Peasants in the Promised Land: Canada and the Ukrainians, 1891-1914


265 pages
Contains Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-88862-926-5




Reviewed by T.D. Regehr

T.D. Regehr is a history professor at the University of Saskatchewan and
author of The Beauharnois Scandal: A Story of Entrepreneurship and


The Ukrainians were some of Canada’s most conspicuous and controversial immigrants in the 25 years before World War I. They were admitted because they provided essential economic services as agricultural pioneers and unskilled laborers. They provided much of the brawn and muscle needed to implement the National Policies of Macdonald and Laurier. But Canadians expected that these immigrants would quickly learn and adopt Canadian ways and become assimilated into Canadian society.

Peasants in the Promised Land is a general and popular history of the early experiences, problems, and aspirations of Ukrainians in Canada. It concentrates mainly on intellectual and social issues and concerns. The aspirations and activities of nineteenth century Canadian Imperialists are contrasted with the aspirations and immediate problems of the Ukrainian immigrants. The ideas of a nascent Ukrainian intelligentsia in the old country and of various Ukrainian intellectuals in Canada are carefully examined.

The strongest and most compelling portions of the book deal with the problems and experiences of the immigrants before, during, and after their arrival in the new land. Anecdotal material is used very effectively. The discussion of economic issues is, however, weak, and political matters are dealt with only in a restricted manner.

The discussion of the ideas of the Ukrainian intelligentsia certainly helps to explain the various divisions within the community, but no persuasive evidence is offered to demonstrate that the ideas, organizations, and aspirations of the intelligentsia were really very influential. We are not told, for example, how many readers subscribed to the various newspapers, or why many “peasants” resisted assimilationist pressures. In many cases simple inertia and resistance to all change, rather than the reasoned treatises of intellectuals, probably account for the slow rate of assimilation.

It would appear that the manuscript was written before 1977, since no more recent works are cited in the footnotes or the bibliography, although much relevant material has been published in recent years. As a result, the work is somewhat dated, but it does provide a coherent and well-written synthesis of the major contributions of various more specialized studies. It is an interesting history of the Ukrainian experience in Canada before 1914, with particular reference to the intellectual and social aspects of that experience.


Petryshyn, Jaroslav, with L. Dzubak, “Peasants in the Promised Land: Canada and the Ukrainians, 1891-1914,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 21, 2024,