Ukrainian Canadian community reflects on Petro Jacyk ’s life
October 12, 2021
Reading Time: 6minutes
One hundred years ago, a prominent philanthropist and leading Ukrainian Canadian businessman Petro Jacyk was born.
One hundred years afterwards, the world can finally see Petro Jacyk’s English translation project of Hrushevsky’s History of Ukraine-Rus’, produced by the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies (CIUS) at the University of Alberta.
To celebrate and commemorate these two extraordinary milestones and achievements, the Petro Jacyk Education Foundation released a series of short videos about Petro Jacyk, his values and philanthropy, as well as the Hrushevsky Translation Project. The videos featured Dr. Peter Derkach; President and Founder of KONTAKT Ukrainian TV Network and President, UNF National Jurij Klufas; President of the Canadian Foundation for Ukrainian Studies Olga Kuplowska; and John L. Reynolds, Canadian author and the author of “Leaving Home: The Remarkable Life of Peter Jacyk”.
Below are excerpts from the videos, condensed for clarity. New videos will be uploaded every week to the “Petro Jacyk Education Foundation YouTube” channel, website and Facebook page.
On Petro Jacyk as a businessman and philanthropist
“Petro Jacyk was a tremendous supporter of Ukrainian culture, language, and literature,” said Dr. Peter Derkach.
“There are many different facets of his character that came together that resulted in all the work in philanthropy that he did,” Derkach said. “His personal development, his drive, his motivation, his attitude of sharing, of humanity, and especially in academia.”
Dr. Peter Derkach said that Petro Jacyk was very fond of academia; he understood its importance and supported it greatly, as witnessed by the number of donations he had made, and the faculty chairs and faculty departments for the Ukrainian language and culture that he contributed to supporting.
But, as Jurij Klufas said, Mr. Jacyk’s impact goes beyond the academic because “he was a great example of putting your money where your mouth is”.
“I remember approaching Mr. Jacyk upon the startup of the Bloor West Village Ukrainian Festival, which was definitely a new idea at the time, and asked him to support this festival project. And Mr. Jacyk [said] in his scolding tone ‘Юрку, ти знаєш що я підтримую лише академічні проєкти’. And then there was a little bit of silence. ‘Але ти робиш щось нового, ти виходиш поза границі нашого ґето, то я тебе підтримаю.’
“Mr. Jacyk had a firm commitment to academia,” Klufas said, “and had decided that that is the way that he is going to be focusing his activities in sponsorship. But he realized that here was an opportunity to go outside of the previously determined box. Today, thanks to people like Mr. Jacyk and other sponsors and the whole community, we have the success of the Bloor West Village Ukrainian Festival in Toronto.”
“We understood that Mr. Jacyk was an original thinker,” said Klufas. “We understood that Mr. Jacyk was frugal, we understood that Mr. Jacyk was tough. But we also knew that Mr. Jacyk was very direct and specific and generous, both with his comments and with his finances.”
To John L. Reynolds, Petro Jacyk came across as a man who was determined and, in his own way, gifted in terms of business and relationships with people. What made Petro Jacyk a dedicated person in terms of success, Reynolds thinks, is what he went through as a young man.
Peter Jacyk arrived in Canada when he was still in his 20s, while Ukraine was in the middle of the Second World War. He did not suffer the worst of it directly because he was fortunate enough to be born and raised in the western side of Ukraine. Still, as Reynold said, it was part of his heritage and a very large part of what his country represented.
“I think any time an individual, especially someone with the strength that Peter had, goes through such a traumatic experience, it polarizes people. It either makes them to some degree consider themselves as victims, or it makes them determined to avoid that kind of victimization, if that’s the way to put it, by being independent, by being successful, by being true to their own values. And I think that very much is what Peter Jacyk represented.”
On Petro Jacyk as an individual
Reynolds, author of “Leaving Home: The Remarkable Life of Peter Jacyk”, was granted an unpublished memoir that Petro Jacyk had begun. It gave Reynolds an insight into the way that Petro Jacyk spoke and the way that his thoughts unravelled. Reynolds believes that from all of that he was able to construct an accurate representation of who Petro Jacyk man was.
“Leaving Home: The Remarkable Life of Peter Jacyk” intended to be an insight into one Ukrainian immigrant’s experiences in Canada. Reynolds believes that they were exceptional. The book gives an idea of how someone coming into an entirely different culture, in so many ways, can absorb the benefits of that culture and expand on it the way that Peter Jacyk did.
