Our History


The Ukrainian National Youth Federation Choir

Before adopting its current name in 1967, the O. Koshetz choir was known as the Winnipeg UNYF Choir or, in its Ukrainian version, as the MYH Choir. Inspired by the participants of the summer courses and strongly encouraged by Dr. Macenko and Mrs. Koshetz, the mixed choir was organized by Halia Cham in October 1946. At that time Winnipeg had several good Ukrainian community choirs but no permanent youth choir. It is remarkable to note that of the twenty-five young men and women who attended the first rehearsal, several -- Lesia (Stebnicky) Kapty, Ollie (Solomon) Babick and Ann (Mysyk) Wach -- are still with the choir in 1996. The first public concert of the new choir was staged, with considerable artistic triumph, in the second largest Ukrainian hall in Winnipeg, the Institute Prosvita. From that point, despite its initial ups and downs, the UNYF/Koshetz Choir has become a popular musical fixture of Winnipeg and a centre-piece of every concert. Housed at the Winnipeg local chapter of the UNF, the choir became the favourite cause of the St. Boniface branch of the UNF. Under the leadership of John Kapty, the small but enterprising St. Boniface UNF assumed a major share of financial support for the choir.

Meanwhile, with the influx of the post-war Ukrainian immigration to Canada, the level of the Winnipeg choral community had increased appreciably despite occasional political tensions between the newcomers and their Ukrainian Canadian hosts. The UNYF Choir's serious commitment to Ukrainian choral music turned the choir into a school of Ukrainian culture and in this way distinguished it from other choirs. Here again Dr. Macenko and Mrs. Koshetz, who continued to lecture at the annual summer courses, shared their Ukrainian expertise with the choir. At the same time, the choir also proved to be an attractive socializing agency which afforded young Ukrainians opportunities for fun, travel in the province of Manitoba and beyond, and, of course, romance. Marriages between the choristers have not been uncommon.

In the summer of 1947 the choir began the practice of visiting Ukrainian communities in Manitoba during their local festivals. Concerts were given in Beausejour, Komarno, Winnipeg Beach, Gimli and Teulon. Between 1948 and 1950 both Macenko and Mrs. Koshetz formally led the choir as Halia Cham had moved to Eastern Canada where she continued her choral work on behalf of the UNYF. In 1951 Walter Klymkiw, from the Winnipeg suburb of Brooklands and a graduate of the University of British Columbia, assumed the directorship of the choir and, as it turned out, has devoted the rest of his life to it. Indeed, Klymkiw has been the undisputed heart and soul of the choir. A teacher by profession, he developed into an imaginative and esteemed conductor under whose leadership the choir evolved into a magnificent and distinctive vocal instrument. On another level, the composition of the membership of the choir has turned it into a sociological microcosm of the Ukrainian community in Canada.

The UNYF, like other Ukrainian organizations, held regional and national annual conventions in different parts of Canada during which concert competitions represented the high point in the proceedings. In 1948 the Winnipeg UNYF choir participated in a gala convention held in Edmonton and tied with the local choir for first place. In addition to conventions, other socio-cultural affairs, known as cavalcades, were vehicles by which the UNYF brought song and dance into Ukrainian communities. The Winnipeg choir also regularly has partaken in the main ritualized community celebrations held to commemorate significant historical events and individuals like the poet, Taras Shevchenko. The male section of the choir has been much in demand to sing at weddings (conducted by William Solomon) and funerals (conducted by Russel Kapty). The reputation of the UNYF/Koshetz Choir, it should be noted, extends beyond the Winnipeg Ukrainian community. In Canada, the choir has been a frequent guest at various multicultural functions as well as on national radio and television. Its extensive tours of Ukraine, Europe and South America has given it favourable international exposure. Its production of records and tapes has enhanced further its stature and popularity.

Choral Highlights, 1949-1996

UNYF Choir participated in the YMCA folk festival held in Winnipeg.


