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A History of Ukrainian Settlement in the Neepawa Area
So far 2022 has already seen a handful of families start to arrive in Westman, fleeing the conflict in Ukraine, but the history of Ukrainian people in the area goes back much further than that. It’s a history and lasting cultural impact that makes Neepawa and the surrounding area a promising community for Ukrainian people to settle in when arriving in Canada.
While there are a small number of records dating back to the late 1700s, it was the wave of immigration that began around 1870 that really helped establish the Ukrainian community in this area. That was the wave that brought Pat Gawaziuk’s grandparents to this area, recruited like many others by the Canadian government to come populate the West. These days Pat helps newly-arrived Ukrainian families to adjust to living in the area, and keeps the Ukrainian language and cultural traditions alive in her own home,
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, immigrants from eastern Europe, and especially from Ukraine, were enticed to come to Canada with the promise of 160 acres of land for $10. The finer details, like the quality of the available land and the distance from some of the major centres of the day, were left out of the advertisements. Pat recounts some stories from early settlers about travelling dozens of miles on foot for work or clearing acres of wooded land with just an axe, but also building schools and churches and community halls all over the area.
Those settlers left an indelible stamp on this area, from staple foods like perogies and cabbage rolls to the ubiquity of surnames of Eastern European origin, to the fact that as recently as the 1980s, Ukrainian was offered as a language option in area schools alongside French.
If we call that initial wave of Ukrainian arrivals the first wave, a wave of people arriving after WWII was the second, and a third wave of arrivals in the Neepawa area came in 2008 when local business Hylife was the one to recruit families directly from Ukraine with the promise of jobs and homes in Canada. Some of these families eventually moved on to other areas of the country and some returned to Ukraine, but many remained and raised their families in Neepawa.
While there are many more supports for Ukrainian people arriving in the area today, a lot of the challenges they face remain the same. Pat recounts stories of those families who arrived in 2009 lining up in her home for help with everything from housing to medical care, often challenged by the cultural and particularly language differences.
For immigrants from the Ukraine, just like immigrants from everywhere, they are often separated from extended family members, and there are other pieces of home that are difficult to leave behind. This is doubly true for people who are not leaving that home behind by choice, like the families that may be arriving in the near future.
Hopefully, the rich history of Ukrainian people in the area and the living culture that still thrives will make that transition a little bit easier.
As Neepawa and area’s local access television station, NACTV has been serving the community since 1977. The station is a community-owned not-for-profit organisation that broadcasts 24 hours a day and reaches homes throughout Manitoba and Canada on Bell ExpressVu 592, MTS Channel 30/1030, and WCG 117 as well as streaming online at nactv.tv.
NACTV’s content is primarily filmed and produced by local volunteers and focuses on issues, activities, achievements, sports, and news by, about, and of interest to our community.
Neepawa is located in western Manitoba, about two hours west of Winnipeg and 45 minutes southeast of Riding Mountain National Park.