“He didn’t only arrive looking for work, looking for a job,” Reynolds said. “He said, in his own words, and it’s in the book, that he wanted to create something that would be lasting, something with a solid foundation, something that would extend he hoped through generations. And it’s clear to me and everyone else that he did. I think that’s an important lesson for everyone, immigrant or not, to learn.”
Reynolds thinks Petro Jacyk represented the best of the wave of immigrants that began with the end of the Second World War and went through the rest of the 20th century.
“They came to Canada determined to start a new life and to take advantage of the opportunities that Canada provided them. And I think they also respected and extended what this country is all about, which is tolerance, opportunity and a general worldview that is not always evident in other countries, similar to Canada.”
“Petro Jacyk was a very individual person who had a great drive, great motivation, a love for his country, Ukraine, as well as Canada,” Derkach said.
“He was a man very direct, very focused,” Kuplowska said. “He knew what he wanted, what he needed and I could see he thought big, he thought outside the box.”
“The more I look back at all that he has done, I am beyond amazed that one person, one person who came to Canada with nothing, was able to inspire, to develop so much, to give back so much,” Kuplowska said.
Kuplowska described Petro Jacyk as “a visionary”, strategic in a way that many others are not.
“Mr. Jacyk was one of the few people that I could count on that would give me an unbiased opinion on anything that may have to do with either television or the festival,” Klufas said. “There was always an ability to comment with this personal disinterest.”
On the Hrushevsky’s History of Ukraine-Rus’
Kuplowska said that the English translation project of Hrushevsky’s History of Ukraine-Rus’ was for CIUS “a natural project to support, to embrace”.
“Hrushevsky’s history was one of the most important critical history works produced, and up till now it was available only in Ukrainian,” she said. “Not everyone in Ukrainian history may be fluent in Ukrainian, and this project makes [information] available broadly to all historians.” According to her, historians now rethink how they analyzed or interpreted certain eras in European history because of access to this Ukrainian history.
“To me it sounds pivotal,” Kuplowska said. “We were very happy that [CIUS] was able to contribute to support and be part of this initiative. And I would put it on a very high level, along with the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, another very pivotal piece of work.”
“I think, just conceiving of that concept was a brilliant idea,” Jurij Klufas said. “But actually turning this into reality was amazing.”
“His influence with the translation of the historical works of Mr. Hrushevskyy will create, for a long time, a serious impact in the world of academia, and the documentation of the development of the Ukrainian nation over the thousands of years that Dr. Hrushevskyy describes,” Klufas said.
About Petro Jacyk
Petro Jacyk was born July 7, 1921 in Verkhnie Syniovydne, Ukraine.
After immigrating to Canada in 1949, he established a successful building and land development firm. He generously supported the Ukrainian Encyclopedia project, and was instrumental in the establishment of the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute, where he also endowed two permanent programs.
He financed the Jacyk Collection of Ukrainian Serials, the Central and East European Resource Centre, the Endowment for Ukrainian Periodicals, and other projects at the University of Toronto Library. In 1989, the Jacyk Centre for Ukrainian Historical Research was established at the University of Alberta. Among the Centre’s projects, the most prominent included the English-language publication of Mykhailo Hrushevsky’s History of Ukraine-Rus’, which was completed this year.
He has supported many other initiatives through the Petro Jacyk Education Foundation, including the endowment of the Jacyk Ukrainian Studies Program at Columbia University in New York and in 2001 the Petro Jacyk Program for the Study of Ukraine at the University of Toronto. Mr. Jacyk founded the International Ukrainian Language Contest in Ukraine, which received official status from the Ukrainian Parliament. All of these ventures continue today.
In 1995, Petro Jacyk received an honorary Doctorate of Laws from the University of Alberta. President Leonid Kuchma of Ukraine honoured Petro Jacyk with the Presidential Prize of Ukraine for his patronage of Ukrainian culture, education, and scholarship in 1996. In 2000, Petro Jacyk was honoured for his philanthropy with the Yaroslav the Wise Order award, Ukraine’s highest distinction presented to civilians in service to Ukraine. In 2001 he was awarded Ukraine’s Person of the Year, International philanthropy award.
After his passing on November 1, 2001, the Petro Jacyk Education Foundation continues to fulfill his vision to develop a network of educational programs and academic centers in world-renowned universities devoted to the scholarly interpretation and dissemination of objective information about Ukraine.
This article is written under the Local Journalism Initiative agreement