only find their way but will accentuate and complement all the other flavours of Canada’s ‘salad’. And that, in 2022, "is good quality".