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Pioneer Life

As each new area of Canada was opened to European settlement, pioneers faced the difficult task of building homes and communities from the ground up. Pioneer life revolved around providing the basic necessities of existence in a northern wilderness — food, shelter, fuel and clothing. Pioneering life was integral to family life and provided social stability for the settlement of a larger population across the country.

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Population Settlement of New France

Throughout the history of New France, soldiers and hired labourers (“engagés”) who crossed the Atlantic were the primary settlers in Canada. Those young servicemen and artisans, as well as the immigrant women who wished to get married, mainly hailed from the coastal and urban regions of France. Most of the colonists arrived before 1670 during the migratory flow which varied in times of war and prosperity. Afterwards, the population grew through Canadian births. On average, Canadian families had seven or eight children in the 17th century, and four to six children in the 18th century. As a result, the population of New France was 70,000 strong by the end of the French regime.

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Canadian Sports History

Sports have a long history in Canada, from early Indigenous games (e.g., baggataway) to more recent sports such as snowboarding and kitesurfing. Officially, Canada has two national sports: lacrosse (summer) and hockey (winter).

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Si’k-okskitsis

Si'k-okskitsis (known by various other names including Black Wood Ashes, Charcoal, The Palate, Paka’panikapi, Lazy Young Man and Opee-o’wun), Kainai warrior, spiritual leader (born circa 1856 in present-day southern AB; died 16 Mar 1897 in Fort Macleod, AB). Si'k-okskitsis was involved in a domestic dispute that ended in murder. He fled but was eventually caught by police, tried and hanged. The story of Si’k-okskitsis’s life speaks to larger themes of relations between Indigenous peoples and settlers, the settlement of the West, and changes to traditional ways of life on the plains.

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Human Settlement in Canada

A human settlement is a place where people live. Settlement patterns describe the ways in which villages, towns, cities and First Nation reserves are distributed, as well as the factors that influence this arrangement. Throughout Canadian history, climate, natural resources, transportation methods and government policy have affected human settlement in the country. Today, the majority of Canadians live in cities in the southern portion of the country. (See also Human Geography and Canada.)

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Founding of Settlement Block in Dauphin, Manitoba

In 1896, Dr. Jósef Olesków arrived near Dauphin Lake, Manitoba. He determined that it would be perfect for a group of 30 families that he was organizing to move to Canada from Bukovyna and Galicia. They arrived in 1897 and worked with the railway and at sawmills to save money to establish farms. A growing number of Ukrainian settlers survived bitterly cold winters and an 1899 prairie fire that took many homes and barns. By 1913, the predominantly Ukrainian community had become the government seat and commercial centre for the Northern Judicial District.

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Former Minister Sifton Praises Immigration of “Stalwart Peasants”

Sir Clifford Sifton was the federal minister of the interior and superintendent-general of Indian Affairs from 1896 until 1905. He initiated the program that raised the number of immigrants to Canada from around 16,000 to more than 140,000 per year. He specifically sought Central and Eastern European farm families. In 1922, when asked about bringing so many non-British settlers to Canada, Sifton said, “I think a stalwart peasant in a sheep-skin coat, born on the soil, whose forefathers have been farmers for ten generations, with a stout wife and a half-dozen children, is good quality.”

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Census Reveals Growing Number of Ukrainian Canadians

The first wave of Ukrainian immigration to Canada (1896–1914) ended with the First World War. After the war came the second wave (1919–39). The 1931 census reported that the number of Ukrainians in Canada had risen to 225,113 — 2.2 per cent of Canada’s population. The census found that, unlike the first wave, less than half of Ukrainians immigrants in the second wave settled on farms. Most found homes in cities and jobs in urban factories or mines, often in central and eastern Canada. But overall, by 1931, more than 85 per cent of Ukrainian Canadians lived in the three Prairie provinces, and 77.9 per cent were rural.

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Opening of First Permanent Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Canada

In 1897, a group of settlers from Bukovyna established homes in Gardenton, Manitoba. St. Michael’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Canada’s first permanent Ukrainian Orthodox Church, was consecrated there in 1899. It is designed in the three-chamber style typical of small churches in northern Bukovyna. Recognized as both a Manitoba Provincial Heritage Site and a National Historic Site, it is the oldest existing Ukrainian church in Canada. 

