Kalyna Country - An Overview
The Kalyna Country Ecomuseum is a 20,000 square kilometer heritage district between Edmonton and the Saskatchewan border. A picturesque mix of classic prairie and parkland terrain, it embraces a territory that is more than four time the size of Prince Edward Island and includes the communities of Gibbons, Redwater, Thorhild, Smoky Lake, Vilna, Two Hills, Elk Point, Myrnam, Viking, Holden, Tofield, Lamont, Bruderheim, Cooking Lake and Josephburg.
Vegreville is located in the center of the ecomuseum, which takes its name from the highbush cranberry plant that is native to the region. Kalyna is the Ukrainian word for this large and distinctive bush, which produces clusters for white flowers and is also known as the Guelder-Rose and the "Snowball Tree". In the fall, the plant yields generous bunches of red cranberries that are rich in vitamin C and can be used for baking or to make juice, jelly, jam and syrup.
The territory emcompassed by Kalyna Country boast numerous points of historical interest and other tourist attractions. The North Saskatchewan River valley, for instance, offers not only many scenic vistas, but a string of former trading posts and a famous trail that once linked Edmonton to Winnipeg. In the 18th - 19th centuries a "Who's Who" of Canadian historical figures traveled through Kalyna Country, among them Anthony Henday (fl 1750-1762), Peter Fidler (1769-1822), David Thompson (1770-1850), Paul Kane (1810-1871), Sir Sandford Fleming (1827-1915) and the legendary lawman, Sir Sam Steele (1849-1919). You can learn more about some of these colourful characters at Fort George/Buckingham House near Elk Point, and the Victoria Settlement, north of Andrew. Accompanying the first Europeans were Cree guides from the eastern prairies along with their Metis cousins, both of whom played a key role in opening up Alberta to subsequent settlement. Descendants of the Cree still live at the Saddle Lake, Goodfish Lake and Frog Lake First Nations reserves, while the Metis recetnly established a major cultural and educational centre known as Metis Crossing south of Smoky Lake.
Of course, one of the more obvious features of the Kalyna Country region is its unmistakably Slavic flavor - the legacy of the pioneer period that brought a huge influx of homesteaders into east central Alberta at the end for the 1800's. Althought ethnic Ukrainians formed the largest single group to arrive from Eastern Europe, numerous Romanians, Poles, Germans and Jews who immigrated to Kalyna Country also began their trek from towns and villages in Ukrainian lands.
Among the museum that specifically document the Ukrainian pioneer experience are the spectacular Ukrainian Cultrual Heritage Village on Highway 16; the Basilian Father Museum in Mundare; and the Shandro Pioneer Village , north of Willingdon. The cradle of the oldest and largest Ukrainian agricultural colony in Canada can be found at Star, just north of Lamont, and more than one hundred Byzantine Rite churches still grace the Kalyna Country landscape with their familiar onion domes and quaint bell-towers. However, perhaps the most famous symbol of the Ukrainian contribution to Alberta's growth and prosperity is the world's largest pysanka, or Easter egg, located east of Vegreville's town centre at the Elks/Kinsmen Park.
In addition to its imposing monuments, impressive historic sites and remarkable natural areas like Elk Island National Park and Beaverhill Lake, the ecomuseum offers a wide variety of annual events that are ideally suited to family outings. From Vegreville's Pysanka Festival to the Thorhild Rodeo, and from the Smoky Lake Pumpkin Fest to the Saddle Lake Pow Wow, the Kalyna Country calendar is full of activities that draw visitors year-round. The primary objective of the ecomuseum project, begun in 1992, is to promote greater public awareness and appreciation of Kalyna Country's unique history and culture. Predicated on the assumption that the best way of encouraging the preservation of the past is to make it accessible and vibrant in the context of the present, the Kalyna Country Ecomuseum is committed to preserving local heritage resources and cultural traditions so that they can be enjoyed by present and future generations of Albertans.
Written by Jars Balan