Thirty years ago the Vermilion Ukrainian Cultural  Association was officially started by the determination of dedicated community members who saw a need to keep the Ukrainian culture alive & well in their children.  The success & continuance of our club is due to such dedicated families & awesome community support.  The nice thing with this being the 30th anniversary is that there are still many people who were involved in the club around the community.  The bad thing is that the details of the 30 year old memories don’t always seem to match.  So here is a bit of the history from what we have been able to gather….

From what we know Ukrainian dancing did exist in Vermilion prior to 1979 (around 38 – 40 years ago – Jean Stoyko provided me with some confirmation of that fact. However, it was 1979 when the official dance club was started.  (Pat Gordey one of the original dancers)

From what we have been told the idea of a club originated as a result of a Mother’s Day concert brought in by Allied Arts.  The featured entertainment was the Cheremosh Ensemble from Edmonton.  A few interested parents, including Lillian Kohn, approached the troupe to inquire about forming a group with an instructor from the Cheremosh Ensemble.  The interested dancer, now instructor, was Ken Kachmar and dance lessons began in September 1979.  Key people involved in the formation of this group included Marion Ferbey, Pat Shimko & Irene Starko.  The name of our club along, with many other local clubs, originated from Ken – Samostvit means Precious jewel / diamond.

Our club started with approximately 50 dancers, with 35 being involved in the year end concert.  Our numbers have fluctuated over the years – with a high enrollment of low 50’s (53) in 2003 to our current high 20’s (29).  Some of the dancers who have been with the club the longest include:  Jeanine Tichon (15 years), Michelle deJong (13 years), Shustyn deJong (12 years), Jeff Peterson (12 years), Alyssa Gynra, the Kachan girls, the Houston boys, Kandice Wilson (adult dancer) & Melissa Petruk.  Melissa was with the club as a student, then, returned as an adult dancer once moving back to Vermilion.  We hope to have Melissa grace our stage again in the future.

Some of our dancers have even gone on to perform with professional dance troupes.  Such is the case with Alyssa Gynra & Jarod Siddall (Shumka) & Emily Gynra (Volya).



The instruction of the club members has been in very capable hands for the 30 years.  Our instructors have not only improved the health of those who dance, but have helped younger third & fourth generation Ukrainains keep in touch with their heritage.  As mentioned previously, Ken Kachmar was the first instructor.  Over the years some of the instructors have included:

1979 – 1983  Ken Kachmar

1983 – 1988  Ken Kachmar, John-Michael Palahniuk, Debbie Kachmar & Ken Rylance

1988 – 1991  Ken & Carla Rylance

1991 – 1993  Roseanne Kohn

1993 – 1995  Noella Brytan

1995 – 1996  Walter Kowalchyk

1996 – 1997  Walter Kowalchyk, Camille Ostapowich, Andrew  Kowalchyk, Carey Paholek

1997 – 1998      Walter Kowalchyk, Andrew Kowalchyk

1998 – 2000     Shane Gibson

2000 – 2003    Shane Gibson, Christina Bullas, Murray Howell

2003- 2012 Shane Gibson

​2015-2016 Vincent Rees

2012 – Present Kelsey Olijnyk



We have been truly blessed to have such talented instruction for our youth.

Initially dance instruction happened at the Barracks.  The troupe then moved to dance at the cultural centre & even upstairs at the arena.  With the construction of the regional centre, lessons have been held there since January 2008.


With dance, comes costumes.  As a club we have evolved from our early days of wool costumes to our current polyester forms.  Marion Ferbey recalled that her sister-in-law sewed costumes for Shumka, thus a number of ideas came from this source.  Originally, the girls only had 2 costumes which would have been sewn by the dancer’s family.  Marion said material was purchased & pattern pieces were cut out & bagged for families to assemble – this would allow for a consistency in the garments.  Imagine doing this for 50 dancers.  Girls’ costumes were accented with socks & red slippers.  Two of the prized possessions of the early costumes included velvet jackets & the skirt for the peasant costume which had the material, a product of the Ukraine, purchased from the Ukrainian bookstore in Edmonton.


As our club has changed, so too has our costuming.  In her era, Maxine Gynra was responsible for costumes to be bought from the Ukraine via a Shumka connection, Joyce Howell.  Purchasing costumes from the Ukraine continues now with the help of Paul Olijnyk.