UNYF spring concert held during the year of the great Red River Flood.
Cavalcade to Komarno and Winnipeg Beach.


Walter Klymkiw became the musical director of the choir whose membership was fluctuating as a result of the post-war immigration.


The UNYF purchased a summer camp at Sandy Hook on Lake Winnipeg. The choir sang at the opening ceremonies. The choristers now had a place to socialize as well as to relax.
The Koshetz memorial concert held at the St. Boniface UNF hall.


The choir's performance at the Annual Spring concert was well received. Winnipeg's top music critic, Roy S. Maley, writing for the Winnipeg Tribune, praised the young UNYF choir:

'Winnipeg has a natural heritage of folk music, songs, stories and characteristic dances, which perhaps cannot be equaled elsewhere in the Dominion. More popular with each season's passing, these delightful forms of entertainment, rendered educational in so doing, are proving of the greatest benefit and influence in making Winnipeg notably an artistic centre, and bringing together in one bond of ready sympathy and interest peoples of diversified talent and culture. Walter Klymkiw conducted the youthful choir of 40 voices, with average age of 18. The work of the choir, in general was strong of forte tone, with few instances of softer singing. Mr. Klymkiw, like his choristers, is a young man who will gain more control and polish with greater experience. The choir is fortunate in possessing a couple of basses of rich, sombre tone which forms a firm foundation for other sections of the choir. Sopranos display bright, vibrant tones and the contralto line is firm and rich of texture.'


Performed at the University of Manitoba and at the Red River Exhibition, the biggest fun event in Manitoba.
Concert at the 20th Jubilee of the UNYF held in Toronto, ON.


The first trip into the United States. The choir was accompanied by the UNYF dancers from whose ranks the famous Rusalka and Orlan dance troupes would evolve. A concert in Minneapolis for the Ukrainian American audience was received by a sell-out crowd with enthusiasm and emotional appreciation. Professor A. Granovsky of the University of Minnesota and a local community leader lauded the Winnipeg performers for the intensity and skill which moved many in the audience to nostalgia:

'They have brought us the song, the dance and the brilliant costumery of a country that we once called home. They brought these gifts to us with such a force, with such skill, with such polish that our very blood flows more warmly in our veins. Ukraine, a fairyland of sparkling music, a kaleidoscope of rich colour sprinkled with the gold of Ukrainian wheatfields, a land where the dancing was fast and wild, intricate and alive; this land was today returned to us, if only for an afternoon, by these young Canadians who know and understand the need to preserve our heritage and culture.'


The choir assisted in the fundraiser for the newly established Ukrainian studies program at the University of Manitoba.
Concert at Dauphin, MB.


Cavalcades to Saskatoon, SK and Edmonton AB.


Concert commemorating the 40th anniversary of Western Ukraine's proclamation of independence.


Cavalcades to Dauphin, MB, Kenora, ON and Regina, SK.
Koshetz memorial concert sponsored by the Ukrainian Canadian Committee (now called Ukrainian Canadian Congress).


Cavalcade in Winnipeg and a fundraiser for Oseredok.


Winnipeg hosted the Shevchenko Centennial celebrations and the unveiling of the monument to Ukraine's greatest poet at the Legislative grounds. The Prime Minister of Canada, John Diefenbaker, numerous politicians and thousands of tourists attended the elaborate festivities. The UNYF choir members took part in the huge combined choir that performed at the Civic Auditorium.

The UNYF Choir won the coveted choral competition at the Manitoba Music Festival, which with over 30,000 participants rated as the largest musical event in the world.


The choir repeated as choral winner at the Manitoba Music Festival. It was lavishly praised by the local media.
Invited performance at Canada's largest exhibition, the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto.
CBC Christmas radio program.


UNYF gala concert in Winnipeg.
CBC radio and television performances.


UNF convention concert in Winnipeg.
70th anniversary of the Ukrainian National Association.


