Ukrainian immigration to Canada represented the largest of any ethnic group from eastern Europe, and the Ukrainians in Canada are one of the few ethnic groups with a larger absolute population than their counterparts in the United States. According to the U.S. census of 2000 and the Canadian census of 2001, 892,922 Americans and 1,071,060 Canadians claim Ukrainian descent. The greatest concentrations of Ukrainians in the United States are in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, California, and Michigan. Ontario, British Columbia, and Manitoba have the largest number of Ukrainian Canadians. More than 15 percent of Winnipeg’s population is Ukrainian.
Ukraine occupies 232,800 square miles in Eastern Europe. It is bordered by Belarus to the north; Russia to the east and northeast; Moldova and Romania to the southwest; and Hungary, Slovakia, and Poland to the west. In 2002, the population was estimated at 48,760,474, comprising mainly Ukrainians (73 percent) and Russians (22 percent). The principal religions are Ukrainian Orthodox and Ukrainian Catholic, although a large portion of the population is not religious. The Ukraine has throughout its history been a crossroads and a battleground. In the first millennium B.C., the area was occupied by Cimmerians, Scythians, and Sarmations, and in the first millennium A.D., by Goths, Huns, Bulgars, Avars, Khazars, Magyars, and Slavs, the latter becoming the predominant ethnocultural group in the region. The first great Slavic state, Kievan Rus, was founded in the ninth century, in part by Scandinavian Varangians (Vikings). It was destroyed by the Mongols in the 13th century. From the 14th century until 1991, the Ukraine was ruled successively by Lithuania, Poland, and Russia, except for a brief period following the Cossack uprising of 1648. Austria ruled the Ukrainian region of Galicia from 1772 to 1918. Ukrainians frequently tried to gain independence from Russia, without success. After resistance to Soviet policies of agricultural collectivization and Russification, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin allowed 5 million Ukrainians to die in the famine of 1932–33. During World War II (1939–45), many Ukrainians at first welcomed the Nazi invasion of 1941, though they were treated as badly by the Germans as they had been by the Soviets. In the wake of a Ukrainian nationalist movement in the 1980s and the breakup of the Soviet Union, Ukraine gained its independence in 1991. It had a difficult time, however, making the transition to a market economy, leading to widespread dissatisfaction among the people.
The first significant Ukrainian immigration to the United States came in the 1870s. Generally poor and uneducated peasants from Galicia in the Austro-Hungarian Empire (see Austro-Hungarian immigration), they usually took jobs in mines and factories in Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey. Between the 1870s and 1914, about 500,000 Ukrainians came to the United States. With the restrictive Emergency Quota Act of 1921 and Johnson-Reed Act of 1924, quotas severely limited the immigration of Ukrainians, and only about 15,000 came prior to World War II (1939–45). During the late 1940s and early 1950s, however, some 85,000 Ukrainians settled in the United States, admitted under provisions of the Displaced Persons Act (1948) and other special legislation. Many of these were well educated and made a relatively smooth transition to American culture. Immediately following the fall of the Soviet state, Ukrainians began a substantial immigration to the United States, averaging almost 17,000 per year between 1992 and 2002.
Ukrainians coming to Canada first settled in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and at Beaver Creek, Yukon Territory, in 1891, though their numbers remained relatively small until the later 1890s. Encouraged by the Canadian government, Dr. Josef Oleskow traveled from L’vov (Lemberg) to explore the western prairies in 1895 for possible Ukrainian settlement sites. Oleskow’s subsequent publication of pamphlets encouraged emigration, especially from the Galicia and Bukovina regions of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Ukrainian immigration peaked in 1913, when more than 22,000 emigrants entered Canada. Records are imprecise, as Ukrainians were characterized variously as Russians, Austrians, Poles, Hungarians, Romanians, Galicians, Bukovinians, and Ruthenians, but it is estimated that between 1891 and 1914, about 170,000 Ukrainians immigrated to Canada. Most of these early settlers were peasant farmers, encouraged by the promise of inexpensive lands, who settled a frontier area from southeastern Manitoba through Saskatchewan and into northern Alberta. They played a major role in transforming largely uninhabited western prairies into productive farmland.
Some of the more than 60,000 Ukrainians who immigrated between the world wars were better educated, having been involved in the abortive Ukrainian independence movement just after World War I (1914–18; see World War I and immigration), but the largest number came again as agriculturalists. As a nonpreferred group, they could only come as part of family reunification, as experienced farmers, or as farm laborers or domestics with sponsors. After World War II (see World War II and immigration), about 34,000 Ukrainians came to Canada as displaced persons. They were often well-educated professionals, and most were intensely anticommunist. They tended to settle in industrial areas, particularly in Ontario. By 1961, Ukrainians constituted approximately 2.6 percent of the Canadian population (473,377), ranking behind only the French (30.4 percent, or 18,238,247), English (23 percent, or 4,195,175), Scottish (10.4 percent, or 1,902,302), Irish (9.6 percent, or 1,753,351), and Germans (5.8 percent, or 1,049,599). Of the more than 51,000 Ukrainian immigrants in Canada in 2001, more than 21,000 came before 1961 and about 23,000 following the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
See also Austro-Hungarian immigration; Soviet immigration.