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New Port Moody exhibit urges compassion for new Canadians: artist

Mixed media artist Sonya Iwasiuk will talk about her first solo show at PoMoArts, in a Facebook Live event on Jan. 14.

Sonya Iwasiuk has spent the better part of her life connecting history with art.

Her mixed media installations — some of which will be on show at PoMoArts, starting Jan. 14, as part of an exhibit titled A New Resilience  — tell stories about the past that resonate today.

These are tales about people escaping their homelands because of war, poverty and discrimination in search for a better life in Canada.

But, two years ago, Iwasiuk’s own narrative about her familial roots took a twist as she was creating her immigrant series.

Born in St. Boniface, Man., Iwasiuk was raised in northern Alberta by her mother with Ukrainian descent. 

Her great-great grandparents were among the first wave of Ukrainians to move to Canada, arriving in Montreal in 1900. They hopped on a train to Alberta and were given a plot of land to farm; however, because of their ethnicity, her ancestors weren’t treated well. Later, the government told the family to leave the property because they had made a mistake.

Family folklore has it that the area’s First Nations members led the pioneering couple to a more suitable site to homestead: One with so much fish in its creek that they jumped out of the water when the wagon wheels passed through. That area came to be known as Stry, a tiny municipality northeast of Edmonton. 

Over the years, her ancestors built up the land and settled into their Canadian life. And, in her art, Iwasiuk used her family as a reference point to convey the struggles of immigrants and their want to fit in. 

She wandered prairie homesteads — many of them abandoned — to look for discarded materials to replicate for her work, never pillaging the properties. With her newly created objects, she experimented with ways to bring the immigrants’ stories to life: The metal pieces or tiles presented tangible history and provided aesthetic, she said.

Two years ago, though, the Vancouver resident took a DNA test.

And though she knew she was adopted, she understood her roots to be Ukrainian as well. “It showed I wasn’t Slav at all,” she said. “My blood goes back to the British Isles. My birth mother is Welsh… but it doesn’t matter. I feel Ukrainian and I was brought up Ukrainian.”

Her hope with A New Resilience is for viewers to talk about their own heritages, and be kind, considerate and empathic toward new Canadians.

A New Resilience will be Iwasiuk’s first solo display at PoMoArts and, on Jan. 14, she’ll speak about her exhibit — as well as her frequent travels to the prairies — in a Facebook Live event, at 7:15 p.m. (go to for the link).

Meanwhile, Iwasiuk continues to teach mixed media to adults at the Parker Street Studios in Vancouver, where she’s had a space for the past 11 years. Visit to register for her lessons.

Also opening Jan. 14 at PoMoArts (2425 St. Johns St.) are shows by Mat Holmstrom (Timeless Pastimes) and Ghislain Brown-Kossi (Are We Still Together?). The three displays end Feb. 15. Visit