The Winnipeg production of the Ukrainian opera, 'Zaporozhets za Dunayem.'
Membership in the Associated Choirs of Winnipeg (1965 to 1978).
Memorial concert for Andrij Melnyk, the leader of moderate nationalists.


This was an exceptionally busy year for the choir. The Centennial Commission, created by the federal government to celebrate Canada's centennial in 1967, selected the UNYF Choir as pre-centennial musical ambassadors to Eastern Canada. Performances at Moncton, NB, Halifax, NS and Montréal, PQ.

Memorial service for Tetiana Koshetz, one of the founders of the choir, who died in March.

The UNYF choir appeared at the Pop Concert as guests of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra (WSO) under Victor Feldbril. This appearance signified the recognition of the UNYF choir and of the importance of Ukrainian choral music by the professional musical community and led to other engagements with the WSO.

CTV Television show.

Celebrations of the 75th anniversary of Ukrainian settlement in Manitoba, a three day affair hosted by the Ukrainian Canadian Committee.

Anniversary concert in Fort William, ON.


To commemorate Canada's centennial and to honour the memory of the great Olexander Koshetz, the UNYF choir changed its name to that of the O. Koshetz Memorial Choir. Its impressive performance at Expo 67 in Montréal, an international exhibition at which most of the nations of the world were present, signified its artistic maturity. This was a big step from local engagements at which the choir had honed its vocal skills. Equally important was the presence at Expo of Ukraine's outstanding choir, the Veryovka Choir, directed by the celebrated Anatoliy Avdievsky. This was the beginning of a Klymkiw-Avdievsky cooperation and friendship which would have a dramatic impact on the future of the choir and its relationship with the Ukrainian community. In general, Ukrainians in Canada viewed cultural representatives of Soviet Ukraine with suspicion and hostility. Given the totalitarian and repressive nature of the Soviet regime which repeatedly persecuted and Russified Ukrainian culture while proclaiming its right to flourish, this attitude was justifiable and understandable. Yet, it was apparent that many Soviet Ukrainians were genuine patriots who privately disapproved of their regime. Needless to say, the Veryovka tour of Canada in 1967 was highly controversial. Nonetheless, Klymkiw was determined to secure Avdievsky's musical expertise for the Koshetz Choir and in 1978, under the provisions of Canada's multicultural program, Avdievsky spent a month in Winnipeg teaching the Koshetz Choir. Shortly thereafter, the nationalistic Koshetz Choir embarked on its historic first tour of Soviet Ukraine.

'Songs and Dances of Ukraine' with Rusalka.


The Koshetz choir was featured at the 9th Ukrainian Canadian Congress gala concert, along with Joan Karasevich, Ed Evanko, Juliette and
the Rusalka Dancers.

Special concert saluting the visit of Cardinal Joseph Slipyj, the 100th Anniversary of the Ukrainian Reading Association 'Prosvita'.


The Koshetz Choir carolled for Oseredok and thus began the practice of annual fundraising for Canada's best Ukrainian cultural centre.
Concert at Winnipeg with guest soloist Andrij Dobriansky of the Metropolitan Opera of New York.


The province of Manitoba celebrated the centennial of its entry into the confederation of Canada. The multicultural heritage of the province was showcased in a special cultural display called Folklorama. The remarkable success of the event turned Folklorama into a permanent and major tourist attraction. The Koshetz Choir has often performed at the Kiev/Kyiv Pavillion.

The UCC staged a centennial concert at Winnipeg's brand new Centennial Concert Hall once again starring the Koshetz Choir and the Rusalka Dancers. Roxolana Ruslak of the Canadian Opera Company of Toronto was a guest. Premier Ed Schreyer paid tribute to the performers:

'In this centennial year we have been offered many opportunities to reflect on the work of the people of varied backgrounds, national origins and faith and their many contributions to the upbuilding of our province. Groups like the O. Koshetz Choir and the Rusalka Dancers have added beauty, depth and colour to the multicultural character of Manitoba. Your presence among us makes this a happier place in which to live.' -Concerts at Gimli and Gardenton, MB and Thunder Bay, ON.


