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The Galicians Dwelling in Canada and Their Origin

by Michael A. Sherbinin

MHS Transactions, Series 1, No. 71
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This article was published originally in MHS Transactions by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make this online version available as a free, public service. As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

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In studying a new people it is good to know both wherein they differ from us and also wherein they are like us.

It seems to me that although both methods of studying a nation are useful, the second one or the one where we look into the common ground that a people has with us, is more interesting and gratifying. By beginning a study from all points of similarity between us and a new people, we will see that the points wherein that people is unlike us, will gradually be reduced and partly even vanish away.

We would dwell on the people commonly called here Galicians, known also under the more scientific name of Ruthenians (or Little Russians).

The Ruthenian language belongs to the same family of languages as English, French, Latin, Greek, Gaelic and Welsh, that is to the Aryan family of languages. The Encyclopaedia Britannica tells us that Aryan means honorable and noble. ...

Similar to English

In traveling over a settlement of Slavic people we would be astonished to find from 5 to 800 words which have some similarity with English, Latin, French and Welsh.

“Andrey ore ploohom” would mean: Andrew plows with the plough, where “ore” reminds us of Latin “arare” to plow and of “arable” land in English. “Marina pase hoosy” means: Mary feeds the geese. “Tomko pase swyni” means: Tom feeds the swine. Pasty means to feed or to tend a flock and therefore pastor means pastyr in Ruthenian. “I am the good shepherd” sounds: “Ya yesm pastyr dobry” in Ruthenian.

Surely the ancestors of the Ruthenians and of those who speak the English tongue spoke languages much similar to each other. We need not consult many books to find the truth of it. Take for instance such phrases as this: “Bystra struja rushila cherez dolynu.” It means: The boisterous stream rushed over the dale. “Pohanskij hetman lezhav prosterty pered tzarem” means: The pagan chief lay prostrate before the tzar (or the king, which means practically the same thing).

And to change the subject into one more idyllic:

How would that phrase sound in Galician:

“The sister is sitting a while in the garden and is plaiting a garland from roses, periwinkle and tulips.”

“Sestra sydyt’ hvylu oo horodi i plete girlandu z rozh, barvinku i tuli-paniw.”

Then we ought not to be astonished in seeing a common ground which both languages have in words handed down to them by the Christian religion such as Angel, Archangel, Apostol, Kleric (Cleric), Parochialny, Episcop, Presveeter (Presbyter), Diakon (Deacon), Eucharistia, Christiane, which sound almost alike in both languages. ...

The Age of Vikings

And now here we will recall some interesting events which England and the duchy of Russ, from which these Galicians spring, had in common.

You will remember that the first Danes or Northmen who came to England made their first incursions in 789. About that time the Northmen came to the north of France and imposed their power on Normandy. These incursions of the Northmen continued all through the IX Century and we know that the wave of these Scandinavian Vikings, whom some historians call pirates, broke against England, France, Paris, Sicily, Naples and other lands.

It is these very Northmen who reigned in England as Danish kings from 1014 to 1044, and then under the name of Normans from 1066 to 1104, who settled also in Iceland in 861 and in Russia in 862. They wore the some coat of mail; the same pointed helmets, and spoke the same language, probably with a few distinctions of dialect.

These Northmen would impose their rule on the nations whom they subdued; sometimes they would share the power along with the assembly of the people as in the Republic of Novgorod in Russ or Russia of today; sometimes they would form a corps d’elite or a praetorian guard of more powerful rulers as in the instance of Constantinople, and would help these monarchs in their campaigns against other powers. ...

The conception of an unbroken succession of princes ruling in Russia’s towns and duchies is wrong, as in the eleventh, twelfth and thirteenth centuries Russia had several republics with more or less developed rights.

The chief republics were those of Novgorod and Pskov. Novgorod was a flourishing town belonging to the Hanseatic League and inhabited by many foreign merchants.

This powerful republic, which styled itself as “the Lord, the great Novgorod,” was annexed to the principality of Moscow by John III in 1478. It was sacked and crushed by John the Terrible in 1570, who brutally murdered several of its citizens.