Now, any families who have been involved with dance know that all costumes do not come ready-to-fit.  The efforts of many people like, Lori Evans, Deb Venance, Cathy Waltz, Bev Yaceyko, Charlene McFarlane, Pam Cannam and many more, have made light work of this sometimes difficult task.  These talented hands have brought sewing machines & seam rippers to club meetings and dance practices to make the costumes fit just right.  They have trained many an unskilled parent what to do with costumes & how to operate a seam ripper.  Thank you to these leaders as well as any others who have taken on this organizational task.

Over the years, as our club has grown, so do our activities.  In 2000 the efforts of Glenna Laing, Lilian deJong & Jenny Borysiuk brought us the idea of celebrating the new year with a  Malanka.  From the initial Malanka at the Elk’s Hall with 300 people, we have progressed to serving 450 at the new Regional Centre this past January.  This event has become one of the main fundraisers for our club.  Thank you to all who made this idea come to life.  Starting an event like this is not easy, but we are sure glad you did.  Did you know that Jenny Borysiuk has made more perischke for this event than anyone else?  Even though Jenny’s granddaughter graduated from the club last year, Jenny continues to be the perischke source for our event.  With Jenny comes the very capable help of Kristie, Veta & Randy, who is just like a bowl of sunshine in the kitchen.    As Malanka chair for the past 2 years I always learn more of what needs to be done & how, from Jenny & Lilian  & Pat Calyniuk’s detailed notes from the initial Regional Centre Malanka held  in January 2008   (Note:  Malanka 2008 was the first ever event to be held at the regional centre.)  Once again the success of this event wouldn’t happen without the support from our community & our dedicated families.  So thanks again to everyone who has supported our Malanka.  We look forward to seeing you January 16th next year.


The families involved in the club during this same era (Gnyra, deJong, Laing, Tichon, Houston, Eyben, Calyniuk, Dieken, Matters) also started the Ukrainian dance festival. From the information we have been able to gather the original festival started in 1998, an idea of Karen Tichon.  In 2000, it blossomed to its current 3 day format.  What a busy bunch this group of parents was.

Dancers come from around the province to compete & showcase their love of Ukrainian culture through dance.  This year’s event happened just a couple of weeks ago with 26 different dance clubs attending.  Dancers arrived from Peace River, Calgary, Vilna, Elk Point & Bonnyville to just mention a few.  This year’s festival was in the capable hands of Linda Matters, Kandice Wilson & Tannis Pollard.  The hours of dedication required to make this event successful are phenomenal.  Special thanks to anyone who has taken on this sometimes thankless job for our club.  Our club & its reputation for an A-1 festival have come from your dedicated effort.

Our own dancers compete in this event & over the history of the club have competed in many other festivals – North Battleford, St. Paul, Vegreville, St. Albert, Saskatoon & Grande Prairie to mention a few.  Club dancers have also performed at the Jubilee Auditorium in Edmonton 5 times.  One of the biggest thrills for those involved in the club in 1988 was participating in the world’s largest Hopak.   2500 dancers performed for an audience of 10 000 at Northlands Coliseum (now Rexall Place).  This event took place on June 30th & it was for the celebration of the millennium of Christianity in the Ukraine.

Of note:  (Original club       – main festival to attend – Vegreville

– year end concert @ J.R. Robson School)

Reflecting upon my Ukrainian upbringing & seeing what Ukrainian families do for each other, I have come to the conclusion that Ukrainians by in large show they care for someone by either feeding them or helping them out & working hard for someone.  Our club’s success has happened & will continue to happen because of this underlying quality of most Ukrainians.  Our club members & those Ukrainian by marriage have always done this.  Let’s see how much this holds true.  If you can answer yes to one of the following statements, stand up & please remain standing.


If you have ever….

–          Served as president of the dance association, stand up – a heartfelt thank you to those of you who have taken on this job.  Our club has truly benefitted from your leadership.

–          Served as a committee chairperson, group mom, or been on the executive (treasurer, vice-president, secretary, etc.)

–          Come to make cabbage rolls or perogies for Malanka or fundraising

–          Bought sausage as a fundraiser

–          Driven more than 2 hours to watch a 3 minute performance

–          Ever had a cold supper or take out supper because of dance practice

–          Bought something you really didn’t need, but did it to just support the club

–          Altered a costume

–          Been a dancer in the club

So as you can see with everyone standing up, here is our reason for our success.

Thank you everyone for your attention.  Sorry if we have missed any names, it was not done on purpose.  Please let us know additional details, as we are now officially working on the program for our 40th celebration.  Thanks you everyone for all your support over our 30 years.  After the show please join us for cake in recognition of our anniversary.

Deb Venance