The Ukrainian Community
in Toronto
from World War One to 1971

By: Andrew Gregorovich

From: Polyphony Summer 1984 pp. 123-126
© 1984 Multicultural History Society of Ontario

In 1984 the City of Toronto celebrates the 150th anniversary of its incorporation as a city, which had originally been founded in 1793 as the town of York. In its growth as a meeting-place of many cultures and ethnic groups, Toronto has attracted a large and growing Ukrainian population which totals 80,000 in the metropolitan area. In the 1971 Census Ukrainians with a population of 60,750, or 2.3 per cent, were the sixth largest group in Metro Toronto, following the British (56.9 per cent), Italian (10.3 per cent), German (4.4 per cent), Jewish (4.2 per cent) and French (3.6 per cent).

Since Ukrainians in Toronto constitute over 10 per cent of all Ukrainians in Canada they have a considerable impact on the entire Ukrainian Canadian community. The earliest Ukrainians to settle in Toronto around the turn of the century lived in the two major immigrant reception areas: I) St. John's Ward (Yonge University, Queen-College Streets) with Ukrainians settling in the south on such streets as Terauley (now Bay), Alice (where the Eaton's Centre is today), Elizabeth and Elm; 2) The Junction area in west Toronto on streets such as Franklin, Edwin, Perth, Edith and Royce (later Dupont).

After World War One the community started to expand and resettle west along Queen Street with an axis at Bathurst. This became the main Ukrainian community area in Toronto from 1920 into the 1960s with almost all the major organisations and churches located here. Such streets as Denison, Augusta, Lippincott and, further west, Palmerston and Euclid were heavily populated by Ukrainians who bought, rented, or boarded in these locales. In the early days they were called Bukovinians, Galicians and Ruthenians.

By 1920 Ukrainians were settled in an area on King Street East and others such as Duchess and Dalhousie. In the 1920-30s there were also Ukrainians in an area south of Queen in the Niagara-Tecumseth triangle. In the interwar period colonies started in Mimico-New Toronto-Long Branch and from 1932 in the farm area of Scarborough-Agincourt at Warden Avenue to escape the depression in the city.

The third immigration and new citizens from the prairies led, in the 1960s, to settlements west from Dufferin to Jane Street and the creation of the Bloor West Village, which is becoming the new focus of the Ukrainian community in Toronto. By 1976 the area north of Bloor to Annette and from Keele Street west to Baby Point was over 10 per cent Ukrainian in population.

The first Ukrainians to settle in Toronto probably came about 1900 to work as labourers rather than settle on the prairies as pioneer homesteaders. Theodore Humeniuk, in 1938, identified the first three Ukrainian immigrants who came in 1903 as Panko Ostapovich, Vasyl' Netrebko and Adam Strykhalsky. However, in an interview, he mentioned that there were earlier immigrants whose names he did not know. A century ago there were some individuals in Toronto who traced their origin to Ukraine. For example, Charles G. Horetzky, born in Scotland of a Ukrainian father, was living in Toronto in 1888 at 166 Cumberland Street. In 1891 he built a house at 88 Bedford Road, which is listed by the Toronto Historical Board in its Inventory of Buildings of Architectural and Historical Importance. In the 1870s Horetzky was an engineer who accompanied the Sandford Fleming expedition surveying a route for the Canadian Pacific Railway through the Rocky Mountains. He was a noted photographer.

The importance of the church in the life of Toronto's Ukrainian community may be judged from the fact that the first building that Ukrainians erected in Toronto was a church. This was St. Josaphat's Ukrainian Catholic Church (now a cathedral) built, 1913-14, on Franklin Street in the Junction area of west Toronto. The first Ukrainian Catholic Divine Liturgy was probably celebrated in 1909 in Toronto by Father Ivan Zaklynsky in a small brick house on the southeast corner of Edith and Edwin Avenue just three blocks from St. Josaphat's. In 1909 a letter from the president of the Catholic Church Extension Society to Archbishop McEvay of Toronto expressed a need for a Ukrainian (he used the old term Ruthenian) bishop, priests and a paper to save them from the Protestants, indicating that the number and plight of the Ukrainians were sufficient to concern the Roman Catholic church leaders.

