After Saskatchewan, East Central Alberta drew the most significant bloc of Romanian pioneer immigrants from Bukovyna. Starting in 1898, a Romanian colony took root and flourished in the very heart of Canada’s oldest and largest Ukrainian agricultural settlement, founded northeast of Edmonton in 1892-1894. Emigrating from the village of Boiany – presently in Novoselytsia raion – the first Romanians settlers moved onto homesteads in an area immediately east of what subsequently became the town of Willingdon. By 1903 they had begun work on a church that was consecrated in honour of the Virgin Mary two years later by a missionary priest from the Russian Orthodox Church. In 1908, this community organized a school that they named after their ancestral village southeast of Chernivitsi, and henceforth the Boian district became renowned as the cradle of Romanian settlement in Alberta. As more Romanian immigrants arrived they took out homesteads on land that was still available further east and north of Boian, where by 1901 approximately 100 families had begun to clear and cultivate farms. Eventually, the Boian district came to be comprised of two parts identified by subtle distinctions made in the names of local schools: Bojan spelled in English with a “j”, and Boian Marea, or Greater Boian. Smaller groups of Romanians at the same time moved into outlying areas extending from Soda Lake to Smoky Lake, and from Hairy Hill through Malin to Desjarlais and Hamlin. By 1921, the Romanian population of Alberta had grown to slightly more than 2,000, the bulk of which either originally homesteaded or continued to live in the Boian colony.
The districts settled by the Romanians were interspersed throughout a region that could easily have been called “Canadian Bukovyna,” as the majority of the inhabitants were immigrants from towns and villages now within Chernivtsi oblast. A list of local place names provides a good indication of the origins and loyalties of the Bukovynians who settled in East Central Alberta: Berehomet, Borivtsi, Bukovyna, Chernivtsi, Chahor, Ispas, Kitsman, Kyseliv, Luzhany, Mamaivtsi, Molodiia, Prut, Suchava, Shyshkivtsi, Shepyntsi and Toporovtsi. Thus, the Romanians who resided in the midst of this concentration of Ukrainians blended easily with their surroundings, which symbolically evoked the geography of the homeland.
For the Romanian pioneers of Alberta, the church provided virtually the sole framework for their organized community existence. Whereas Ukrainians were numerous enough to found churches in a variety of denominations, different cultural organizations, and an entire spectrum of political groupings, for many decades ethnic Romanian life was focused out of necessity on the Orthodox Church. In rural East Central Alberta, four Romanian sanctuaries were eventually built by the early settlers, starting with St. Mary’s at Boian. However, because of the lack of Romanian priests in Canada, the Boian congregation was initially served by clergy with the Russian Orthodox Mission. This meant that St. Mary’s was under the jurisdiction of a Russian bishop, and that liturgies were celebrated in Church Slavonic. While Ukrainian Bukovynians who lived in the district and worshipped at St. Mary’s were naturally satisfied with this arrangement, Romanian immigrants understandably felt uncomfortable about being dependent upon Slavic-speaking churchmen. Consequently, in 1908 a group at the Boian Church arranged to bring in a Romanian priest from Rouleau, Saskatchewan. He only stayed for two months, as the Ukrainians in the congregation did not enjoy hearing the liturgy sung in Romanian and agitated for the return of the Russian Orthodox missionaries. Eventually the simmering dispute ended up in court, where the judge advised the outnumbered Romanians to simply build another place of worship. This the minority faction reluctantly did on some donated land four kilometers south of Boian, where a second church was erected in a Romanian style and consecrated to the Nativity of the Virgin Mary in 1914 by another priest brought in from Saskatchewan. The parting of ways did not resolve the difficulty of finding a permanent Romanian priest to serve in the Boian area, but this did not discourage those adherents who were committed to praying in their native language.
In 1916, two other Romanian churches were built in districts on the western edges of the ethnic Romanian colony within the ever-expanding Ukrainian bloc settlement northeast of Edmonton. The first of these was nine kilometers east of Boian, in an area known as Malin after farmer Malin Kucheran, who donated the land for the sanctuary. Named the Church of the Holy Cross, the Malin Church served a handful of Romanian families who farmed north of the Shepenge district. The other Romanian church constructed in 1916 was erected 11 kilometers north of Boian on the far side of the North Saskatchewan River. Situated in a poor part of the Hamlin district, in south Smoky Lake County, Holy Ghost or “Gold Creek” (as it was known locally) Romanian Orthodox Church had to struggle to survive from its very inception. In fact, the same could be said for all of the four churches mentioned above, notwithstanding the determined efforts and relative density of Romanians in the countryside around Willingdon.
