Tag Archives: Manitoba history

Doors to the Past: Ukrainian Village

About 35 km east of Edmonton on Highway 16, Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village is not just for people of Ukrainian descent. Exploring the historical park provides an opportunity for all to see what life was like for many western Canadian immigrants around the turn of the 19th Century. Specific exhibits are certainly more representative of Eastern European settlers than of those from Western Europe or America.

However, interpreters—some young and others who might have spent their childhoods in such homes, on similar farms or in small villages—are available as guides for visitors. Whether walking with tourists, waiting in houses to relate family stories, driving wagons or acting as store clerks, they tell of days-gone-by. Many adopt a Ukrainian accent, and they stay in character whatever questions or ideas you might suggest. Through them, we experience life as it was for newcomers who arrived with few assets, big dreams and work ethics.

I admit that I like to ramble around by myself, taking whatever time I want for each exhibit. So, except during my visit to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, I didn’t join a guided group. Interested in seeing the sod house, I had difficulty finding it, but when I discovered it in a sheltered and shaded location, I wasn’t disappointed. Although large soddies might be called home for a number of years, I wasn’t surprised when I found a very small dwelling.

Small sod house in Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village near Edmonton, Alberta

Usually only temporary shelter for the immigrants’ first summer or first year in an area, sod homes were abandoned or transformed into root cellars, chicken coops or other useful “buildings” as soon as families could build log homes.

Farther south on the dry and treeless prairie beyond the reach of railways, out of necessity, many soddies provided families with shelter for longer periods, and some had large with interiors well-adapted for long term use.

However, Ukrainian settlers tended to be very selective in choosing homesteads, and the presence of wood as construction material and fuel was a high priority. So, parkland areas such as Edmonton and east central Alberta or similar areas in Saskatchewan and Manitoba became prime locations for their homes and farms.

Just as I expected, the small dwelling at Ukrainian Village had grass growing from the roof. The floor was slightly below ground level, which may have made it warmer but undoubtedly increased stability during heavy rains or snowfalls.

The basics of survival were present, but I could not envision more that one person dwelling there. Did couples and families live in such tinyl homes? History tells me that they did. Certainly, the stories about building sod homes and about what might crawl out the walls or drop from the roof are fascinating. But spending daytime outdoors would have been welcome relief from the tight, dark quarters—well, at least from spring to fall. After my short time in the soddie, I too welcomed the light and open spaces of the park. Yet, my respect for those who faced hardships to fulfill their dreams is ever greater each time each time I visit a heritage park.

Advertisements

History Hermits Unite!

 Are you a history hermit who sits alone studying old papers, unaware of possible support systems or heritage buddies? Likely, you buy history books and DVDs. You watch The History Channel, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) documentaries and the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). Then, just for fun, you tackle genealogy on your computer. You might interview elderly Aunt Doris or begin a memoir. All are commendable, but like writers, history buffs benefit from participation in organizations of like-minded people.

In Calgary, we have the Chinook Branch of the Historical Society of Alberta (www.albertahistory.org), and I’ve been a member for years. I’m a huge fan of the organization, its magazine, newsletter and activities, but others—those who have served on the executive, as editors for publications and as volunteers assisting at events–deserve all the credit for its success. Fortunately, most Albertans have access to similar branches including ones in Red Deer, Edmonton, Lethbridge and Peace River.

Of course, numerous societies are dedicated to our history. Perhaps, the Danish Canadian Club, the Alberta Native Frienship Centre, or Friends of the Ukranian Village Society better suit your priorities. Just do a little digging, and you will find the right organization to support your passion for heritage. Such groups exist all across North America and the world, but regional groups are often the best places to start.

The British Columbia Historical Federation represents many groups in BC, and it has various categories of memberships. On its website this year, the federation boasted of 25,875 members! Interested individuals simply need to go to the website (www.bchistory.ca), follow the link to members and discover groups sponsoring activities in their local communities.

To its credit, the Saskatchewan govenment has made historical resources a very high priority. Perhaps because the province has so many history-related groups, it is hard to find a simple online list. Your best bets are Heritage Saskatchewan (www.heritagesask. ca), the Saskatchewan History & Folklore Society, Inc. (www.shfs.ca), and the Saskatoon Heritage Organization (www.saskatoonheritage.ca). Generally speaking, once on the webiste, go to the list of members.

Also, following links on the Manitoba Historical Society website (www.mhs.mb.ca) is a great way to discover that province’s historical organizations. On the site, select “About Us.”Then find “Affliated societies,” and voila! But, this website provides links to fascinating documents and web exhibits, so set aside time for browsing.

Everywhere, history buffs have organized to find ways of preserving and sharing our heritage. Certainly, you don’t have to be a history hermit—unless of course that’s truly what you want to be. When I have a tight book deadline, even I embrace that option.