As a former Ukrainian dancer, I have always been drawn to Vegreville, Alberta, where the community’s Ukrainian heritage is evident everywhere. From the stores selling Ukrainian crafts and restaurants selling Ukrainian cuisine to the annual cultural festival held every summer, Vegreville is a town that is proud of its roots.
Nowhere is this pride more evident than in the large Ukrainian Easter egg or pysanka located in Elk’s Park on the east side of town. For 25 years, it was the biggest Ukrainian Easter egg in the world until Kolomyia in Ukraine took the title in 2000. This doesn’t make Vegreville’s pysanka any less impressive, though.
Measuring 25.7 feet high, 18 feet wide and standing 31 feet high, Vegreville’s pysanka is a commanding presence. It’s silver, gold and bronze tiles gleam in the sun making it hard to miss – which is good because this is a sight well worth seeing.
Installed in 1975 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the RCMP, the egg had been in planning and construction for two years. It was originally proposed by Paul Maxum Sembaliuk, a local artist of Ukrainian descent who drew the design for the pysanka carefully incorporating colours and symbols with special meaning.
The gold, silver and bronze represent the prosperity experienced by many area settlers, many of whom were involved in agriculture – the bronze also symbolizes the earth. The silver windmill shapes also tie in with farming and mean ‘good harvest’. The radiating gold stars on either end of the egg stand for life and good fortune while the smaller three-pointed stars represent devotion to the faith of one’s ancestors. The silver band symbolizes eternity. As the egg was built both to honour the community’s Ukrainian heritage and to celebrate the RCMP’s centennial, the latter is also referenced in the design: the silver wolves’ teeth are meant to represent protection and security which the RCMP provided the early settlers.
Once the design had been drawn by Sembaliuk, there was the problem of turning it into a large three-dimensional egg. Actually, there were several problems that needed to be overcome before the drawing could become a reality and it fell to Dr. Ronald Resch, a professor of computer science at the University of Utah, to devise the solutions.
The problems largely revolved around the shape of the egg. The shape had never been mathematically defined; it was not cylindrical, spherical or elliptical. It had to be built with some sort of dome or curve that could come together at the ends. There was also the problem of how to fit the two-dimensional triangular tiles onto the three-dimensional egg and maintain the overall symmetry of the design. Finally, there was the issue of how to make the immense structure self-supporting. In the end, Resch’s solutions led him to accomplish nine mathematical, architectural and engineering firsts, including building the first egg using computer modeling, devising the first geometrical definition of an egg shape, and practically applying the B-spline (a type of mathematical curve) for the first time.
I told you this was one impressive egg.
Once Sembaliuk had designed it and Resch had engineered it, it fell to two companies in Edmonton – Permaloy and Cessco International Ltd. – to construct it. Cessco was responsible for building the internal structure of the egg – all 177 struts and 3,000 pounds of it. Permaloy donated the 2208 equilateral triangular anodized aluminum tiles that decorate the outside. In the end, it took over 12,000 man-hours to build.
Vegreville’s pysanka, which turns with the wind, is visited by thousands of people every year. In 1978, Queen Elizabeth II and her son, Prince Edward, visited.
The pysanka is located in the beautiful Elk’s Park with its trout-stocked pond and fountain, its large elk statue, playground, picnic area and fully restored CN caboose to explore. There is a campground with 93 sites, great whether you are tenting or RVing. At the information booth, you will find out more information about what there is to see and do in this town of nearly 6,000.