Ukrainian language schools in Western Canada were shaped by the changing colonial policies of settlers

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the number of people studying Ukrainian in the world via the Duolingo language learning app increased: digits from March 20 showed an increase of 577%.

In Canada, there are also new interest in learning Ukrainian.

As solidarity with Ukraine grows, Canadians might be curious to learn more about the history of Ukrainian-language schools in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, which spans approximately 125 years.

Ukrainian language education in the Prairies has been shaped by national, provincial and territorial policies. In the colonial context of settlers in Canada, these policies have evolved over time in the way they welcome, marginalize and privilege settler languages ​​other than English.

Colonial settlement

After Canadian Confederation in 1867, interconnected approaches and policies were consolidated and developed to displace Indigenous peoples from their lands. Canada used dispossession to make the territory that would become Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba available for European settlement.

As historian James Daschuk explains, “clean the plainsinvolved resorting to starvation of Indigenous peoples to pave the way for colonization.

In 1876, Canada adopted the Indian Act, designed to assimilate and control First Nations.

Indian Act video from The Canadian Encyclopedia.

After the Red River Resistance of 1869-1870, the Manitoba Act transferred land from the Hudson’s Bay Company to the Dominion of Canada.

Read more: The trial of Louis Riel from 135 years ago continues today with competing stories and cultural icons

The Canadian government has created a system called Métis certificate to provide mixed-race families already living in the area with title deeds to their land (land certificate) or money in exchange (silver certificate). The process was slow, complicated and served extinguish Métis land title.

Métis scrip commissions coincided with the numbered treaties (1871-1921), which concerned lands of from Lake of the Woods in the east to the Rocky Mountains in the west, and north to the Beaufort Sea.

Read more: Let Indigenous treaties — not the duty to consult — lead us to reconciliation

At that time, as historian Kenneth Taylor notes, Canadian immigration law was “explicitly racist in work and intent: he discouraged and prohibited non-white and non-European immigration in several ways.

The Canadian Immigration Act of 1910 gave the Department of the Interior the power to deny entry to persons of any race “considered unsuited to the climate or requirements of Canada”. Immigration officers used this section limit black colonization in the prairies. Prior to this policy, about 1,500 black settlers moved to the canadian prairies and research has documented long stories from the black community and a continued presence there.

CBC video, ‘Black on the Prairies.’

Although there were well-established Chinese communities in British Columbia before 1923, and Chinese immigration to the Prairies Between the 1870s and 1923. Generalized Asian immigration to prairies did not occur until the 1960s due to federal legislation, including 1908 Amendments to the Immigration Act and exclusive amendments from 1923 to chinese immigration law.

While the promotion of immigration from Eastern Europe was not without controversyrecruiting these early “agricultural immigrants” became government practice.

Canada has opened the door to first wave of Ukrainian colonization in 1890.

400 Ukrainian schools

Ukrainians who arrived during this period were expelled from Ukraine by overpopulation, poverty and foreign domination, and drawn to Canada by the prospect of what Canada has charged like free farmland and jobs.

Poster advertising free 160-acre farms for settlers in Manitoba, Northwestern Canada (now Alberta and Saskatchewan), and British Columbia, circa 1890.
(BiblioArchives/Flickr), CC BY

At the time of this wave of colonization, western Ukraine was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Ukrainians from Galicia, Bukovina and Transcarpathia were officially called Ruthenians in the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Upon their arrival, the Ukrainians directed most of their organized efforts towards keep one’s tongue. In 1915 there were approximately 400 Ukrainian schools in Western Canada.

“Laurier-Greenway Compromise”

How were the Ukrainians able to create Ruthenian bilingual schools and teacher training programs?

An 1896 agreement for bilingual education in Manitoba called the Laurier–Greenway Compromise contains part of the answer.

People seen in a black and white photo standing in front of a barn.
Ukrainian or Central European farm family in front of their barn, seen circa 1910 in Saskatchewan, location unknown.
(R-A7229/Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan)

This regulation stipulated that when there were 10 or more students who spoke French or another language, the school could provide instruction in a language other than English. This policy made it possible to create Ukrainian bilingual schools in Manitoba and also influenced their creation in Saskatchewan and Alberta.

