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WASYL ELENIAK, one of the first Ukrainian settlers to make Canada his home,
was born on 22 December 1859 at Nebyliv, district Kalush in Western
Ukraine. He was the
son of Stefan Eleniak and Eudokia Stefura and the eldest of five children, Ivan, Peter, Michael and Anna. In 1883 he married
a local Nebyliv girl named Anna, who was the daughter of George Roszko and Maria Trenchly.
During his early married life Wasyl was employed in lumbering industry, driving rafts
down the river Limnytsia. His parents owned only three morgen of land (1 morgen
is equal to approximately 2/3 of an acre) and, therefore, he decided to emigrate to Canada. He
had heard tales of Canada from some of the German colonists who had relatives in Canada,
a land, it was reported, "where the
settlers received 160 acres of land for nothing."
Determined to make a better life in Canada, he was joined by two
fellow villagers, Ivan Pylypow (Pylypivsky) and Yurko Panischak. At the end of
the summer of 1891, they left their native village and proceeded to Hamburg
where they were to board a ship and sail to Canada. Yurko
Panischak, short of money, was turned back by officials; but Wasyl Eleniak and Ivan Pylypow paid
the fare of 100 golden each for the passage and began their journey for Canada on the S.S. OREGON. They
arrived in Quebec 7 September 1891 and proceeded to Winnipeg. Prior to settling on
their own homesteads, the two new Ukrainian settlers went to work on Mennonite community farms in Gretna, Manitoba.
After two years, Wasyl Eleniak had saved enough money to afford a return
trip to Nebyliv, where he intended to gather his family and a few friends and bring
them back to Canada with him. He obtained a
regular passport from the district office in Kalush (dated 26 February 1894) and
together with six other Nebyliv families proceeded to Hamburg. He found himself
short of money to pay the passage for all members of the family and was forced
to return to Nebyliv to work for another month driving rafts on the Limnytsia
river. Once he had saved enough money for his passage he left again for
Hamburg, where he boarded the S.S. MONGOLIAN which arrived at Quebec on 25 June 1894.
Early life for Eleniak on the prairies was not easy and required a lot of
hard work. For the first four years in Canada he worked as a herdsman in
Manitoba before he took his family to Alberta in 1898 where they settled on a homestead
within the Edna-Star district (later became Chipman, Alberta). There, his
family prospered. He became a successful farmer, raised a
large family and on January 3rd, 1947 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.
The Prime Minister, the Rt. Hon. William Lyon Mackenzie King, was the first
Wasyl Eleniak died in Edmonton, 12 January 1956 at 97 years of age and was
survived by three sons, four daughters, 51 grandchildren, 62 great-grandchildren
and on great-great-grandchild. Sunday January 15th, Bishop Neil Sawaryn
celebrated the funeral rites at the St. Joseph Ukrainian Cathedral in Edmonton
which was attended by the members of the family and numerous representatives of
the Ukrainian community. Wasyl Eleniak was buried in Chipman, Alta.
Many of Wasyl Eleniak's descendants became active in public life, and a number of
his grandchildren served in the Canadian Armed Forces during the Second World
War. The Eleniak family remains a large part of the Chipman area, where
many still farm and have raised families themselves. A rural road just
outside of Chipman has since been named in his honour.
The CKUA Heritage Trails:
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- Ukrainian Settlement, Part One: Ivan Pylypow and Wasyl Eleniak Come to Alberta - Who were the first Ukrainian settlers, and why did they head for Alberta? Hear the story, now!
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