Drive east of Edmonton through the scenic countryside and you might think for a moment that you’ve landed in Ukraine.
Onion-shaped church domes dot the landscape, a reminder of the area’s heritage.
This is Kalyna country — a 20,000-square-kilometre area in east-central Alberta stretching to the Saskatchewan border — and everywhere, it seems, there’s the legacy of the Slavic migration to the West that began just over 100 years ago.
The Ukrainians, Galicians, Ruthenians and Bukovinians left a physical impact in the form of over 50 exquisite Byzantine churches in what has been called the Church Capital of Canada.
As Arnold Grandt, head of the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village, states: “They came here for a number of reasons, including that there were a number of similarities to their homeland in Galicia and Bukovina, with similar vegetation and temperature.”
To gain an understanding of the Slavic impact on Western Canada, visitors can make their way to the heritage village, about 60 kilometres east of Edmonton.
The interpretive centre explains the exodus from the eastern Slavic lands (today’s Ukraine and Poland) to Alberta. Interpreters on site, wearing period costumes, answer questions about the lumber yard, school or church they are stationed at. Authentic Slavic food such as perogies, holubtsi (cabbage rolls) and kubasa sausage is served in the restaurant.
Visiting the three churches at the heritage village is a must. The village’s St. Vladimir’s Ukrainian Greek Orthodox Church is a beauty, including interior paintings by Vadym Dobrolige, a well-known painter of religious art in Alberta. The church is still used by the community.
In the 50-odd churches mentioned in Kalyna by Alberta Tourism, there is a near equal split between Russo-Greek Catholic, Russian Orthodox, Ukrainian Catholic and Ukrainian Orthodox.
“Eastern Slavs were responsible for homesteading a large part of Alberta’s parkland belt and successfully transforming what had been wilderness into productive farmland,” says Jaroslav Balan, historian and the executive director of the Kalyna Country Ecomuseum Trust Society, which promotes tourism in the area.
“As such, they contributed greatly to the early economic development and eventual prosperity of Alberta.”
The region is named after the kalyna berries, or cranberries, that were a source of food for the early pioneers.
In the immediate area of the heritage village, at Mundare, there are two unique attractions: the Basilian Fathers Museum explains the contribution of the Ukrainian monks and priests in the area. And at Stawnichy’s Meat Processing you can tour the plant that produces the well-loved kubasa sausage. For more visit www.kalynacountry.comor tapor.ualberta.ca/heritagevillage.