A theatre at the University of Toronto bears the name of Russian-born George Ignatieff, once chancellor of the University of Toronto and Canada’s former Ambassador to the United Nations. His father, Count Paul Ignatieff, a minister of education to Tsar Nicholas II, gave lectures at what is now the University of Toronto Bookroom and his son, Michael is the current leader of the Liberal Party of Canada. The five sons of Count Paul Ignatieff contributed to Canadian engineering and civil service, adding to the list of accomplishments by Toronto’s Russian community, whose members include scholars, ballet dancers, and musicians, among others.
The first Russians to arrive in Canada were fur traders, in the 1790s, and several officers who served with the British navy in Halifax. In the 1870s, German Mennonite colonists from southern Russia settled in Western Canada, followed by some 7,500 Doukhobors, religious dissidents who arrived in 1899.
Beginning in the 1890s, several thousand Russian Jews emigrated from Western Russia. Many found work in Canada’s industries, or as farm labourers, loggers, and miners. Among the professionals was Leonid I. Strakhovsky, who pioneered Slavic studies at the University of Toronto. Some Russians joined Canada’s MacKenzie-Papineau battalion which fought for the Republican side during the Spanish Civil War.
The first Russian Orthodox church services in Toronto were held in 1915, and a church building was later purchased on Dupont Street. Some of the Russian faithful attended the Bulgarian Macedonian Church on Trinity Street. After the Russian October revolution of 1917, Canada saw the wave of so-called “White Russian” emigration.
In 1930, the Christ the Saviour Russian Orthodox Cathedral (now on Manning Avenue) was established on Glen Morris Street. The church was home to choirs, dance groups, cultural groups, and a library of Russian classic books. Cadets and hussar officers from the Russian Imperial Guard of old Russia organized balls, and the woman’s auxiliary held bazaars offering folk crafts and Russian foods. In 1948, Grand-Duchess Olga Alexandrovna, the sister of Tsar Nicholas II, arrived from Denmark and became a member of the parish. A parish Sunday school was established bearing her name.
Much of the cultural life of the 62,000 Russian-speaking Torontonians centres around the city’s Russian Orthodox churches and organizations. Following the Second World War, Russian refugees came to Toronto from camps in Europe. They helped establish Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Church, which included a parochial Sunday school and the Sisterhood of Myrrh-Bearing Women.
The Federation of Russian Canadians, with 15 branches across Canada, was established in 1942 by the descendants of pre-revolutionary settlers. It publishes a left-wing Russian newspaper called Vestnik (Herald). The 1950s saw the founding of the Russian Canadian Cultural Aid Society, which published the literary magazine Russian Word in Canada for many years and still operates a centre for social and cultural activities.
It was only in the mid-1970s that the Russian community of Toronto started to expand again due to considerable Jewish immigration from the Former Soviet Union. After the collapse of the USSR a community of ethnic Russians united by several Russian Orthodox churches (parishes) of Toronto grew considerably. However, ethnic Russians still constitute a minority of Russian speakers in the city. At present Russian-speaking immigrants can be found all over Greater Toronto. There are several areas densely populated by Russian speakers: North York, Vaughan, Thornhill, Richmond Hill, and High Park. North of Toronto—previously populated predominantly by Russian Jews—is presently home to numerous ethnic groups from the Former Soviet Union. Recent years have witnessed quick growth of Russian-speaking communities throughout Greater Toronto. Contrary to preconceived ideas voiced by the Canadian mass media, the community is in no way dominated by notorious “Russian Mafia.” Districts populated by Russian speakers are still among the safest in Toronto.
RUSSIAN ORTHODOX NEW YEAR is celebrated on January 13 with festivities at church halls.
MASLYANITSA (BUTTER WEEK) is celebrated the week preceding Lent. On this occasion, it is customary to serve blini (pancakes).
EASTER, the greatest feast day for Russians, is celebrated seven weeks after Butter Week. The Russian Easter table is noted for its beauty and variety.
THE DAY OF MOURNING, July 17, is held in memory of Tsar Nicholas and his family, who were executed in 1918.
