A collection of shacks and camps along the steep bank rising from the North Saskatchewan River to Jasper Avenue, the “Galician Hotel” was home to early 20th century Ukrainian labourers and job seekers with nowhere else to stay. It was a world away from the opulent Hotel Macdonald that eventually loomed on the bank above.
One Ukrainian imprint on the cityscape of early Edmonton, both unplanned and temporary, reflected the immigrant generation’s poverty and marginalization. This phenomenon was the so-called Galician Hotel (the term “Galician” indiscriminately applied to anyone from eastern Europe, was simultaneously descriptive and pejorative). Comprised of assorted shacks, tents and camps tucked into the bank extending from Jasper Avenue to the North Saskatchewan River, the Galician Hotel lodged an ever-changing clientele. The Ukrainians who stayed there for longer or shorter periods, as circumstances dictated, included homesteaders working or looking for work in the city, permanent residents with nowhere else to stay, newly arrived immigrants and itinerant labourers moving from job site to job site. In fact the situation evokes other periods in Edmonton’s history, including the housing shortages of the recent oil-related boom, when necessity forced people to find refuge in the river valley. In his memoirs, Peter Svarich, a major figure in the pioneer Ukrainian community, described his contribution to the Galician Hotel. In 1901, when a railway strike by unionized workers seeking higher wages forced hundreds of Ukrainian “scabs” off the job and the men arrived in Edmonton hungry and penniless, Svarich helped to organize work and accommodation. “There were some old abandoned shacks where we took up lodging,” he wrote. “We moved one or two of them to the marketplace, where the Hotel Macdonald is located today, and used them as our headquarters and a storehouse for our flour and other provisions....We [also] built kitchens and stoves among the birches into the upper slope of the riverbank.”
Quote: Peter Svarich, Memoirs, 1877-1904, trans. William Kostash (Edmonton: Ukrainian Pioneers’ Association of Alberta and Huculak Chair of Ukrainian Culture and Ethnography, 1999), 185-8.