Kalyna Country in Eastern Alberta is the region to the east of Elk Island National Park on either side of the North Saskatchewan River. The region marked by its history of Austrian, Polish, Romanian, and especially Ukrainian settlement and immigration. Here one is “behind the garlic curtain” in the “borshch belt” of Canada. This is the region where the first Ukrainians settled in Canada in 1892, followed by thousands of others.
The name kalyna (“kah-LIN-ah”) in Ukrainian refers to the”low bush cranberry”, a popular local wild fruit and close cousin of Ukraine’s national floral emblem, the guelder rose.
This region is a self-declared “eco-museum”, established in 1991 on the 100th anniversary of the arrival of the first Ukrainians in Canada, that seeks to preserve and showcase the local, predominately Ukrainian, culture of the region. The goal was to make Kalyna County the recognized “heartland” of Ukrainian-Canadian culture, just as Acadiana is for Cajuns. The eco-museum trust defines the core of Kalyna Country as Thorhild County, St. Paul County, Lamont County, Two Hills County, Minburn County, Beaver County and all the towns, villages, Indian reservations, Métis settlements within and sometimes also includes listings on their website from neighbouring regions such as Strathcona County, Sturgeon County, Vermillion River Country, the Municipal District of Wainwright, Westlock County (or about 20,000 km² in size). This guide will only list accommodations and attractions in the core regions (minus St. Paul County), but much of the description of the landscape and culture is equally applicable to the Lakeland to the northeast.
Kalyna Country is mostly made up of very small towns and villages, strung along the rail lines that once were the lifelines of the Prairies, as well as vast open fields between the train tracks with people living on isolated “homesteads” (farms). However with the consolidation of farms, and lure of oil-and-gas jobs in cities like Edmonton, the on-farm population is becoming smaller with each generation. In most cases, there aren’t enough people left to use and maintain the historic houses, churches, community halls, and businesses built during region’s settlement in the 1892-1914 era, or the prosperous 1920s. Sadly, much of the interesting built heritage had been abandoned or ruined, with a few examples saved at the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village, an open-air museum. As far as intangible culture, a few Ukrainian traditions live on, or have been transformed in entertainment, for example stage dancing at the annual Pysanka Festival in Vegreville.
Of course, the Ukrainians were not the first to the region, and there is also a large Indigenous and French-speaking presence, from the First Nations (“Indian”), Métis (“mixed” First Nation-European), and French-Canadian cultures.
- Kalyna Country Eco-Museum Trust, toll-free: +1 888 452-5962. Call the toll-free line for travel information. (updated Jan 2020)