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The Sanctuary project wants to make sure that Ukrainian sacral culture on the prairies is well documented for future scholars. We do not know how much of the material aspects of that culture will still be standing a generation from now. Some churches are in disrepair and others no longer exist (on 29 July 2007 the St. Demetro Church in Hilliard, Alberta burned down). Our rural communities are shrinking – some parishes have only half a dozen families. Not all these buildings can be preserved physically, but we can at least make sure that they have been carefully recorded.

The Sanctuary project is not intended to displace any other project, but to collaborate with and factilitate whatever is already going on.

We want a digitized record of all past projects that have painted or photographed the churches. We want to copy historical photos in private and institutional hands for a central digital record. The Sanctuary project will itself systematically photograph all churches (exterior and interior), bell towers, cemeteries, tombstones, and chapels in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. We will also digitize all historic recordings of church music from the parishes. At least some of this material will be made available on the internet.

We hosted a planning workshop on Saturday, 26 January 2008. The interesting presentations and discussions are available on line in several formats.

The Sanctuary Project also presented a session at the annual meeting of the Canadian Association of Slavists, held in Ottawa, 23-25 May. The speakers were John-Paul Himka, Michal Mlynarz, and Frances Swyripa. In his paper, Dr. Himka stated: “It is really a unique phenomenon that a culture derivative of Byzantium managed to colonize such a large area in the new world. This is a precious legacy that must be preserved in the only way it really can be – as a photographic record, a record enriched by texts and interviews as well.” [The full text of Dr. Himka’s paper]

In the summer of 2009, thanks to a grant from the Alberta provincial government, the Sanctuary Project documented Ukrainian and Russian sacral culture south and west of Edmonton. There is a short film about this that you can watch: "Sanctuary: The Spiritual Heritage Documentation Project"

 As part of the 2009 project, one of the Sanctuary workers organized the valuable archive at St. Vladimir’s Russian Orthodox Church in Edmonton. This is important documentation on Orthodox life in Canada. [The archive document]

The Sanctuary Project continues to attract attention from the media. See for example:

“Documenting Prairie churches is a race against time” Edmonton Journal, March 9, 2013

“Sanctuary for Russian and Ukrainian churches”, CBC, March 12, 2013

“U of A searches through central Saskatchewan churches”, CKOM, June 20, 2013

Interested in supporting the Sanctuary Project? Donations, marked “Sanctuary Project”, may be sent to CIUS, c/o the Program on Religion and Culture.

For more information about the Sanctuary Project, please contact one of the co-investigators, Dr. John-Paul Himka (, Dr. Frances Swyripa (, or Dr. Natalie Kononenko (



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Last updated: June 25, 2014: