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This is primarily the story of Elias and Xenia (Cherney) Shklanka who both taught school in the Hafford area for 25 years.

Elias Shklanka was a dedicated teacher who took a personal interest in all his students and served the community as a respected man of letters whose major task was to encourage the parents and their children (mostly of Ukrainian origin) to achieve their highest potential through education. He served as mentor to many of them, lending them books from his own library ( for many years the only book collection in town), and encouraging those who had the ability to seek the highest level of education. Elias Shklanka is remembered today as a strict but witty disciplinarian instilling in his students a love of learning and a respect for their native cultural roots while adopting the values and traditions of their adopted country. An article in the Ukrainian Voice (Jan 9, 1984), about “ Ukrainian Settlers in Canada” quotes him as saying, “Have you heard, how few of our school age children are not in high schools ? Do you see how few doctors are ours, also ministers, lawyers, teachers, bankers? Isn’t this a sad legacy which we {Ukrainians}have in Canada? We are left behind other nationalities. We must change this situation until every farmer and labourer sends one child to higher schools. This is the one salvation for our nationality.”

Elias Shklanka and Xenia Cherney Year: 1930

Elias Shklanka and Xenia Cherney
Year: 1930

His witticisms are still retold in the community today as “Shklanka stories”. John Herman, a longtime resident of Hafford, Saskatchewan, writes in A Walk Down Memory Lane; Hafford & District ( 1983): “In 1933 high school classes were organized by a principal Mr. Shklanka. Mr. Shklanka was very well liked and rated very highly by all students. A the end of the school year I was very happy because I made it and it saved me one year of walking to school five and one half miles each way and also $5.00 tuition fee for one year. At this time, that was Mr. Shklanka’s wages from each student… .

One time, at school, Mr. Shklanka assigned a tough trigonometry question and asked us to work together in pairs. In about half an hour my partner and I did it, so he asked us to put it on the blackboard. During this time, Mr. Shklanka was pacing the floor back and forth, with a humorous grin on his face. We finished and went to our desks. He looked it over and then said, ‘ Last night it took me two hours to do this problem, and here these two kids do it in half an hour. You see two fools are better than one genius’. This joke remained in the classroom for a long time.”

Elias Shklanka also fostered an appreciation of the natural environment by taking students or his children on country walks and encouraging hands-on nature study. His daughter, Diana, remembers that he liked to surprise students by bringing nature into the classroom. For instance, one day he reached into his suit pocket and brought out a young garter snake to demonstrate how it could swim and its surviving ability. Even the “lowly” dandelion was worthy of being a boutoniere. After school hours or during summer vacations, he enjoyed taking a car load of children to Redberry Lake for swimming lessons and talks about the natural flora and fauna of the area.

Elias Shklanka was born in the village of Kopytiw, Western Ukraine, on August 3, 1893. He came to Canada at the age of 16 with a group of men recruited to work in lumber camps. His father had died when he was seven and his mother had remarried. Life was difficult in the Ukraine and the stories of cheap land and good wages in Canada were very attractive. He told his children stories of listening to a man from Canada describing wonderful living conditions. He talked about running away from home and described in humorous terms some of his experiences when he arrived in Canada – including one about reading a document from a railroad company to his companions which they mistook to mean that they should shave off their beards, much to the chagrin of the men, and another about a group of fellow immigrants kneeling and crossing themselves before a capital building which they mistook for a church. He also spoke of the Magera family (from Alberta) who helped him in these years. A descendant of this family tells stories of his visits to their farm during summer vacations and of how excited the family was to receive him. When the Bolshevik Revolution broke out, he lost touch with his family in the Ukraine and was unable to return to visit them.

