One newcomer descended from one of the first Ukrainians to arrive in Canada, another from the first Ukrainian elected to the Alberta Legislature.
Marco Levytsky, NP-UN Western Bureau Chief.
At least eight MLAs of confirmed ethnic Ukrainian origin were elected in the Alberta provincial election, April 16, which saw Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party topple Rachel Notley’s New Democratic government winning 63 seats to 24.
But this number could be much greater as it includes only the five returning incumbents and three newcomers with Ukrainian surnames who were contacted for confirmation by New Pathway – Ukrainian News.
Out of the nine MLAs from the outgoing legislature who declared they were of Ukrainian origin, seven had non-Ukrainian surnames. At this stage we don’t know how many newcomers with non-Ukrainian surnames could actually be of ethnic Ukrainian origin.
In addition to those of ethnic Ukrainian origin, there may be some of geographic Ukrainian origin. In the outgoing legislature one MLA, Dr. Richard Starke, who identified himself as being of ethnic German but geographic Ukrainian origin, did not seek re-election.
One prominent candidate of geographic Ukrainian origin who ran in this election, Alberta Party Leader and former Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel failed to get in. Mandel’s Jewish ancestors came to Canada from the Kyiv region.
Two of the newcomers have very strong historical connections.
Jackie Armstrong-Homeniuk (UCP), who defeated Ukrainian-origin NDP incumbent Jessica Littlewood in Fort Saskatchewan – Vegreville, is descended from Ivan Pylypiw, one of the first two Ukrainians to set foot in Canada on September 7, 1891. (Pylypiw initially returned to Ukraine and settled in Canada permanently in 1894.)
Armstrong-Homeniuk has been active with the Ukrainian Bilingual program that her children attended in elementary school. Her daughter also performed with the Vegreville School of Ukrainian Dancing – Promin Dancers. She has attended multiple Ukrainian events, like churches, events at the Ukrainian Village, Pilgrimages at Skaro, and Mundare.
Tyler Shandro, elected for the UCP in Calgary – Acadia, is the grand nephew of the very first Ukrainian MLA in Alberta – Andrew Shandro.
Tyler Shandro told NP-UN that Andrew Shandro, who served as a Liberal for the Ukrainian bloc settlement constituency of Whitford from 1915 to 1922, was his grandfather’s eldest brother.
Tyler Shandro was one of the first directors of the Calgary Ukrainian festival and still volunteers for the event.
Nate Glubish (UCP), elected in Strathcona – Sherwood Park has confirmed he is of Ukrainian origin, but has yet to get back to us with more details.
Among the incumbents re-elected were two cabinet ministers in the outgoing NDP government – Sarah Hoffman (Edmonton-Glenora), Deputy Premier and Health Minister and Deron Bilous (Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview), Minister of Economic Development and International Trade.
Hoffman’s great-great-grandparents first settled in the Thorhild area to homestead.
Speaking during the debate on Bill 26, Ukrainian-Canadian Heritage Day Act, November 2, 2016, Hoffman recalled how she would visit her grandmother at Easter and divide the one hard-boiled egg into as many pieces as there were mouths sitting around the table.
“We talked about Christ, of course. Khrystos voskres. The response was about: Indeed, he has risen. We’d talk about that unity that brings us together and that when there are many mouths to feed, we take the time to be grateful for what we have, acknowledge those around who need, and find a way to share the prosperity. I think that one symbol, even though it was only once a year that we’d stop and divide that egg into equal parts, making sure that everyone had yolk and everyone had white, was an example of the kind of sacrifice that so many of those who homesteaded made,” she said.
Bilous, whose grandfather Harry, arrived in Canada from the Lviv region at an early age, says that his family instilled the traditional sense of values in him.
“That whole concept of hard work. Coming over with literally the clothes on your back and working very, very, hard. My grandfather, he did several different jobs and was a very humble man and a very modest man — he was a shoemaker. But he was such an incredible person. He had so much to give. And I looked at him as a role model growing up.”
As a child, Bilous, 43, attended St. Martin’s Ukrainian Bilingual Elementary School from kindergarten to grade six.
“My one regret is that I didn’t continue into junior high and high school in the Ukrainian bilingual program,” he says.
He also used to take dancing classes with the Kupalo dancers at St. Basil’s Ukrainian Catholic Parish.
“I’m quite happy when I reflect back on my roots and the fact that my parents wanted me to have that connection — from learning the Ukrainian language, to celebrating Ukrainian holidays, to dancing. They really made sure that myself and my brother and sister were all involved in the Ukrainian community and learning about our culture, our history,” Bilous told the pre-merger Ukrainian News.
The third returning NDP incumbent is Lorne Dach (Edmonton McClung), whose grandparents came in 1913 and settled in the Thorhild area and his father never spoke English until he was about seven years old.
“I’m very proud to wear this (embroidered) shirt today and to be a member of the Ukrainian ancestral community here in this fantastic province of Alberta, and I’ll continue to support and be hopeful that I’ll be allowed to express this Ukrainianness forever and hope to celebrate this every year in this House on September 7,” said Dach during the Bill 26 debate.
UCP incumbent (Bonnyville-Cold Lake-St. Paul) David Hanson’s great-grandparents, Frederick Krowchuk, originally Krowchenko, and his wife, Alina Harbrenko, and their three children, Needa, his grandmother Minnie Hanson, and Uncle Paul arrived in Canada in 1910.
His wife, Donna’s, great-great-grandparents John Coswin and his wife, Marie Gamoulik, arrived in May of 1899 with six children. Her other grandparents, John Sterchelsky and wife Anna Onushko, and family arrived in 1929.
“Ukrainian people are very proud of their heritage, their customs, and their traditions,” he said during the Bill 26 debate. “They’ve been diligent in preserving their language and customs here in Alberta for well over a hundred years.
“My wife and I are both very proud to have been part of a Ukrainian dance group called Veselka, that we actually helped incorporate at its inception, in 1983, and we danced with them until we left the city in 1994. We’re proud to say that the group is still going strong today, 33 years after it began.”
Another UCP incumbent is Mike Ellis (Calgary-West). His maternal great-grandparents came from Ukraine.
“They occupy my thoughts on a day that I don’t think they would have been able to conceive back then, that one of their descendants might be sitting in a Legislature where a bill is going to be passed in honour of and to recognize the impact that they had on this community and on this province. So as much as Ukrainian Canadian Heritage Day is about Ukrainian communities at large, for me it is about one man and one woman who took a chance to make better lives for themselves and their family, because Alberta as we know it wouldn’t be here without our Ukrainian community, and I wouldn’t have been here if it wasn’t for my grandparents,” he said, during the Bill 26 debate.
Along with Littlewood, other incumbents who failed to get re-elected are Deputy Speaker Deborah Jabbour (NDP, Peace River), Brian Malkinson (NDP, Calgary-Currie) and former Alberta Party Leader Greg Clark (Calgary-Elbow).