TOURING UKRAINIAN OTTAWA 6:
Church buildings are community monuments. Their builders aim to glorify God, but also to put the mark of their own community upon the geography of the city. Cemeteries are very different. True, they tend to be run as community operations. But the memorials are individual and family ones, placed by loved ones, and sometimes governments, to commemorate individual loss. They reflect what we think of ourselves, what we were and, in a particular way, which way we may be going.
So take a drive down to 1890 Merivale, just South of Hunt Club, on the West side. Here there are two Ukrainian Orthodox cemeteries, cheek by jowl. Why two? That we’ll look into in a future article, when we look at the history of the Holy Trinity Bukovynian Greek Orthodox Cathedral on Somerset. For now, enter the southernmost cemetery gate. On your right you will see a small building, with ‘Holy Trinity Chapel, Bukowinian Greek Orthodox, Mereville Cemetery, 1938’. The chapel is made of hydrostone blocks. These are made of concrete formed under hydraulic pressure, thus the name. An inexpensive yet strong and long-lasting building material, it was extensively used in the 1920s and 1930s. In Ottawa, you can still see a number of buildings in the Vanier section of Ottawa made from hydrostone. More famously, a whole section of Halifax was rebuilt in hydrostone after the Halifax Harbour Explosion of an ammunition ship in 1917.
To the left of the main road through the cemetery you can see some of the oldest graves in it. Most touching is a family site from the 1920s. Three children, all members of the same family, all who died in the first twelve months of life, are buried there. One can almost feel the impact of the continuing tragedy on the family. At the same time, we realize how much medical care has improved, especially for those least able to afford it formerly.
One can see a shift in the economic condition of members of the parish. From the 1920s to the present gravestones grow in size and quality. The other big shift is a change in the language used, with less Ukrainian the closer we get to the present. The other shift is in language used on headstones. English replaces Ukrainian the closer we get to the present. As in the rest of our community, assimilation takes hold.
There are a number of headstones that tell us their subjects were born in Russia. Some would have been born in the Ukrainian part of the Russian Empire. Others were not. Wasili Dolosenko, born 2 October 1906 in Krasnodar, Russia, died in Ottawa 2nd March 1958. A glance at a map tells you that Krasnodar is in the Kuban region, home to one of the more famous Cossack hosts. In fact, the ancestors of these Cossacks had come from Ukraine to settle there after the destruction of the Hetmanite Cossack State in the Eighteenth century. Even now, many of the middle-aged and older people in the Kuban region can speak Ukrainian. So the Bukovynian Orthodox church in Ottawa attracted co-religionists who came from across Ukraine, not just the Bukovynian borderland between Rumania and Ukraine. This is a major difference from the greater part of the Ukrainian-Canadian community, who’s antecedents came from the Galician districts of Ukraine, close to the Polish border, and were Ukrainian (Greek) Catholic in religion.
Proportionately speaking, there are a large number of Canadian military headstones in the graveyard. Almost all of them refer to service in World War 1. Aside from the age of the individual, you can tell this by the initials CEF (Canadian Expeditionary Force), the title for the Canadian Army in France during that war. All, with one exception, were privates. Donya Zuck made it to the lofty rank of LCpl (lance corporal, one step above private at the time). He served in the CFC, along with Alex Kondruk, the Canadian Forestry Corps. These were units of experienced Canadian lumberjacks and labourers who cut down the forests of France and Scotland to feed the Entente war machine. Massive amounts of lumber were used for railway ties and to shore up trenches and tunnels, bunkers, etc. Two of our veterans (Jakow Trereschuk and Jack Zaremba) served in the 67th Bn (battalion) CEF, the Western Scots. Yes, this means they wore kilts. Raised as a Pioneer unit in Victoria, BC, its worked in the forward areas of the front lines digging trenches, building emplacements for artillery, bunkers and so forth. During the reinforcement crisis of 1917, this unit was broken up to provide replacements to fighting units in France.
One of the more intriguing military headstones is that of Harry Krivda, who joined the 73rd Bn CEF, the Royal Highlanders (why did Ukrainians want to join Scottish units?) from Quebec City. This gives us a peak into two forgotten parts of Canadian history. Unilingual, francophone Quebec City once had a thriving multi-ethnic side based on Scots, Irish and others. Indeed, a Scottish Presbyterian kirk still stands very close to the centre of Quebec’s capital. For the other part, Quebec City had a large Orthodox population from the Russian Empire, including many Ukrainians who joined the CEF in various units.
One of these was the only Ukrainian known to become an officer serving overseas in the Canadian Army during WW1: the reverend Captain John Ovsiansky. Born near Zhytomir, Ukraine (then part of the Russian Empire) in 1865, he eventually became a minor civil servant. Leaving behind his family, Ovsiansky came to Canada in 1912, but found that without a knowledge of the English language he could not earn enough to bring over his family. Applying to the Russian Orthodox Bishop of Alaska to become a priest, he finished his theological training by the end of 1914 and was eventually assigned to the Russian Orthodox parish of St Nicholas in Quebec City. A substantial portion of the parishioners were Ukrainian immigrants from the Russian Empire. Joining the Canadian Army in 1915, he would become the only Orthodox chaplain (which automatically conferred officer status) in it. The next two years were spent travelling around Canadian units and hospitals in England, ministering to Ukrainian, Russian, Serb and other members of his faith and fellow soldiers. The King of Montenegro even gave him the Cross of Danylo, 3rd Class, for his services to Montenegrin soldiers in the Canadian Army. At the end of the war he settled in the US, dying in 1921, never having been reunited with his wife and daughter.
The graveyard tells us the story of a working class community that was able to attract members from across the country (such as the soldiers from BC, Quebec and other places) because of relatively good economic conditions in Ottawa. Even so, there were hard times, as we see by the children’s grave. Somewhat separated from the rest of the Ukrainian-Canadian community by place of origin and faith, it is been slowly assimilated into overall Canadian society.