The O. Koshetz Choir highlighted the 10th Ukrainian Canadian Congress. Writing in Woman's World, Irena Bubniuk stressed the choir's professionalism:

'Certainly the choir (the first group in the program) gave by far and away the most professional and musically controlled performance of the evening. Even though it makes no claim to being comprised of professional singers, the careful and thorough preparation shone through each phrase and delighted the listener's ear. There was throughout a sense of thorough enjoyment: the choristers enjoyed their work and sang as though, in the main it was not really work. The audience responded by being interested and absorbed. All in all, Mr. Klymkiw and his choir must be congratulated on having already achieved a certain musical distinction. The works they chose were not easy and they sang them with musical conviction and a good deal of professional aplomb. We feel they are capable of going to further and more complex artistic aims. Bonne chance.'


Christmas concert with the O. Koshetz Children's Choir.
The O. Koshetz Choir starred at the national UNF convention in Toronto.
The 35th anniversary of UNYF and the 10th anniversary of Rusalka concert.


Christmas concert at the Holy Trinity Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral.


The inauguration of Ukrainian Week in Winnipeg.
The choir saluted the centennial of the City of Winnipeg.
Concert at St. John's Anglican Cathedral.


The centennial of O. Koshetz's birth was commemorated with the singing of one of his liturgies at the Orthodox and Catholic cathedrals of Winnipeg and at St. Andrew's College.
Performance with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra's 'Great Cultural Heritage' series.
Concert at Vita, (formerly Shevchenko) MB.


Concert with WSO.


'The Ukrainian Gala Concert and Ballet'. The Koshetz Choir was assisted by the Rusalka Dancers, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet and the WSO.
Performance with the children's choir, Voloshky, at the Playhouse Theatre.
'Theologians of North America' concert.
Bortniansky concert with the WSO.
Concert for the American Consul at the Winnipeg Art Gallery.
Concert at Minneapolis, Minn.


Concert with the Orlan Folk Ensemble.
Associated Choirs of Winnipeg concert.
National convention of the Ukrainian Women's Organization of Canada.

The first historic tour of Ukraine. The concert tour of Soviet Ukraine was handled by Society Ukraine, an official government agency whose task was to influence Ukranians abroad. Klymkiw and the choir were fully aware of the possible political manipulations of their tour.

Still, they believed their performances could make a statement about the level of Ukrainian national consciousness in Canada at the time that Ukraine was experiencing renewed Russification and militant atheism. Although the choir's repertoire was censored, personal contacts with local choral groups with whom the choir shared the stage in Kyiv, Ternopil and Lviv, and the quiet distribution of forbidden liturgical music, did have a positive impact on the cultural elite. The choir, particularly its name, also gave prominence to the officially ignored works of Olexander Koshetz himself. Conversely, the choristers benefited greatly from Avdievsky's workshops. Nonetheless, the tour was a source of controversy in Canada. Incidentally, the cost of this tour and other tours to come, was borne by the choir and individual members.


'Musicamera' Ukrainian Christmas special at the Centennial Concert -Concert with the Orlan Folk Ensemble.
Koshetz liturgy sung at St. Mary the Protectress Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral and Sts. Vladimir and Olga Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral.


Concert at Western Manitoba Centennial Auditorium, Brandon, MB.

The Koshetz Choir participated in a mass choir with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra in the production of Handel's 'Messiah' staged at the
Winnipeg Arena.

'A Tribute to the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra' Concert. The O. Koshetz Choir was the first Ukrainian musical organization anywhere to salute and
support the local symphony.

Ukrainian Gala Concert.


Associated Choirs 'Opus 1981'.
'Music Manitoba' concert at Trinity United Church.
The choir hosted the Winnipeg performance of the Veryovka Choir.


