Recollections of Luca (Franciuc) Francis of His Experiences, the Romanian Community and Churches in Regina, Saskatchewan as Related to His Daughter, Eugenia Virginia (Francis) Popescul in January, 1978

Recollections of Luca (Franciuc) Francis of His Experiences, the Romanian Community and Churches in Regina, Saskatchewan as Related to His Daughter, Eugenia Virginia (Francis) Popescul in January, 1978

My father was nineteen years old when he arrived in Regina, Saskatchewan on a warm, sunny weekend in July of 1913. He had left his parents and three older brothers and two sisters at home, which was Mitocul Dragomirnei, Judejul Suceava, Bucovina, Romania. Regina had experienced a damaging cyclone in 1912 and the Romanian newspa­pers carried advertisements about available work. This enticed my fa­ther to come to Canada as he wanted to make his fortune and return home to Romania a rich man. Two younger cousins, loan (John) and Aurel Danis, came to Canada with him but they did not remain in Saskatchewan too long.

They took the train from Romania to Bremen, Germany, crossed the ocean by boat and docked at Halifax, Nova Scotia, where they boarded the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway which brought them to Saskatchewan. He remembers they had fallen asleep and because the train conductor had for­gotten about them, they were left off at Watrous, Saskatchewan. They then had to wait for another train to take them to Regina. Because they did not speak English, it proved helpful that father had studied German in school. The train station in Regina was located, at that time, just west of Albert Street near the Bridge. They decided to walk towards the city and after walking a short distance, they overheard someone hollering in Ro­manian. This is when they met John Moore (a ’Satean’ but of German parentage) who was in the house-moving business. After work, Mr. Moore took them home which was at 1756 Ottawa Street and then the fol­lowing Sunday he took them to Saint Nicholas Church.

The parish priest was Father Ghenadie Georgiu. He, along with two other men … cousins, Titus and Constantin Palamar … shared the small, crudely constructed parish house that was situated about forty feet north of the wooden church. West of the little house was a barn large enough to accommodate about eight horses. (My father found outtlater that the church property consisted of five city lots and the church had been built in the middle of the first two lots). There were some houses on Saint John Street, which was a grav­eled road. Eleventh Avenue was paved and street cars were in use with Winnipeg Street being the end of the line and Lindsay Street was the east­ern edge of the city. There were no cars; horses and buggies were used. There were two empty lots south of the church to Eleventh Avenue which belonged to a German who would not sell them to the church. In 1901 when the church property was pur­chased by Nicolae Zora, Alexandru Ursachi, Hie Bancescu, Vasile Milinciuc and others. Regina had not been surveyed. After the church was built in 1902 and the lang surveyed later, it was discovered much to everyone’s dismay that the front of Saint Nicholas Church was facing the alley instead of Saint John Street. (Even I, as a child, remember that this fact was written up in Ripley’s Believe It or Not column which ap­peared in the Regina Leader Post). My father had been told that the Archimandrite Evghenie Ungurianu had been the first parish priest at Saint Nicholas Church.

The following were some of the people he recalls meeting that first Sunday at Saint Nicholas Church: Alexandru Ursachi, Nicholae Zora, Hie Bancescu, Vasile Milinciuc, Grigorie Lecinchi, Tanasa Suceavanu, Nicolae Surdia, Nicolae Avram, Pamfil Bujea and others whose names he cannot remember. Most of them came from Bucovina. Because Saint Nicholas was the only Orthodox church in Regina at that time, my father found that many attending were Russian, Serbian, Bulgarian and Greek. He recalled that Hie Bancescu was the Head Cantor assisted by the two Lazar brothers, Vasile and George, and Pamfil Bujea.

Since Mr. Moore had no room for them at his house, the Palamar cous­ins suggested my father and his cous­ins use the hayloft of the church barn to sleep in. This became my father’s first home in Saskatchewan, for ap­proximately three months, until the Epitrop (Trustees) found out about it and they were asked to move. By that time, my father had obtained employment with the Canadian Pa­cific Railway through the help of the Palamar cousins and after rehearsing over and over again, „Mister, give me a job.“ The „job“ was shoveling gravel which paid twenty-five cents an hour and he had to work a ten-hour day.

