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Vilna, Alberta (Canada)

Smoky Lake County

Last modified: 2012-08-09 by rob raeside
Keywords: alberta | vilna | mushroom: 3 | tricholoma ustale |
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[flag of Vilna] image contributed by Darrell Neuman, 22 April 2006


See also:


Description of the flag

The flag can be seen in use at historicvilna.ca.
Rob Raeside, 24 April 2006


Vilna is named for Vilna/Vilnius in modern Lithuania, but disputed between Lithuania and Poland around the time many Eastern European settlers were arriving on the Canadian Prairies.

According to historicvilna.ca, it was named "Vilna", meaning "peace" in Polish, after the Vilna in Poland. An ironic name choice since Vilna was born in such a turbulent era. The Great War was grinding to a bloody halt and the Russian Revolution was in full swing."

The giant mushrooms weren't built until 1993, so the flag is no older than that. The village's website says that "mushroom hunting has been a tradition since the early Ukrainian settlers arrived in the early 1900's" (found at historicvilna.ca) and the mushrooms, of the species tricholoma uspale are the world's largest.

The village was incorporated 13 June, 1923, and has a current population of about 300. It is located within Smoky Lake County.
Dean McGee, 24 April 2006


Quoting the village website:

The Village of Vilna is located Highway 28 in the County of Smoky Lake, 1.5 hrs drive north-east of Edmonton and 3.5 hrs south of Fort McMurray.

The Vilna District was opened in 1907 by an influx of mostly Central European homesteaders and squatters. When the Canadian Northern and Grand Trunk Pacific Railways began to expand their lines west and north of Edmonton, the local homesteaders and early settlers were promised a railroad that would serve the area north of the North Saskatchewan River. The rails had to run as far north as the present site of Vilna to avoid the difficulties of Indian lands and large bodies of water. As such and as predetermined by an earlier survey, the town site had been set aside at Mile 90.

The Canadian National Railway had completed laying the rail through the district in 1919. That same year, the post office was moved two miles to the present site of Vilna and a general store was built. Almost at once, a hamlet grew up around it. To capitalize on the social and economic climates, a hardware store, bank, butcher shop, hotel, post office, apartment and rooming house, pool hall and dance hall and four stores and shops were open for business by 1920. After much argument and debate, it was decided by popular vote that the Mile 90 hamlet be named Vilna, meaning "peace" in Polish, after the Vilna in Poland. An ironic name choice since Vilna was born in such a turbulent era. The Great War was grinding to a bloody halt and the Russian Revolution was in full swing. In addition, the early years of Prohibition made moonshining a profitable but dangerous business in Vilna.

On June 13, 1923 Vilna was incorporated as a village.

Boomtown communities sprang to life almost overnight around a century ago, spurred on by the expansion of the railways. This rapid development led to a very distinctive style of architecture, known as “boomtown”. This style was characterized by a decorative false front covering a more humble, gabled building behind it, typical of many buildings in the North American west at the turn of the XXth century. More often than not, these little wooden boomtown buildings were consumed by the Great Fires that roared through many of Alberta’s early Main Streets. Luckily, Vilna escaped this shared fate. Its Main Street still boasts a variety of original buildings from the boomtown era, taking you back to the origins of the railway and the footprint it left behind.

Mushroom Park is the site of the World’s Largest Mushrooms, a giant replica sculpture of the "tricholoma uspale" mushroom, a mushroom that grows wild in the area and is often used dried or cooked as a traditional ingredient in the ethnic dishes of the region. A mushroom statue may not make a lot of sense in some parts of the world, but in Vilna, where mushroom hunting has been a tradition since the early Ukrainian settlers arrived in the early 1900's, it was a logical choice."

There is no Tricholoma uspale elsewhere than on the Vilna website and websites that copied the information available there. The mushroom must be Tricholoma ustale, better known as Burnt Knight (English), Brandiger Ritterling (German), Gaska bukowa (Polish), Beukenridderzwam (Dutch), Sveden Ridderhat (Danish), Feketedö pereszke (Magyar), Bokmusseron (Swedish), Kakishimeji (Japanese) and Tricholome brûlé (French). This mushroom is usually listed as poisonous. Japanese researchers (Y. Sano et al., Chemical Communications 2002, 1384-1385) have isolated and characterized the fungal toxin as the ustalic acid. They write that T. ustale is one of the three mushrooms responsible for the most cases of poisoning in Japan; human ingestion of this mushroom causes gastro-intestinal poisoning accompanied by vomiting and diarrhoea.

It is not unusual to have mushrooms reported as poisonous used in ethnic dishes or as ceremonial food, often because of their cathartic or hallucinogenic properties; such cases have been reported in Mexico and Siberia, for instance.
Ivan Sache, 2 May 2006
 
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