The second tour of Ukraine. This time Klymkiw managed to include in the program a liturgical piece by Dyletsky not heard in Ukraine for ages. There was also greater opportunity for family visits. Performances at Lviv, Ternopil and Zastava were well received and climaxed with a joint concert with Veryovka in Kyiv. The choir was accompanied by the noted soloist Ed Evanko. (See the assessment of the tour by Russell Kapty.)

Concert at Neepawa, MB on behalf of the Provincial Department of Cultural Affairs.

Concert with the Orlan Folk Ensemble.


Concert fundraiser for the Manitoba Youth Choir.
Choral workshop and Alliance Choral Concert at St. Boniface College.
'Moods of May' concert at Cook's Creek, MB.


The Millennium concert.
50th Anniversary of the UNYF concert at Massey Hall, Toronto, ON.
'A Family Christmas Fantasy' with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra.
'Manitoba Sings' concert at Young United Church, Winnipeg.


The South American tour. It is estimated that around half a million Ukrainians live in South America. Ukrainian settlement in Brazil began in the 1870's and in Argentina in the 1890's, the same time as in Canada. In general, Ukrainians in South America, for a variety of economic and political reasons, have a lower standard of living than those in North America. Nonetheless, their community and religious life is highly developed and they were enthusiastic and generous hosts to the Koshetz Choir. The tour was a mutual learning experience. The choir performed in Buenos Aires, Posadas and Apostoles, Argentina; Encarnacion, Paraguay; Curitiba and Prudentopolis, Brazil.


'The Millennium of Ukrainian Christianity' concert tour of western Europe was designed to celebrate a fundamental moment in Ukrainian history, the conversion to Byzantine Christianity in 988. While the Ukrainian presence in Western Europe is rather limited, there are organized communities which the choir visited. The choir gave concerts and sang mass in Orthodox and Catholic churches, including the historic Strasbourg Cathedral. Furthermore, the choir also performed for non-Ukrainian audiences who simply love Ukrainian songs. The itinerary included Paris, Rouen, Liseux, Vangenbourg and Strasbourg, France; Antwerp and Genk, Belgium; and Munich, Germany.


National Millennium Celebration Concert held at the National Arts, Centre, Ottawa, ON.

'A Celebration of Note' Concert. Inspired by Walter Klymkiw, the Winnipeg Ukrainian community organized a spectacular celebration of the Millennium. The Koshetz Choir was accompanied by the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra (directed by Virko Baley), Yuri Mazurkevich (violin), Nina Matvienko (soprano) and John Martens (tenor). The choir performed an original commissioned work by Evhen Stankovych 'When the Fern Blooms'. This was its world premiere.


'Vladimir of Kiev', an oratorio by Danny Schur commissioned by the choir.


Guests of the CBC Hymn Sing.

he third tour of Ukraine occured in a period of dramatic changes and high hopes in that country. The communist leader Gorbachev had unleashed belated economic and political reforms (glasnost and perestroika) to save the Soviet Union from economic collapse. These changes allowed the suppressed Ukrainian national -- liberation and democratic forces, in the form of Rukh, to push for cultural, religious and national freedom. Under the leadership of Leonid Kravchuk, Soviet Ukraine was on the road to sovereignty and democracy. On August 24, 1991, Ukraine's parliament proclaimed Ukraine's indepencence, a historical act which was overwhelmingly confirmed by a national referendum. Leonid Kravchuk was elected president. Politically, Ukraine's separation from the Soviet Union was crucial because it led to the sudden collapse of the communist superpower as other Soviet republics followed Ukraine's example. The new climate was reflected in the choir's patriotic and religious repertoire and in the joyful emotionalism of the older choristers, notably those born in Ukraine, who witnessed the fullfilment of their personal and national dream. In addition to concerts in Kyiv, Lviv and Ternopil, the choir sang in Prague, Czech Republic and Warsaw, Poland.

