This Week in History


St. Michael's Ukrainian Greek Orthodox Church

For the week of Monday October 13, 2003

On October 14, 1899, St. Michael’s Ukrainian Greek Orthodox Church was consecrated. This log church located in Gardenton, Manitoba, is the oldest existing Ukrainian church in Canada.

Ukrainian emigration to Canada began in 1891, when peasants from Ukraine’s western provinces wanted to escape tiny, cramped farms and high taxes. They settled on lands in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba that resembled what they had known in their home country. The new settlers were often approached by missionaries who wanted to convert them to other religious beliefs and try to eliminate their Ukrainian customs. However, the immigrants relied on their Greek Orthodox faith as a uniting force, and built their churches as a way of expressing and protecting their unique culture.

St. Michael
St. Michael's Ukrainian Greek Orthodox Church, 2 miles west of Gardenton, 1915.
© Archives of Manitoba / W.J. Sisler / Negative #9675, W.J. Sisler Fonds #157
By 1897, Ukrainian pioneers in the Gardenton area felt a strong need for their own church as their community now numbered over 250 families. The community petitioned the government for land for a church and cemetery, and was eventually granted its wish. St. Michael’s Ukrainian Greek Orthodox Church, named for the most popular and most powerful saint in the Ukrainian church calendar, was completed in May 1899.

The church was built by 43 volunteers who used traditional materials such as wood, clay, grass, and simple axes and saws. Its design is similar to modest wooden village churches in Ukraine’s western provinces. In 1901, wooden siding was added and, in 1906, a traditional freestanding bell tower with three bells was built. By 1915, the building was in desperate need of repairs. Rather than destroy the church and build another as other communities had done, it was decided that St. Michael’s would be repaired. A new roof with a central dome and three tin-covered cupolas was designed. The cupolas, or banya, represent the Holy Trinity. The new design showed the immigrants’ sense of national identity, because it was typical of churches throughout Ukraine.

Interior of St. Michael
Interior of St. Michael's
© Manitoba Culture, Heritage and Tourism 1981
St. Michael’s interior is basically unchanged since 1915. It is much richer than the outside, in keeping with Greek Orthodox tradition. The brilliant colour and decoration is meant to lead churchgoers to experience the mystery of God. The domed ceiling is painted a deep blue with gold stars, a traditional way of making it look heavenly.

In 1934, a new St. Michael’s Church was built near the original, which continues to be used for special religious occasions. St. Michael’s Ukrainian Greek Orthodox Church was designated a national historic site in 1987.

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