TOURING UKRAINIAN OTTAWA 4:
The idea was a good one: how about an article on Ukrainian churches in Ottawa? But then your beloved author-guide did a count: three parishes with churches, one parish without a church, one church without a parish, at least one former church and two religious academic institutions. And we haven’t yet touched on the cemeteries. So we’ll have to spread this out over a number of newsletters.
While dragging those pesky visiting relatives around Ottawa, you’re bound to end up at one point visiting the Canadian Museum of Civilization (Ok, so it’s in Hull. Let’s not get pedantic about this.). The most distinct and unique exhibit in the Canada Hall is the Ukrainian-Catholic Church of St. Onuphrius. Why so distinctive? Well, you’ll have to learn a bit of history before finding that out.
First built in 1907, St. Onuphrius was redesigned during the First World War by French (from Alsace-Lorraine) Oblate Father Philip Ruh. Fr. Ruh would go on to design and build more than 30 Ukrainian-Catholic churches across Western Canada. He was one of a number of priests (mostly Belgians) from Western Europe who studied in Galicia and were accepted into the Eastern Rite in order to serve as missionaries to Ukrainian pioneers in Canada.
St. Onuphrius, and its associated cemetery, served the Ukrainian Catholic community of Smoky Lake until 1964. With better roads and wide car ownership, it was thought more convenient to build a new church in the town itself. The old building was left standing. A fortuitous event: the parish was thus willing to donate the old building to the Canadian Museum of Civilization when Steve Prystupa, the Museum's Prairie Historian, came looking. Carefully measured using laser devices and disassembled, it was reassembled in the museum’s Canada Hall.
All the buildings you see in the Museum of Civilization’s exhibit are copies or generalized mock-ups. St. Onuphrius is the only genuine building, an artifact in itself. It is also a functioning church, being reconsecrated during the exhibit opening in 1996. In fact, this caused quite a controversy within the museum during exhibit preparation. Designers wanted to shorten the building and put it up against the exhibit back wall. But you can’t damage an artifact. And a consecrated church has to allow for processions around the outside at Easter. So St. Onuphrius remained whole, and free-standing.
St. Onuphrius is a working church. The reconsecration ceremony included a reaffirmation of wedding vows by two couples, Nellie and Mike Zarusky, Anne and Nick Ropchan, who were married in St. Onuphrius Church sixty and fifty years ago, respectively.
A “Great Blessing of Water” service is held yearly to celebrate the Feast of the Theophany (Yordan, or Jordan) in traditional Ukrainian style, including the erection of a three-metre cross of ice on the Ottawa River in front of the museum.
Some of you may notice that there are a few elements not quite appropriate or traditional to a Ukrainian-Catholic church in the building. The parishioners built without much guidance, and decorated the way the felt it should look like. And the parish priest often had difficulty in refusing religious objects and statues donated by his members. This occasioned regular admonishments from the bishop to correct deviations from Church policy!