Teacher shortages

Another reason for the establishment of Ukrainian schools was the shortage of teachers in Ukrainian districts. Historian Orest T. Martynowych explains that English-speaking teachers were unwilling to work in Ukrainian communities because of “prejudice, a sense of cultural superiority and more lucrative positions elsewhere.”

To address the shortage, provincial governments helped young Ukrainian men qualify as teachers. The Ruthenian Training School opened in Manitoba in 1905 and operated for 11 years. Similar programs opened in Saskatchewan in 1909 and in Alberta in 1913.

In Manitoba, the province has also produced a bilingual Ukrainian textbook called the Manitoba Ruthenian-English Reader.

As historian Cornelius Jaenen notes, the success of Ukrainian bilingual education programs angered influential members of society who wanted schools to assimilate immigrants towards building an English-speaking Prairie.

Black and white photo from the turn of the last century (1900) of two women in traditional Ukrainian dress cutting logs.
Ukrainian women cutting logs, Athabasca, Alta. Year unknown.
(BiblioArchives/Flickr), CC PER

“Enemy Aliens”

The outbreak of World War I in 1914 further threatened these programs. Eastern Europeans are under surveillance and suspicion. The issue of bilingual schools became intertwined with the issue of “enemy aliens”, which included people from Germany, the Turkish Empire, Bulgaria and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

In the same year, the Government of Alberta declared itself opposed to bilingualism in its school system.

In 1916, the option of bilingual education was also removed in Manitoba. Saskatchewan waited until 1919 to introduce a regulation naming English as the only language of instruction.

Status quo in English only

For the next 50 yearsthe Prairie provinces maintained an English-only status quo, which resulted in considerable linguistic change in Ukrainian and Francophone communities and many other immigrant language communities as well.

During this period, 66 residential schools operated in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba under federal responsibility. First Nations children were taken from their families to attend these institutions and forced to learn English, systematically leading to the loss of the native language.

Thanks to Métis scrip, many Métis lived on right-of-way, settlements they created on unused portions of Crown land. There, the multilingual Métis retained the community languages, including Michif and other indigenous languages. Between the 1920s and 1960s, however, provincial governments forcibly dispersed these communities, introduction of a period of rapid language change to English.

Ukrainian children were often forbidden to speak Ukrainian at school. Adults faced discrimination in the workplace, and many Ukrainians anglicized their surnames.

New era of Ukrainian bilingual school

In 1969, Canada introduced the Official Languages ​​Act and the Multiculturalism Policy followed in 1971. Soon the education laws of the Prairie Provinces were changed to again allow languages ​​other than English to be used for instruction in schools.

Photo of a pamphlet entitled
Ukrainian Canadian Senator Paul Yuzyk spoke of Canada as a multicultural nation a year after Liberal Prime Minister Lester Pearson launched the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism in 1963.

These developments have led to a new era of Ukrainian Bilingual Prairie Schools. In 1974, Advocates established a bilingual Ukrainian program in Edmonton. In 1979, programs in Manitoba and Saskatchewan classrooms followed.

Today, Ukrainian bilingual programs are found in the school divisions of all three provinces. Opportunities to learn Ukrainian also include original language lessons for children (Ridna Shkola), summer camps, preschool programs (Sadochok) and language courses for adults.

As Canada begins to welcome displaced Ukrainians, Ukrainian language teaching programs can help bridge communication gaps.

Laws, culture and languages

Language policies and language policies in education shape the ability of individuals, families and communities to maintain minority languages. When languages ​​are underprotected by politics – or intentionally attacked by cultural genocidal policies, as in the case of Indigenous languages ​​in Canada until recently — language loss is difficult to prevent.

Confronting the colonial legacy of settlers reminds us why the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada urgently recommended policy to reinforce Resurgence of Indigenous languages.

In the case of the Ukrainian language, the current programs exist thanks to changes in federal policies, changes in provincial education laws, and the hard work of Canadian Ukrainian communities who have retained their language despite many obstacles.

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