Ukrainians’ artistic waves of immigration


AGA exhibit celebrates 125 years since Ukrainians started to immigrate to Canada

The Art Gallery of Alberta is set to host a Ukrainian-Canadian exhibit for the first time and it includes a sort-of selfie from one of St. Albert’s masters.

The late Lawrence Kenakin, art teacher at Bellerose High School and performer with the Cheremosh Ukrainian Dance Ensemble, is one of the 30 artists whose works will be put on display for Five Waves of Ukrainian Immigration to Canada. The exhibit is intended to show the artists’ inspirations and influences on the province’s arts community.

It also works as a history lesson. Curator Larisa Sembaliuk Cheladyn explained that it has been 125 years since the first wave of Ukrainians immigrated to Canada.

“People always talk about Ukrainians coming in these five waves but … there’s already six generations living here. There’s been this inspiration back and forth between the waves, between the generations. I came up with this title Five Waves of Inspiration, and then had to fill the walls to interpret the story.”

She tells the story by the scenes that they depict as they tell the story of the waves rather than as a chronological order of the artists or when the art was made. That sounds like it should be easy except when you consider that the story starts before the turn of the 19th century. Finding any kind of work from the first wave between 1891 and 1920 was nigh impossible. What work she did discover was not what would generally make it to a gallery level.

“They came with nothing. Their whole lives were … focused on survival and not on making things pretty. There were no art supplies available as we know them to create fine art.”

In researching the show, she contacted the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village, which had one piece made out of cut-out paper or cardboard. The Ukrainian Catholic Museum also had a carved cross from 1905. That was something but it sure wasn’t much to tell the story.

To make things more complete and accurate, she delved into a number of other collections including the Ukrainian Canadian Archives and Museum of Alberta, Ukrainian Museum of Canada, the Bohdan Medwidsky Ukrainian Folklore Archives, Basilian Fathers Museum, Ukrainian Catholic Women’s League of Canada Museum, and the Ukrainian Shumka Dancers.

She discovered third-waver Ihor Dmytruk who had some charcoal portraits of the first two Ukrainians to come to Canada. Another artist, Stephan Melnychenko, painted a scene of Nebyliv, the first village that Ukrainians came from.

Kenakin’s work, borrowed from the Kule Folklore Centre at the University of Alberta, is just a sample of a larger series that he was working on. The image is wonderful in and of itself but it shows only a fraction of the scope of what he was trying to accomplish. It was based on inspiration from Ukrainian artist Ilya Repin’s famous painting Cossacks of Saporog Are Drafting a Manifesto.

“Lawrence had a dream of creating a mural that would be 360 [degrees]. This is a sketch… panel 16. He sketched out in fine detail as a complete scene if you were standing at that table where the letter was being signed and looked all the way around at the celebration that was happening,” Cheladyn said, suggesting that people pay attention to the central figure in the work.

“I picked that particular piece because there’s a guy dancing right in the middle of that drawing. That’s a self-portrait.”

The exhibit includes a series of free curator tours and lunchtime talks on relevant subjects including iconography and a history of mosaic art. More details on the exhibition can be found on the ACUA’s website at or by calling 780-488-8558.


Five Waves of Ukrainian Immigration to Canada: Their Inspiration and Influence on Alberta’s Arts Community
works by 30 Ukrainian-Canadian artists includingTammy Chmilar, Ihor Dmytruk, William Duma, Theodora Harasymiw, Iryna Karpenko, Lawrence Kenakin, William Kurelek, Isabel Levesque, Oksana Movchan, Maria Prokopiw, Larisa Sembaliuk Cheladyn, Valeriy Semenko, Peter Shostak, Sofia Warring and Adriana Warring

Art Gallery of Alberta
2 Sir Winston Churchill Square
Exhibit runs from Wednesday, May 3 to Sunday, May 28
Opening reception to be held in the Ledcor Theatre Lobby in the Community Gallery on the lower level on Saturday, May 6 at 6:30 p.m.
Tickets are free and can be obtained by calling 780-488-8558

Call 780-422-6223 or visit for more information.


About Author

Scott Hayes

Scott Hayes joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2008. Scott writes about the arts, entertainment, movies, culture, community groups, and charities. He also writes general news, features, columns and profiles on people.