The parish committee, in 1911-12, was led by Harasym Sukota who had come to Toronto in 1904. He enlisted the aid of prominent individuals such as Father Lev Sembratowicz of Buffalo who found the Ukrainian Catholic spiritual life "at a low ebb" in west Toronto. It was energetic Father Joseph Boyarchuk, the parish priest, who organised the building of the church. It was consecrated by the first Ukrainian bishop in Canada, Nicetas Budka, and opened on April 14, 1914. A church choir was established for the formal opening ceremony, and as such became the first Ukrainian choir in Toronto. The church rapidly became a cultural, social and educational centre with the choir, orchestra, drama circle, school and religious events, such as weddings, baptisms and funerals.

Downtown Ukrainians were much slower in organising their religious life. Father A. Sarmatiuk, priest of St. Josaphat's in 1925, initiated regular liturgy services for the Ukrainian Catholic faithful at St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church at Bathurst and Adelaide. This led to the establishment of the second Ukrainian Catholic parish in1928. An old Pentecostal church hall was purchased at 276 Bathurst and was named St. Mary's Dormitian Ukrainian Catholic Church. In 1937 a third Ukrainian Catholic parish was founded in east Toronto and became the Holy Eucharist Church, located in a former French church at 436 King Street East.

Although the majority of Ukrainians are Orthodox by religion (89 per cent) and the minority Eastern-Rite Catholic (10 per cent; 40 million to 4.7 million respectively in the 1930s), the situation is reversed in Canada. The majority of Ukrainian immigrants to Canada came from Galicia in West Ukraine where the Ukrainian Catholic church was dominant. Only those immigrants who came from Bukovina, Volhynia, Polisia and East, or Great, Ukraine were predominantly Orthodox. When the Ukrainian Greek Orthodox Church was founded in Canada in 1918, it attracted considerable numbers of Ukrainian Catholic faithful.

The first Ukrainian Orthodox mass in Ukrainian was celebrated in Toronto by Father Petro Bilon on November 14, 1926 in the Church of St. John the Baptist (Garrison Church) on the southwest corner of Portland and Stewart Streets. Theodore Humeniuk had arranged the service, which attracted 200 people. Two weeks earlier an initiatory committee had been established by members of the Ukrainian People' s Home. In 1927 space was rented at 137 Richmond Street and 382 King Street West, but the cost of rent left no funds to support a priest, so Father Bilon was forced to leave for Edmonton. During the next four years, as funds permitted, Rev. V. Sliuzar was invited from Montreal to serve Toronto. In 1931 Theodore Humeniuk, the first Ukrainian lawyer in Toronto, became president of the parish and in spite of the depression managed to establish regular services in Syrian and Anglican churches with Rev. Dmytro Leshchyshyn as parish priest. Services were held at 631 Crawford Street and at 180 Simcoe Street until April 1, 1938 when St. Vladimir's Ukrainian Orthodox Church moved into its own building at 404 Bathurst Street. A decade later a church building committee, headed by Dr. Elias Wachna, formally opened St. Vladimir Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral on May 7, 1948.

The growth of the Ukrainian community in New Toronto-Long Branch in the 1930s led to a meeting in 1940 chaired by S. Dovhanyk which decided there was a need for a church. A parish was founded and the official opening and dedication of St. Demetrius Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Long Branch took place on Sunday May 11, 1958.

The third Orthodox parish in the city was the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of St. Andrew, founded in 1950 and located at Dupont and Edwin Avenue in west Toronto.

