The formation of the Armenian community of Canada began between the years 1880 and 1890. It is unknown, however, whether the original immigrants arrived as permanent residents. The fact is that they were individuals who were willing to work, mostly in factories, in order to take their earnings back to their country. A certain Garabed Nergararian was the first Armenian to settle in the province of Ontario in 1887. Others followed him. Persecution in Ottoman Turkey-such as the massacres under Sultan Hamid in 1896, and the Genocide of 1915-drove many Armenians to seek refuge in Canada. As the twentieth century began, Canada witnessed an influx of Armenians from Van, Moush and mostly from the Balu and Keghi regions of Armenia. These immigrants established themselves in Brantford, St. Catharines, Hamilton, Guelph, Galt, Preston and Toronto.
In the 1920s, through the efforts of the Armenian Relief Association of Canada, one hundred Armenian orphans, ranging in age from eight to eighteen, were admitted to the country by the Canadian government, and educated in agriculture. The first group of fifty boys arrived in Quebec in 1923 from an orphanage of Corfu, Greece. They settled in a farmhouse in Georgetown, Ontario. A second group from the same orphanage followed soon after. The allotment of one hundred orphans was later filled out with some boys and girls from an orphanage in Beirut, Lebanon. Most of these young settlers grew up to be respectable Canadian citizens. Today, the total Armenian population of Canada is estimated at about 80,000. The majority of these reside in Toronto or Montreal-about 30,000 in each city. Smaller communities exist in Hamilton, Ottawa, St. Catharines and Vancouver, with the remainder scattered throughout Mississauga, Calgary, Windsor, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Kingston and the Maritime provinces.
From the earliest days of the community, the Canadian Armenians organized associations, social activities and religious services. Records tell of individuals who volunteered, once a week and for several hours at a time, to teach Armenian children the rudiments of their ancestral language, history and literature. These daylong classroom sessions eventually evolved into -the Armenian Saturday schools which continue to function in Toronto, Montreal and elsewhere. St. Catharines, Toronto and Hamilton were the first cities to receive Armenian settlers, in the years 1900 through 1904. These came as single individuals or families, primarily from Constantinople and Keghi. World War I and its subsequent events brought new arrivals to these towns, and over time the Canadian Armenians went into business and settled into family life. In the years succeeding 1920, the population grew to the extent that a new community emerged in Montreal. With their homes established, the people turned their attention to ensuring a more permanent place in their cofnmunities for the Armenian Church. At this time, the Canadian Armenians existed under the jurisdiction of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America, which tended to the population’s spiritual needs. Once or twice a year, the diocese would dispatch clergymen across the northern border to celebrate the Divine Liturgy and (if necessary) to perform other sacramental rites, such as christenings, funerals or weddings. In the absence of actual Armenian sanctuaries, the ceremonies were usually performed in Anglican churches. Over time, however, each community formed its own parish council, youth and women’s organizations, and sometimes a parish choir.
The first Armenian Church in Canada was erected by the parish of St. Catharines, a small community of some 400 people, which nevertheless had initiated its own school in 1919. Construction on the church building was completed in 1930, the on November 30 of that year it was consecrated in the name of St. Gregory the Illuminator by Archbishop
Tirayr Hovhannesian, the primate of North America. In 1938, the church grounds were extended through the purchase of four adjacent properties. By the middle of the century, Toronto, Hamilton and Montreal all had their own parish councils and auxiliary organizations, which convened regular meetings and planned various projects. However, none of the parishes-including the established church in St. Catharines-was able to support a full-time pastor, and they were obliged to depend on irregular pastoral visits. Montreal was the fortunate exception: from 1929 to 1940, that community received regular visits by clergymen, twice a year. As greater numbers of Armenian immigrants entered Canada in the middle of the century, the communities in Toronto and especially Montreal grew rapidly. Under these new conditions, the former arrangement of irregular services by itinerant clergymen was no longer tenable. Canada clearly required a more permanent pastor, one who-if not dedicated exclusively to the country-could at least devote a substantial amount of his time to the sprawling Montreal community. Such a request was presented to the diocesan primate in New York, and it was fulfilled at last on November 7, 1966, when Bishop Torkom Manoogian appointed Fr. Vazken Tatoyan to the post. In June of the following year, Bishop Manoogian established the regional vicarate of Canada under the jurisdiction of the diocese, and Fr. Vatche Hovsepian was dispatched to Montreal to be its first occupant. He was consecrated as a bishop by His Holiness Vasken I in October of 1967, and continued in his role until 1971. He was succeeded by Fr. Zaven Arzoumanian (1971-1973), Fr. Shnork Kasparian (1974), Bishop Aris Shirvanian (1974-1978) and Fr. Vazken Keshishian (1979-1983). Needless to say, the Canadian vicarate, like the diocese itself, functioned under the authority of the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin. However, the schism in the American diocese which began in New York in 1933 has affected the community in Canada as well, and several parishes affiliated with the Cilician catholicate have been established in the country.