Among the Slays of the Russian principalities two opposite tendencies were continually at work; the tendency to aggregation and national unity and the tendency to dispersion and independence.

A centripetal tendency characterizes the North, or Russia, while the tendency to independence or a centrifugal force is dominant in the South or in Oukraina.

No Discrimination, Obey!

The ideal of Russia is to yield to the will of the majority, to the power of the prince, to have the individual will drowned in the Will of the ruler. A Russian carries that principle so far that with him obedience, subordination, and, if necessary, patient endurance, is the greatest virtue. To this principle everything else is sacrificed. Motto: Obey and don’t discriminate. The will of the individual is often crushed before the will of society or state. This is the centripetal ideal of Russia.

Individual Freedom

On the other hand, what ideal do we see in Oukraina? A love of liberty, respect of individual opinion, and that craving for individual freedom is so great that sometimes, if carried to an extreme, it weakens the welfare of the community. The Little Russian, or Galician, can stand for his opinion. He can sometimes hold it with a rare obstinacy, and he will stand for his convictions. He is bred in an atmosphere of comparative freedom.

Ruric’s great-grandson, whose old Norse name, Valdemar (Ruler of the Sea), was corrupted into Volodimer and Vladimir (972-1015), embraced Christianity and married the daughter of a Greek Caesar. Valdemar, who had been a cruel and sensual heathen prince, is told to have undergone a thorough change after his conversion. He became mild, hospitable, thoughtful and spent much in charities.

This prince is called Vladimir the Great by his people, and his name has been woven into the folklore, as a successor of the pagan divinities whom he destroyed.

Although the title of kniaz, which these rulers bore, is translated by prince, we are entitled to interpret it as king, as it is practically derived from the Scandinavian konung or king.

One of Vladimir’s descendants, worthy of the name of king, was Yaroslav the Wise, 1116-1154. He edited the Code of Laws. He occupied a glorious place among the princes of his time. His sister Mary was married to Casimir, King of Poland; his daughters also became the wives of kings; Elizabeth of Harold the Brave, King of Norway; Anne of Henry I, King of France; Anastasia of Andrew I, King of Hungary.

Of his sons, Vladimir, the eldest, is said to have married Githa, daughter of Harold, King of England; Isiaslav, a daughter of Micislas 11, King of Poland; Vseslav, a Greek princess, daughter of Constantine Monomachus; Viatcheslav and Igor, two German princesses.

Yaroslav gave an asylum to the proscribed princes, Saint Olaf, King of Norway, and his two sons; a prince of Sweden; Edwin and Edward, sons of Edmund Ironside, King of England, expelled from their country by Knut the Great.

It is very important to note that the humane and mild element not only characterizes the reign of Vladimir the Great, after his conversion, but this spirit of mildness is also the chief trait of Yaroslav the Wise’s legislation. He is reputed to have published the first code of law known among the ancestors of the Ruthenians, as the Ruskaya Prava (the Russian law).

Capital punishment, death by refinements of cruelty, torture, even a public prison were unknown. These are Scandinavian principles in all their purity.

The descendants and successors of Yaroslav the Wise were often contending for power, and as there was no law in force for the succession to the throne, the principality of a deceased king was divided into several parts, according to the number of his sons.

It is only the Mongolian conquest that partly put an end to these quarrels between the princes. The Tatar armies, numbering 500,000 warriors, flooded the plains of Rus. The princes of the House of Ruric joined their ranks to have a deciding battle with the terrible foe. Such a battle was fought at the Kalka river, near the Azof sea, in 1224.

Danilo, who later on was crowned as King of Rus in 1253, had joined the other Russian princes in the battle of Kalka. In it the princes of Rus were defeated and this defeat resulted in two and a half centuries of humiliation of Ruric’s descendants when they became but vassals of the Mongolian Khans.

It was only in 1480 that John III emancipated Rus from the Mongolian yoke.

King Danilo, of whom we spoke above, reigned in Galicia and his subjects were the ancestors of the Ruthenians of Galicia.

Before the Tatars evacuated Russia, Galicia and Oukraina became parts of the kingdom of Lithuania, and its prince, Olgerd, gave the Tatar invaders a heavy blow by repelling them into their plains.