The major problem was the persistent shortage of Romanian priests in Canada, which for many years limited pastoral services to an occasional basis by visiting clergymen. Circumstances were to change, however, due to a series of developments that proved to be favourable to the Romanians of Alberta.
To begin, the outbreak of the Russian Revolution ultimately led to a weakening of the Russian Orthodox Mission in Canada, which lost its financial support from the Holy Synod in St. Petersburg. This in turn enabled ethnic Orthodox communities that had been subsumed under Russian jurisdiction to create separate national churches in North America. Consequently, scattered Romanian congregations were gradually united within a Romanian Orthodox Archdiocese for North America. At the same time, the 1918 establishment of a Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Canada split the Bukovynian Ukrainian community into several camps, one of which remained loyal to the Russian American hierarchy, another of which supported the new formation that had been organized in Saskatoon, and a third being comprised of individual congregations that staunchly remained unaffiliated. Thus, the sundering of Russian Orthodox hegemony freed Ukrainians and Romanians in Canada to pursue their own ecclesiastical destinies, which had the effect of reinforcing the growing separation between the two groups in those communities where they had originally collaborated to build a single church.
Of course, fundamental linguistic and historical differences always underlay relations between Latinate Romanians and the Slavic Ukrainians, and these were naturally emphasized by the rise of national consciousness throughout much of East Central Europe during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Although the Bukovynian colonies in Western Canada were also affected by this growth in self-awareness and national pride, it never appears to have led to any serious conflicts or outbursts of chauvinistic zealotry between the two Old and New World neighbours. That Romanian and Ukrainian Canadians gradually formed distinct communities in the rural settlements that they co-habited was clearly an expression of their social and institutional maturation, rather than being the result of ethnic tensions or escalating rivalries.
Because Orthodox congregations formed by Romanians in Canada were generally smaller and more geographically dispersed, it took longer for them to successfully organize themselves into a single Romanian church. This situation enabled a Romanian priest named Rev. Dr. Lazar Gherman to become an important figure in the early history of the Ukrainian Greek Orthodox Church of Canada, an unusual achievement given the deterioration of relationships that was taking place at the very same time in Bukovyna during the first years of Romanian rule. A former lecturer in theology at the University of Chernivtsi, Rev. Dr. Gherman was not only fluent in Ukrainian, but was sympathetic to the Ukrainian struggle for equal rights in Bukovyna while remaining a patriotic Romanian. Though he initially served under the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church in America, Father Gherman soon ran afoul with the Russian hierarchy because of his efforts to unite the scattered Romanian congregations in North America under the Romanian Patriarchate in Bucharest. With the founding of a Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Canada at the end of the First World War, Rev. Gherman’s theological training and familiarity with Ukrainians in Bukovyna and Bessarabia provided him with a unique opportunity to leave the Russian Mission. In November 1919 he was hired by the Ukrainian Greek Orthodox Brotherhood to establish a theological seminary in Saskatoon that would educate priests for the new Canadian church. Father Gherman capably served in this capacity until 1924, not only preparing the first priests for the Ukrainian Greek Orthodox Church of Canada (UGOCC), but initiating the church’s first major fundraising campaign. Most important of all, however, he played a key role in securing canonical legitimacy for the Ukrainian Canadian Church when it was critical for it to establish its ecclesiastical credibility. On Rev. Gherman’s advice, the leaders of the Ukrainian Greek Orthodox Brotherhood accepted a Syrian prelate, Metropolian Germanos of the Antiochian Orthodox Church, as the titular head of their fledgling formation. In encouraging Metropolitan Germanos’s acceptance, Father Gherman stressed that the clergy and bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church were overwhelmingly hostile to Ukrainian aspirations for ecclesiastical independence. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada thus owes a debt of gratitude to Rev. Dr. Lazar Gherman for his pivotal contributions to the successful launch of their church in extremely difficult circumstances.
