Huculak Chair of Ukrainian Culture and Ethnography

Erast Huculak The Huculak Chair is an endowed professorial position at the University of Alberta. Dr. Andriy Nahachewsky occupies the chair and thus conducts research, undertakes projects and teaches courses in the Ukrainian Folklore Program. 

The establishment of the Huculak Chair was made possible by a major donation from Erast and Lydia Huculak as well as other donors. The Huculaks had responded to a fundraising drive for the Ukrainian ethnography program in what was then the Department of Slavic and East European Studies. 

Because of the size of their donation, made in 1987, the central endowment of the Chair was named after them. At that time, gifts to the Ukrainian Folklore Program were matched on a 2:1 basis by the Government of Alberta. The Chair was officially opened and celebrated at the University of Alberta on September 19, 1989. Today, the combined endowments in Ukrainian ethnography have a market value of over $2.4 million.

The Huculak Chair has established a unique niche in Ukrainian studies worldwide because it is perfectly positioned to act as a bridge linking Ukrainian and Western scholarship. Western scholars benefit when the Chair's projects give increased access to the wealth of ethnographic resources accumulated by Ukrainian scholars. Ukrainian scholars benefit from western ideas and methods. Apart from being able to provide financial and organizational support for Ukrainian ethnographic projects that could not otherwise be undertaken in Ukraine, the Huculak Chair also encourages study of the vibrant Ukrainian-Canadian culture that has evolved in Canada over the past 100 years.

The solidity of the program stems from the support of the community, the University of Alberta, and the Department of Modern Languages and Comparative Studies. Its foundation rests on three substantial endowments: the Ukrainain Folklore Program Development Fund (which includes a Huculak Chair itself), the Kuryliw Scholarship Endowment, and the Ukrainian Folklore Archive Endowment.

Erast Huculak came to Canada in 1948. He completed a degree in Pharmacy in Vancouver, then moved to Oshawa, Ontario where he established the first Medical Pharmacy. This company grew to a chain of some 27 pharmacies and became the largest provider of pharmaceuticals to long-term care facilities in Canada.  In addition to serving as President and Chairman of the Board of his pharmaceutical company, he established a growing family and dedicated his energies to many Ukrainian organizations in Ontario.  He was a long-time leader in the Plast Ukrainian Youth Association. He served as President of the Canadian Friends of Rukh for Canada, founded the Children of Chornobyl Canadian Fund and was active in other organizations.

As Dr. Huculak’s business became more successful, his philanthropic activities increased.  He always remembered his Ukrainian roots. In 1989 he established the Huculak Chair of Ukrainian Culture and Ethnography, the first endowed professorial chair in the Faculty of Arts at the U of A. The Huculak Chair is a key component of a strong Ukrainian studies profile in Edmonton.  He purchased a building for the first Ukrainian Embassy in Canada and donated 550 acres of land in the Durham Region to create a park.  More recently, he and his wife Yarmila gifted the Toronto Branch of Plast with a beautiful new building for their activities.

His generous financial contributions have supported the Ukrainian Canadian Congress for Holodomor-Genocide information, the Ostroh University in Ukraine, and political organizations working to support independent Ukraine. He was a personal friend of three Ukrainian Presidents.

Erast Huculak was a friend to people from all walks of life and enjoyed being a family man and spending time with his wife, children, and grandchildren. He loved to travel, to laugh and to make others laugh with him.

Dr.  Huculak was awarded the the Taras Shevchenko Medal  in 1995, the highest honour that the Ukrainian Canadian Congress can bestow.  In addition, he received the Ukrainian President’s Medal of Merit 3rd degree in 1996, and the President’s Medal of Merit 2nd degree in 2001. The University of Alberta recognized him with an Honorary Doctor of Laws Degree in 2001.  He served as Honorary Consul of Ukraine in Canada from 2005. He became a Fellow of the Order of Canada in 2006. More recently Dr. Huculak received a medal from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, the Prince Ostroh Gold Medal from the Ostroh Academy (2011) and the Plast Order of “Eternal Fire” in gold, the Markian Okhrymowych Humanitarian Award, and the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal. Just weeks before his passing in March 2013, he received an Honorary Doctorate from the Ukrainian Free University in Munich.

In his autobiography My Wooden Suitcase - A Memoir, Dr. Huculak shares his philosophy regarding philanthropy: “Help others, and that goodwill will return to you a hundredfold.  This is truly how I’ve tried to live my life.”  His philosophy has benefited many and his legacy will live on.