Reflections of Ukraine: Ukrainian Churches of the Saskatchewan Countryside

9 November 2016

Reflections of Ukraine: Ukrainian Churches of the Saskatchewan Countryside
by Lloyd & Rose Virag
Published by Lloyd & Rose Virag
Review by Keith Foster
$39.95 ISBN 978-0-9950034-0-8

Have you ever wondered about all those little churches that dot the Saskatchewan landscape? Lloyd and Rose Virag have pondered them too, and set out on a motor trek of discovery. Focusing specifically on Ukrainian churches because of Rose’s ethnic background, their results are recorded in Reflections of Ukraine: Ukrainian Churches of the Saskatchewan Countryside, an attractive coffee table book they self-published.

Lavishly illustrated with more than 700 colour photos taken at 160 different sites in Saskatchewan, the book showcases 142 country churches. The first seven chapters include Ukrainian Orthodox, Ukrainian Greek Orthodox, Ukrainian Catholic, and Ukrainian Greek Catholic churches. The next two chapters feature three Russian Orthodox churches and a surprising variety of other denominations with Ukrainian connections. Chapter ten shows a selection of cemeteries where the churches no longer exist.

In captions and photos, the Virags have assembled a wide collection of churches, cemeteries, and small chapels, known as kaplychkos. And these are just the ones that still exist. Some of the churches have been replaced more than once as the congregation grew. Many of them were originally built from logs. Many have been restored; others are badly in need of restoration.

Looking at some of these churches, it’s easy to visualize recently arrived Ukrainian immigrants in their worn, handmade clothes hard at work in the midday sun. One can almost see them cutting logs, shoring them up, spreading mud between the cracks, both inside and out, then whitewashing the interiors and exteriors.

Multiple photos of the same structures taken from various angles in different seasons reveal intriguing perspectives. Hoar frost glistens against a close-up of an onion dome on a Ukrainian Greek Orthodox Church near Kuroki, for instance. Most photos, however, were taken in summer. Although the Virags took most of them, members from the respective churches also contributed.

In addition to consulting local history books, the Virags drew on information from people they contacted on their journey. Historic plaques at the sites also provide background information. A map of Saskatchewan on the back of the book highlights the rural municipalities where Ukrainian churches are scattered throughout the province, with a large concentration north-west of Yorkton. Armed with this 320-page hardcover book, readers are able to take self-guided tours.

Compiling these colourful images for their coffee table book was obviously a labour of love for the Virags, and a tribute to Rose’s Ukrainian heritage. Reflections of Ukraine: Ukrainian Churches of the Saskatchewan Countryside is also a flattering tribute to these little Ukrainian churches that inhabit our prairies and woodlands.


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