Oral History >Famous Ukrainian-Canadians
Whether it is politics, sports, arts, academics, or entertainment, the following individuals have done Canada proud in their accomplishments. This is only an example of a large number of Ukrainian-Canadians who have made the public eye. Perhaps you will discover an individual who you didn't even know was Ukrainian.
Vera Lysenko (1910-1975)
Vera Lysenko was born "Vera Lesik" in Winnipeg, Manitoba to a Ukrainian Baptist family in 1910. She was educated at the University of Manitoba, receiving her Bachelor's Degree in 1929. She worked as a nurse and schoolteacher in the West. Later, Vera worked as a journalist for the Windsor Star until 1943, when she became a freelance journalist and writer. She wrote under the names Vera Lysenko and Luba Novak. She was the author of Men in Sheepskin Coats (1947), which examines the first Ukrainians to come to Canada. Her novels include Yellow Boots (1954) and Westerly Wild (1956). Lysenko's work tended to puzzle standard critical categories and has therefore been much neglected. She has also authored numerous articles, essays, short stories, poetry, plays, and some unpublished manuscripts. Additionally, she is considered to be a social activist, a translator, a historian and a pioneer to Ukrainian women; she was one of the first Ukrainian women to complete a university degree.
William Kurelek (1927-1977)(Famous Ukrainian-Canadian Artist/Writer)
William Kurelek was considered to be an artist, author, prophet, family man, social activist, lecturer, and fervent Catholic; and has been described as a complex man with passionate convictions and artistic genius. He is considered to be one of Canada's best-loved painters. Kurelek is most noted for his portrayal of Canadian landscapes, his nostalgic themes, his series on the Passion of Christ, and his award-winning children's books. Further, much of his paintings examine the cultural mosaic found in Canada including subjects or ethnic groups such as Ukrainian, Polish, Inuit, Irish, French-Canadian, Jewish, as well as the topic of the Holocaust. It is said that his portrayal of people in groups participating in work or play is in the tradition of the medieval Flemish masters.
Not surprising, Kurelek decided to focus a great deal of his work on his own roots and perspective as a child of Ukrainian immigrants settling in the prairie provinces of Canada. His work in the book "The Ukrainian Pioneer" illustrates the saga of Ukrainian settlers as well as their hardships and perseverance. In addition, since his work depicts the essence of common people and their experiences, he has been given the title of "The People's Painter". His father's family didnít arrive in Canada till after World War I; however, his maternal grandparents had settled in Canada as early as 1896. Therefore, the experience of immigrant families settling the prairie provinces was easily portrayed in his work.
Kurelek was born in 1927 near Whitford, Alberta, where the family lived until he was 7 years old. After the family decided to move, he spent the next dozen years of his childhood in Stonewall, Manitoba. What has been referred to as "the Stonewall Years" was both a joyful and painful part of Kurelek's life. The joy experienced during this time can be seen in much of his work, including the landscapes of the rural community of the Canadian West; however, his early adolescent years were difficult. Kurelek was the oldest of seven children and was a very sensitive and shy individual, whose lack of athletic and mechanical abilities made him the target for bullies at school and of a very disappointed father. As one might expect, working-class parents and other family members were not always supportive of a child or family member who pursued a career as an artist or writer. Because of this harassment and pain, Kurelek became very angry and guilty, and even spent time in the care of mental hospitals in Britain. However, he soon converted from Orthodox Christian to Roman Catholic and returned to Canada to begin a period of healing.
In fact, his time spent in Toronto (beginning in 1959) was very successful with a number of exhibits of his work. By late 1962, Kurelek married, established himself as a great Canadian painter. During the next 15 years, he is said to have painted thousands of paintings and received a high degree of fame and popularity. Before his untimely death in 1977, Kurelek received the Order of Canada in 1976 and an honorary doctorate degree from the University of Windsor in early 1977. Unlike many painters, Kurelek took just as much pride in the frames which held his paintings as he did the paintings. He would often frame his own work in colourful Ukrainian designs and old barn wood. His colleagues would say that they had observed him spending eight hours framing a piece of his work that took him three hours to paint.
Kurelek's paintings can be found throughout Canada and the United States at a number of art galleries. His paintings include a series of 160 paintings illustrating "The Passion of Christ - According To St. Matthew", which is housed at the Niagara Falls Art Gallery. From July 13th till September 15, 2002, the Art Gallery of Windsor opened its exhibition of William Kurelek's "A Prairie Boy's Summer", in memory of the 25th Anniversary of his death. All 20 pieces of this exhibit were on display and were a permanent loan to the Art Gallery of Windsor from Hiram Walker's. His books have included "The Passion of Christ", "Kurelek's Canada", "The Last of the Arctic", as well as other titles and his children's books include the titles "A Prairie Boy's Winter", "A Prairie Boy's Summer", "Lumberjack", as well as others.
Dr. Roberta Lynn Bondar (Doctor and Canadian Astronaut)
*The following Canadians have a mother, father, or both who is of Ukrainian heritage.
Hockey Players (N.H.L)
Gene Achtymichuk (Montreal & Detroit)
* In 1981-1982 N.H.L Season, the top 3 goal scoring leaders were all Ukrainian-Canadiens including: Wayne Gretzky (92 goals), Mike Bossy (64 goals), and Dennis Maruk (60 goals).