Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 8, 2000
Museum celebrates Ukrainians
Basilians preserve history of Ukrainian Canadian culture
By ANH HOANG
WCR Staff Writer
In Mundare old rustic homes have fought off a century of Prairie winters. The businesses on Main Street breathe an air of hospitality. The brown Ukrainian Catholic church and boxy brick monastery, home to the Basilian Fathers, are a part of the small town quaintness.
And in Mundare, a town of 600 people, there is a large off-white, teal-roof building that doesn't quite fit the traditional farm town decor. Yet, it is part of the community's soul.
"The local residents have really taken the museum as part of themselves," said Dagmar Rais, curator of the Basilian Fathers Museum. "It's the youngest establishment in Mundare, but it's really taken the heart of the town."
Despite its colours and structure, so popular among buildings and strip malls of the early 1990s, the museum has a rustic appeal. The high dome ceiling in the entrance is a tell tale sign of its Ukrainian roots.
Established in 1953 by the Basilian Fathers with the assistance of Fathers Orest Kuprane and Joseph Jean, the museum houses a century's worth of Ukrainian history in Alberta.
Jean, later named Josaphat, was a French Canadian priest who took an interest in Ukrainian culture. He travelled to Ukraine and eventually became a Basilian monk. Many of the artifacts he collected during his travels abroad are displayed in the museum's Odds and Ends exhibit.
The museum was originally housed in an old printing press building about one third the size of the present building. At that time the Basilian Fathers who were educators and pastors, not curators and historians, ran it. In those days, exhibits were crowded on walls with little thought to artistic display. The museum now has two full-time and one part-time staff, with Father Paul Chomnycky as the director.
"People would come here and they would say we have a gem, but it's hidden in the middle of nowhere," Chomnycky said.
The present building was completed in 1991 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Ukrainian settlement in Canada. Father Lawrence Huculak, now bishop of the Edmonton Ukrainian Eparchy, oversaw the $2-million project.
The museum is a taste of Ukrainian culture that goes beyond what many Albertans have experienced, that is perogies and decorated Easter eggs. It's not so much a display of artifacts as it is of people.
Each year, one section of the museum's three galleries is dedicated to profiling a local citizen. This year that honour goes to Michael Tomyn, a teacher, historian and writer. Tomyn was the mayor of Mundare in the 1950s when it was boosted from village to town status.
The museum will host an opening for the exhibition of Tomyn's work as well as its other new exhibits, Centennial at Skaro, New Family Stories, The Barbed Wire Solutions and A Century in Canada, May 7. Only the latter is a permanent exhibit.
A Century in Canada showcases the lives of homesteaders who came to Mundare a century ago. A straw roof home outfitted with grinding stone, butter churner and a washboard-size cabbage shredder, reflects the simplicity of the Prairie lifestyle, as well as the hardship of farm life.
The exhibit tells the story of the Ukrainian immigrants - of how many of them came to Canada riding on the promise of free land. They had obstacles; they had hardships. They were immigrants and were not always welcomed with open arms.
A travelling exhibit, The Barbed Wire Solutions, highlights one of those hardships. It represents the internment operation in Canada during the First World War. It affected almost 8,000 Ukrainian men, women and children.
The internment restricted their movement from town to town and forced them to register and report to the authorities on a regular basis. Those not complying with the rules were placed in camps and held as prisoners under crowded conditions. Today, the camps are considered a part of the Ukrainian Canadian history that has been buried in obscure records and rarely mentioned. The exhibit is on display until October.
Dozens of early homesteaders are profiled throughout the museum, many of whom still have family living in nearby towns and cities. Such profiles have been a draw to the locals.
"They like to come and read about the families they know," Rais said. "I've always wondered how I could get more of the local people to come here. Now they like to come here to read about the families who have been here from the beginning."
The museum also draws visitors from neighbouring towns and cities, as well as from the other provinces and the United States.
The museum is a learning centre of Ukrainian culture and language. It is also a centre that preserves these things.
"You can say this (museum) is an extension of our mission," Chomnycky said.
Rais added, "People need to know about their history. People, who do not know where they come from, do not appreciate the present . . . and they don't know where they're going in the future. Our history is important."
The museum is also a resource for many who are simply curious.
"It's a place of learning," Rais said. "It's the nature of human beings to learn.
"It's always been in my experience as a museum consultant to find something special about a community and focus on it. And what's strong in this community is represented here. The community museum speaks for the community. This is who the local people are."
One of Rais' favourite exhibits is a permanent one showcasing the history of the Basilian Fathers in Alberta.
"It really shows you how human they are," she said pointing to pictures of the priests in their traditional long dark habits building houses and baking bread. "They really had to be self-sufficient back then."
Chomnycky's favourite display is the wall highlighting Christian celebrations. It's a timeline of events and ceremonies for two of Christians' most celebrated times of the year - Christmas and Easter.
"I see the pictures there of how it was done in the past," he said. "But it's still something we do today. In a museum we usually see something historical - that was only done in the past. But this is something that was and still is."
The museum is open year round, with extended summer hours. Call (780) 764-3887.