ST. VLADIMIR’S DAY on July 28 honours the saint who brought Christianity to Russia in the l0th century.
THE ICON OF POKROV (THE MOTHER OF GOD) is venerated on October 14 by Russian Cossacks as their patron saint.
ST. NICHOLAS DAY, held on December 19, honours the saint renowned for his kindness and charitable deeds, particularly to children. Icons of St. Nicholas are placed in Russian homes.
CHRISTMAS. December 25 is Christmas for Russian Protestants, while members of the Orthodox churches celebrate according to the Julian calendar on January 7. The highlight of the festive season is a holy supper of 12 meatless dishes in honour of the apostles. The supper begins when the children see the first star in the evening sky. Yolka (Christmas Tree) is the custom of singing and circle-dancing around the Christmas tree as Grandfather Frost (Santa Claus) arrives bearing gifts.
FEAST DAYS. Each Orthodox church celebrates a feast day in honour of its patron saint.
NORTHSTAR COMPASS, (Tel. 416-593-0781, www.northstarcompass.org, 280 Queen St. W., 2nd floor), a monthly magazine, prints news about the present situation in former Soviet Union which is not dealt with in the local news media. This NSC goes to 69 countries of the world. It published news that is in opposition to the present course of events. Videos are available of the history, culture, economy and sports.
RUSSIAN CANADIAN INFO, a weekly newspaper, (Tel. 416-226-4777, 5987 Bathurst St., Suite 108).
CANADIAN COURIER, a weekly newspaper, (Tel. 416-398-5011, 4400 Bathurst St., Suite 12).
RUSSIAN EXPRESS, a weekly newspaper, (Tel. 416-663-3999, 1881 Steeles Ave. W., Suite 207A).
Opening the best Volga Pavillion at International Caravan. Here, the Mayor and Princess of the pavillion are being congratulated by M.P.P. Tony Ruprecht, at the time Minister of Citizenship with Responsibilities for Multiculturalism.
RUSSIAN WAVES, OMNI-TV, (Tel. 416-260-3621, 545 Lakeshore Blvd. W). Saturday 11:00 p.m. to 11:30 p.m.
RUSSIAN CANADIAN BROADCASTING, MIX TV, (Tel. 905-738-1109, 592 Champagne Dr).
CANADIAN FRIENDS OF SOVIET PEOPLE, (Tel. 416-977-5819, Fax 416-593-0787, 280 Queen St. W), shows Russian films, holds lectures, and publishes books and magazines. President: M. Lucas.
FEDERATION OF RUSSIAN CANADIANS, (Tel. 416-504-8404, 6 Denison Ave). Owns a building and a hall, where concerts are performed by its own choir and visiting Russian musicians. The centre also teaches dance lessons. Contact: Helen Klukach.
RUSSIAN CANADIAN CULTURAL AID SOCIETY, (Tel. 416-653-1361, 91 Kersdale Ave). Established in 1950 to preserve the Russian heritage in Canada and assist newcomers with settlement. Sponsors cultural evenings, dinner dances, afternoon recitals, and lectures on topics such as Russian literature, art, and history. Affiliated performing groups include the Polyanka Dancers. The Literary Circle, founded in 1949, and the Drama Circle are also affiliated with the society. An annual charity ball is held in January. The society belongs to the Canadian Ethnocultural Council, the Ontario Folk Arts Council, and Easter Table, and Christmas Around the World. It also maintains a library of Russian books. President: Maria Blagoveshchensky.
RUSSIAN ORTHODOX IMMIGRANT SERVICES OF CANADA (ROIS), (Tel. 416-653-1361, 91 Kersdale Ave, “Russian Hot Line.” ROIS was founded in 1993 and combines the efforts of the Holy Trinity parish of the Russian Church Abroad and of the Christ the Saviour parish of the Orthodox Church in America to help newly arrived people from the former Soviet Union. Since its beginning its volunteers have found accommodation, assisted with job searches, located furnishings, clothes, assisted with schooling issues, medical services, family counselling, orientation to the community and status issues. It received charitable status from Revenue Canada in 1999.