Mon pays c’est l’hiver.. notes on Ukraine Crisis from frozen city on Lake Iroquois

Mar 2nd, 2014 | By Randall White | Category: Countries of the World

Post-independence Ukrainian fifteen-kopiyka stamp commemorating the centennial of Ukrainian settlement in Canada, 1891–1991.

It was warmer here yesterday, but now the cold and even some snow have returned. This past week, when records for low temperatures were broken in some places nearby, I  took a certain solace from “Man found ‘frozen solid’ on Highway 401 transported to hospital.”

It reminded me of a sentence composed 45 years ago by the archaeologist Bruce Trigger. He was writing about Old Huronia — aka the Wendat Confederacy : the remarkable corn-growing Iroquoian-speaking political society that Samuel de Champlain found between Lake Simcoe and Georgian Bay, in what we now call Southern Ontario, during the first half of the 17th century.

Describing the geographic setting of Old Huronia , Trigger noted : “people are reported to have frozen to death every winter while traveling from one village to another.”

Meanwhile, in what the country of the 17th century Wendat Confederacy has become in the 21st century, my mind is being channelled by various mass media to contemplate  the “Latest Updates on Ukraine Crisis” — with special reference to my own home and native land.

To start with if, as many seem to say, President Obama lacks credibility in his warnings to Russia (see, eg, “Kremlin Clears Way for Force in Ukraine”), how much less credible can the Prime Minister of Canada be in “Harper holds special cabinet meeting on developments in Ukraine”?

In Canada, on the other hand, the Ukraine Crisis is a kind of domestic issue. And it is only mildly cynical to say that what Stephen Harper is mostly doing here is starting his 2015 election campaign early.


Canada’s (and Stephen Harper’s) Ukrainian Connections

All such things are all too complicated. People in western Ukraine speak mostly Ukrainian, but a lot of Russian is spoken in eastern Ukraine. From the New York Times.

As very quick background, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries Ukrainians migrated to especially the Prairie Provinces of Western Canada in large numbers. (See a useful enough Wikipedia article on “Ukrainian Canadian” for various details.)

They were followed by two further less vigorous  “waves,” between the two world wars and after the Second World War. Today Canada has “the world’s third-largest Ukrainian population behind Ukraine itself and Russia. Self-identified Ukrainians are the plurality in several rural areas of Western Canada.”

Ed Stelmach was “Alberta’s first Premier of Ukrainian descent,” 2006–2011.

Today as well the Prairie Provinces of Western Canada are the geographic heartland of Stephen Harper’s new Conservative Party of Canada. According to a recent poll by Carleton University’s André Turcotte, “the number of those polled who identify as Conservative” is “down dramatically since 2012 in British Columbia — to 20 per cent from 33 per cent — and Ontario — to 25 per cent from 35 per cent.” Yet in the Prairie Provinces comparable Conservative numbers have actually risen “to 48 from 40 per cent.”

And all this no doubt has something to do with such other recent headlines as “‘We don’t apologize for standing with Ukrainian people,’ Baird says.”

Wayne Gretzky — famous Ukrainian Canadian who grew up in Southern Ontario not Western Canada, even if he did later lead the Edmonton Oilers to four Stanley Cup championships.

Another intriguing historical ingredient in the picture today is that most Ukrainian Canadians who came on the first great wave in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were from the western Ukraine, which was at that time part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. (“Ukrainians from Eastern Ukraine, which was ruled by the Russian monarchy, also came to Canada — but in smaller numbers.”) This probably helps explain the apparent Ukrainian Canadian lack of sympathy for pro-Russian parts of Ukraine in the troubles of Winter 2014.

At the same time, none of this is to belittle the broader international significance of such headlines this Saturday afternoon as “UN Security Council holds open, televised meeting on growing crisis in Ukraine.”

The Ukraine Crisis in Canada today

Singer Chantal Kreviazuk, a Ukrainian Canadian who grew up in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Yet here too the essential problem seems to be credibility. (“As a permanent member of the Security Council, Russia has veto power and can block the UN’s most powerful body from adopting any resolution criticizing or sanctioning Moscow.”)

The latest Canadian Press report nonetheless sounds vaguely hopeful, for the moment at any rate, about at least containing Russia’s military action : “During a break, an exasperated Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters, ‘We are ready for serious discussions.’”

One thing does seem certain here in Canada. Whatever happens, the Ukrainian Canadian community will be watching closely — and worrying, in various particular ways.

Along with Stephen Harper and his cabinet, who owe so much to the Prairie Provinces of Western Canada, including and especially of course the most loyal heartland of Alberta.

Justin Trudeau and Chrystia Freeland campaigning in Toronto Centre byelection, October 2013.

And then, just to keep things really interesting, there is the former Alberta Ukrainian Canadian Chrystia Freeland — rising star of Justin Trudeau’s new Liberal Party of Canada, for which she has just recently won the riding of Toronto Centre in a federal byelection.

And oh, btw, this just in : “Canada recalls ambassador, calls on Putin to pull troops out of Ukraine.”

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