Canada is a nation known for its multiculturalism. Every citizen comes from a different ethnic background, and many enjoy talking about their ancestors. Approximately 1 million Canadians have some form of Ukrainian heritage, with Canada being the third largest settlement of Ukrainian people in the world, after the Ukraine and Russia. The town of Vegreville, has an affinity for the Ukrainian culture, and they enjoy sharing this through the summer Pysanka Festival, and an incredibly large Easter egg.
The Vegreville Pysanka Festival, held annually in the first week in July, is a festival to celebrate the Ukrainian heritage of many residents in the area. Even if you don’t know anything about Ukrainian culture, this festival is an amazing way to have an European experience while in a small Canadian town. Many people visit this summer event, including tourists from both near and far destinations and locals. It’s common to see Vegreville residents at the festival enjoying the beer gardens or selling their Ukrainian art, as well as taking their children to enjoy the many family activities offered. Things to do at the festival include listening to the band showcase, attending a Zabavas (evening dance show), going to the traditional marketplace or attending a Grandstand Show. At the band showcase many local and Ukrainian acts are featured, with incredible music played all weekend. The evening dances are a great opportunity to watch professional Ukrainian dancers, and maybe even try dancing yourself. At the marketplace one can find traditional Ukrainian wood carvings, paintings, articles of clothing, and many other unique items. There are five Grandstand shows planned throughout the three day long festival. Ukrainian music, dance and folklore are all elements of each of the shows. Entrance to the festival grounds is free, and tickets to the Grandstand Show and Evening Dance are $15. Other activities at the festival include demonstrations of life in the pioneer days, craft workshops and a variety of children’s activities including bouncy castles, and a petting zoo. There is also a beer garden, where you can strike up a conversation with the residents of Vegreville and surrounding area. Many of these people are farmers, descended from the original Ukrainian pioneers. The locals are all very friendly and will be happy to share their heritage with you, and tell unique stories about their experiences in the Canadian prairies. One thing a young resident of the area, who had just moved to the town with her family said about the town to me is that, “Vegreville residents are always ready to help others, whether it is by showing visitors what the town has to offer, or by supporting friends and family with their aspirations.” Have fun at the festival and enjoy learning about how Ukrainian culture in Canada has thrived.
The world’s second largest Easter egg is a well known landmark in Vegreville, also known as the Vegreville Pysanka. It is an expression of pride because of the local population’s heritage.The egg was built to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mountain Police) also known as “mounties”. Mounties oversee Canada at the federal level, while wearing red jackets with black pants and a white Stetson hat. This outfit is known worldwide and is stereotypical Canadian.
In the 70’s the Alberta government commissioned money to the town of Vegreville to honor the RCMP. When deciding what the town would do with this funding there were many ideas suggested, but eventually the idea of a giant Pysanka egg was suggested in order to celebrate the way the RCMP has cared for the area’s Ukrainian pioneers and their descendants. The egg now celebrates the vitality and culture of the local community today, and it is common to see locals enjoying the surrounding park, and the view of the symbol of their Ukrainian heritage. The egg is 7.5 meters long and 9.5 meters high; it also rotates in the wind like a weather vane. A symbol of progress in computer design, the egg required the development of new computer programs in order to create the blueprint and dimensions. The designs across the egg represent a variety of the values the community holds including the harmony and vigor that a culturally diverse town such as Vegreville provides. If you are driving by the town of Vegreville make sure to visit this free roadside attraction, and get a picture with the impressive Pysanka egg!
If you decide to visit the town of Vegreville, make sure to visit in the first week of July, in order to visit the Pysanka Festival, and enjoy the park surrounding the Pysanka Egg. Visiting in July will allow you to appreciate the hot and dry Albertan summers. Make sure to bring along sunscreen and lots of water as sunburn and heatstroke are big risks in the summer months. Have fun and enjoy the festival!