For six years he worked in lumber camps in Ontario, in coal mines, and on the “extra gang” on railroads, saving money to go to school. With the help of friends, he moved to Vegreville, Alberta, where he enrolled in the English School for Foreigners. One of four such schools in Western Canada, this school helped foreign students improve their English, helped them to pass departmental exams and prepared them for teaching careers. In 1917, he completed Grade 11 while at the same time working on the railroad. This same year he attended an organizational meeting of the Ukrainian Teachers’ Convention in Edmonton. These conventions (following others held in Saskatchewan and Manitoba as early as 1907) became annual affairs designed to help teachers of Ukrainian origin combat the discriminatory practices of placing English teachers in schools where the predominant spoken language was Ukrainian. For example, in Alberta, Ukrainian teachers were especially disadvantaged when in 1913 the Minister of Education began canceling the teaching permits of Ukrainian teachers ( J. Skwarok, Ukrainian Settlers in Canada and their Schools , Edmonton, 1959). The conventions dealt with educational policies, the status of teachers, and the use of the Ukrainian language as a means of instruction in helping Ukrainian students understand English. The conventions also tried to introduce bilingualism into these schools, but until bilingualism became official in the 1950’s, these teachers taught the Ukrainian language only after school hours without the help of textbooks or Ukrainian readers. During the first World War, Ukrainian teachers were often suspected of un-Canadian activities as many of them were born in areas of the Ukraine occupied by the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Elias Shklaka Year: 1958

Elias Shklaka
Year: 1958

As evidence of some of the discriminatory regulations enacted against Ukrainian “foreigners” , among Elias’ papers is a document issued by the “Alberta Provincial Police”. It reads, “This is to certify that Elias Shklanka (whose signature appears below) at present residing at Vegreville, an Austrian subject, of 25 years, weight 135 lbs., complexion, dark, height 5 ft. 4 in. (in actuality 5 ft. 10 in.) is by law entitled and required to carry this certificate upon his person and to produce it for reasonable inspection as may be required by any Peace or Military officer and moreover to report monthly to the chief officer of police at Vegreville… .” Among the numerous stamps and signatures on the document, one reads, “ Permission to proceed to Edmonton & report to a P.P. upon arrival. Not good after 29 June 1918.”

Elias Shklanka completed Grade 12 at Strathcona High School, Edmonton, in 1918, and the following year was the first person of Ukrainian descent to complete Normal School in Saskatoon. He taught school in the Canora district for a few years, then enrolled at the University of Saskatchewan where he completed his B.A. in 1923. An entry from the 1923 Keystone reads that he “entered the university as a sophomore and succeeded in battling against the unfavorable conditions that stood on the way to self-realization.”

In 1925 he received an M.A. in Education from the University of Chicago . That same year while teaching in Ethelbert, Manitoba, he received a certificate of membership and was active in the Canadian Ukrainian Teacher’s Association, formed out of the three prairie provincial associations, primarily to promote bilingualism in schools with predominantly Ukrainian-speaking children.

He served as Principal at Ethelbert, Manitoba, for three years (1923-26) and taught in Canora in 1927. He accepted a teaching position at Hafford High School in 1928 and taught in the area, mostly serving as Principal, until 1953, with brief stints at Rus School (1933-36) and Krydor, Saskatchewan ( 1941-45). He is credited with establishing a high school in the rural community of Rus so that children in the area could further their education closer to home. John Herman, quoted above, was a pupil in one of these years.

At Hafford, the Shklanka home was often visited by teachers from the surrounding areas who would come on Saturdays to get their mail, to visit with Elias Shklanka, and to compare teaching problems. Farmers would also come to his home to ask for his help in drafting official English letters, and a few illiterate farmers would come for assistance in reading letters from the Ukraine. Visitors from Saskatoon would also come to visit with him. Among them were Vasyl Aramenko , a choreographer of Ukrainian dances and Gregory Kytasty, Conductor of the Ukrainian Bandurist Choir.

Elias Shklanka was also an active supporter of Ukrainian “Bursas” in Saskatoon and Edmonton. These were large boarding-houses designed to assist college and university students to help students of Ukrainian origin adjust to their new surroundings while preserving their Ukrainian language, literature and history through organized cultural activities.He often taught summer school courses in Ukrainian history and literature at these Bursas.

