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Overflowing attendance at open door Ukrainian church event in Rouyn-Noranda

Sep 22, 2022 | News, Community, Canada, Featured

Rouyn-Noranda’s Christ the King Church ikonostas, with portrait of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy a reminder to the public of Ukraine’s resilience and defence of its lands

Zorianna Hrycenko-Luhova for NP-UN.

As Montreal’s 22nd annual Ukrainian Montreal Festival organized by the St. Volodymyr Cultural Association (president Greg Bedik) with the participation of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress Quebec Provincial Council (president Michael Shwec) was held at Parc Maisonneuve on September 10, the Quebec Ukrainian community in Rouyn-Noranda took part in the annual Open Doors (“Portes Ouvertes”) Event to which the general public was invited to visit historic churches in the Abitibi area. Each church offered a special program included information about the history of the church and its community.

Organized by Madame Elizabeth Carrier and her team for Maison Dumulon Corporation the event was sponsored by the City of Rouyn-Noranda, the Quebec Government and Council of Religious Heritage of Quebec. The open doors event celebrated and brought attention to the richness of the area’s diverse cultural heritage and history.

Featured on the official invitation-flier by the Rouyn-Noranda Organizing Committee of the event was Christ the King Ukrainian Catholic Church. The current war on Ukraine, and influx of Ukrainians to Quebec, made highlighting the Ukrainian church in Rouyn-Noranda a natural choice. The Ukrainian church in Rouyn Noranda, with its distinctive architecture is admired and very familiar to the city and general public, located close to Rouyn-Noranda’s city center.

An overflowing attendance of more than 140 visitors, ranging from youth to seniors, attended the Saturday event at the Ukrainian church. The afternoon program was conducted in French and Ukrainian. Recent arrivals from Ukraine to Rouyn-Noranda Lilya Martin and Ilona Martynyuk sang two songs in front of the church’s iconostas. A portrait of Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskyy donated by Annette Legault, draped with an embroidered ‘rushnyk’ was placed near the front, a reminder of Ukraine’s resilience and defence of its lands. Historian Mr. Jean-Lou David presented guest speaker James Slobodian, a member of the church since 1955. He spoke about the church’s history, Met. Andrej Sheptytsky, Father Josaphat Jean who came to the area, the Ukrainian community from 1905 establishing the Sheptysky Colony, Spirit Lake internment in 1915, and recent passing of long-serving priest Rev. Lev Chaika. This was followed by questions and answers. The newly Ukrainian arrivals welcomed the opportunity to learn more.

Christ the King Ukrainian Church was built by Ukrainian hard-working pioneers in the 1950’s, the majority employed by the many mines in the area. At that time, the mayor of the city of Rouyn-Noranda from 1950-1961 was Maurice Caouette , the brother of former Member of Parliament Real Caouette during the Duplesis era in Quebec.

The Ukrainian church had a rich history. This included a church choir; a Ukrainian school with weekly Ukrainian classes taught by Mr. Zuk in its church hall; a branch of ‘LUKZh’ (League of Ukrainian Catholic Women’s’ Organization) with member Marika Zub; a Ukrainian Catholic Youth Club headed by Yakym (James) Slobodian, and others; Ukrainian dance instructions taught in the church hall by Vasyl Rekunyk and others, and held many events.

The Ukrainian Church was visited by the Sudbury UNF Ukrainian “Dnipro” choir under direction of Olya Rohatyn and dance group in early 1960’s, and was visited by Montreal’s ‘Uspennia’ (Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary) church choir under the direction of Marika Bryniawska-Czolij, with her father Rev. Vasyl Bryniawsky in the mid-1970’s. For two years in 1965-66 , Rev. Yaroslaw Haymanovych of Montreal served in Rouyn-Noranda, during the time when Rev. Lev Chaika was briefly transferred to the Ukrainian Catholic Holy Ghost Parish in Verdun on Centre Street.

Descendants of early Ukrainian pioneers continue to live in the area. According to a Statistics Canada study by researcher Mariella Collini with ‘L’observatoire de l’Abitibi-Temiscamingue’ at the University of Quebec in Rouyn-Noranda, there are 145 Ukrainians in Rouyn-Noranda, excluding Rouyn-Noranda’s most recent Ukrainian arrivals forced to flee the invasion and brutal war on Ukraine from February 2022. It is estimated an addition of over 60 Ukrainians from Ukraine arrived to Rouyn Noranda, with more expected. The Ukrainian Catholic Church of Christ the King stands as a much needed revived, spiritual and cultural centre, serving the Ukrainian community (descendants of original settlers and the newly arrivals) in Rouyn-Noranda and area.

The Open Doors event provided a feeling of home for the newly Ukrainian arrivals escaping war, and gave an opportunity to bring everyone in Rouyn-Noranda even closer together as one community. It was fitting the Ukrainian church was featured on the official invitation, adding to a feeling of pride especially for the many community members with Ukrainian roots and their hope for a bright future. The church is under the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Toronto and Eastern Canada, His Excellency Bishop Bryan Bayda its head. Information about Maison Dumulon Corporation’s open-door event in Rouyn-Noranda was shared on Facebook. Photos were taken by official photographer Marie-Raphaelle Le Blond documenting the special event.

From the early arrival of Ukrainians to Canada, Ukrainian churches built across Canada played a paramount role in the preservation and development of Ukrainian identity, traditions, culture, history, and community, with the first Ukrainian church in Canada built in Gardenton, Manitoba in 1897.

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