At the same time that he was working to build a Ukrainian Church in Canada, Rev. Gherman continued to minister to the needs of the Romanian faithful of Alberta. Thanks to his encouragement and guidance, a resident of Hairy Hill, Dumitru Fica, was ordained as a priest in the Nativity of the Virgin Mary Church by Metropolitan Germanos. Shortly afterwards, Father Lazar left permanently for the United States, having helped to create the conditions for the subsequent unification of Romanian Orthodox Churches in Canada. Because of all of the changes that had taken place due to the upheavals within the Bukovynian Orthodox community, in 1924 the Russian Bishop in Winnipeg finally assigned a Romanian priest to serve at St. Mary’s Church in Boian. By then, the pro-Russo-Orthodox element in the mixed congregation had gradually declined in influence, until finally Romanians acquired control over the church that had earlier been lost to them in legal action. Henceforth, the Romanian character of St. Mary’s Church was no longer a point of contention, it having taken almost two decades to achieve stability and heal the rift within the congregation. Nevertheless, because of the long-time participation of Ukrainian Bukovynians in St. Mary’s Church, various Slavic elements were absorbed in the rituals and the cultural practices of the Boian Romanians.
Obviously, interactions between Ukrainians and Romanians in Canada were chiefly motivated by mutual Orthodox religious concerns. It is therefore significant that the Metropolia of Bukovyna never made any attempt to provide spiritual leadership or support for their former adherents living overseas. Although Bukovynian Ukrainians in different parts of Canada wrote on several occasions to the Chernivtsi Consistory requesting pastoral care and assistance from the homeland, their pleas for help repeatedly fell on deaf ears. Had Orthodox priests or monks been dispatched from Bukovyna to the mixed Romanian-Ukrainian settlements in the New World, it probably would have led to further complications in the already complex confessional situation among Ukrainians in Canada. Regardless, once separate national Orthodox churches had been established by each community, there was little formal contact between the two groups, notwithstanding their common faith. However, in rural areas, where a shortage of priests remained a constant problem, members of both churches have periodically worshipped together and sometimes obtained pastoral services from available Orthodox clergymen without regard to their ethnicity or their jurisdictional affiliation.
Of course, the First World War had a major impact not only on the political map of East Central Europe, but on Ukrainian-Romanian relations in Bukovyna. Bukovynian Ukrainians in Canada keenly followed all of the upheavals in the Old Country, understandably anxious about the fates of family and friends in their native land. Inevitably, the nationalist sentiments stirred up by the war also had an effect on Ukrainian-Romanian relations in Canada, a situation that was further exacerbated by the policy of Romanianization aggressively pursued by the Bucharest government in Bukovyna during the interwar years. Although anti-Ukrainian developments were regularly reported on in the Ukrainian Canadian press, and Bukovynian Ukrainians were concerned about the plight of their kinsmen back home, they did not react to the repressive measures of the Romanian regime with the same degree of passion that characterized the Galician Ukrainian response to the excesses of Polish rule in the same period. One notable exception in the case of the former was the publication in Winnipeg, in 1927, of a well-researched pamphlet by Ivan M. Pihuliak, unambiguously entitled Ukrains’ka Pravoslavna Tserkva v Rumuns’kim Iarmi i Bukovyntsi v Kanadi (The Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Romanian Captivity and the Bukovynians of Canada). Directed at Bukovynian Ukrainians, the brochure provided a summary of Orthodox Church history in Bukovyna and an account of the plight of Ukrainians in the wake of the Romanian occupation of 1918.
- For an overview of Romanian community life in Alberta see the commemorative book, Zawadiuk (Kucheran), Dorene, Nick Hauca, Deborah Galama and Darline (Iftody) Shelemey (eds.), Romanians in Alberta, 1898-1998. Edmonton: Canadian Romanian Society of Alberta, 1998.
- One source describes the priest – identified as Ion Stanbitzki (spelled Stapinsky elsewhere) – as a “Bukovinian Ukrainian”. See The Romanians of Saskatchewan, p. 72, and Charuk, Myrtle (ed.), The History of Willingdon, 1928-1978. St. Paul (AB): L.H. Drouin, St. Paul Journal, pp. 101-102.The design of the sanctuary attempted to recreate (as best could be remembered by the head carpenter, Vasile Rawliuk) that of the Romanian church in the village of Boiany. Constructed of local logs, and erected with volunteer labour, St. Mary’s Romanian Orthodox Church was in 1974 designated a Provincial Historic Site by the Government of Alberta.