Xenia Shklanka Year: 1975

Xenia Shklanka
Year: 1975

While at Hafford, he married Xenia Catherine Cherney . They had three children, Olga, Roman and Diana., all of whom completed their undergraduate studies at the University of Saskatchewan.

After Elias was superannuated from teaching in Saskatchewan in 1953, he accepted a principalship at Great Bend, Alberta (near Delburne), and taught there for two years, then taught at Masinasin for two years and finally found a more permanent position at at Stirling, Alberta, for five years (1955-60). He also commuted to Raymond, Alberta, to teach French as the Raymond school board was unable to find a teacher of French. He died in Saskatoon in 1960.

A few years after his death, his brother in the Ukraine finally established contact with his family in Canada. He died not knowing that his brother had survived banishment to a Siberian camp, had returned to his home in Ukraine and had a son and grandchildren living near Lvov.

Elias Shklanka is also remembered for his publications aimed at helping young people of Ukrainian heritage to retain their native language and culture while furthering their own careers within English speaking institutions.

In 1943, Professors Pavlechenko and Andrushyshyn obtained permission to offer a first year course in the Ukrainian language at the University of Saskatchewan. Because of the lack of textbooks with which to offer this course, they approached Elias and asked him to compile a Ukrainian-English grammar. With the help of Prof. I. Ohienko, a renowned Slavic philologist from Warsaw University ( later a Metropolitan of the Ukrainian Greek Orthodox Church in Canada) who assisted with questions of grammar and with the editing of the book, Ukrainian Grammar was published in 1944 and subsequently went through three revised editions while being used at the universities of Saskatchewan, Alberta and Manitoba to teach first year Ukrainian. Members of the Shklanka family have also found copies in a bookstore in London, England.

In Ukrainian in Saskatchewan Schools (Methodius Koziak, 1976) the author states, “ A lack of suitable texts made it difficult for the committee to draw up a satisfactory list of books, though fortunately they were able to fall back back on two good Ukrainian-English grammars, one by Elias Shklanka and the other by J.W. Stechishin.”

In 1944, Elias Shklanka also published Nova Pochatkova Chetanka or Ukrainian Primer for

children. This popular little booklet is now in its 8th edtion (1986)and is still being sold in Ukrainian bookstores across Canada for use by children and also by adults as a first introduction to the Ukrainian language.

Elias Shklanka also left two unpublished manuscripts (now in the National Archives of Canada): “The Rise of the Ukrainian National Idea,” a story of a nation struggling against communist occupation and striving to preserve its national identity; and “A Monstrous Deception,” the story of how the Russian government, not content with expropriating Ukrainian resources, was bent on expropriating its culture as well.

As a result of his literary efforts, Elias Shklanka was known to haunt bookstores and the homes of Ukrainian intelligentsia in search of resource materials, since Canadian university libraries had very few books about Ukrainian literary and cultural affairs. Over the years he accumulated a considerable library of Ukrainian history, language and literature as well as a large collection of books on philosophy, history and religion. The collection has been donated to the University of Alberta Library.


Xenia Cherney was born in 1911 to Peter and Maria Cherney of Albertown, a rural community northeast of Hafford, Saskatchwan . Peter and Maria Cherney arrived in Canada from Wilbiew , in the Sokal region of the Ukraine in 1908 with Maria’s father, Jacob Klimchuk of Albertown, Saskatchewan.

Xenia was the second eldest of six children : two brothers, Joseph and Harry, died in early adulthood, one of appendicitis and the other with tuberculosis. Tragically, Joseph left a young widow and a young daughter, Joyce Cherwinsky of Etobicoke, Ontario. Two sisters , Anne (Helen) Zaremba of Windsor , Ontario, and Katherine Pohoreski of Saskatoon and later of Windsor, are now deceased. Anne entered the convent of the Sister Servants of Mary Immaculate in Mundare, Alberta, in 1934 and served as a teaching sister. She left the order in 1948 and married Nicholas Zaremba. Katherine (Kay) taught in rural schools near Twin Hills and in Gronlid , Saskatchewan – often near her sister Xenia who taught in a neighboring school. Katherine also taught school in Hafford from 1936-1939. She married Louis Pohoreski, who operated a service station in Saskatoon, later moving to Windsor, Ontario. They had one daughter, Diane MacDonld now living in Calgary.