In 1386 the Lithuanian Prince Yagailo married the Polish Princess Hedvige, and was crowned King of Poland in 1386 in the city of Crakow.

In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries the Turks and Tatars, which are akin to them, raided the settlements of Oukraina, and the population, who had to protect themselves against these incursions, banded themselves into a permanent army, the army of the Cozaks (Cossacks).

This army at last concentrated on an island situated on the river Dnieper, some hundred and fifty miles north of the Black sea. The centre of culture was in the city of Kiev, where during centuries academies flourished, and while the kingdom of the Moscow Tsars groped in darkness and ignorance, Kiev abounded with learned men who were versed in Latin, Greek and Slavonic, and who influenced even the northern Russian towns by their culture. ...

Several centuries were spent in Oukraina in this struggle with the Tartars and also the Poles, who succeeded in holding their power for a time over Kiev and whose realm reached at a time from the Baltic to the Black Sea. After a war with the Poles, the leader of the army of Cozaks, Bogdan Chmelnitski, on conferring with his people resolved to apply to the Tsar of Moscow, Alexis, asking the protection of Moscow against the outward foes.

An alliance was then concluded between the Tsar of Russia, Alexis Michaelovitch, and the Republic of Kozaks, at Pereyaslav, and then Oukraina enters upon a new period of her history.

This event took place in 1654, when Oliver Cromwell ruled over the Commonwealth of England.

Galicia which had been meanwhile under the power of Poland during three centuries, became a province of Austria in 1772. The farming and working classes of the Ruthenian nationality were in an oppressed economical condition although for the last 50 years the poorer classes were somewhat better favored with schools than in Russia.

Another province of Austria, Boukovina, is mostly inhabited by Ruthenians known as Boukovinians. These people had been for a long time under the power of Moldavian gospodars or princes and have been less privileged with good schools than Galicia. The Boukovinians adhere to the Greek Church.

During centuries the learned classes wrote in a kind of archaic dialect which was a mixture of the church language with the vernacular Ruthenian. In Russia, after the alliance of 1654, the educated classes gradually gave up their mother tongue to use the Russian language for literature.

Some 65 years ago a patriot of Oukraina, John Kotlarevski, started a literature in the vernacular tongue. His example was followed by others and now several periodicals are being printed in that language both in Austria, Russia and America.

The national poet of the Ruthenians is Taras Shevtchenko (literally: Taras Shoemaker’s son). This son of the people, born in the province of Kiev, displayed great literary talent. He was privileged to receive his education in St. Petersburg and was developed as an eminent painter and poet. His name is a rallying-point for the national feeling of the Ruthenians and a national watch-word. His songs are filled with mournful tones, recording the wars of Oukraina and the oppression of a portion of the people in serfdom. Taras was himself born as a serf and some rich friends succeeded in purchasing his liberty.

He fell into disgrace with the Emperor owing to some temerity in the use of his pen and had to serve eight years as a common soldier on the sandy banks of the lake of Aral in Central Asia. This shattered his health and although permitted to return to his country, he died after three years in 1861.

The following verses are Shevtchenko’s legacy to his people which we have endeavored to render in English rhyme, as near as possible to the original:

Learn from other men, my brethren,
Love to think, love reading;
Hear from strangers’ lips the teaching
Yours by far exceeding!
Hold fast to your fathers’ wisdom
And learn from another,
For God’s doom awaits the traitor,
who forgets his mother.
Strangers will forsake him likewise,
No good will befall him,
Both his kindred and the stranger
An outcast will call him.

Our Galicians

The Galicians residing in Canada have proved that they can thrive as an agricultural people. They are fond of locating on bushy and slightly hilly homesteads and also near watercourses, reminding them of their old country. They understand living on very scanty provisions in the first years of their settlement and, after some years of toil, they have succeeded in obtaining here a measure of welfare which the Canadian soil and people are extending to them.

They find here ample scope for gratifying their love of liberty, and some of them have so far been identified with their new conditions, that they are proud and happy to be called Canadians. In this respect they are faithful to the standpoint of the old Slav, who tried to identify himself with all people whose language he could understand.

Page revised: 21 June 2014

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