- The first (i.e., Bojan) was organized in 1908 northeast of Hairy Hill, the second (Boian Marea) in 1909 east of Willingdon.
- Some Romanians also apparently settled in southern Alberta, in Lethbridge. See Bozyk [Bozhyk], Rev. Panteleimon, Tserkov Ukraintsiv v Kanadi. Winnipeg: Kanadyiskyi Ukrainets’, 1927, pp. 182-185.
- Of course, the English spellings of these names sometimes bore little resemblance to their original pronunciations. Thus, Borivtsi came to be transcribed as “Borowich”and “Shepyntsi” became “Shepenge.”
- Rouleau, Saskatchewn, which no longer appears on maps, was situated southwest of Regina and southeast of Moose Jaw. The priest was Father Benedict Eliescu.
- According to Romanians in Alberta, p. 142, “The consecration was performed in true Romanian Orthodox manner by Father Archimandrite Silvestru Ionescu on August 14, 1914. Father Ionescu was under the direct canonical jurisdiction of the Metropolitinate of Molodova and Suceava. The formal approval for consecration was given by His Emminence Metropolitan Pimen of Iasi, Romania. This second St. Mary’s Church, although located close to Boian, came to be identified as the Romanian Orthodox Church of Hairy Hill, a nearby village with the same name.
- See Tarasar, Constance J. et al (eds.), Orthodox America, 1794-1976: Development of the Orthodox Church in America. Syosett (NY): The Orthodox Church in America, 1975, pp. 303-308.
- Rev. Dr. Lazar Gherman came to America in 1916 on the invitation of Archbishop Evdokhim Meshchersky to serve as an administrator in the New York consistory of the Russian Orthodox Church. The author of two histories of the Romanian Church, Istoria Bisericii Romane (Bucuresti, 1914) and Problema istorica a biserici din Bucovina (Bucuresti, 1914), he knew literary Ukrainian and was conversant in Bukovynian dialects. For a detailed discussion of the important role that Father Gherman played in the founding of the Ukrainian Greek Orthodox Church of Canada, see Mulyk-Lutsyk, Yurii. Istoriia Ukrains’koi Hreko-Pravoslavnoi Tserkvy v Kanadi.Tom Treti Ukrains’ka Hreka-Pravoslavna Tserkva v Kanadi v iurysdyktsii Mytr. Germanosa. Winnipeg: Ecclesia, 1987, pp. 684-709.
- Due to the fiasco that accompanied the founding of the Independent Greek Church, it was essential that the Ukrainian Greek Orthodox Church of Canada produce good quality clergy and be headed by a respected and recognized bishop. Since Father Gherman had gotten to know Metropolitan Germanos personally, he was able to successfully negotiate the terms of his relationship with the Ukrainian Greek Orthodox Church of Canada.
- See The Romanians of Saskatchewan, p. 73. Evidence of this blending of Ukrainian and Romanian features can be seen in Boian cemetery, with some tombstones bearing Cyrillic inscriptions and Ukrainian decorative designs, and others being inscribed in Latin letters and traditional Romanian ornaments.
- Such letters were received from Beaver Creek, Alberta, in 1898; Gonor, Manitoba, in 1906; and Lachine, Quebec, in 1914. Two are reproduced in Sych, O.I, (ed. and compiler), Z “Novoho Kraiu”. Lysty ukrains’kyh emigrantiv z Kanady. Research Report No. 45. Edmonton: Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies, 1991, pp. 17-18, 49-50. It is noteworthy that in the case of the letters from Beaver Creek and Lachine, specific requests were made for a clergyman who spoke Romanian as well as Ukrainian.
- It is worth noting that Ukrainians and Romanians continue to occasionally attend services in each other’s churches in Boian, Alberta, and Lennard, Manitoba, especially during the commemoration of patron saint’s days. Memberships in some churches have also become blended with intermarriages between Ukrainians and Romanians.
- Pihuliak, I.M., Ukrains’ka Pravoslavna Tserkva v Rumuns’kim Iarmi i Bukovyntsi v Kanadi. Winnipeg: Ukrains’kyi holos, 1927, pp. 32. Ivan Pihuliak, a native of Kitsman and a former editor of Promin’ (1922-1923) who emigrated to Canada in the mid-1920s, eventually settled in the United States.