On February 14th, the Prairie Centre for the Study of Ukrainian Heritage was pleased to welcome Dr. Frances Swyripa, Professor of History at the University of Alberta, as the 2013 Mohyla lecturer.
In her presentation, Dr. Swyripa discussed the historical circumstances and current state of surviving Ukrainian churches gracing the Canadian prairie landscape. At their peak, over a thousand Ukrainian Catholic and Ukrainian Orthodox churches dotted the countryside and loomed over nearby towns and villages. Today that number has shrunk, a result of changing demographics, rural out-migration, increasing secularization, a perennial shortage of priests, and ever-increasing maintenance costs.
While some churches have been properly burned, demolished, or buried, others have been sold and converted to new purposes. Yet others — due to sentimentality, disputes over what to do, or hope that services might resume — have simply closed and become abandoned, becoming ruins that either embarrass or indulge the nostalgic. A privileged few churches have become museums (mostly as part of government heritage initiatives at federal, provincial, and municipal levels, but sometimes also under the direction of former parishioners).
Dr. Swyripa examined these phenomena, using examples drawn from the Sanctuary: Spiritual Heritage Documentation Project, of which she was one of three principal investigators (along with Drs. John-Paul Himka and Natalia Kononenko). Through a close study of myths, symbols, commemorative traditions, and landmarks, Dr. Swyripa asserted the inseparability of ethnicity and religion both in defining the prairie region and in understanding the Canadian nation-building project.