Buffalo Park Foundation Purchases Historic Wainwright Hotel as future site of Buffalo Park Centre and Regional Archives
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Taking Kalyna Expertise to Ukraine:
An Overseas Success Story
Ukraine and Canada have much in common beyond the fact that more than 1 million Canadians claim whole or partial Ukrainian ancestry. Besides having boundless steppes and a rich multicultural heritage, Ukraine, like Canada, shares a long border with a large and powerful neighbour and experiences some of the same challenges and opportunities that this relationship brings. Given these and other similarities between the two countries, it is not surprising that Ukrainians are comfortable working with Canadians, or that many Ukrainians feel a special affection for Canada because of our reputation for fairness, modesty and tolerance.
Jars Balan, Kalyna Country volunteer executive director, recently returned from his third ecotourism consulting trip to south central Ukraine over the past six years. He was impressed by the great progress that he witnessed in the development of rural tourism in parts of Ukraine, and especially pleased to see that many ideas borrowed from Kalyna Country are being successfully implemented in a regional tourism project in Kherson oblast, or province.
Jars began his latest consulting trip in Cherkasy oblast, which straddles the Dnipro River two hours south of Kyiv, visiting rural bed breakfasts, local museums, natural attractions and historic landmarks. Along with boating on the Dnipro, sampling local foods, and seeing a famous “thousand year old oak” associated with 17th century peasant and Cossack uprisings, he stayed a day and a half in the raion centre (county seat) of Kam’ianka, a town of 14,400 inhabitants. It is where the Russian-born Ukrainian composer, Peter Tchaikovsky, spent the better part of twenty-eight summers visiting his sister – who was married to a wealthy local landowner – and seeking inspiration from his Ukrainian roots while composing some of his most famous works. Kam’ianka is also renowned for being an important well-spring of an 1825 anti-Tsarist movement, and a major focus of partisan resistance to Bolshevik rule from 1918-1922 as well as the Nazi occupation during the Second World War.
Afterwards, Jars helped lead a delegation of a dozen local B & B operators, museum directors and tourism promoters to the resort town of Zaliznyi Port, on Kherson oblast’s “gold coast” extending from the Crimean peninsula to the mouth of the mighty Dnipro. Joined there by four other tourism industry stakeholders from Transcarpathia and Galicia in Western Ukraine, the contingent then spent four days in two mini-busses touring outlying agricultural communities, seeing historic churches, a prairie hot spring, and a centuries-old salt drying operation. They also attended a wine-tasting at a successful inn, went boating on a Dnipro estuary, and hiked a piece of scenic coastline that was not only rich in shorebirds but boasted archaeological remains from an ancient Greek settlement dating back more than 2000 years.
Jars subsequently gave a two-day workshop on ecotourism to the study tour members, beginning with a half-day power point presentation about the Kalyna Country Ecomuseum project. His talk sparked a lively discussion among the participants, who expressed a keen desire to someday visit east central Alberta.
As Mr. Balan observed about the current situation in the former Soviet republic: “Notwithstanding the political upheavals of the past few years, Ukraine has made great strides economically, which has naturally benefitted the tourism industry. The country has tremendous tourism potential because it is incredibly blessed with historic, cultural and natural assets, in addition to being relatively affordable, safe, and hospitable. Thanks to growing local and regional demand and Ukraine’s increased international profile, the future of Ukraine’s tourism sector is unquestionably bright.”
However, Mr. Balan also went on to note that “Ukraine at the same time has several difficulties which it needs to overcome, including deficiencies in infrastructure as well as problems with sanitation and litter. But given the talent and determination of the Ukrainians that I have had the pleasure of working with, it is only a matter of time before these shortcomings are addressed and Ukraine becomes a major destination for travellers to and from Europe.”
Mr. Balan’s trip was organized and financed by the Community Economic Development Project, managed by the Canadian Bureau of International Education, which is active in economic development projects in several oblasts of Ukraine under a contribution agreement with the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). He attributed the success of his consulting trip to the professionalism and dedication of CBIE’s Ukrainian and Canadian staff, and to the quality of the people they selected to participate in the study tour to Kherson.
“Although there are significant differences a lot of the issues are the same, so much of what I have learned from my sixteen years’ involvement with Kalyna Country is certainly applicable to rural Ukraine. At the same time, I have discovered many wonderful things about the land of my ancestors, which I encourage Canadians to visit before it becomes trendy and costlier.”
Mr. Balan hopes to again have the opportunity to work on rural tourism initiatives in Ukraine, especially in the western parts of the country where most Canadians of Ukrainian descent trace their origins. He would also love to one day lead a group of Kalyna Country residents to Ukraine, so as to meet their “Old Country” counterparts in the rural tourism industry. “It’s an experience both sides could benefit from,” he asserts enthusiastically, “and I’m sure that the Canadians would quickly feel right at home.”