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The Ukrainian Experience
in Quebec

 
The Ukrainian Community in
Val d'Dor- Bourlamaque, Quebec
By: Myron Momryk

 

Introduction
 
In 1891, two Ukrainian settlers arrived in Canada and were followed in the years 1892-1914 by another 170,000, the first and largest wave of Ukrainian immigration.  These pioneers were met by a host society and a government intent on settling the frontiers of Canada.  They were first directed to the agricultural frontier in western Canada and later, in the 1940's and 1950's to the lumber, mining and industrial frontiers in the eastern part of the country.

The new Ukrainian immigrants settled in small, resource-based  communities in remote parts of eastern and northern Canada and, to a large extent, their  destiny was shaped by the socio-economic structure of these one-industry towns.   The history of the Ukrainian community in Val D'Or-Bourlamaque is typical of many similar ethnic communities in one-industry towns across Canada.  It is also an important part of the history of the Canadian Ukrainian community, of Quebec and of Canada.

Val D'Or is located approximately 420 kilometres northwest of Montreal and about 340 kilometres north-north-west of Ottawa.  The town lies along the height of the Canadian Shield and in the eastern part of the geographical formation known as the Cadillac-Bouzan Fault.  Rivers in the area flow north into James Bay and only a few kilometers away, other rivers begin to flow south into the Ottawa River system.

The large Clay Belt which extends across north-eatern Ontario and north-western Quebec provides some areas of potential farm land.  However, the swamp, muskeg, rocks, bush, and large numbers of lakes and rivers along with the long winters and short summers have made farming a risky gamble at best.  Also, the long distances to markets and the tendency for unseasonable frost to appear, even in June, have discouraged all but the most determined farmers.

 

Spirit Lake Internment Camp
 
The earliest Ukrainian presence in the Abitibi region dates back to the First World War.  An internment camp was established at Spirit Lake near Amos, Quebec to detain enemy aliens, that is, citizens of Austro-Hungary and Germany.  Among the 1,200 "Austrian" prisoners interned at this camp, there was a large number of Galacian Ukrainians, having recently immigrated from Austro-Hungary. 

This internment camp was closed in 1916 after having been in operation for two years and there is no record of any Ukrainian prisoners continuing to reside in the Abitibi area after their release.

Their internment at Spirit Lake as well as in other camps across Canada left many in the Ukrainian community with distrustful attitude towards the Canadian government.  Indeed, many felt that the policies if adopted against them during the First World War were not much more different from those of the governments they had  fled in eastern Europe.

 

The Sheptytsky Colony
 
 In 1925, Father Josaphat Jean  began to establish a Ukrainian agricultural colony called "Sheptytsky."  This colony, which was named after Andrei Sheptytsky, who was the Greek Catholic Metropolitan of Galacia at that time, was located north of Amos, Quebec.  Father Jean had examined potential sites in northern Alberta, but felt that the Abitibi region held out the best prospects.  The colony was intended for Galacians who were then subject to Polish rule and for Ukrainian immigrants from Bosnia.  Father Jean received a large grant of land from the Quebec government and started settling Ukrainian families from Montreal and new arrivals from Europe.  He had great plans for this colony which he envisaged as a future centre of Ukrainian life in eastern Canada.  It was slated to include a Studite monastery, a school, a cooperative, a Ukrainian library and a museum.  The isolation of the area, the long winters and short growing seasons, the coming of the Deresion in 1929-30, stopped further settlement and limited the number of new Ukrainian farmers.  The pioneers began to leave for other parts of Canada and by 1931, there were only 52 Ukrainians left in the colony.    In 1935, the area was resettled by French-Canadian families and the settlement was renamed "Lac Castagnier."   The last few Ukrainian families continued to farm the area until the 1970's.    In 1991, there remained one family which had been part of the original settlement.
 
The Abitibi Gold Rush
 
During  the first decades of this century, discoveries of ore bodies in Cobalt and in other parts of northern Ontario led prospectors to extend their search along the Canadian Shield and into north-western Quebec along the Cadillac-Bouzon Fault.  Following the completion of the National Transcontinental Rail line through north-western Quebec in 1911, prospectors advanced up the Hurricana River from Amos to what is today the Val D'Or region.  Among the first mines in this area was the Siscoe mine discovered by Stanley Siscoe, a polish immigrant who arrived in Cobalt in 1908.  Siscoe Gold Mines Limited was incorporated in 1923 and employed some of the first Ukrainians who settled in this region.

The discovery was the forerunner of the "Abitibi Gold Rush" that peaked in the mid-1930's in the midst of the Depression. 8   Individual Ukrainians then worked with the prospectors who staked the first claims in northeastern Ontario and northwestern Quebec.

 
 
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