Bohdan Medwidsky – 2011

Bohdan Medwidsky



Bohdan Medwidsky was born in Ukraine and spent his youth in Switzerland and Toronto. A graduate of the University of Ottawa with a BA degree in 1963 and an MA in 1966, he received his PhD from the University of Toronto in 1977. He held teaching positions at the University of Toronto and Carleton University before moving to Edmonton in 1971. At the University of Alberta, he assumed the post of Assistant Professor with the Department of Slavic and East European Studies, rising to the rank of full professor in 1991. He retired in 2002, becoming Professor Emeritus. He has continued to participate in the life of the Kule Folklore Centre at the University of Alberta on a daily basis since that time.


Dr. Medwidsky has made a real impact in the academic community of folklorists in Canada and internationally. He served as President of the Folklore Studies Association of Canada (1986-1987), helped organize folklore conferences (eg. FSAC, 1994), was long active at conferences of the American Folklore Society, and served on the editorial board of the main folklore journal in Ukraine (Narodna tvorchist’ ta etnohrafiia). He also contributed significantly in an international context, forging early links with folklorists in Soviet Ukraine during difficult times, and helping them to build contacts with western scholarship in this discipline.


Perhaps his greatest achievement is founding the Ukrainian Folklore Program at the University of Alberta. Trained as a linguist, he taught his first folklore class in 1977, reinforcing his own longstanding interest, and discovering a vein of strong attraction in university students of that time. A Bachelor of Arts degree in Ukrainian Folklore was established at the University of Alberta in approximately 1980, and graduate degrees soon followed. The first MA in Ukrainian folklore was awarded in 1981, and the first PhD in 1991. Since that time, the University of Alberta has awarded 34 graduate degrees in Ukrainian Folklore (26 MAs and 8 PhDs) (plus 9 more students pursuing their graduate studies in folklore at present and 4 more poised to enter in 2011). Half of these completions (13 MAs and 4PhDs) were achieved under Dr. Medwidsky‘s personal (co)supervision.


Single-handedly at first, he has created a significant centre for folkloristics in Canada, and by far the most successful and permanent nexus of folklore studies in Canada‘s west. Today, the folklore program is housed in the Department of Modern Languages and Cultural Studies and boasts 2.5 FTE permanently endowed folklore professors (Nahachewsky since 1991, Kononenko 2003, True 2010), the Peter and Doris Kule Centre for Ukrainian and Canadian Folklore (founded 2001), and strong support by departmental and faculty administration. Importantly, the folklore program and the Kule Folklore Centre have been given the mandate to expand beyond Ukrainian-Canadian folklore and into Canadian folklore more generally.


The Ukrainian Folklore Archives were founded in 1977 as Dr. Medwidsky assembled students’ fieldwork projects from his first course on Ukrainian folklore. The Archives have now grown to include tens of thousands of documents of Ukrainian and Canadian life: photographs, manuscripts, books, records, audio and video field recordings, posters, concert programs and much more. The Archives have been allocated a permanent location at the University of Alberta and recognized as one of the 36 official museums and collections on campus. They employ a full-time Archivist, some five Research Assistants (graduate assistants working part-time), and a number of contract workers each year. In 2002, upon his retirement, the archives were renamed the “Bohdan Medwidsky Ukrainian Folklore Archives.”


Bohdan Medwidsky has been outstanding in his ability to attract supporters, promote awareness, and create endowments dedicated to folklore studies. He is the key to securing eight endowments at the University of Alberta, currently valued over $9,000,000. They are dedicated to support operations of the Kule Folklore Centre, graduate student awards, the Archives, as well as research, publications and community engagement. His own personal contributions reveal his passion: He himself ranks among the major donors in the Faculty of Arts at this university.


Dr. Medwidsky was instrumental in the founding of the Friends of the Ukrainian Folklore Centre, a non-profit organisation dedicated to supporting the folklore program and the Kule Folklore Centre with advice, financial assistance, and community connections. He has also dedicated a great deal of energy to the local community, and the promotion of culture in this realm. He has been very active with the Society of Friends of the Ukrainian Village, and has established an endowment to promote the enrichment of this major museum in western Canada. Hundreds of summer interpreters for the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village have been given in-depth training in the culture of Ukrainian settlement in east central Alberta as a result of a spring course, UKR 327, initiated by Dr. Medwidsky. He is a founding member of the Premier‘s Advisory Board for the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village (1982), and has been granted an honorary life time membership in that organization. Dr. Medwidsky served as President of the Vinok Folk Dance Society (1989-92). He served the Human Rights, Citizenship and Multiculturalism Education Fund (Province of Alberta) from 1996-1999. Dr. Medwidsky has been involved in a number of political campaigns, and has used his knowledge and political contacts to further folklore studies.


In 2009, Dr. Medwidsky received the prestigious award of Order of Merit III Grade from the President of Ukraine, Viktor Yushchenko. A man of great generosity and even greater humility, he does not seek accolades and shuns the spotlight, preferring to focus attention on the causes he supports and the individuals he has helped. It is fitting that the Folklore Studies Association of Canada recognize his outstanding contribution to folklore studies in Canada.


Andriy Nahachewsky
University of Alberta


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