Courtship Culture in the Ukrainian Canadian Community
Nataliya Bezborodova

Ukrainian pioneers in Canada cherished and maintained many of their traditions, including those related to romance, courtship, and marriage. Adapting to Canadian norms and values was also essential. Already in the 1910s, several books and journals aimed at promoting Canadian-style romance and love relationships were published. Порадник для залюблених (A Guide for Lovers) provided examples of romantic correspondence, as well as advice in romance etiquette. The journal Каменярі (Stonecutters), written and edited by students for a student audience, among other important things, taught Ukrainian pioneers’ children residing in large urban centers how to find a balance between Ukrainian traditions and Canadian norms and values. 

Порадник для залюблених (Guide for Lovers) was published in Ukrainian in 1913. It included examples of love letters and had an extended section on love and courtship etiquette. This book discussed the best ways to start a romantic relationship, what to give as a first gift, where to meet for a first date, when to make a proposal, how to proceed from courtship to marriage, and so on. Its foreword stated: “In this book, we provide short recommendations on how to behave to evoke true and sincere love, and what to do for it to last as long as possible.”

Very young brides and arranged marriages were common among Ukrainian Canadians in the 1910s. Guide for Lovers discussed the age of a bride and the level of relatives’ involvement in a romance, courtship and marriage preparations (though not directly), and gave examples that showed possibilities for girls to make their own choices. For instance, in one of the sample letters, a girl wrote a letter to her sweetheart saying that her parents were pushing her into a marriage with another man. Her sweetheart asked her to wait: “Soon you will reach the age of majority and can determine your own destiny as you wish.”

The book also described gender roles in relationships. A woman was, of course, required to conceal her feelings and not show any initial interest in a man. She had to wait until the man made the first move, and could then only declare her feelings in the form of a response: “The initial step must be made by the man. A woman is not allowed to do that. A woman must wait, and a man should not torment her too long in anxious waiting.” She could only reveal her feelings in response to his, as one of the sample letters shows: “I have loved You, Mykhas, for a very long time. But I could not confess my love to You, until your letter unsealed my lips.”

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