Ukrainians in Canada
Trip Start Aug 25, 2008
31Trip End Sep 2008
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Where I stayed
Prince Albert National Park
As I'm riding off, one of the men comes out of his campsite and flags me down. Apparently they'd gone back to their site and told their wives, "That poor guy is going to freeze to death." The wives want to know, "what poor guy?" and after they explain the wives send them back out to invite me to share their breakfast with them
I accept and thoroughly enjoy scrambled eggs with onion and tomato in little tins that have been cooked over an open fire they have going. There's also coffee, ham and toast... quite the feast. (I enjoy thawing out by the fire, too!) After breakfast they all gather at the edge of their camp to watch me get into all my gear and see me off. I'm very very grateful for their wonderful generosity.
I find my way back out onto Highway 16, which, while it isn't known as the "Yellow brick road" it is called the Yellowhead Trail, named after the Yellowhead Pass in the Rockies. And, no, I don't have a clue why the pass was named "yellowhead". I do wonder about it, though. The symbol, found on signs all along the route, is a silhouette of a head that's colored.... you guessed... yellow.
Not far down the road is another heritage village. This one is for the Ukrainians. I decide to take the time to stop and see what it's all about. I learn a lot. Apparently there is a very large Ukrainian population in the farming areas of eastern Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. I had no idea. According to a couple I met several days later, there was some fear in Canada that the Americans would sweep into the comparatively unoccupied plains areas of Canada and take them for the United States, much as they had done to Mexico's territories that later became the American West.
So Canada was offering free or very low-cost land. This sounded irresistible to Ukrainians who were living in abject poverty under almost feudal conditions in Ukraine and they came over in droves in the late 1800's and early 1900's, bringing with them, as all immigrants do, their religion, customs, language, dress, culture, etc
The village is comprised of actual Ukrainian buildings from multiple Canadian towns that were moved to this site. They started out as subsistence farmers, but with the advent of trains for transport and grain elevators for storage, they could change to cash crops which fueled greater economic prosperity.
I would see these Ukrainian Orthodox churches scattered all over Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba in the coming days. My guide explained to me that a wealthier church like the first one pictured, could afford to hire an official iconographer to paint the icons on the interior of the church walls. For this church the process took over a year of steady work, which is highly regulated. There's also an example of a smaller, poorer church that could only frame pictures and hang them up instead of having icons painted on the walls.
The hotel pictured had an interesting story. Under the law, beer could only be served at a hotel. Bars weren't legal. The hotel had to have a certain number of rooms for guests and it had to have a kitchen and dining room
I get back on my bike and head back out on the Yellowhead Trail. I follow it out of Alberta into Saskatchewan before I head north and continue east on Highway 40. This is a much smaller two-lane country road and I pass a number of Ukrainian communities (identified by their Orthodox churches with their distinctive architecture). I stop for dinner in one of those little farming communities and, much to my surprise, find a Chinese couple who run a very rundown little restaurant selling Chinese food and hamburgers. I try the ginger beef which really isn't bad then continue my ride until I pull into Prince Albert National Park just as it's getting dark. I quickly get my tent set up by a lake and crawl in for the night.