(Kingston, Ontario, Canada)
After visiting the Northwest Territories, we stopped off in Alberta to visit family and do some wandering in the less-touristed areas east of Edmonton.
We had reserved a mid-sized rental car but we were in for a surprise when we arrived at the Edmonton Airport…there were no mid-sized cars left. Our choice: a jeep or a “mid-sized” pick-up truck. As we rather like the protection that doors offer, we opted for the mid-sized truck. “Mid-sized” for Alberta, perhaps, but absolutely gigantic to our urban Ontario eyes. Anyway, we certainly felt safe in what we affectionately called “the tank”.
Having a vehicle allowed us the luxury of seeing some small-town sights: public transportation is not terribly well-developed in Canada and rural Alberta is no exception. On our first full day with the truck, we visited two Ukrainian-themed sights: the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village, just east of Elk Island National Park, and the town of Vegreville. We also visited some other small towns but I will save those for future posts!
We spent several hours at the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village. It is a collection of historic buildings from all over eastern Alberta that have been moved to a single location. It is like you are in a typical Alberta village from the early twentieth century that has a sizable Ukrainian immigrant population.
It’s not just a bunch of relocated buildings, however. Most of the buildings are “inhabited” by role-playing guides. We could actually talk to the shopkeeper, the sergeant at the R.C.M.P. detachment, and the labourer at the grain elevator (see photo at top of post)…all of them remaining in character (and even speaking with Ukrainian accents, where appropriate) throughout.
The churches were anticipated highlights, of course, reminding us of what we had seen in Finland and Estonia the previous summer. However, we were equally as impressed by a couple of buildings on the outskirts of “town”. One was a sod house, being an immigrant’s first Canadian home, while the other was a slightly sturdier and roomier house that might have been an immigrant’s second Canadian home.
Being inside the sod house was a real revelation for us. Until then, it had been very difficult to visualize what immigrant life was like in Canada one hundred years ago: most buildings surviving from that era belonged to established and relatively affluent Canadians. Surviving in such a dark and damp house must have been incredibly challenging. And we saw it in the summer: how would it have been during the frigid Albertan winter with so little daylight?
After a lunch of perogies, sausage and cabbage, we drove east along the Yellowhead Highway to the town of Vegreville. Small Alberta towns are known for their oversized “sculptures” that reflect the special features of that community. Vegreville had a substantial Ukrainian population, so the decision was made to commission a massive Pysanka (Ukrainian Easter Egg) as part of the R.C.M.P. Centennial celebrations in 1974.
The Vegreville Pysanka is quite famous – it has even appeared on Canadian stamps and been visited by Queen Elizabeth II. But it’s not just big: it moves! It also was quite a technical accomplishment, as the design was the first computer modeling of an egg. While we didn’t stay in Vegreville for very long, it was still a nice way to “cap” our Ukrainian immigrant experience.
My next blog entry will focus on some other highlights (though not necessarily famous ones) of our Alberta visit. In the meantime, we are busy planning for our international journey in July!