Pioneer church blessed at new site
by Mary E. Pressey
PORTAGE LA PRAIRIE, Manitoba - The members of Ukrainian Connection, a non-profit organization, formed in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, saw the efforts of their hard work come to fruition on Saturday, September 6. Gathered together with friends, relatives, guests, government officials and community members, they celebrated the long-awaited official opening of the Ukrainian Heritage Church (formerly St. Nicholas Ukrainian Orthodox Church).
Now secure on the grounds of Fort la Reine Museum in Portage, with its eye-catching domes rising to meet the skies, the Church stands as a testament to the Ukrainian pioneers' deep and abiding faith that sustained them in their struggle to survive in their newly adopted country.
The church was erected by Ukrainian pioneers in Arbakka, Manitoba, to replace the first church built there in 1914 and destroyed by fire in 1937. The congregation initially consisted of approximately 50 church members but by the year 2000, because of a dwindling population, was reduced to three families who could no longer maintain the church building.
In the interim, as luck would have it, the parishioners learned that Ukrainian Connection was searching for a pioneer-built house of worship. Contacts were made, and the Arbakka church members happily donated their cherished church to Ukrainian Connection who, amid countrywide radio, television and press publicity, proceeded to have it dismantled, transported by trucks along a 250-kilometer route to Portage la Prairie, and restored to its former glory.
The program began with a church service conducted on the front steps of the church. Officiating at the service were four clergymen, Father Andrew Jarmus of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Father Ernest Hafichuk and Deacon Michael Strilec of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, and the Rev. Michael Wollbaum of the Roman Catholic Church.
Following the service, all in attendance were invited to view the interior of the church with its substantial renovation and restored icons. Violet Dawidiuk of Arbakka, in the presence of several other former parishioners, graciously thanked Ukrainian Connection for restoring and preserving their beloved St. Nicholas Church.
The guests from far and near congregated at the spacious senior citizens' building on Royal Road North to participate in the highlight event, the dance, which resonated with vibrant music, hearty greetings, dinner and entertainment. In the course of the evening the master of ceremonies, Victor Edwards, called individually upon Walter Keryluk, alderman of the city; Jim Knight, reeve of the rural municipality and Harold Brown, chairman of the Fort la Reine Board, who warmly greeted the guests and praised the Ukrainian Connection members for their determination and dedication to a cause that brought satisfaction not only to them but also to all who appreciate art, culture and the value of heritage.
The president of Ukrainian Connection, Gerald Bulachowski, next extended heartfelt thanks from Ukrainian Connection members to the many generous donors and volunteers who were instrumental in making the church project such a great success.
Special thanks were extended to Mary E. Pressey, who attended the opening from New York, for her substantial donation toward the expense of moving and renovating the church and for the construction in the future of a building resembling a pioneer Ukrainian house to display Ukrainian art, history and artifacts.
Matt Dreniak spoke on behalf of the community of Arbakka. In his recollections of St. Nicholas Church and community activities, he delighted the audience with many witty anecdotes.
The guest speaker of the evening was Dr. Michael Ewanchuk of Winnipeg whose resume reads like a "Who's Who in Canada." In her introduction, Adeline Pressey stated that Dr. Ewanchuk, a former school teacher, school inspector and a veteran of Royal Canadian Air Force, is the author of 14 books. In 1980 the University of Winnipeg conferred an honorary doctorate upon him in recognition of his contribution as an educator and historian of the Ukrainian community in Manitoba.
In his speech Dr. Ewanchuk captured the interest of the audience with his intimate knowledge and masterful presentation about the lives and achievements of Ukrainian pioneers and their children in Canada.
Climaxing the evening, a youthful dance group and a bandurist twosome from Winnipeg, under the direction of Larissa Semchyshyn, captivated the audience with their repertoire of lively national dances and selected songs.
Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, November 9, 2003, No. 45, Vol. LXXI
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