Visible Symbols: Cultural Expression among Canada's Ukrainians


204 pages
Contains Illustrations
ISBN 0-920862-27-6




Edited by Manoly R. Lupul
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 fifth annual conference on Ukrainians in Canada was held in November 1981 at the University of Manitoba. The conference attracted substantial numbers of academics and also many leading Ukrainian practitioners in the fine arts. The conference was entitled Visible Symbols: Cultural Expressions among Canada’s Ukrainians, and many of the presentations are published in this volume.

According to the Preface, participants were asked to consider a number of weighty questions about contemporary Ukrainian culture and identity, the reasons for the survival of some cultural styles and forms and the decline of others, and the impact of Soviet Ukrainian cultural styles and Canadian multiculturalism on Canadian Ukrainian cultural symbols and expressions. Several of the participants made efforts to answer these questions. Most, however, simply tried to illustrate or talk about their own work and the things they hoped to communicate or achieve through their art. Some argued strongly that great art must become universal and transcend the confines of particular cultural norms. Others stressed the need for and importance of cultural roots from which the artist draws inspiration and sustenance.

The book is divided into six parts. The first four sections deal with material culture, art (paintings), music, and dance. The fifth section deals with what the organizers call cultural symbols. On closer examination, these cultural symbols have more to do with cultural practices and skills, such as the knowledge of and ability to use the Ukrainian language, friendships, participation in Ukrainian functions and events, and the reading of Ukrainian newspapers. The sixth part ostensibly deals with the politics of Ukrainian culture in Canada, but it is primarily concerned with cultural exchanges with Soviet Ukrainians. The political point in dispute is apparently whether the Canadian federal government or Canadian Ukrainians should select the participants in these exchanges.

Included in the book are a number of superb colour reproductions and illustrations, particularly of Ukrainian material culture and paintings. Funding for this publication was obviously generous. Unfortunately, many of the “papers” are little more than notes or rambling comments, as participants thought and talked about their work. Apparently many did not come with prepared papers, and informal presentations and the ensuing discussions are difficult to convey effectively in a book of published proceedings.

This book is excellent as an indication of the work Ukrainian practitioners of the fine arts are doing. The more basic questions raised in the Preface remain largely unanswered.


“Visible Symbols: Cultural Expression among Canada's Ukrainians,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 17, 2024,