George Ryga

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George Ryga
Born27 July 1932
Deep Creek
Died18 November 1987
OccupationPlaywright and novelist

George Ryga (27 July 1932 – 18 November 1987) was a Canadian playwright and novelist.

Early years[edit]

Ryga was born in Deep Creek (54°57'N,113°13'W) near Athabasca, Alberta to poor Ukrainian immigrant parents. Unable to continue his schooling past grade six, he worked at a variety of jobs, including radio copywriter. Ryga continued to study, taking correspondence courses, and winning a scholarship to the Banff School of Fine Arts. In 1955, he traveled to Europe, where he attended the World Assembly for Peace in Helsinki and worked for the BBC. The following year he returned to Canada.


While living in Edmonton, he published his first book, Song of My Hands (1956), a collection of poems.

Ryga's first play, Indian, was performed on television in 1961. He achieved national exposure with The Ecstasy of Rita Joe in 1967. The work, considered by many to be the most important English-language play by a Canadian playwright, is the story of a young native woman arriving in the city who finds that she has no place with either her own people or the white man. It was performed in Vancouver, at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa and in Washington state. In 1971, the work was performed as a ballet by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet.

Other plays by Ryga include:

  • Captives of the Faceless Drummer - 1971
  • Sunrise on Sarah - 1972
  • Portrait of Angelica - 1973
  • Ploughmen of the Glacier - 1977
  • In the Shadow of the Vulture - 1985
  • Paracelsus - 1986
  • Summerland - 1992

He made a significant contribution to popular music when he wrote lyrics for a series of songs composed by the members of the Vancouver-based band The Collectors for the soundtrack of his 1969 play Grass and Wild Strawberries. Early Morning, the single release from the resulting Grass & Wild Strawberries album, became a minor local hit, and the showstopping album track Seventeenth Summer was re-recorded by the band after it underwent a membership change and changed its name to Chilliwack. The distinctive track, strongly influenced by First Nations musical forms, became a signature tune in live shows by Chilliwack for many years afterward.


He died in Summerland, British Columbia in 1987. His home has been turned into the George Ryga Centre, an arts and culture centre.


A biography, The Ecstasy of Resistance, by James Hoffman, was published in 1995.

Since 2004, the George Ryga Award for Social Awareness in Literature has been presented to a British Columbian writer who has published a book with significant social themes.

A wall plaque to commemorate George Ryga was installed in the newly-opened Summerland Library in October of 2015.


  • Song of My Hands. 1956
  • Hungry Hills. 1963
  • Ballad of a Stone-Picker. 1966
  • The Ecstasy of Rita Joe. 1970
  • The Ecstasy of Rita Joe and Other Plays. 1971
  • Sunrise on Sarah - 1973
  • Night Desk. 1976
  • Ploughman of the Glacier. 1977
  • Seven Hours to Sundown. 1977
  • Beyond the Crimson Morning. 1979
  • Two Plays: Paracelsus and Prometheus Bound. 1982
  • A Portrait of Angelica & A Letter to My Son. 1984
  • In the Shadow of the Vulture. 1985
  • The Athabasca Ryga - 1990
  • Summerland. 1992
  • George Ryga: The Other Plays. 2004 (edited by James Hoffman)
  • George Ryga: The Prairie Novels. 2004 (edited by James Hoffman)

Further reading[edit]

  • Subhash Chander: Canadian nationalism and George Ryga, a postcolonial perspective. Critique of Canadian nationalism in the plays of George Ryga. Lambert Academic Publishing LAP, Saarbrücken 2011


  • 2009 - Hungry Hills
  • 2018 - Just a Ploughboy:A film about George Ryga, written and directed by Gina Payzant

Reel Mensch Studios, Edmonton, AB, Canada


  • "Ryga, George". UABC Bookworld. 30 June 2006.
  • Bauch, Marc A. (2012), Canadian self-perception and self-representation in English-Canadian drama after 1967, Köln, Germany: Wiku Verlag, ISBN 9783865534071

External links[edit]