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Census Reports 75,432 Ukrainians in Canada

In the 1901 Canadian census, there were 5,682 Ukrainians in Canada. By 1911, the number had soared to 75,432, or 1 per cent of Canada’s population. Much of this was due to a federal program, begun in 1896, that sought to settle the Prairies largely with Eastern European farmers. A massive advertising program promoted Canada as the “Last Best West” and offered households 160 acres (64.7 hectares) of land for only $10. Thousands of immigrants came to Canada.

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First Ukrainian Canadian Newspaper Published

A multilingual teacher, businessman and town councillor, Cyril Genik (born 1857 in Galicia; died 1925 in Winnipeg) was tasked by Dr. Jósef Olesków with bringing a second contingent of settlers to Canada later in 1896. Genik settled in Winnipeg. In 1896, he was hired as an immigration agent, making him the first full-time Ukrainian Canadian in the federal civil service. He also started Canada’s first Ukrainian-language newspaperKanadyiskyi farmer (Canadian farmer) — in 1903. Known in the Ukrainian Canadian community as “the Czar of Canada,” Genik was named a Person of National Historic Significance in 1995.

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Biggest Ukrainian Canadian Newspaper Begins Publication

The Ukrainian Voice began publication in Winnipeg in March 1910. The weekly, Ukrainian-language newspaper was soon available across Canada. It became a respected source for political, social, religious and other news, and helped to build and enrich the Ukrainian Canadian community. The paper encouraged readers to support education and to participate in Canadian politics. In 1981, it merged with Canadian Farmer. It ceased publication in 2018, after 110 years in business. Its archives are now held at the University of Manitoba.

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Bilingual Schools Abolished in Manitoba

Criticized for slowing the assimilation of Ukrainian children, bilingual schools (in English and Ukrainian) were abolished in Manitoba in 1916, despite Ukrainian opposition. Saskatchewan followed suit in 1918. The schools were never allowed in Alberta. After the First World War, community-run schools expanded rapidly to preserve Ukrainian language and culture. Pioneer institutes also produced many community leaders. Ukrainian Canadians sustained a robust culture, including literature, folk music, church music and folk dance.

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Marie-Anne Lagimodière

Marie-Anne Lagimodière (née Gaboury), settler (born 2 August 1780 in Maskinongé, QC; died 14 December 1875 in St. Boniface, MB). Marie-Anne Lagimodière accompanied her fur-trader husband, Jean-Baptiste Lagimodière, to what is now Western Canada. She was one of the first women of European descent in the area and they became some of the first settlers in Red River. Marie-Anne Lagimodière was grandmother of Louis Riel, the Métis leader of the Red River Resistance.

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Census Reports more Ukrainian Canadians Living in Cities and Towns

The 1971 census reported that there were 580,660 Canadians of Ukrainian descent, making up 2.7 per cent of the country’s population. Only 57.8 per cent lived on the Prairies, and 75 per cent of all Ukrainian Canadians were urban. The proportion of Ukrainian Canadians in agriculture had fallen to 11.2 per cent, slightly above the Canadian average. The number of Ukrainian Canadians working in trades, sales, teaching, medicine and law had increased since the last census.

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St. Paul

St. Paul, Alberta, incorporated as a town in 1936, population 5,827 (2016 census), 5,405 (2011 census). The town of St. Paul, county seat for the county of St. Paul, is located on the north shore of Upper Thérien Lake, about 200 km northeast of Edmonton.

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Smallpox in Canada

Smallpox is an infectious disease caused by the variola virus. The disease arrived in what is now Canada with French settlers in the early 17th century. Indigenous people had no immunity to smallpox, resulting in devastating infection and death rates. In 1768, arm-to-arm inoculation became more widely practised in North America. By 1800, advances in vaccination helped control the spread of smallpox. Public health efforts also reduced rates of infection. In the 20th century, Canadian scientists helped the World Health Organization eradicate smallpox. Eradication was achieved in 1979, but virus stocks still exist for research and safety reasons.

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