Monday 12 June 2023

Ukrainians Immigration to Canada: the Apostolic Delegate 1943

Louis St-Laurent and Bishop Nil Savaryn

A recent article in Canadian Press proclaims that "Canada Is Facing the Largest Wave of Ukrainian Immigration Ever," with a million applications having been filed with the Canadian Government. A new wave of immigration will affect a significant change and in the Ukrainian community in Canada and the country as a whole. 

Ukrainian immigration to Canada began in 1891, when the Government enticed Ukrainians of Austrian Galicia and Bukovyna (today in Western Ukraine) to settle the western Canadian prairies with the offer of free land. Other waves arrived after the First World War, in the the Interwar period, after the Second World War, and following the collapse of the Soviet Union and Ukrainian independence in 1991. The first and last waves were made up of economic migrants whereas others were political refugees fleeing the turmoil brought to their homeland by occupying countries.

In 1897, the plight of Ukrainian settlers became a major issue and concerns in the Ukrainian press and the spiritual welfare of the settlers came to the notice of Catholic Church leaders in Austria, Canada, and Rome. Among those monitoring the situation was the papal representative in Canada the Apostolic Delegate (since 1969 raised to the rank of Apostolic Nuncio, when Canada and the Holy See established full diplomatic relations).

Every three years, the Apostolic Delegate or Nuncio had to send a "Triennial Report" to Rome, outlining the activity of his mission and the situation of the Church and general trends in the country to which he is assigned.

From time to time, the material and spiritual situation of Ukrainians (the majority of which belonged to the Greek-Catholic Church) made its way into these reports. Surprisingly, the Delegate of the time, Idelbrando Antoniutti, did not mention Ukrainian immigration in his 1948 Triennial Report but did dedicate a lengthy section to this topic in his 1940–1942 report, which was sent to Rome in 1943.  Below is an English translation of the relevant passages form the original Italian:


"A serious problem, connected with immigration, is above all that of the Ukrainians of Canada, who according to the latest census rise to 400,000, scattered in the various provinces of the Dominion. Frugal, hardworking, with large families, they made a large and effective contribution to the colonization of Western Canada. Three quarters are Catholics of the Byzantine Rite, belonging to an Exarchate which extends from one end of the Dominion to the other, with its own Ukrainian Bishop having personal jurisdiction over all [of them].

If the birth rate of the Ukrainians which have settled here continues at the current rate, in a century they could reach the figure of eight million in Canada. Yet, their assimilation to the Anglo-Canadians is methodical and progressive, and this will bring far decrease, in time, if not neutralize their national characteristics, starting with the language.

Mr. Walter J. Bossy, inspector of Ukrainian schools erected for his countrymen, asked that French-Canadians do something more for the newcomers of Europe, declaring the following: "If the attraction that English Canadians exert on immigration is considerable from an economic point of view, it is no longer so when one considers the social point of view. The European arriving in Canada would be more easily solicited by the turn of the French spirit than by the manifestations of English culture, if French Canadian would only bother to show him the benefits. But that French-Canadians appear to be indifferent to this.”

In fact, the said gentleman adds that, wishing to make the history of Canada known to the people of his country of origin, he had translated a manual into Ukrainian but he did not find a publisher among the French-Canadians, but among the English . . .

What is said of the Ukrainians, who constitute the most numerous immigrant group, should also be extended to the other foreign communities, Polish, Slavic, German, Italian, Hungarian, etc. The second generation of these immigrants has already lost contact with the country of origin, and the third is almost exclusively Canadian.

Unfortunately the Protestant influence is felt among the newcomers. Sometimes due to political resentments against the leaders of the mother country from which they had to take advantage, sometimes due to economic advantages, most often due to indifference and lack of religious instruction, as for lack of assistance both from the clergy of the countries of origin of both the local one, several immigrants have abandoned their faith to embrace that of the majority. . ."

"Walter" (Volodymyr) Bossy was a well known Ukrainian activist who had his own political-social agenda (see Orest Martynowych's, Ukrainians in Canada: the Interwar years).

There are many differences between the situation of 1943 and today. For one thing, the "faith" of the majority, which exercises an influence, would not be that of Anglo-Protestantism or even Roman Catholicism but of agnostic indifference or secular wokeism. The single Ukrainian Greek Exarchate was subdivided in 1948 and has since become a Metropolitan Church with an Archeparchy in Winnipeg and 4 Eparchies. (although currently, two are still awaiting the appointment of an eparchial bishop.) In addition, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada is Metropolitanate with an Archeparchy and 2 Eparchies. The Province of Quebec, with its discriminating language laws, continues to have less attraction for Ukrainians.

Statesmen, churchmen, and community leaders have already begun considering how to best assist the newcomers, so that they can take their place in contemporary Canadian society and themselves contribute to its prosperous development.