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The first Ukrainian church in Canada

While it is estimated that 3.5% of Canada’s population is of Ukrainian descent, the Ukrainian presence in Manitoba is close to 15%. This only makes sense, considering the rich history of Ukrainian immigration in our province. In fact, the first permanent Ukrainian Orthodox church ever built in Canada is in Manitoba, and some pioneer Ukrainian settlers are resting in the cemetery right behind that church.

The Church

The Church

St. Michael’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church, a Manitoba Provincial Heritage Site since 1974 (also the first Ukrainian Heritage Site in Canada), is located just an hour’s drive from Winnipeg. (Note: this is a different church than the one in nearby Gardenton also consecrated to St. Michael.)

Pioneer settlers buried in the cemetery

The cemetery

Quoted from the historical marker:

“Constructed in 1899, this church is a fine early example of Ukrainian ecclesiastical architecture in Canada. Its distinctive massing, plan and bulbous cupolas reflect the Byzantine-influenced architectural heritage of the homeland of the settlers in the region. The traditional free-standing bell tower was built in 1906 and, like the church, is distinguished by the high quality of its wooden craftsmanship. Built by the first generation of Ukrainians to arrive in Canada, St. Michael’s served as an affirmation of their natural identity and remains today as Canada’s oldest existing Ukrainian church.”

Gravestone detail

Gravestone detail

From another historical marker:

“Until the parish joined the Greek-Orthodox Church of Canada in 1922, it was served by a Russian Orthodox Mission. The church was built by immigrants from northern Bukowyna, now the western Ukraine, who settled the Gardenton area in 1896. Measuring 48′ x 22′ x 33′, the structure exemplified Bukowynian piooneer craftsmanship in architecture, interior decoration and religious furnishing. St. Michael’s served as a focal point of spiritual and cultural life in the first Ukrainian settlement in Manitoba, and remains a symbol of the continuity of the Ukrainian identity in Canada.”

According to this website, “there are only short inscriptions on the tombstone crosses: just the name and the date of death. It is interesting that the word for ‘year’ used for this purpose alternates between the Russian ‘god’ (more often on the older graves) and the Ukrainian ‘rok’.”

Other towns in the area with Ukrainian roots are Tolstoi, Stuartburn, Sundown and Vita, but – at least for this outsider – the Ukrainian heritage is more apparent in Gardenton than in any of the towns mentioned above.

Planning your visit

How to get there (from Winnipeg): from the Perimeter, take Hwy. 59 and drive 90 km south, then turn left on Provincial Road 209 and drive 5 more kilometres until you see the small brown & white “Heritage Site” sign, then turn right (Click for map)

When to go: May to October. It would be ideal to go when the Ukrainian Festival is taking place in nearby Gardenton (2009: July 11 and 12) to kill two birds with one stone and save gas/time.

Why this place is important: St. Michael’s was the first permanent Ukrainian Orthodox church erected in Canada (1899). As such, it’s now a Manitoba Provincial Heritage Site.

Other places to visit on the same trip: Gardenton (3.5 km east of the church site on Provincial Road 209), Tall Grass Prairie Preserve (about 2 km west of the church site on Provincial Road 209 – best to visit in July/August)

Weather: check the weather in Vita (a close location) here

Will your MTS wireless device work there? Yes (although Provincial Road 209 being so close to the US border – just 10 km –, you might receive long-distance charges).

Additional links:
Manitoba Heritage profile
Historical context: “First Ukrainian Church in Canada”, by John Panchuk

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