By Gregory Clark, December 3, 1921.
The little Russian church with its onion dome on Royce avenue still stands, with its queer triple cross on the steeple. But it is a Presbyterian church now.
No more do the humble Russians kiss the priest’s hand. No more do they kiss the feet of the crucified Jesus in the vestibule of their rough-cast church.
For they are Presbyterians now, and kiss nothing. They come boldly into their pews. The icons and sacred pictures have gone. There is nothing left to be afraid of. Even the minister has put aside his black robes.
Down the street, on Franklin avenue, the Greek Catholic church of St. Josaphat the Martyr is resplendent with great sacred paintings, its altar is ablaze with gold and silver ornaments and royal blue banners. Two thousand members is the estimate of the Rev. Dr. Joseph Zuk, its rector, recently arrived from Vienna.
But down at Templar’s Hall, at Queen and Dovercourt, last Saturday night, the Ukrainian Unity Society put on before a packed house of Russians a play entitled “Tsar Nicholas the Third” a bitter comedy aimed at the priests, which was cheered by the audience.
Toronto’s ten thousand Russians and Ukrainians are passing through a little revolution of their own.
The question naturally arises, since Russia and that part of South Russia known as the Ukraine are “bolshevik”, or under soviet government, what are the sentiments of these ten thousand Russians and Ukrainians in Toronto?
The answer is that they are divided. Dr. Zuk, only a few weeks out from Vienna, and whose command of English is not yet complete, appears to be very hostile to the bolsheviks. He is priest of the Greek Catholic church. When asked how many of the Russians and Ukrainians in Toronto belonged to his congregation, he said two thousand, and referred sternly to the remainder as being “bolsheviks, Presbyterians and socialists.”
But that a large number if not a majority of the Russians and Ukrainians in Toronto are frankly in sympathy with soviet Russia is fairly definite.
And it is perfectly natural under the circumstances that it should be so. For these people came to Canada to escape the conditions which the bolsheviks claim to have remedied. And while they have no direct news of Russia, and rely on bolshevik pamphlets and other literature printed in New York, which is secretly passed from hand to hand, there has been a sufficient reverberation of the Russian revolution in this country to make many of our Russians socialists at heart.
But that they entertain no hostile socialist ideas towards Canada is also evident.
“We regard Canada,” said one frankly avowed Toronto bolshevik, “as the land to which we came for sanctuary. If our socialist ideas show us anything wrong in Canada, it is none of our business. It is a far, far better land than Russia was, or we would never have come to it. At heart we are socialists, and we yearn for Russia.”
“It is six years,” said a Russian youth from near Kiev, “since I had a letter from my father. The last word I heard from home was that my four brothers had gone to the war.”
“I do not know,” he said, simply, “if I have four brothers, now, or a father or a mother. I do not know if they are starving. Here am I, working every day, eating fine meals, living in warm lodgings, saving a little money. But I am not happy, because always at my bench and at home in the evenings, I am wondering about my father and brothers.”
“Yet,” I asked, “how can you be a socialist, when you are so comfortable and they are in misery?”
“It is not easy,” he replied, “for you to understand. You do not know what Russia was when I left it; the power and comfort of the few, the misery and pain of the vast many. As far as Canada is concerned, I am not a socialist. You Canadians have a separate destiny. But for Russia, I am a socialist.”
“I have sworn,” he said, with a straight look in his wide-set blue eyes, ” to go back to Russia as soon as I can. I too wish to suffer with my father and brothers for the freedom of my race. Nineteen of my friends from Toronto have returned to Russia in the last year. All have written on the way from England, France, Poland. Then no more. Not another letter. They are gone utterly. To what? Well, I am ready to go.”
At the Templar’s Hall, a week ago tonight, I attended the play, “Tsar Nicholas the Third.”
It was Tsar Nicholas the Second who was executed. Tsar Nicholas of the play is the priest who fooled and robbed the people.
When you consider that ten years ago, Russians were the most childishly and superstitiously religious people in the world, this satirical comedy, acted by a group of amateur actors in a Toronto hall before six or seven hundred Russians, shows how complete the change has been. The priest who was revered and feared and trusted was shown on the stage as an immoral, leering villain.
The actors are men who work in Toronto factories, and one or two are common laborers. The women of the cast are the wives of Toronto workmen. They acted extremely well.
The audience was a remarkably fine looking one, largely South Russians or Ukrainians. The so-called “typical Russian” of broad features and heavy frame was not conspicuous. The great majority were clean-cut, handsome men, and the girls were slim and pretty. It was unlike a Canadian theatre audience only in that whole families were present, little children prattled about and mothers made frequent journeys up and down the aisles with their little ones. And nobody minded.
The orchestra was a Ukrainian brass band.
There is about them all the restlessness of a people in exile. For a century, this revolution has been the dream, the dark, secret, terrifying dream of the Russian people. Their literature proves it. In desperation, they exile themselves to a free and beautiful country. Then comes the revolution. And they can get no news of it. Beyond their most secret dreams, the revolution comes. “The Tsar is killed! The land is divided amongst the people. And all they can hear of it is that Russia is starving, their mothers and brothers are starving.
All exiles can sympathize with them: Englishmen, Irishmen, and Scotsmen can picture their dismay if not their joy.
“I was sending fifteen dollars a month,” said a grim, dark Russian, “to my wife of a month. She was to follow me in a year. My baby was born. It is six years old and I have never seen it. The last letter I got, five years ago, said my baby’s fifth tooth had come, and that it would look at my picture when they said my name.
“I do not know, yet,” he added, “whether I am a bolshevik or not!”
Editor’s Notes: This article shows the status of Russian immigrants after the 1917 Bolshevik revolution that brought the communists to power. On the one had, many of the common people would be glad for the Tsar to be gone, but the revolution brought war and famine. The church leaders would be anti-bolshevist.
St. Josaphat Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral still exists today in the same spot, but not the same building. The original from the article would be fairly new, having been dedicated in 1914, but it was destroyed by fire in 1964, and rebuilt in 1965.
The former church at Royce Avenue (now Dupont Street) and Perth Avenue that became Presbyterian is no longer there. A Presbyterian Church was built there, but eventually torn down. It is now a dreary looking strip mall.
Templar’s Hall started as the Western branch of the YMCA in Toronto in 1889. It housed many organizations throughout it’s history, and is now the Great Hall.