Peter Cherney found farm life in Albertown too demanding and isolating. Maria talked of how difficult it was to drive to Saskatoon to see a doctor for it usually took several days with oxen, and how difficult it was to see children through their illnesses in an isolated community ( her sixth child died a few years after birth). So he moved the family to Hafford where he operated a draying business for several years. Peter Cherney died while Xenia was still in junior high school, and Maria, now widowed with five children, struggled to make a living for her family by operating a small store, selling milk, maintaining a large garden, and keeping boarders. Nevertheless, education was a high priority and all three of her daughters succeeded in becoming teachers.

In the early years Maria lived with her family in a small five room house surrounded by a large garden. One room was reserved as a room for boarders – often a Catholic priest. Xenia, her husband and two children lived in the other rooms. When she wasn’t teaching Katherine also lived at home until her marriage. Olga was always forced to sleep with grandmother, while Roman occupied a cot in a small pantry. The kitchen had a wood burning stove with a copper barrel always sitting on the side to provide hot water. A dark hole in the cellar was used to store root vegetables, jars of preserves, a large mound of potatoes, and several large barrels of saurkraut. It was often Olga’s job to climb down the stairs to retrieve the necessary provisions for coming meals.

Maria Cherney Year: 1970

Maria Cherney
Year: 1970

The living room housed a round table which could be expanded to seat more than twelve people for Christmas and Easter festivities. It also had a coal -burning stove with a coal bucket which was Roman’s job to keep full. A coal oil lamp , later replaced by a mantled gas lamp, provided light in the evenings. The kitchen however was the busiest place with grandmother Cherney and her daughters preparing Ukrainian meals of cabbage rolls, peroghies, as well as preserving vegetables, berries and mushrooms for the winter and other traditional dishes before the Christmas and Easter festivals. Mondays were wash days and a large tub was brought in to wash clothes on a traditional washboard with whites boiled in hot water and lye on the boiler on the stove. In the winter, clothes were hung out to freeze dry and then brought in to thaw out while hung throughout the house.

Studying, reading, mending, embroidering, with some card playing were done in the living room around the coal oil lamp.

Later, in the 1940’s before Diana was born, Xenia and Elias moved into their own house and enjoyed the spaciousness and electricity which had arrived in the village.

Xenia graduated from Hafford High School in 1929 and from Saskatoon Normal School in 1930 with a specialization in Home Economics. She married Elias Shklanka in 1930 after graduating. In the years of the great depression , economic conditions forced her to teach in small one-room schools , separated from her husband, while raising her two small children. She taught at Fox Valley , Grand Valley and Twin Hills, near Biggar ( 1935-1938) and in a small one room school near Alticane. She usually found a family to board her and her two children often driving to the school in a one horse buggy. In later years she lived alone, with her two children, in small teacherages which were isolated and cold in winter. Olga and Roman remember waking up in the mornings with hoar frost on the blankets and also have nostalgic memories of gopher hunting. Gopher tails were bought for one cent a tail by the provincial government in hopes that killing gophers would reduce their population. Carrying a pail of water, Olga would pour water down a gopher hole, while Roman caught the gophers, chopped off their tails, but then released the gophers into the fields. In 1942-44, Xenia taught at Gronlid, Saskatchwan, and then obtained a more permanent teaching position in the Hafford four- room school with her husband as principal. She taught grades 1-3 (in one room) from 1945-1953.

During these years she took a leadership role in the community, arranging cultural and social activities for the children such as Christmas concerts, field days, and Ukrainian festivals. Birthday parties for her own children were town-wide affairs to which all children, even those treated by the community as outcasts, were welcomed. She also organized a Brownie and Girl Guide Association and served as Leader and Captain of both. After school hours, she taught Ukrainian language classes to children and English to Ukrainian-speaking adults.

