Cultural Mosaic: Early Ukrainian immigrants
February 19, 2021
Every four to six weeks, the Vernon Museum will feature an individual or family who immigrated to this area.
Bringing some of their traditions and cultures with them, these early immigrants to the North Okanagan have helped to created the community and culture of the North Okanagan today.
Vernon has a rich Ukrainian Canadian culture. As of 2016, more than one-tenth of the city’s population was composed of people whose origins can be traced back to this Eastern European country.
Early immigration to Vernon by those of Ukrainian descent was not always marked by respect. 2020 marked 100 years since the closure of the Vernon Internment Camp, where hundreds of men, women, and children determined to be of Austrian-Hungarian descent were held prisoner—the majority of these were Ukrainian Canadians.
Ukrainian Canadian Culture
In the last 100 years, Ukrainian culture and traditions have flourished and deepened in this local setting.
This can be seen in the beautiful 74-year-old, gothic-style Ukrainian Orthodox Church that adorns the side of 27th Street, or in the colourful and energetic performances of Vernon’s Sadok Ukrainian Dance Ensemble.
It all began with one family—the Melnichuks.
Starting in 1896, under the aggressive immigration policies of Minister of the Interior, Clifford Sifton, Canada began to experience a significant westward expansion of Ukrainian emigrants, many of whom had left their country of birth to escape poverty and oppression, and seek out land of their own.
Ukrainian Orthodox Church, the Assumption of St. Mary, located at 4105 27th Street. This photographs shows the church shortly after its construction in 1947
Sadok Ukrainian Dance Ensemble performing at O’Keefe Ranch in 2018
Cultural Mosaic dance reformed by Ukrainian, Celtic, and Bhangra dancers at 2017 Okanagan Military Tattoo
Roman and Rose Melnichuk, both of whom were born in Ukraine, were the first to arrive in Vernon in 1914. They initially lived in a house on Mission Hill, but later Roman purchased property on both sides of Swan Lake to start a farm and raise a family. The couple would go on to have 12 children.
The second eldest of the children was Nicholas Melnichuk. From a young age, Nick had an adventurous spirit, and at only 12-years-old left Vernon to work as a ranch hand across the border in Washington State. He returned to Canada as a young man, and married Lucy Bordula.
Nick served for two years in the motorcycle regiment of the Canadian Army during the Second World War, and for the next 35 years after that as a construction worker. In an article for the Vernon Daily News of 1981, he was quoted as saying “sure wish I had a dollar for every mile of road I drove the cats for various construction companies during that time.” Following his well-earned retirement, Nick spent his time trout fishing in the mountain lakes around Vernon. Nick Melnichuk remained in the city until his death in 1992.
From this first pioneering family, the local Ukrainian community has proliferated and diversified, and their vibrant and symbolic traditions help to enrichen our city’s cultural mosaic.