Several organisations have been established in cooperation with and in support of the Ukrainian Orthodox church. The Toronto branches of the Ukrainian Self-Reliance Association (SUS) and the Ukrainian Women' s Association of Canada were founded in 1927. In 1936 a branch of the Ukrainian Youth Association of Canada (SUMK) was established. St. Vladimir Institute, a student residence on Spadina Avenue near the University of Toronto campus, was established in 1944 and has become a community centre with an art gallery, a large well-organised library, a drama theatre and many other activities.

In Toronto the two traditional churches in 1971 counted 58.1 per cent of Ukrainians as their parishioners with Ukrainian Catholics at 23,565 (38.8 per cent) and Ukrainian Orthodox at 11,700 (19.3 per cent). Some 14 per cent of Ukrainians in Toronto were Roman Catholic, 9.1 per cent were United Church, 5.2 per cent were Anglican and 1.9 per cent were Presbyterian. The traditional churches of Ukraine have been losing their predominance with Ukrainian Catholics decreasing from 57.4 per cent in 1931 to 38.8 per cent in 1971. The Ukrainian Orthodox church has gone from 10.6 per cent in 1931 up to 27.1 per cent in 1951 and then down to 19.3 per cent in 1971.

During the first decade of the century, the Ukrainian community in Toronto became large enough to establish its first institutions: a church, a printing press, a bookstore (1910) and an organisation. It was on October 10, 1910 that the Rus'ko-Ukrains'ke Tovarystvo Sv. Mykhaila v Toronti was established and in the following year, on November 27, 1911, it was chartered under the name the Ruthenian National Benefit Society. For a decade it served as a fraternal insurance organisation providing social welfare support for destitute immigrants until a Vzaimna Pomich branch took over the responsibility. It also served as a focus for many other social and cultural activities. A drama club was formed and in 1916-17 presented eight plays, nineteen programs and a picnic.

On June 10, 1917 a new educational and cultural organisation was founded by forty-one members: Chytal'nia Prosvity im. T. Shevchenka v Toronti (T. Shevchenko Enlightenment Reading Room in Toronto). Prosvita was the major organisation in West Ukraine, which published books, magazines, established lectures and libraries to assist in the self-education of the people. The Toronto Prosvita established a library with 134 books donated by V. Farnya and D.A. Nykoliak. Music teacher Michael Z'ombra founded the Mykola Lysenko Music Society which was active in 1921.

In 1920 the Ukrainian Red Cross was organised to provide relief assistance to Ukrainians devastated by World War One and the war on Ukrainian territory between Poland and Soviet Russia which ended the independence of Ukraine. In 1921 Paul Crath arranged an exhibit of Ukrainian folk art at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE). The Ukrainian women of Prosvita took it over the next year and Ukrainian embroidery became an established part of the annual exhibit. This exhibit continued annually for thirty years until 1951.

In 1922 and 1923 a choir performed at the CNE directed by D. Metelsky and N. Yurechkiv. In 1924 the choir was conducted by Yuri Hassan, a singer with the famous Koshetz Choir. In 1923 Yulian Kunekevich collected a group of young people and led them in a "koliada"-Christmas carolling for Ukrainians in the Queen-King, Spadina-Bathurst Streets area.

In nine years Prosvita presented 57 plays, 11 concerts, 46 dances, 9 scholarly lectures, 4 political meetings and 6 picnics. Between 1921-26 the Prosvita drama group presented two performances of every program, one Saturday downtown the next at St. Josaphat's. The members of Prosvita felt the lack of their own hall, and Marian Kunekevich and Theodore Humeniuk started gathering financial support until, in 1927, a Salvation Army building at 191 Lippincott Street, partly damaged by fire, was formally opened and became the major cultural and social centre for the community until the 1950s.

The first major Ukrainian folk-dance performance was presented in 1924 at the Canadian National Exhibition by members of Prosvita. The following year Vasile Avramenko arrived on December 12, 1925 and established his first school of Ukrainian dance. A critic for the TORONTO STAR reviewed a February 1926 performance and said "the pattern of the dances was always beautiful." Also in 1926 a spectacular performance of eighty dancers and musicians was presented at the CNE for 25,000 people.

