To the 131st anniversary of Ukrainian immigration to Canada
In early September 1891, a hundred years before Ukraine regained its independence, a steamship Oregon moored in Halifax Harbor. Among the passengers that went ashore were two first Ukrainian immigrants in Canada – timber-raftsman Wasyl Eleniak and logging contractor Iwan Pylypiw from the village of Nebyliw (part of Austro-Hungary at the time and now in Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast of Ukraine). They went on the long journey from their village to Hamburg, then to Liverpool, and finally to Nova Scotia looking for a better life in terms of affordable land and freedom.
In the New World, the two Ukrainian pioneers traveled to Winnipeg, Manitoba, and further westward to Calgary but were unimpressed with the land there and so returned to Manitoba. After that, Eleniak stayed there to work for the winter, and Pylypiw in 1892 went to Nebyliw for his family.
In Halychyna, his accounts of vast, unsettled lands gave rise to the excitement among some people. Others were skeptical, especially when they learned that the steamship company promised Pylypiw a commission, and accused him of swindling. He was arrested for sedition, soliciting emigration, and fraud and spent four months in jail. Nevertheless, his arrest and trial generated publicity, and seven other families set off for Canada.
Eleniak saved enough money to afford himself a trip to Nebyliw for his family after two years of work. He left Nebyliw with six other families but was forced to return to his native village from Hamburg unable to pay the passage for all members of his family. He worked for another month driving rafts on the Limnytsia river and came back to Canada in June 1894.
The first settlers founded a Ukrainian block settlement called Edna-Star colony (now Chipman) east of Edmonton, Alberta. Today the area is known as the Kalyna Country ecomuseum, which preserves and showcases Ukrainian Canadian culture. It is also home to the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village which contains pioneer buildings from all across the area.
Both Wasyl Eleniak and Iwan Pylypiw succeeded. Iwan owned five farms and 15 land plots ad was very active in the cooperative movement. He lived 77 years and died a wealthy man in 1936. The last farmhouse he lived in, the third one he built in the Edna-Star area, is now a part of the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village.
Wasyl also has made a well-off farmer although his first years on the prairies were not easy and required a lot of hard work as a herdsman in Manitoba. In the Edna-Star district, he became a successful farmer and was a prominent and respected member of not only the Ukrainian community but Canada as a whole. In 1947, he was chosen by the Canadian Government to be one of the honorary recipients of Canadian Citizenship Certificate during the First Citizenship Ceremony held at the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa. He died in 1956 at the age of 96.
Presently, the last name Eleniak is also well known for his great-granddaughter Erika Eleniak, a successful American actress and model best known in Ukraine for her role in the Baywatch series.