The possibility of creating a distinct Armenian Church diocese for Canada was a matter of discussion for some time. But it was only in the early 1970s that the first steps were taken to extract the Canadian churches from their parent jurisdiction, the Eastern Diocese of America, headquartered in New York City. From 1970 through 1975, Archbishop Torkom Manoogian held consultations with the parish councils of the churches of Montreal, Toronto and St. Catharines.
A set of bylaws was drawn up in 1977 and submitted to the primate and the Diocesan Council for the proposed Canadian diocese. A copy was forwarded to Catholicos Vasken I at Holy Etchmiadzin, and the reaction of the Supreme Spiritual Council was positive. The establishment of a Canadian diocese is only a matter of time,” it decreed, and should be realized no later than six months after the issuance of this letter.” This objective would take somewhat longer to realize, however. In February of 1980, a letter containing recommendations from the primate and the Diocesan Council was addressed to His Holiness for approval and ratification. It proposed the establishment of a fully operational Canadian diocese by 1983. With the consent of the catholicos, a committee would be created under the presidency of the vicar of Canada whose membership would include the pastors, parish council chairmen and delegates from the seven Canadian parishes1. This committee would review the bylaws drafted in 1977; pursue the organization of choirs, youth committees and women’s guilds within each of the parishes; and recommend the location for the seat of the future primate of Canada. In an encyclical dated November 15, 1980, His Holiness Vasken I officially authorized the creation of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of Canada, thus setting in motion a series of rapid developments. In February 1981, the guidelines for the Canadian diocese were considered and approved by the representatives of the parishes. In November 1982, the catholicos gave his consent to the bylaws. On September 3, 1983, the first Diocesan Assembly of the Canadian diocese was convened at Toronto’s Holy Trinity Church. Archbishop Manoogian presided over the meeting of thirty-two delegates representing the seven Canadian parishes. The encyclical of His Holiness Vasken I was read, officially announcing the establishment of the Canadian diocese, whose offices would henceforth be located at the St. Gregory the Illuminator Cathedral in Montreal, and which would now enjoy the direct spiritual administration of the Mother See. Archbishop Manoogian announced that a locum tenens, Fr. Vazken Keshishian, would assume his duties as of November 1, 1983.
The following year, Fr. Keshishian was ordained as a bishop by the catholicos at Holy Etchmiadzin. Finally, on October 6, 1984, the Diocesan Assembly convening at the St. Gregory the Illuminator Church of St. Catharines elected Bishop Vazken Keshishian as the first primate of Canada. Bishop Keshishian was granted the rank of ” archbishop ” in 1988, and he continued in office until March of 1990. At that time, sadly, the primate passed away. Fr. Hovnan Derderian took over the leadership of the diocese as locum tenens, and in May of 1990, he succeeded Archbishop Keshishian as primate. Subsequently raised to the rank of bishop and, later, archbishop, the young and dynamic Archbishop Derderian was re-elected to the primacy in 1995 and serves in that capacity to the present day. With the creation of a distinct jurisdiction for their Church, the Armenians of Canada were inspired to build their community with renewed vigor and optimism. Older parishes flourished, and new ones rapidly formed. There was a flowering of social and cultural activities, and weekday, Saturday and Sunday schools began to function in most parishes. Presently, the diocese supervises nine parishes across the country: the St. Gregory the Illuminator Cathedral of Montreal, Holy Trinity of Toronto, St. Gregory the Illuminator of St. Catharines, St. Mary of Hamilton, St. Vartan of Vancouver, St. Mesrob of Ottawa, St. Vartan of Mississauga, Holy Resurrection of Windsor and Holy Cross of Laval.
Each of these has its parish council, various auxiliary organizations and a permanent or visiting pastor. In recent years,
new mission parishes have emerged in Nova Scotia, Winnipeg, Edmonton and Calgary.
In order to present a fuller picture of the life of the Canadian diocese it will be useful to consider the individual parishes in greater detail. The first under consideration will be the Armenian church in Canada’s greatest city, the St. Gregory the Illuminator Cathedral of Montreal.
