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Pysanky. Dozens of intricately patterned, colorful and painstakingly hand-painted Easter eggs are lovingly displayed in the Ukrainian Museum of Canada in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

Pysanky - decorated Easter eggs
Pysanky - decorated Easter eggs
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Although Christianity resulted in adaptations of the designs, the eggs have always symbolized spring and rebirth. We see a pattern from the royal era, representing the female goddess who protected women. Other patterns depict the universe and pagan themes.

Some of the Easter eggs are more than 100 years old. Early immigrants brought these pysanky to Canada.

The Ukrainian immigration story is one of struggle, triumph, quiet conviction and lively celebration. It's a chapter in Canada's family album that the museum has told since its formation in 1936 by the Ukrainian Women's Association of Canada (UWAC).

As the collection of items donated by the community grew and developed, the present building, a stylized version of a Ukrainian-Canadian pioneer house, was built to house the artifacts.

A visit to the Saskatoon museum begins in the gallery lounge, which houses art shows, temporary exhibits on textiles, handicrafts and culture.

Immigration to Canada

The main exhibition hall display begins with a brief history of the Ukraine, where political conditions in the late 19th century, along with religious, cultural and educational persecution, set the stage for mass Ukrainian migration to Canada.

Early days on the prairies and the challenges faced by Ukrainian settlers are depicted in the family life exhibit. We see a chest used to carry family belongings from the Ukraine to Canada, hand-carved rakes and other tools, as well as a mortar and pestle used to grind nuts and poppy seeds.

There are also models of a farm house and a Ukrainian family dressed in typical pioneer fashion. The man wears a sheepskin coat made almost 100 years ago.

Folk art

The museum has a large collection of Ukrainian embroidery and weavings, such as kylymy (rugs), used both in the home and for ceremonial purposes. We note distinctive patterns and colors in the costumes, which identify the region in which they were made.

Ukrainian costumes
Ukrainian costumes
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

A large display of Ukrainian folk art features musical instruments, such as the bandura and tsymbaly, religious icons, ceramics and rizba, delicate wood carvings.

Amid the jewelry, a coral necklace catches our attention. During the revolution, these beads were buried in the Ukraine to protect them. After the owners moved to Canada, they donated the beads to the Ukrainian Museum.

Ukrainian folk dancers in costume
Ukrainian folk dancers in costume
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Easter breads

One of the most interesting exhibits is on paska, round rich Easter breads, adorned with elaborate dough ornaments. The main decoration is always in the shape of a cross, but it's supplemented by tiny birds and flowers. Families bring paska and other traditional Ukrainian foods to church on Easter Sunday to receive the blessing of the priest. Afterward, they share the food for Easter breakfast.

Besides the gallery, an important part of the work of the museum is the continuation and preservation of Ukrainian culture through a research centre, library and extension programs, including art shows, concerts, school and group tours, lectures, traveling exhibits and workshops.

How to make pysanky

The museum offers workshops on Christmas and Easter traditions, dough dolls, embroidery and baking festive breads. The most popular workshops show participants how to make Ukrainian Easter eggs.

Dancers wear Ukrainian folk costumes.
Dancers wear Ukrainian folk costumes.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Participants learn about the symbols and techniques. After marking the eggs in sections, they draw patterns and repeatedly paint on wax and dye the eggs to decorate their own pysanky.

Vesna Festival

The gift shop sells Ukrainian arts and crafts, cookbooks, videos, tapes and CDs of Ukrainian music. There are even patterns for Ukrainian costumes, which are very popular with dance groups.

Also in demand, are supplies for making Easter eggs and books on how to decorate pysanky. For those without the time or patience, the museum offers a thoughtful concession to modern times: ready-made Easter eggs to go.

Visitors to Saskatoon, who are interested in Ukrainian culture, should also attend the annual May Vesna Festival. Known as the "world's largest Ukrainian cabaret," the two-day celebration showcases Ukrainian-Canadian talent with traditional dances, music, foods, arts and crafts.


Ukrainian Museum of Canada: umcnational.ca

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