In 1953, she moved to Alberta with her husband and taught elementary grades at Great Bend, Masinasin and Stirling, Alberta. While in Alberta, she decided to go back to university during her summer vacations and completed her B.Ed.. in 1962.

Her interest in Ukrainian language instruction led her to attend a Ukrainian language school in Kiev, Ukraine, for two summers.

After the death of her husband, in 1960, she moved to Edmonton and taught for the Catholic School Board in St. Mary High School (1961), St. Joseph High School (!961-66) and O’Leary High School (1969-1973). She taught mathematics , home economics and religious studies. She also taught the first accredited Ukrainian language class in Edmonton with 15 students. Later she taught courses in Ukrainian 10, 20, 30, and 31. She set the first departmental exam for Ukrainian 30 and in 1970 was instrumental in having Ukrainian language courses taught and accredited in The Ivan Franko Private School.

She traveled widely across Canada and the United States promoting the establishment of Ukrainian bilingual programs in the schools. She gave lectures on teaching methods and provided advice and assistance in organizing these programs in Pennsylvania, New York, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Toronto, and Windsor.

Interviewed by June Sheppard of the Edmonton Journal, June 13,1974, she is quoted as saying

“The aim of the (bilingual) program is to make children bicultural as well as bilingual…If {children} are cut off from their cultural background, they often compensate in aggressive ways. Alienation from roots can lead to bitterness and insecurity in young people … As for the criticism of keeping many languages and cultures alive destroying a country’s unity, I put it this way. A symphony has many instruments. If one section is not playing at its full capacity, you have disharmony, not unity”.

Olga Roman and Diana Shklanka Year: 1986

Olga Roman and Diana Shklanka
Year: 1986

In the last few years of her teaching career, she prepared curricular materials for the Ukrainian-English bilingual program in the Edmonton schools. She was appointed Curricular Assistant for Ukrainian Language Instruction at the Alberta Department of Education and later promoted to Consultant. Between 1974-80 she authored seven elementary textbooks and workbooks which were used in the schools for many years and were also reprinted and used in schools in the Ukraine after Ukraine declared its independence from Russia.

The titles of these books are: Tyt I Tam (Here and There), Druzhi (Friends), Shkola (School), Prehody (Adventures), Kazky (Folktales), Chodit zi Mmnoyo (Come with me), Nashi skarbi ( Our treasures) and Chervona Shapuchka ( a translation of Little Red Riding Hood).

In 1967, She married Gregory Turko, a refugee and retired Colonel in the Free Cossack Army of the Ukraine. He passed away in 1976.

She was also very active in Ukrainian women’s organizations and served as President of the Edmonton Branch of UCWCL and as President of the Eparchial Executive (for B.C. and Allberta) from1964-66.

She received several awards for her contributions to the education system and the Catholic community. Among these are the Alberta Heritage Award (1980), the Taras Shevchenko Medal from KUK (a Ukrainian national organization), and a UCWCL (Ukrainian Catholic Women’s League) Honorary Life Membership Award.

She passed away in Edmonton , after a lengthy illness, in 1995.

Descendants of Xenia and Elias Shklanka

Xenia and Elias are survived by three children, Olga, Roman and Diana.

Olga became a librarian with a Masters degree in Library Science from the University of Washington , is now retired and lives in Edmonton. She married Peter Anderson but the marriage ended in divorce. They have one son, David, who is a Senior Lecturer in Anthropology at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. David is married to Maria Kicheeva, from Abacan, Siberia and they have two children, Nicole and Katya.

Roman received a Ph.D. in geology from Stanford University, and practices as an international mineral explorationist in Vancouver. He married Patricia Cameron and they have three children, two daughters, Karen and Tanya, and one son Peter. Karen is a family physician and practices in B.C.; Tanya graduated from Simon Fraser University and is a professional gourmet chef in Vancouver. She has two children, Finn and Georgia. Peter is a lawyer in Toronto.

Diana received a Ph.D. in English from the University of British Columbia and is teaching at the University College of the Cariboo in British Columbia.

In loving memory, Olga, Roman and Diana Shklanka.