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Vancouver Folk Ensemble: A Legacy of Music


Our idea and our song

Will neither die nor perish…

And that, good people, is our glory,

The glory of Ukraine!


From the poem “To Osnovianenko”

T. Shevchenko (1839), Translated by Peter Fedynsky

Long before the doors of our Cultural Centre at 805 E. Pender Street opened, early Ukrainian immigrants to Vancouver were assembling, rehearsing and sharing their Ukrainian culture. As early as 1911 the operetta ‘Okh ne Lyubi Dvokhl’ (Don’t Love Two at Once) became the first Ukrainian play to be staged at the Orange Hall in Vancouver by the Amateur Theatre Circle. Following its success, they staged the operetta Natalka Poltavka in 1912. (Our Stage pg 33). These early footsteps set the impetus for the development of Ukrainian culture in Vancouver. 

First Children's String Orchestra 1921 D

First Children's String Orchestra, 1921 Damian Vykhristow

Without a home of its own, the Association of United Ukrainian Canadians, (formerly ULFTA) held rehearsals and performances for their cultural groups at various places, one being the Clinton Hall. While drama and choral groups were some of the earliest expressions of Ukrainian culture, instrumental groups soon arose. Two of the AUUC’s earliest conductors in Vancouver were Damian Vykhristow and W. Nazarkewich. 


By the time the Hall at 805 E. Pender Street opened its doors, cultural work within the Ukrainian community was flourishing. And as reported at the 10th National Convention of the ULFTA, February 4-6, 1929, “Vancouver, with its 49 member drama circle, had presented nine plays within a year and their mandolin orchestra had given seven concerts in this same period”. (From Our Stage pg 92.) 

Damian Vykhirstow.jpg
Damian Vykhristow

Throughout its existence, the AUUC has taken great strides to nurture, educate, and develop its cultural groups. Workshops and seminars, both locally and nationally, served and continue to serve as an impetus

AUUC Vancouver Folk Ensemble, 2019

for growth and technical development. These seminars also provide the framework for AUUC National Festivals as they provide the participants with the opportunity to learn and rehearse material which can then become part of the repertoire for the large Festivals. The most recent National Seminar (click to view video link) took place in Regina, Saskatchewan August 30th, 31st & September 1st, 2019. Musicians from across Canada came together to learn new material and hone their skills while reacquainting with old friends and forging new ones. 

Setting the stage for these Festivals was the very first Festival held in Toronto on July 16, 1939 featuring 1,500 performers! Since this first Festival, there have been numerous Festivals, all marking a notable Canadian or Ukrainian historical anniversary or event. The last Festival was held in Regina, Saskatchewan in 2005 to a capacity audience of 2,000, marking the 100th anniversary of Alberta and Saskatchewan joining confederation. 

Early Ukrainian Orchestra - Damian Vykhr

Early Ukrainian Orchestra - Damian Vykhristow

In 1967, in celebration of Canada’s 100th Anniversary, the Vancouver String Orchestra joined the AUUC cultural groups in a Jubilee Concert at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on April 26th. They later joined a National contingent of performers who travelled to the World Fair “Expo ‘67” in Montreal staging concerts at Canada’s centennial celebrations. 

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AUUC Vancouver Folk Orchestra, 1970

Vancouver itself played host to many significant local Festivals beginning with the first one held on January 15, 1940 at the now defunct Empress Theatre with an audience of 1,000 to 2,000. And on July 12, 1958, Vancouver greeted performers from across Canada for a Festival at the Exhibition Forum. While the days of mounting large scale concerts have waned, we continue to perform and share our culture throughout the lower mainland and in particular, at our home in the Downtown Eastside. 


In 2013, the VFO participated in Bread & Salt, a multidisciplinary tribute to the Historic Ukrainian community in the Downtown Eastside which also marked the Ukrainian Hall’s 85th anniversary. Partnering with Vancouver Moving Theatre, the VFO along with the all of the Hall’s cultural forces embarked on this endeavour to mark this monumental milestone. 

Vancouver Folk Orchestra, 2015 (photo: Sara Yuristy)

Many talented individuals have shared their passion and knowledge in conducting the orchestras at our Hall. They have imparted their own unique skills in helping to inspire and guide the musicians who came together to share their love of Ukrainian music. And we would be remiss not to mention the contribution of Karl Kobylansky, well-known Vancouver music director and coordinator of the music faculty at Capilano College (now Capilano University), credited with introducing the first Music Therapy programme in Canada, who in 1957 assumed the position of Cultural Director after studying music in Kyiv. Karl played an instrumental role in conducting and building both the choir and orchestra. 


Recognized as one of the oldest folk orchestras in Vancouver, the Vancouver String Orchestra (later known as the Vancouver Folk Orchestra and more recently as the Vancouver Folk Ensemble) was an integral part of the multicultural scene in Vancouver and a key cultural force at the Ukrainian Hall. True to its legacy, it not only continues to provide the musical inspiration for our dancers and choir but stands as a cultural force in its own right, offering many wonderful pieces of music at our concerts and events. While staying true to its Slavic roots, the orchestra plays a wide variety of music offering the musicians a window into many classic pieces. 


Under the baton of Pavel Rhyzlovsky, the Vancouver Folk Ensemble rehearses regularly, providing a continuum of music begun so many years ago. 


Links to VFE performing at the AUUC Celebration 100 concert:

Linden Tree  

Festive Hopak

Bright Shines the Moon

View the VFE's video of a rehearsal and how they stay connected during Covid-19 here.

For more information on the benefits of learning music

Pavel Rhyzlovsky, current Director of VFE

Find all our Digital Updates here:

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