Prof. Bohdan Medwidsky passes away from Covid

Prof. Bohdan Medwidsky (1936-2021)

Kule Folklore Centre.

Founder and Benefactor of the Kule Folklore Centre at the U of A.

Bohdan Medwidsky – folklorist, academic organizer, community activist, Ukrainian patriot, fundraiser, mentor, founder and benefactor of the Kule Folklore Centre – passed away in the Covid ward of Grey Nuns Hospital in Edmonton on 28 March 2021.

He was born in Stanislaviv (now Ivano-Frankivsk in western Ukraine) in September 1936. Both grandfathers were priests, and his parents were both pharmacists. He spent the duration of World War Two in Switzerland, being reunited with his parents and meeting his younger brother Wolodymyr for the first time in Vienna in the late 1940s. There, and in the Displaced Persons Camp in Lexenfeld, he (re)learned Ukrainian and developed a strong personal identity as a Ukrainian patriot. At 12 years old, Bohdan was particularly impressed during Easter in the camp. A great church service took place overnight, including large processions with candles. On Easter morning, everyone greeted each other with “Khrystos Voskres!” [Christ is Risen!]. He had never been in a situation where the general population spoke Ukrainian, where they expressed their traditions openly, and were deeply moved by them. He understood then that these things were very important and internalized them profoundly.

The family was sponsored to come to Canada, and settled into the large Ukrainian immigrant community in Toronto, participating in St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic parish and the Ukrainian Plast (Scouting) Organization. After high school, he studied at the University of Ottawa (BA Humanities, 1963; MA Slavic Studies, 1966). He enrolled at the University of Toronto in 1967 for his PhD, again following his interest in Ukrainian Studies. His dissertation project was a linguistic analysis of the novellas of writer Vasyl Stefanyk. Bohdan married Ivanka Hlibowych. In this busy period, they moved to Ottawa for him to teach Russian and Ukrainian at Carleton (1969-1971). Bohdan accepted a position in Ukrainian linguistics at the University of Alberta in 1971, and the couple moved to Edmonton. Ivanka passed away at a young age in 1975. Bohdan remained in Edmonton, where he found his professional home and spent the remainder of his career.

Observing the general ethnic revival and “roots” movement across North America, the specific impact of the CYMK “Cultural Immersion Camps,” and following up on his own longtime interests, Bohdan saw strategic openings to teach classes in Ukrainian folklore, the first of which was offered in 1977. This initiative quickly grew into a specialization, and eventually into MA and PhD programs. In this way, Bohdan’s academic focus shifted from his early concentration on politics and history, through linguistics, and on to folklore studies. His professional publications focus on the history of Ukrainian and Ukrainian Canadian folkloristics, traditional Ukrainian songs and proverbs in Canada, and teaching resources. Bohdan was dedicated to his students, often keeping in contact with them for many years thereafter. He was a very sensitive supervisor, working intensely and frequently with those graduate students who benefited from such attention, but retreating into the background with others to allow them to spread their wings. He made a habit of engaging deeply with one or two younger individuals at a time and mentoring them broadly, “adopting them” as those fortunate insiders sometimes called it.

The growth of Ukrainian folklore classes and rise of graduate programming necessitated a shift to develop administrative infrastructure, and especially fundraising. Bohdan excelled in this pursuit as well, working with the university and the Friends of the Ukrainian Folklore Centre to establish nine endowments for the folklore program and its students. He worked tirelessly as the Peter and Doris Kule Centre for Ukrainian and Canadian Folklore (Kule Folklore Centre) grew into a nationally and internationally significant research centre at the University of Alberta. The “Bohdan Medwidsky Ukrainian Folklore Archives” was named in his honour in 2003, and has grown tremendously in size and importance since that time.
Bohdan was honoured in 2014 as an academic, builder of the Ukrainian Folklore Program, community activist, fundraiser, and philanthropist. At that event, the Friends of the Ukrainian Folklore Centre announced the launch of a fundraising campaign to create a scholarship fund to support graduate students studying Ukrainian Folklore. The Bohdan Medwidsky Ukrainian Folklore Fund is managed by the Shevchenko Foundation.

Bohdan Medwidsky was not an ivory tower academic, but was always wholeheartedly engaged in public and community activities. His dedication to Plast continued actively for decades. He worked with the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies in the 1970s to help develop Ukrainian Bilingual schools in Alberta. He was an important consultant and supporter for the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village, the Friends of the Ukrainian Village, and the Premier’s Advisory Board for the UCHV. He was an active parishioner of St. George’s Ukrainian Catholic Parish in Edmonton, and a leader in the Brotherhood of Ukrainian Catholics of Canada at the local and national level. He was a longtime board member of boards for the Ukrainian Canadian Congress. He also provided his time and skills to the Ukrainian Pioneers’ Association of Alberta, the Slovo Association of Ukrainian Writers of Canada, the Vinok Folk Dance Society, the Alberta Society for the Advancement of Ukrainian Studies, the Alberta Ukrainian Commemorative Society, the Shevchenko Scientific Society (Western Canadian Branch), the Ukrainian Millenium Association, the Folklore Studies Association of Canada, the Human Rights Citizenship and Multiculturalism Education fund, the Conservative Party of Canada, and others. As a volunteer he contributed hundreds or thousands of hours annually, ongoing for decades. He helped realize many initiatives for the Ukrainian community and for the good of the general public as well.

Bohdan Medwidsky was recognized by diverse communities for his contributions. He was twice awarded the “Eternal Flame in Silver” in Plast (1997 and 2004). He was presented the “Medal of Service, Third Degree” by Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko (2008) and the Shevchenko Medal by the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (2010). The Folklore Studies Association of Canada awarded him the Marius Barbeau medal (2011). In addition to his contributions of time, Bohdan Medwidsky was a very active philanthropist, providing strategic and generous financial support for many diverse causes and organizations.
Bohdan Medwidsky had an original sense of humour, and a ready twinkle in his eye. He was steadfast, patient, and above all persevering, deriving great pleasure from overcoming obstacles to achieve his goals. Though he did not typically like to speak about himself, he sometimes noted “я будую Україну” – “I am building Ukraine [in my own way, and here in Canada].” This is profoundly true, and his impact will continue on and on. One of his last slogans was “тримаймося” – Let’s keep holding on.

He leaves behind in sorrow his brother Dr. Wolodymyr Medwidsky with his family and other family and friends in Ukraine, Canada and the US.

Rest eternal! Вічна Йому Пам’ять!

In lieu of flowers the family requests that donations be made to:

  • Friends of the Ukrainian Folklore Centre: 250 Arts & Convocation Hall, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB T6G 2E6 | Or donate online at CanadaHelps https://bit.ly/3w9RAud
  • University of Alberta, Kule Folklore Centre (Memo: Medwidsky Ukrainian Folklore Archives Endowment): 250 Arts & Convocation Hall, Edmonton, AB T6G 2E6 www.ukrfolk.ca
  • Plast Toronto: 516 The Kingsway, Etobicoke, ON M9A 3W6 https://plast.ca