Ukrainian folklore archive named after founder, Bohdan Medwidsky

by Geoff McMaster
University of Alberta Express News

EDMONTON - The University of Alberta's collection of Ukrainian folklore - the only one in North America and the biggest in the world outside of Ukraine - will now be named after its founder, Dr. Bohdan Medwidsky.

Dr. Medwidsky, a professor emeritus of Ukrainian studies with the University of Alberta, Faculty of Arts, started the archive in 1977 when he realized there was a dearth of such material in Canada. It has grown by "bounds and leaps" since then, he said, and now contains 35,000 items in a wide variety of media. The core of the collection consists of student research projects, including photographs and taped interviews with people in Alberta's Ukrainian community.

"Once I decided to do folklore, I had to do what other folklorists were doing in North America and send students out to do field work," explained Dr. Medwidsky. "They learned not only from books but from what the folk have to say."

The Ukrainian Folklore Archive was renamed the Bohdan Medwidsky Ukrainian Folklore Archive at a ceremony on March 27. Dean of Arts Daniel Woolf and Member of the Legislative Assembly Gene Zwozdesky were on hand to celebrate Dr. Medwidsky's contribution to the university "both as a professor and as one of the university's significant donors," said Dr. Andriy Nahachewsky, director of the Ukrainian Folklore Center.

Aside from his generous personal contributions, Dr. Medwidsky has also been the most successful fund-raiser in the arts faculty, responsible for establishing endowments approaching a market value of $4 million.

"I'm pleased," said Dr. Medwidsky of the renaming. "It's hard to come to terms with, but it's a good feeling."

"He's a very understated person," said Dr. Nahachewsky. "He's quite shy, and so I think there's a part of him that's happy about today and a part that's a little uncomfortable to be in the spotlight. He's generally a quiet person, but when you sit with him you know he has a very keen mind, a very unusual and special sense of humor and very strong dedication to his field."

"This primary contact with people who carry the culture is the key methodological characteristic of folklore," Dr. Nahachewsky said. "In the '70s, there were Ukrainian studies in various universities across the country but no place that studied people's everyday life. [Dr. Medwidsky] filled a huge need in the community, which was interested in mythology, customs and traditions."

The collection includes songs, calendar customs, wedding traditions, oral histories, dance, music and Ukrainian Canadian popular culture. It has proven an invaluable resource for some 30 graduate students to date. And that stress on the customs and tradition of people in the community has helped the Ukrainian studies program grow, said Dr. Nahachewsky.

As for Dr. Medwidsky, though he retired from the department of modern languages and cultural studies last June, he continues to teach and plans to remain involved with the center. "I'll be around from time to time - that's for sure," he said.

"It's certainly not just a job for him, but a huge part of his life," Dr. Nahachewsky added.

Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, April 27, 2003, No. 17, Vol. LXXI

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