Most visitors to Vancouver know that it is home to thousands of Asian immigrants. So after moving here, I was surprised to learn about the city’s rich past of European immigration. We forget that the large influx of Chinese, South and Southeast Asians is relatively recent. Within the lifetimes of the city’s boomers the downtown commercial core was called Robson Strasse reflecting a large German population that had originally emigrated in various waves from the 19th century onwards to farm the Fraser River Valley.
Tucked here and there in-between Chinese restaurants, Japanese hair salons and Indian sweet shops are establishments that continue to serve the diversity of descendants of those and other European immigrants, along with the new arrivals: Dutch pancake houses, Greek groceries, German bakeries and Polish delis, the Croatian Cultural Center and Russian Hall, and at least two Ukrainian churches.
Today we went to St. Mary’s Ukrainian Church for their festival, which involved a cafeteria dinner of pierogis, sausage and sauerkraut, a few raffles for gift baskets and homemade specialties. Stepping into the large hall where the festival was taking place, I got a whiff of fried onions in butter, so reminiscent of my youth in NYC where a cheap dinner was often a plate of pierogis at the Ukrainian Hall in the East Village.
We opted to buy a jar of their borscht and some cabbage rolls, bypassing the poppy seed cake and egg breads until the next festival.
We then walked around the quiet neighborhood and found these odd berries growing. Would they be from a Ukrainian plant?
I’ve never heard of Ukranian borscht…a jam?
Borscht is beet soup. There are Polish, Ukrainian, Russian and other Slavic versions, some with meat, some without.
My best friend in Los Angeles is Ukranian. I’ve told her about the large population of Ukranians in BC + Alberta!!! I’m excited to find out more about Vancouver’s European heritage!
It’s harder all the time to spot it and the ethnic mix pivots towards Asians, but vestiges remain here and there. Once I started looking I saw more signs.