Prosvita/Ukrainian National Home had activities for women and youth, a Ukrainian school, it supported National Ukrainian causes with financial assistance and was politically active. From 1930-36 there were annual four-day Prosvita book and press exhibits with 2,200 items on display. Among the honorary members of the Ukrainian National Home was C.H.J. Snider, the editor of the TORONTO EVENING TELEGRAM, who felt so much at home in the building that he called himself a "Ukrainian." In July 1926 a Ukrainian Reading Society Prosvita was founded in west Toronto and became a focal point of activity in the area with its own hall at 105A Edwin Avenue. It was here on April 10, 1934 that the West Toronto Branch of the Ukrainian National Federation (UNF) was founded. It supported a Ukrainian school, a drama club and a brass band.

In the interwar period one of the major new community organisations was the Ukrainian National Federation, founded in 1932. The Toronto branch was established on May 9, 1933 in the home of O. Havriluk at 72 Denison Avenue with Roman Musy as president. A "ridna shkola" (Ukrainian primary school) and a Ukrainian secondary school were sponsored up until 1974. The Boyan Choir, Kalyna Dance Ensemble and a drama club were formed. In the 1940s a library was formed and today is one of the largest in Toronto. The Tryzub (Trident) sports club sponsored a soccer team. Affiliated organisations include the Ukrainian War Veterans' Association, the Ukrainian Women' s Organisation and the Ukrainian National Youth Federation. The NEW PATHWAY, Ukrainian weekly, is published by the UNF and has sponsored, since 1944, the Ukrainian (Toronto) Credit Union, which is the largest in Canada with 9,322 members and $67 million in assets. During World War Two the branch was located in the ULFTA Hall at 300 Bathurst Street, which had been confiscated from the communist organisation by the Government of Canada. On June 16, 1950 the UNF opened its large hall at 297 College Street.

The Ukrainian Social Democratic party in 1911 established a branch in Toronto with eighteen members, which lasted only three months, but was reorganised in 1912. By 1917 there were 200 members, of which eighty-six were arrested because of the war, and several separate groups of different political views (socialists, anarchists, etc.) were formed. Finally the Ukrainian Labour Temple was established in 1921 and became integrated in the Ukrainian Labour-Farmer Temple Association. In the fall of 1927 the Ukrainian Labour Temple building at 300 Bathurst Street was opened. It became a centre for Ukrainians who sympathized with the USSR. A West Toronto branch was also established in the 1920s, located in a hall on Dupont Street.

The ULFTA, which is now called the Association of United Ukrainian Canadians, grew rapidly during the depression of the1930s. Sympathetic to the communist ideology, by the end of the1930s, there were members and sympathizers who numbered in the thousands. When World War Two broke out in 1939, it was opposed by the ULFTA and the Government of Canada interned its leaders and sold its properties. The Ukrainian National Federation occupied the Labour Temple until after the war when it was returned by pressure on the government since the USSR was a wartime ally. The temple was the scene of some violent encounters between communist ULFTA and nationalist UNF members. The surge created by the victory of World War Two in 1945, with Canada and the USSR as allies against Nazi Germany, reached a peak with a large victory rally July 1, 1945, demonstrating the size and strength of the AUUC. Confrontations between communists and nationalists did lead to some limited violence. For example, on October 8, 1950 during a concert at the Ukrainian Labour Temple on Bathurst Street, a bomb exploded. Eleven persons were injured but none seriously.

The foundation of the Toronto branch of the Ukrainian Canadian Committee on February 21, 1941 established a central coordinating body for the entire community except for communists. Although church relations between Catholic and Orthodox had been tense, even hostile, in the 1920s and 1930s, election of Father Peter Kamenetsky of the Ukrainian Catholic community as honorary president and Theodore Humeniuk of the Orthodox community as president indicated the growing sense of a united community of interest among Ukrainians in Toronto.

