Usually at this time of year, most Ontarians are weary of winter and looking forward to spring. March break is just around the corner and a great deal of people are excited to be taking a trip with their families especially since the pandemic has made travelling very difficult and sometimes impossible, in the past two years. However, most of us are looking east towards Ukraine. It seems ironic that this incursion continues in March since this month was named after the Roman God of War, Mars. All wars are devastating, destructive and seemingly senseless but this one feels personal, you see, I married into a Ukrainian family.
Ukrainians have a long history with Canada, and it may surprise you to learn that there are close to 1.4 million Canadian-Ukrainians. Outside of Ukraine and Russia, that’s the 3rd largest Ukrainian population in the world. In the 19th century and early 20th century, the Canadian government encouraged Ukrainians, mainly farmers, to immigrate and settle in the Prairies to help expand the agriculture sector. After WWII, a large influx of Ukrainians took refuge in Canada settling in more urban areas in Ontario and Quebec. In 1991 with the dissolution of the U.S.S.R., Canada become one of the first countries to recognize Ukraine’s independence.
Hamilton is home to more than 27,000 Ukrainians and the community showed up for a rally in front of City Hall, on February 28th, to support Ukraine and each other. Many such rallies have been held around the country on that day and since. As I stood next to my husband amongst family, friends, acquaintances and strangers, the energy in the crowd was palpable. There were passionate pleas from the speakers for prayers and donations, tearful exchanges about those they knew fighting in Ukraine but there was also a showing of strength and determination. “Ukraine’s glory has not yet died, nor her freedom”, is the first line from the Ukrainian National anthem and it seems befitting this nation and the people who embrace her. Sunflowers are the national flower of Ukraine and have been used as a symbol of peace. Presently, they are also a symbol of solidarity, people around the world are seen carrying them, displaying pictures of them in their windows and adding the images on social media.
Canadian-Ukrainians are proud of their heritage and culture. Chaika, the Ukrainian Song and Dance Ensemble was formed in 1957, in Hamilton and they have won awards and performed throughout North America and Europe. My husband and his siblings were also members and continued dancing with the troupe into their 20’s. Sadly, I can’t get my husband to demonstrate those skills of his youth. Below is a link to watch a production from 2019.
When learning any new language, we all stumble, make mistakes and misuse words. I have experienced this numerous times but one instance in particular stands out. During the summer over 10 years ago when my step-sons were still quite young, I thought I would offer to make them a refreshing snack. Now they aren’t fluent in Ukrainian but even then, they were familiar with several words or phrases. I proceeded to ask them if they would like some cut up goozha? Suddenly the boys burst out laughing and I quickly realized my error – this is the slang term for butt or bum! What I should have said was would they like some kavun (watermelon). Of course, at first, I was embarrassed but then I couldn’t help but get caught up in the hilarity of the moment. I can look back now and laugh about my confusion with these Ukrainian words and to this day, my step-sons good-naturedly share this little anecdote.
Canada has produced many well-known people of Ukrainian descent: Chrystia Freeland, our current Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister; Dr. Roberta Bondar, Canadian neurologist, researcher, astronaut and the first Canadian woman and the first neurologist to travel into space (and who received her M.D. from McMaster University); Alex Trebek, beloved former host of Jeopardy; and also, hockey legend, Wayne Gretzky.
Grandma Gretzky’s Great Perogies
By Wayne Gretzky
“This recipe was passed down to my family by my grandmother. It is of Ukrainian origin. It’s on the menu at my Toronto restaurant.” (The popular restaurant with tourists closed in October 2020, after 27 years in business.) Enjoy!
- 2 large potatoes
- 1 onion, whole
- 1 tsp butter
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- ½ cup of cheddar cheese, grated
- Ground pepper
- 1 cup of flour
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 dash salt
- ¼ cup of boiling water
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 tbsp oil
- 1 tbsp butter
- 2 green onions, chopped
- Sour cream, taste
- Paprika, to taste
Boil potatoes and whole onion until potatoes are fully cooked. Drain potatoes, discard onion and mash.
Sauté the chopped onion in butter until tender, but not browned.
Combine mashed potatoes, cheese and onion and mix well. Allow to cool.
Combine all ingredients for pastry and mix together until mixture forms a ball. Cover and let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Roll dough to about 3 mm thick. Cut in circles of approximately 7 cm diameter.
Place filling on half the circle, fold over and press edges together well, slightly dampening the edges with water to help seal, if necessary.
Fill a large saucepan ¾ full of water, add oil and salt for cooking and bring to a boil.
Add perogies and cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon to keep from sticking, for about 5 minutes (until they rise to the surface of the water). Remove with slotted spoon.
Sauté in a frying pan with butter and chopped onions for 2 minutes.
Garnish with sour cream and a dash of paprika.