Reading, Riting, and Rithmatic

(The Schools)

One of the earliest problems faced by the settlers was educating their children. After centuries of fighting to retain their nation identity and having come to Canada under the belief that they could freely do so here, the Ukrainians naturally wanted to safeguard their culture and language. However, in the early days, there were few schools in the settlements, let alone schools where the children could be taught in Ukrainian.

The multiligual character of the Canada greatly alleviated the education problem. Due the large number of French speaking Canadians, the federal government, in the Laurier-Greenway compromise of 1897, decreed that bilingual schools be established in New Bruswick, Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba. However, Laurier, wanting to appease the numerous German speaking Mennonites in the prairies, ensured that the compromise stated that "any other language", rather than just French could be taught as the second language in bilignual schools. Before long, many of the other Ukrainian, Polish and German groups in Manitoba were demanding bilingual schools.

In response to the demand for Ukrainian teachers, the province of Manitoba in 1905 established a "Ruthenian Training School" in Winnipeg to train Ukrainian speaking teachers. The Ukrainians were known as Ruthenians in the early days. Although they were not legally required to provide bilingual schools, the other two prairie provinces were forced to establish them due to the large number of Ukrainian immigrats. In 1909, the "Training Schools for Teachers of Foreign Speaking Communities" was established in Regina, Saskatechwan in 1911. In 1913, the English School for Foreigners was established in Vegreville, Alberta.

The training schools gave birth to a Ukrainain Canadian intelligensia. The teachers in Manitoba formed a teachers association in 1907, they had the Education Act translated into Ukrainian and in 1910, they establsihed their own newspaper, the "Ukrainian Voice". The intelligensia promoted the Ukrainian culture and language while simultaneously encouraging the Ukrainians to participate fully in the political and economic life of Canada.

In 1916, the Ukrainian training schools were closed and teaching in languages other than English was serverely restricted. Those sectors of Canadian society that wanted Canada to become an English-only country gained prominence. The First World War had broken out. Unfortunately for the Ukrainians, their country was under the control of the opposing Austo-Hungarian Empire. The hapless Ukrainians were caught in the middle and declared "aliens" that could not be trusted even though many of them had been born in Canada and many more served in the Canadian armed forces.

A typical school.

The schools were usually one room frame buildings with plenty of windows. The basic elements of the schoolroom were a table and chair for the teacher, rows of double desks for the students, a blackboard on the front wall, a picture of the King or Queen of England, as applicable, above it and the Union Jack in a front corner. In the winter, heating was supplied by a cast iron wood stove. The teacher would arrive early and start a fire in the stove so that the room would be warm and the ink in the inkbottles on the desks would have melted by the time the students arrived.

(The school house in the photo is located at the Shandro museum in Alberta. Unfortunately, this museum is now closed and is falling into ruin. Hopefully the Alberta provincial government or Canadian federal government will come to its rescue before it is too late to save these valuable heritage buildings.)

After grade 8, the students would move to the city to go to high school or drop out of education and get a job to help support the family. The schools often served as a community centre. The local families would have dances, plays and social gatherings. Outside, the children would play ball and hold sports contests.

Copyright 1999, David Nemirovsky.