One of the pioneers of the Toronto Bulgarian community was Dr. D.M. Malin whose benevolent deeds included free treatment for his patients. Dr. Malin helped establish the community’s first church in 1910; for more than 100 years, Saints Cyril and Methodius Macedono-Bulgarian Eastern Orthodox Church has been a centre of cultural and social life for the Toronto Bulgarian community. A language school was established in 1915, and theatrical performances, concerts, lectures, and horos (round dances) have highlighted parish events since the church’s early days.
The first wave of Bulgarian immigration took place between 1908 and 1913 in the years surrounding the Balkan Wars. More Bulgarians arrived in Canada between 1920 and 1930, but the largest influx followed the Second World War, when Communists seized control of Bulgaria. Many Bulgarians living and studying in Western European countries chose not to return to Bulgaria.
Bulgarians came from a country with an impressive political and cultural history. The Southeast European state was founded as early as 681 and even then it was not a new phenomenon but rather an outgrowth of several centuries old political entity developed to the northeast on the Black Sea. Bulgarians managed to establish a small but independent state striving to achieve modernization and progress. Yet many Bulgarians were still under the repressive five-century long rule of the Ottoman empire. It was the Bulgarians from these regions, mainly Macedonia, who after the failure to achieve liberty through an uprising in 1903 decided to search for it in the New World.
Thus around 1905–1907 the first Bulgarian settlements in Toronto took shape, in the southeast part of the city along King and Trinity streets. It was here on the junction of Trinity Street and Eastern Avenue that the community’s first church was established in 1910—Saints Cyril and Methodius Macedono-Bulgarian Eastern Orthodox Church.
The earliest Bulgarians in Canada were men from small towns who helped build railroads and canals in Welland and the Trent Valley. Others worked in the nickel mines of Sudbury or as labourers on tobacco farms in the Niagara Peninsula. Following the Second World War, political refugees from Bulgaria included professionals, such as engineers, architects, and doctors.
The early Toronto community settled in the Church and Parliament streets area and along Queen and Dundas streets. With the influx of new immigrants, joint Macedonian-Bulgarian organizations were formed. Churches, benevolent societies, and cultural and sports clubs were established by settlers from the Pirin region of Bulgaria, Northern Greece, and Macedonia.
In the 1950s, avenues of cultural expression included performances of Bulgarian traditional music by church choirs and the Christo Boteff Orchestra led by Christo Dafeff, a violinist and teacher at the Royal Conservatory of Music.
Today, there are approximately 15,000 Bulgarians living in Toronto. Prominent members of the community include self-made millionaire, builder, and developer Ignat Kaneff. Kaneff, who chairs the I. Kaneff Charity Foundation, has contributed financially to worthwhile causes, including hospitals in Mississauga, Brampton, and Oakville.
Canadian-Bulgarian Association was established in 1992 to promote cultural and economic cooperation between Bulgaria and Canada. Contact: Alex Kovatchev.
Contributing to the Toronto arts scene are Peter Daminoff, a first violinist with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra for more than 30 years, sculptor Marian Kantaroff, pianist Marian Grudeff, and art history professor Bogomila Welsh-Ovcharov.
NATIONAL LIBERATION DAY, March 3, honours the day in 1878 that Bulgaria became an autonomous principality after five centuries of Turkish rule. Church services, speeches, and cultural programs are held on this day.
ST. GEORGE’S DAY, the weekend closest to May 6, is celebrated in honour of the saint, once a Roman soldier who advanced to high military rank under the Emperor Diocletian. He was arrested and was executed for protecting his new-found Christian faith and converting many people to Christianity.
SAINTS CYRIL AND METHODIUS DAY, May 24, is celebrated in honour of the two ninth-century missionaries who created a new Slavonic alphabet.
LLINDEN DAY The Bulgarian community also celebrates the Llinden day —August 2—as a crucial date during 1903 uprising for national self-determination of Bulgarians in Macedonia and Thrace, then under the rule of the Ottoman Empire. In fact the participants of the uprising, persecuted by the Ottoman authorities were the first settlers to form the Bulgarian-Macedonian community in Toronto at the turn of the century.
BULGARIAN RADIO PROGRAM CHIN FM 100.7, (Tel. 416-531-9991, www.chinradio.com, 622 College St). Saturdays, 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.
BULGARIAN HORIZONS, (Tel. 416-962-7100, 648A Yonge St., Suite 7). Editor: Maxim Bozhilov. Weekly publication.
MACEDONO-BULGARIAN REVIEW ‘VARDAR,’ (Tel. 416-431-1163, 37 Marcella St), biannual journal of history and contemporary problems of the Bulgarian people.
St. George’s Macedono-Bulgarian Eastern Orthodox Church
BULGARIAN CULTURAL CENTRE, 125 Neptune Dr., Suite 901, was established in 1994.
BULGARIAN NATIONAL FRONT (BNF), Canada Inc., (Tel. 416-449-8649, 55 Wynford Heights Cres., Suite 2015). Established in 1951 for the purpose of providing moral, material, social, and charitable assistance to its members and their friends and relatives. It also promotes the traditions of the democratic National Bulgarian culture and cooperates with groups and organizations with a similar mandate. The BNF helps its members adapt to Canadian life and institutions, and organizes meetings and speakers for congresses. President: Peter Peltekoff.
CANADIAN BULGARIAN ASSOCIATION, (Tel. 905-454-0221, 8501 Mississauga Rd).
THE BULGARIAN CANADIAN SOCIETY OF TORONTO, (1092 Islington Ave., Suite 201), is a registered charitable and cultural organization. Since March 7, 1957, the Bulgarian Canadian Society has been the authoritative representative of Bulgarians in Canada. The society’s main aims are to organize conferences and cultural festivities, to meet with and assist expatriates, and to award scholarships and plaques in recognition of community work.President: Boris Ivanov.
MACEDONIAN PATRIOTIC ORGANIZATION—TORONTO. (Tel. 416-483-5366). Established in 1920s as the chief social and political organization of Macedonian Bulgarians in Toronto. Chairman: Fred Meanchoff.
Saints Cyril & Methodius Macedono-Bulgarian Orthodox Cathedral