The local Armenian community had modest origins, with a few dozen unmarried youths and families settling in the city in the decade before 1920. By 1930, however, in spite of their small number, the Montreal Armenians had founded a charitable organization called the Armenian Benevolent Association, which, among other activities, taught children their mother language and religion. That same year, a women’s guild was founded with four members, and a church choir of fourteen men and women was formed not long afterward. During a 1948 pastoral visit to the city, Bishop Tiran Nersoyan, the diocesan primate, yielded to the wishes of the community and appointed a six-member church committee, which was later sanctioned by the Central Executive Committee of the diocese. A local Anglican church accommodated the community in their irregular church services for many years. But the necessity of establishing a permanent Armenian sanctuary became more pronounced following the dramatic influx of Armenian immigrants in the 1950s and 1960s. Discussions along these lines began in the 1950s, at which time the community numbered about 225 individuals Several prospective buildings were considered over a period of years, and a fundraising effort was begun in earnest in 1964. In 1967, a property was actually purchased, with the intention of building on it. However, in 1970 a better prospect presented itself. The Fairmount St. Giles United Church, a forty-year-old edifice in the Anglophone community of Outremont. Bishop Vatche Hovsepian, the recently-appointed regional vicar, and the local parish council brought the negotiations to a successful conclusion, and on June 22, 1970 the deed of sale was executed.
The building required some renovations to bring it into line with the stipulations of the Armenian Church, but the sanctuary was ready for consecration before the end of 1970. Archbishop Shnork Kaloustian, the Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople, performed the ceremony on December 5 and 6, with the participation of Archbishop Torkom Manoogian and Bishop Vatche Hovsepian. The church was named after St. Gregory the Illuminator, and has subsequently become the principal church and cathedral of the diocese. Since 1984, the structure’s second floor has served as the diocesan headquarters and the residence of the primate. During the earlier phase of the parish, the community saw more than a dozen clergymen, who often served not only the Armenians of Montreal but also those of the other Canadian parishes. These included Fr. Zkon Charkhoogian, Fr. Khoren Mamikonian, Fr. Issahak Ghazarian, Fr. VazkenTatoyan, Fr. Ghevont Papazian, Fr. Mampre Biberian, Fr. Houssik Nishanian, Fr. Guregh Etenekian, Fr. Mamigon Vosganian, Fr. Sahak Balian, Fr. Komitas Sherbetchian and Fr. Shnork Kasparian. – In more recent years, the parish has enjoyed the attention of a string of full-time pastors, including Fr. Baret Yeretzian (1977-1981), Fr. Partog Hirkaciyan (1981-1992), Fr. Zareh Zargarian (1992-1996) and Fr. Ararat Kaltakjian (1996 and presently) who is assisted by Fr. Partog Hirkaciyan, the pastor emeritus. The Armenian parish of Toronto, Canada’s second greatest city and the capital of the province of Ontario, is the Holy Trinity Church. Although an Armenian couple is known to have resided in the city early in the century, Toronto’s Armenian community did not become established until years later. By 1928, a small parish with a choir had formed, and occasional services were held at local Anglican churches. The community eventually acquired a church in central Toronto to serve its 200 parishioners. On December 6,1953, it was consecrated as the Holy Trinity Church by Archbishop Tiran Nersoyan. But the Armenians in the city soon outgrew this structure. By 1962, the Tbronto community had swelled to 1,500, and by the end of the next decade the city had almost 20,000 Armenian inhabitants, served by several cultural organizations, Armenian Catholic and evangelical churches, and two apostolic churches (one of these, the Holy Cross Church, was short-lived). A project to const ruct a new church, with more space and improved amenities, was conceived in 1978 and went through various stages of modification. At last, in 1979, a proposal was made to erect a sanctuary close to the Alex Manoogian Cultural Centre in Scarborough.
By the start of 1986, a plot of land had been purchased, and architectural plans-a blend of traditional Armenian and contemporary styles-had been devised by architect Takvor Hopyan. A ground blessing ceremony was held on April 6, with the primate of Canada, Bishop Vazken Keshishian, presiding. Construction began in the autumn, and the structure was completed within its one-year schedule, thanks largely to the zealous efforts of the parish pastor, Fr. Hovnan
Derderian. The consecration took place on November 15, 1987, with the visiting Catholicos Vasken I presiding.
