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You can find more than you expect on a page or two of a good local newspaper

Apr 8, 2020 | Community, Featured

Lubomyr Luciuk, Kingston, ON.

I had a hunch I could track down a particular story in the 19 March 1945 edition of The Kingston Whig-Standard. What I first noticed, however, was not what I went looking for. Instead, a photograph of two Kingston men in uniform, at the top of page two, caught my eye. One was Leading Aircraftman G. D. Murray. The other was Leading Aircraftman A. F. Norris. A caption told me the latter was a Regi boy, whose folks lived on Queen Street. The former went to KCVI. His family home was on Wellington Street.

Now when I went to Regi, the rival high school was “KC.” Yet this photograph showed Murray and Norris as friends. Since they were previously members of the Princess of Wales’ Own Regiment, they likely met at the Montreal Street Armoury. I spent time there myself while in high school, with the 58th Squadron of The Royal Canadian Air Cadets. Of course, Norris and Murray experienced something vastly different, serving tours of duty with the RCAF’s Night Hawk Squadron. When this photograph was taken, they were near Lille, in northern France, where their unit was deployed and remained until April 1945. Insofar as I can determine, Murray and Norris survived the war. I’d like to think they came home to enjoy decades of good health and well-deserved prosperity, even stayed friends. Certainly, both did justice to the PWOR’s motto, whose words include “I Serve.” They did.

At the bottom of this same page, I was again distracted by a small advertisement for Brock Jewellers. Harald Marans owned this business. His storefront on Princess Street’s north side was a few steps from where the city’s “main drag” intersects with Bagot Street. My dad worked for Mr. Marans (I never called him anything but) for decades. Not only did he give my father a good job, but his wife, Katie, and their family often invited the Luciuks to the Beth Israel synagogue. Back then, my parents were the strangers in this city, refugees helped by the descendants of previous immigrants. Many of the latter then still lived in the town’s “north end,” an overcrowded, industrial, somewhat impoverished, working-class area. We once had a Ukrainian hall there, at the corner of Bagot and North streets.

Sandwiched in-between the top and bottom sections of this page, I found the story I was after. Titled “Ukrainians Are Lauded For Services,” it has no byline and, unfortunately, no photograph. As it continued on page 13, I ended up reading another article about how, on Saturday, 17 March, St. John the Apostle Roman Catholic Church hosted a successful St. Patrick’s Day celebration, “Irish Concert Held Saturday.” Unexpectedly, I discovered Mary Wowk was there. She was Raymond’s sister, my partner Katharine’s father. Mary ended up marrying a local Irish lad, Jim Lawrence.

The news report about the Ukrainian gathering described how a “large” audience met at St. John’s at noon on Sunday, 18 March 1945, to participate in the first Ukrainian (Greek) Catholic Divine Liturgy held in Kingston. Celebrating the Mass was the Honourary Captain Father Michael Pelech, padre for Military District 10, and Canada’s first Ukrainian Catholic chaplain. Local dignitaries present included Kingston’s Mayor, Cecil Boyd, Monseigneur L. J. Byrne, the local MLA, Dr. Harry A. Stewart, the Chief of Police, R. J. Robinson and Alderman C. P. Dalton, chairman of the local Red Cross Society. Chairing for the Ukrainian Canadian Committee’s Kingston branch – which he helped establish in 1942 – was Martin Chepesiuk, from Fort William. His career as a physician is distinguished with a named scholarship at Queen’s University’s School of Medicine.

After celebrating Mass, “in his native language,” Father Pelech addressed everyone in English: “Most of you servicemen were born, went to school, and brought up in this country. Your sacrifices are just as great as anyone else’s in Canada. We all feel as one nation. Ukrainians have been persecuted in their own country, and that is why we appreciate the freedom of this country. At times there might be some misunderstandings, but we get this everywhere, and they always straighten out in a short time.” That final line intrigued me.

The Christ Pantocrator icon and trilingual plaque, unveiled on March 18, 2020 at St. John the Apostle Roman Catholic Church in Kingston, ON. The event commemorated the 75th anniversary of the first Ukrainian Catholic Divine Liturgy celebrated in Kingston and honoured all of the Ukrainian Canadians who served overseas during the Second World War.

Now we can’t be sure about what Father Pelech said next. We read he spoke again but only “in his native language.” He could have said something about how Ukrainians in the ranks were over-represented in proportion to the size of their community in Canada, indeed probably should have. He didn’t. Instead, he delivered an epistle for Ukrainian ears only.

About what? His life offers clues. He was a citizen of the Austro-Hungarian Empire when he immigrated in 1905. When the Great War broke out in 1914, he was of military age and obliged to register as an “enemy alien.” Already enrolled at the University of Manitoba and, by 1917, studying theology in Montreal, he was not further troubled. He was ordained as a priest on 12 July 1919, at Mundare, Alberta, by Nykyta Budka, the Ruthenian Catholic Bishop of Canada. So Father Pelech had personal experience of Canada’s first national internment operations, had borne witness to thousands of Ukrainians and other Europeans enduring state-sanctioned indignities – not because of anything they have done but only because of where they had come from, who they were.

When he came to Kingston, Father Pelech probably knew the servicemen “training here” were barracked in the shadow of Fort Henry, Canada’s first permanent internment camp. It is unlikely any of them had any inkling about how this city’s most prominent fortification once held other Ukrainians prisoner. I suspect he first told them that truth, then offered thanks for their having volunteered for active service overseas. By doing so, they demonstratively proved Ukrainian Canadian loyalty to this Dominion and the British Empire, helping insulate their community from punitive measures of the sort so many suffered needlessly during the First World War.

Monseigneur Byrne’s message was markedly different. He simply said Ukrainian Canadians would always be welcome at St. John’s. Regrettably, his gracious gesture was forgotten. The soldiers soon dispersed while the city’s resident Ukrainian community remained small. It was not until these all-but-forgotten stories from the Whig-Standard were read again a few months ago that the importance of 18 March 1945 in the religious and military history of Kingston’s Ukrainian community came evident. So, with the help of Friar David from St. John’s, we organized today’s ecumenical and commemorative service, honouring the Kingstonians who fought to preserve our freedom during the Second World War and the many Ukrainian Canadians who stood alongside them.

Given the current public health emergency, fewer joined us for Wednesday’s ceremony than we hoped. We understand. This anniversary can be recalled with a prayer or words of thanksgiving for the sacrifices of all our men and women in uniform. Meanwhile, an icon of Christ Pantocrator and a trilingual plaque was unveiled and blessed at St. John’s. It will remind the faithful and passersby in years to come about what happened there 75 years ago and in our time. And please do visit St. John’s when you can. Monseigneur Byrne would rejoice in knowing the kind welcome he offered Ukrainian Canadians decades ago has now been shared with all of you, in his good memory.

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