The end of World War Two found many Ukrainians in Germany and other central European countries. They had been brought to Germany for slave labour, were interned in concentration and death camps, or fled from the advancing Soviet armies. A relief program was mounted and Toronto churches and organisations established committees which provided relief parcels for the suffering Displaced Persons (DPS) from Ukraine. From 1946-60, when the bulk of DP immigrants who settled in Metro Toronto came, 12,570 settled in the city with 7,215-the great majority-males. It appears that about half of all DP immigration to Canada settled in Metro Toronto and perhaps three-quarters in Ontario.

In 1971 there were in the city 17,185 persons born in eastern Europe and Ukraine, 2,275 born in western Europe (many in DP camps) and 845 in the United Kingdom. There were also 240 born in the United States. Out of a total of 60,750 Ukrainian Torontonians in 1971, some 27,910 were born in Ontario, and 11,595 were from other provinces, mainly the prairies.

The Ukrainian population of Toronto has grown considerably since the 1921 Census recorded 1,149 (0.2 per cent) in the city and 1,247 (0.2 per cent) in the Metro area. By 1961 the number of Ukrainians in the city increased to 26,097 (3.9 per cent), and in Metro there were 46,650 (2.6 per cent). But in 1971 Ukrainians in Toronto had decreased by 3,477 from the previous census to 22,620 (3 . 2 per cent), reflecting the upward mobility of the community resulting in an exodus to the suburban areas of Etobicoke and Mississauga. In 1971 the Ukrainian population had reached 60,755 (2.3 per cent). From 1921-51 the Ukrainian population doubled every census. In 1971 the City of Toronto had the largest Ukrainian population with 22,620 (3.2 per cent) and second was the Borough of Etobicoke with 11,985 (4.2 per cent). Scarborough with 5,265 (1.6 per cent) and Peel County with 5,225 (2.1 per cent) were comparable. North York had 6 ,280 (1. 2 per cent), York Borough had 3 ,930 (2.7 per cent) and York County (part) 1,935 (1.4 per cent). Halton County (part) had 1,675 (1.7 per cent), East York had 1,275 ( 1. 2 per cent) and Ontario County had 570 (1.2 per cent).

The arrival of thousands of new immigrants revitalized the activities of some of the old organisations and led to the creation of many major new organisations in Toronto. The community was well organised with churches, associations, community halls, a newspaper, a bookstore and a well-established and receptive community. The rapid growth of the community created pressure on the existing facilities and very soon new organisations, newspapers, bookstores and churches were established. The major associations formed by the new immigrants were the League for the Liberation of Ukraine and the Ukrainian Youth Association (SUM) in 1948, which presently have a large Ukrainian Community Centre on Christie Street. It also founded the newspaper HOMIN UKRAINY.

Two youth groups were formed: Plast Ukrainian Youth Association, which is a guide and scout type of organisation, and the Organisation of Democratic Ukrainian Youth (ODUM). In 1949 the Shevchenko Scientific Society elected its first Canadian executive with Professor E. Wertyporoch as president. Canadian veterans returning from the war formed the Ukrainian Canadian Veterans Association (UCVA), which was located in Branch No. 360 Royal Canadian Legion with S. Pawluk as president. Some Ukrainian organisations, such as the AUUC, were eclipsed.

The Ukrainian community press expanded in circulation and number of publications, three museums were established or expanded, seven bookstores flourished and four libraries. By the 1970s the boom had ended, and three bookstores closed their doors. In their place a growth of interest in painting and fine arts led to four art galleries being opened to serve the community.

The size of the Ukrainian community in Toronto, the vast facilities and finances available to it, its highly trained and competent professionals and activists all contribute to the impact and considerable influence the community enjoys in Ukrainian Canadian life. When the Second World Congress of Free Ukrainians was held in Toronto in 1973, it also indicated the commanding position the Ukrainian Toronto community has among Ukrainians in the Western world.

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