The Holy Trinity Church ofToronto is presently the hub of a flourishing community. Over a dozen clergymen have served the parish, either as visiting or full-time pastors, since 1945: Fr. Khoren Mamikonian (1945-1954), Fr. Vazken Tatoyan (1956-1961); Fr. Jirayr Tashjian (the first regular pastor, 1961-1975), Bishop Aris Shirvanian (1975-1978), Fr. Vazken Keshishian (1979-1980), Fr. Yeghishe Gizirian (1981), Fr. Houssig Nishanian (1982-1984), Fr. Hovnan Derderian (1984-1990), Fr. Ararat Kaltakjian (1990-1992), Fr. Abel Oghlukian (1992-1994), Fr. Nareg Keutelian (1994-1996) and Fr. Zareh Zargarian (1996 and presently). The city of St. Catharines, a small town in the province of Ontario, has the distinction of containing the first Armenian church of Canada, the St. Gregory the Illuminator Church. Its origins have been discussed above;. the local Armenian community dates from the beginning of the century, and their sanctuary was consecrated in 1930 by Archbishop Tirayr Hovhannesian, the diocesan primate. The sister Armenian communities in Niagara Falls, Buffalo, Hamilton, Brantford, Toronto and Galt sent representatives to the event, and local civic and governmental leaders also attended. At the time, the St. Catharines Armenian community numbered some ninety-five families, of which sixty-eight were members of the church. The present population includes eighty-six families. In 1995, the church undertook a major renovation and expansion of its facilities. The clergymen who have served the St. Catharines church as visiting pastors include Fr. Zkon Charkhoogian, Fr. Movses Ter Stepanian, Fr. Fr. Khoren Mamigonian, Fr. Vertanes Papazian, Fr. Nersess Baboorian, Fr. Hamayak Intoyan, Fr. Vazken Tatoyan, Fr. Vazken Keshishian and Fr. Kegham. Zakarian. A temporary pastor was appointed from 1985 to 1987, Fr. Torkom Kharazian. He was succeeded by a permanent pastor, Fr. Datev Melenguichian, from 1989 to 1992. In 1993, Fr. Shnork Souin took over the leadership of the parish, and he has served it ever since.
The St. Mary Church serves Hamilton, one of the main industrial cities of Canada located in the province of Ontario. Although Armenians are known to have settled there earlier in this century, they did not turn their attention to establishing a church until the autumn of 1975. At that time, Bishop Aris Shirvanian, the vicar of Canada, welcomed the idea and gave his consent to seek a suitable site. Not long after, an Anglican church was selected and rented. On January 11,1976, an Armenian Christmas Liturgy was celebrated there by Bishop Shirvanian, and the St. Mary parish was officially established, with nineteen members and a parish council appointed by the vicar. For the remainder of that year, the Hamilton community attended church service once in a month, conducted by visiting pastors from Toronto, Montreal, St. Catharines and even New York. Fr. Kegham Zakarian, the pastor of the St. Catharines church, was appointed as visiting pastor at the end of the year. By 1978, the parish already had fifty-two members who were involved in various organizations and activities. A choir, cultural societies, as wen as Sunday and Armenian language schools quickly came into being. A building committee was appointed in early 1979 to locate a property, which could accommodate the expanding parish. A former Baptist church was purchased at the end of 1985, and after completing the necessary alterations in the sanctuary, Archbishop Vazken Keshishian, the primate of Canada, consecrated the St. Mary Church on September 14,1986. The clergymen who have served the parish include Fr. Kegham Zakarian (1976-1985), Fr. Torkom Kharazian (the first permanent pastor, 1986-1987), Fr. Datev Melenguichian (1987-1989) and Fr. Sarkis Gulian (1989 and presently). Situated on the southwest coast of British Columbia, Vancouver became a resting place for Armenian settlers during the latter half of the century. In 1968, through the efforts of Bishop Vatche Rovsepian and community members, the St. Vartan Church was organized. Initially, the parish arranged to use an Anglican church for Armenian liturgical services and social gatherings. Gradually, various church auxiliaries came into existence, such as a choir, a women’s guild and a youth organization. Church services were conducted by visiting pastors from the western American diocese in California, which was geographically closer to Vancouver. The search for a permanent sanctuary began in the 1980s, and ended with the purchase of a Protestant church building in March of 1984. The parish went through a period of financial difficulty, but in February of 1986 Fr. Yeznig Balian was appointed as temporary pastor, for a period of six months. He was succeeded by Fr. Oshagan Gulgulian (1987 1988), Fr. Vazken Karayan (1989), and Fr. Keghart Garabedian (1990 and presently). In 1996, an expansion project was undertaken by the Vancouver parishioners, and the renovation of their church is proceeding apace. As for Ottawa, the capital city of Canada in the province of Ontario, an Armenian community is known to have emerged there at about the same time as those in Hamilton, Montreal and Toronto. Its parish, the St. Mesrob Church, was officially established on January 7, 1978. Shortly thereafter, St. Mark’s Anglican church was rented for the celebration of the Divine Liturgy, and this facility continues to be used by the parish for this and other purposes. Ottawa has not developed in the manner of its sister parishes, because the local Armenian community has never really increased in number. Under such circumstances, the question of appointing a permanent pastor has never arisen. Early on, the parish held church services only sporadically, when clergymen visited from other communities. Later, it became a practice for the pastor of the Montreal parish to pay regular visits to Ottawa several times each year, usually during the main feast days of the Church. This arrangement persists still.