1991 | 45th Anniversay

The 45th Anniversary of the Koshetz Choir celebrations, reunion, banquet and concert.


In a Canada-wide 'Festival of New Music', the choir and the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra premiered Yevhen Stankovych's 'Black Elegy'. The festival was broadcast nationally on the CBC.

Concert commemorating the centenary of the Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate.

The O. Koshetz Choir became the first Ukrainian cultural entity outside of Ukraine to be awarded Ukraine's highest honour, the coveted Shevchenko medal, by the government of free and independent Ukraine. The choir and its director, Klymkiw, were lauded for their meritorius bridging work between Canada and Ukraine and their propagation of Ukraine's musical heritage.


St. Andrew's College in Winnipeg, an affiliate of the University of Manitoba, recognized the many musical, cultural and national achievements of Walter Klymkiw with an Honourary Doctorate of Canon Law.

Concert for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada at the revived Walker Theatre.

The fourth tour of Ukraine, now an independent nation of 52 million inhabitants struggling to transform itself from a communist Russian colony to a Western-type democracy, took the choir beyond its traditional circuit. In addition to Kyiv, Ternopil and Lviv, the choir visited Ivano-Frankivsk, Vinnytsia and Uzhorod as well as two Ukrainian communities in Moldova, Rybnytsia and Rashkiv.

The Mennonite Heritage Festival at Jubilee Place.

Ukraine Tour 1993 Highlights Concert.


Ukraine's new president, Leonid Kuchma, made an official state visit to Canada, the first western country to recognize Ukraine in 1991. During Kuchma's stay in Winnipeg, (Oct. 26-27), the Koshetz Choir sang at the banquet and the wreath laying ceremony at the Shevchenko monument at the Legislative grounds.

Concerts commemorating the 50th Anniversary of Olexander Koshetz's death held in Winnipeg and Montreal.


Concert with the Winnipeg Singers.
Taras Shevchenko Concert in Edmonton, AB.
Concert ending the General Council (sobor) of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.


Intensive preparations for the 50th Anniversary of the choir celebrations to be held in October and a concert with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra in November, conducted by Bramwell Tovey.

Walter Klymkiw contemplates his impending retirement

As Walter Klymkiw contemplates his impending retirement as choir director, he can reflect on his long years of dedicated service and inspiring leadership with a great deal of satisfaction. After all, it was Klymkiw's vision of the choir as a cultural classroom and choral ambassador to the world and especially subjugated Ukraine, that made the Koshetz Choir so unique and so special. Klymkiw's passionate love of his choir and his skill in harmonizing a highly diverse and fluid group of amateur singers produced a beautiful vocal instrument, with its distinct sound and a strong sense of mission and loyalty. It is without exaggeration that the O. Koshetz Choir has been acclaimed the premiere Ukrainian choir outside Ukraine. Locally, it has been an integral and respected member of the Winnipeg musical community. This hard-earned recognition has been reflected in the accolades and honours the choir and its director have received. Indeed, Olexander Koshetz himself would be justifiably proud of the choir bearing his name. Yet, Klymkiw has remained modest and self-effacing throughout his 45 years as director. He attributes the success of the choir not to himself but to the character and calibre of his singers. Klymkiw will leave to his successor an established, committed and dynamic choral organization with an admirable work ethic and a glorious record of achievement. As the choir celebrates its 50th anniversary, the future awaits it with new challenges and new opportunities.

O. Koshetz Children's Choir

The O. Koshetz Children's Choir was started in 1989 to pass on the traditions of the Ukrainian culture and to encourage young children to sing and enjoy Ukrainins folk music. The choir is currently under the direction of Corinne Villebrun. The children range in ages from 7 to 14 and come from diverse backgrounds. The O. Koshetz Children's Choir has performed at the O. Koshetz Choir Fundraising Dinner, Christmas Concerts and at nursing homes
in Winnipeg.