8oth Anniversary Celebration – April 2019

On Saturday, April 6th, we hosted a special celebration of our Society’s 80th Anniversary. Our evening included a Wine and Cheese Reception, a delicious Ukrainian dinner, and a fabulous slide show highlighting the history of our Society. We were entertained by Ukrainian Prairie Band and Kvitka Ukrainian School of Dance, which was thoroughly enjoyed by all present.

It all began in March, 1937, with the creation of the Ukrainian National Education Society of Ivan Franko known in Ukrainian as Prosvita.  The founding directors were John Romaniuk, William Maskal, Theodore Pawlyshyn, Wasyl Laka, Egnas Jaskow, Steve Baszuk and Nicholas Iwanciw. The Society was named after Ivan Franko because he was a writer, poet, social and literary critic, journalist, and political activist. He played a major role in rekindling the consciousness of his people about their proud Ukrainian heritage at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century.

Nicholas and Nellie Iwanciw (Evancio) donated the land for the first hall built in 1937. This land at 5311 Francis Road in Richmond was the site of the first Ukrainian Hall commonly known as the “Prosvita Hall” (in reference to our Society formed for preserving and developing Ukrainian culture).  One day while walking home from school, Mary Senkow noticed a cloud of smoke to the northeast and unfortunately it turned out to be our hall, which was partially destroyed by a fire. Not to be deterred, the hall was rebuilt in 1939.  On January 15, 1940, the hall had its official dedication to the namesake of Ivan Franko. 

Dan Dawydiak produced a short film called, “The Vision Lives On,” prepared to celebrate 100 years of Ukrainian settlement in Canada in which our founding Society members were an integral part of. In 1980, The City of Richmond honoured many of the first settlers by naming streets after them. These were mostly located south of Francis Road in a new area that was being developed in the late seventies.  We are very proud of this honour.  In 1999, Carrie Stevenson conducted 18 interviews with pioneers of the Society and the transcripts of these interviews are available in our Library.

The old hall was eventually torn down in 1986 and a new hall was opened in 1987. The building committee consisted of Zenon Andrijaszyn, Harvey Manchuk, Peter Fankhauser, Eleanor and Bob Barnes, Roman Herchak, Bill Humenny, and Gus Mytko.    

In addition, thanks to Roman Herchak, the Society was instrumental in the building of the Ukrainian Village of Ivan Franko for seniors located on Railway next to our Richmond Ukrainian Catholic Church. This residence continues to thrive under new management to provide a comfortable home for many seniors.   

Our Society has been very active over the years organizing various activities and events. The photos, along the staircase to the upstairs mezzanine, illustrate the various activities hosted in our hall from Ukrainian language classes, Ukrainian plays and dancing, pysanka workshops (lead by Joan Brander), genealogical workshops and many other cultural and literal activities.  Over the years, we enjoyed many Christmas concerts with special memories of Meros Leckow reading stories to the children and the excitement when St. Nicholas arrived with gifts.

Our Society became the home of the Tropak Ukrainian Dance Theatre in 1994 when the group was established under the leadership of Serhi Makarov and continued for many, many years under the leadership of others such as Alexandra Polujan and Tamara Pitts. 

Bill Humenny was the first President of our new hall and along with Bob Barnes organized the first Ivan Franko Golf Tournament at the Musqueam Golf Course and then Mylora and now it is a fixture at the Country Meadows Executive Golf Course.  George Brandak has taken over the organization and this event continues to be well attended by many of our members every September. 

Our Society was successful because of the many volunteers who so generously donated their time to the many activities and events. There is no better way to illustrate the volunteer efforts of some of our pioneers than taking excerpts from a speech by Eleanor Barnes paying tribute to Anne Billas. She said, as the eighties evolved, many changes took place. In the kitchen, Anne Billas soon won everyone over with her grace and charm. Of course, there were other “kitchen gods” like Sonia Bucyk, Pearl Michalchuk, Kay Oleksiuk, Julie Kurlak, Rose Mytko and Maggie Palazuk. And all this was done from a very small, hot kitchen with no dishwasher for many years.   With their efforts and others we started our successful monthly Friday night family suppers and our annual Malankas that continue to be well attended to this day.

We are particularly proud of our library that is located on the second floor of our building. Under the direction of Theresa Herchak, the library, which is available to our members, has grown over the years.  In addition to being a lending library, Theresa organizes Book Club where members have the opportunity to read and discuss books with a Ukrainian theme.  Also, many interesting Ukrainian related movies are shown on a regular basis and enjoyed by many.

We continue to annually provide post-secondary scholarships to worthy students in our community.  This is an important mandate of our Society to honour our youth and their accomplishments. 

We actively communicate via our website at www.ivanfranko.ca that provides members and others who are interested, up-to-date information on Ukrainian activities in the Lower Mainland.  Our Newsletter is sent regularly to our members to keep them informed of our events and others events happening in the Vancouver area.  We continue to be active members of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, Vancouver Branch to collaborate with others in the local Ukrainian community and our members have served on their executives, including the position of president. 

We have been fortunate to have very capable Board members who have done so much to keep up the reputation of the Society. They work very hard to organize volunteers and staff that prepare enormous amounts of food in our kitchen for our Saturday Sales, Friday Night Suppers and special events.  They also work hard to maintain our building and we appreciate the work that is done in this area.  Without the efforts of all our volunteers and staff we would not have reached our 80th anniversary as a well-respected Society. 

Many thanks to everyone who attended our celebration on April 6th.  We appreciate your continued support.  It was so good to see everyone.

Submitted by George Brandak—President