These are the six main parishes of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of Canada. Almost all of them were established in the middle years of the century, and grew gradually. Under the primacy of Archbishop Hovnan Derderian in the 1990s, new Armenian communities have come to life in other locales. The diocese has undertaken the task of supporting these new parishes, to encourage them in the early stages of their formation. These communities fall into two distinct groups. Parishes in the first group were formed soon after 1990. At present, these show no particular signs of expansion. However, each has the ability and potential to become self-sufficient, perhaps several years in the future. Each of these parishes has a parish councils, auxiliary organizations, and a regular schedule for the celebration of church feasts and other activities. They have all that a parish might need, except for a church building and a pastor to serve them permanently. Naturally, visiting clergymen performs services. The Diocese of Canada has three such parishes under its jurisdiction: the Holy Cross Church of Laval (in the province of Quebec), the St. Varian Church of Mississauga (Ontario), and the St. Mesrop Church of Ottawa (Ontario).
Communities of the second group belong to a later date, having been formed after 1992. They are comparatively small: most involve some two or three hundred members, with no real prospect for further growth. Having neither church buildings nor auxiliaries, these are not yet organized as parishes. Nevertheless, each has a Diocesan Representative committee: a three-member body, which acts at the recommendation of the diocese. Since no regular church services take place, no pastors or even visiting pastors have been appointed for these communities. On special occasions the primate (often accompanied by one or two other clergymen) visits each community, and such casual visits to these faraway settlements are greatly appreciated by the local Armenians. At present, four such parishes exist, in Halifax (Nova Scotia), Winnipeg (Manitoba), Edmonton (Alberta) and Calgary (Alberta).
All of the country’s parishes have existed under the authority of the Diocese of Canada since 1984. To fulfill its various obligations, the diocesan headquarters has established a substantial operational structure. The Diocesan Council supervises the administrative affairs of the Armenian Church of Canada, holding regular meetings to discuss issues concerning the diocese and its parishes. There is also a Women’s Guild Central Council, which maintains close contact with its affiliated committees in the local parishes. The Armenian Church Youth organization of Canada (ACYOC) has branches in almost every parish, and Central Council at the diocesan level. Its ” sports weekends ” and the other social events give the youth an opportunity to gather and associate as members of a family with a national character and tradition. The diocese also implements a wide range of programs and projects, a number of which focus on the emerging Republic of Armenia. These include the Children’s Fund for Armenia (CFFA), which supports children orphaned in the 1988 earthquake; the construction of a medical clinic in Armenia’s Artik region; and the Canadian Youth Mission to Armenia (CYMA), a yearly summer mission in which Armenian boys and girls from Canada perform a month’s benevolent work in their homeland.
The diocese is active in ecumenical affairs, and is a participant in the Canadian Council of Churches (the primate sits on its governing board), the Anglican-Orthodox dialogue, the Orthodox Clergy Association and many other forums. Recent years have witnessed a great expansion in the activities of the diocese, with cultural and educational programs (such as art exhibitions and symposia) being sponsored in Montreal, Toronto and elsewhere. In addition, an Association of Musicians (created in 1995) has put on several concerts. These efforts have received an enthusiastic welcome among the public. One undertaking of great importance is the publication of religious literature. The Canadian diocese has already published dozens of books, and future volumes are planned. A large proportion of this literature has been created for Armenia, to satisfy the spiritual demands of its people.
We have attempted to present a survey of the Diocese of Canada, its history, parishes and projects. The picture, of course, is far from complete. Fresh achievements lie on the horizon, but also obstacles to overcome. At this stage, the devotion and support of the people, no less than the energy and perseverance of their primate, are the most reliable guarantees to a prosperous future for the diocese.
October, 1984 – March, 1990: Archbishop Vazken Keshishian
May, 1990 – May, 2003: Archbishop Hovnan Derderian
May, 2003 – May, 2013: Bishop Bagrat Galstanian
June, 2013 – present: Archbishop Nathan Hovhannisyan, Locum Tenens