While early Ukrainian immigrants were sent to scattered
farm communities in Western Canada, some did settle in Ontario. Throughout the
Canadian Shield, men worked in nickel and gold mines, railroad "extra gangs",
and logging camps. Those in Toronto laid sewers, paved roads and helped build
large plants. Immigrant women worked at housework and whatever jobs they could
find in textiles and needle trades, laundries and factories.
Cultural activities helped ease their labour aches and pains, their feelings of loneliness and their nostalgia for family left behind. Programs of plays, concerts and skits were well under way before the First World War and provided some solace for Toronto Ukrainians on hearing the words and songs of their far-away home. As cultural-educational activities grew with Ukrainian immigration, rented quarters were not adequate to house all this creative activity.
The Association of United Ukrainian Canadians in Welland
has promoted, nurtured and supported cultural activities right from its
.In 1917, a Ukrainian Labour Temple was constructed at the end of Sixth Street in Welland near the Welland Canal. It was not only Welland's first Ukrainian Community Centre but was also the first Ukrainian Labour Temple in Canada..
As soon as it was built, a drama club began to
function and a few years later, a Ukrainian language school was begun. With
volunteers doing the teaching, the schooling was provided at no cost to the
parents of the children who attended.
From these early beginnings the first Mandolin Orchestra was initiated in 1926. This same year the Hall was moved to its present location on the corner of Ontario Road and Beatrice Street.
Aside from the Orchestra many of the same activities are carried on today by the next generation of children who are now the elders in the organization.
Encouraged by the building of the Ukrainian Labour
Temple in Winnipeg, Toronto Ukrainian activists began collecting nickels and
dimes, appealing to their audiences for donations for a new building.
Opened in 1927, over the next six decades, The Ukrainian Labour Temple at 300 Bathurst Street became known far and wide for its cultural achievements and prominent participation in community and political affairs. What seemed initially spacious and adequate was soon found barely so, as a host of activities filled its space. Apart from the range of Ukrainian cultural activities, Toronto provided opportunities to study the Ukrainian language and yes, English too, for older immigrants who had no way of studying the language of their new homeland. Seasonal bazaars were week-long affairs with games of chance and skill, delicious Ukrainian food and baking, as well as bushels of donated farm produce which were sold and raffled. Rehearsals, weekly concerts and dramas filled the roster.
This surge of cultural activity carried over to the opening of new labour temples in the Toronto area—West Toronto, East Toronto and New Toronto. Activities in these branches were soon overshadowed by ominous global events. It is not commonly known in Canada that in 1936 Canadians—among them many Ukrainians, mostly members of ULFTA—found their way to a three-year civil war in Spain, serving with the MacKenzie-Papineau brigade. After heroic, uneven battles, many returned wounded while others lay for eternity in Spanish soil.
At the beginning of World War II, many ULFTA leaders
and activists were interned in concentration camps, and only in 1942 were
the last released. Democratic Canadians petitioned the government to release
the arrested anti-fascists and to rescind the anti-ULFTA legislation, which
resulted in seizure of property and padlocking of ULFTA halls. After great
pressure, the Canadian government returned most of the buildings, including
300 Bathurst Street, in 1945.
Many ULFTA members served in all branches of the Canadian armed forces, while the women used our hall as a centre for providing parcels of aid and comfort to our fighting men. Our cultural groups performed at military camps and many concerts were held to raise money for war bonds. Many members of the Toronto ULFTA Brass Band joined in the Navy Show of the armed forces. Returning veterans were honoured with a large WELCOME HOME BANQUET held in a downtown hotel in Toronto.
In the post-war years, national festivals, held in various localities, won great recognition for our association and displayed the richness of Ukrainian culture before many thousands of our fellow Canadians.The newly formed Toronto English-speaking branch took its place along side the men and women's branches of our newly named AUUC. The branch was large and active in promoting The Ukrainian Canadian newspaper, in the English language, commencing in 1947 and in volunteering to enhance the Camp Palermo grounds-both major initiatives. Camp Palermo greatly enriched our organizational activities both culturally and in our Ukrainian community, climaxing with the unveiling, in 1951, of the first Taras Shevchenko monument in North America.
Today 300 Bathurst and Camp Palermo are gone, our press is combined into an English-Ukrainian newspaper and our Toronto branches have combined into one AUUC Branch No 1 in our new AUUC Cultural Centre at 1604 Bloor Street West. We have a solid core of experienced and devoted AUUC members who meet regularly and have every intention of carrying our proud Toronto tradition into the 21st century.