In 1914, a larger Romanian church was built … Saint George … located on Edgar Street. It was found that Saint Nicholas Church was too small to accommodate all the Orthodox in the city and also some of the Roma­nians resented the strong hold the Bucovanian had at Saint Nicholas Church. For a short time, Father Sylvestru Ionescu served at Saint Nicholas, then at both parishes and later only at Saint George Church. During this time, my father had left Regina and worked on farms in Zahner, Edenwold, Balgonie and Stoughton, Saskatchewan during which time he learned to speak English.

When he returned to Regina in 1917, he found Father Felaret serv­ing both Romanian parishes. This arrangement lasted a short time as a Russian priest, whose name my fa­ther does not recall, served at Saint Nicholas Church but for just a short time. Father German then served as parish priest, followed by Fathers Aurel Rau, loan Pescariu and Nica. Father Daniel Maxim arrived in 1922 from Romania to serve as parish priest in Dysart, Saskatchewan. Arrange ments were made with Father Maxim to serve at Saint Nicholas Church on occasion. He received $ 10.00 for each service performed plus his room and board provided by a parishioner. (How well I remember him staying at our home on many, many occasions and hearing his stories as to the difficul­ties he endured coming to Regina during the winters … often by foot … dressed in his buffalo coat.) This arranagement lasted about ten years with Father Maxim serving at both parishes until Father Martin Ionescu became the priest at Saint George’s. (On June 8th, 1924, Father Ionescu married my father and mother |Veronica Constantinescu] at Saint George Church).

It was impossible for my father to remember the dates the different priests served, however, many docu­ments were given by him to His Eminence, Archbishop Valerian in 1977 at the Vatra in Grass Lake, Michigan containing the history of Saint Nicholas Church. Father Daniel Maxim arranged for his brother Teofil, also a priest, to come to Saskatchewan and he became the parish priest at Saint Mary’s in Kayville, Saskat­chewan and he also served from time to time at Saint Nicholas Church. Nicholae Zora then went to Romania and returned bringing with him Fa­ther Glicherie Popa who served for a short time, followed by Fathers Totosi Scaletschi, Vasile Cohan and Fica. The priests to this time were all sent from Romania. Then, because of the need of priests, the following Saskatchewan men (mostly farmers who were devout Orthodox Chris­tians) were ordained as priests: Petru Avram, Pavel Vulcu, Vasile Toma, Iordachi Oncescu, Marin Postelnic (1925) and Petru Tatoiu (1944).

In 1928, Saint Nicholas Church was put up for sale by the City of Regina because taxes had not been paid for three years. (There was no tax for the two lots the church was built on but for the three remaining lots and build­ings). Times were bad then and the Romanians were more involved in trying to make a living; and, for some unknown reason, the City had not notified the church that they were in arrears with their taxes and of its intentions. It was a very excited Mary Bujea (Pamfil Bujea’s eldest daugh­ter) who had accidentally read about the forthcoming sale in the Regina Leader Post and alerted her father and my father. The two arrived at City Hall just minutes before the deadline when the church was to be offered for sale. Between the two of them, they came up with the money to pay the City for one year’s taxes, which put the church back in good standing. The document relating to this transaction is among the papers which were given to Archbishop Valerian as mentioned previously. Because of the following Depression, it was a very difficult period that followed for the church but some­how it managed to survive. My fa­ther remembers paying many electri­cal bills, etc. himself, because the church was so short of funds and he was thankful to God that he was one of the fortunate to be employed.

One incident, during these diffi­cult times, that stands out in my father’s memory was the evening he and Pamfil Bujea were patching the linoleum in front of the strane (chairs) in the church. It was around nine o’clock as the two of them had met after work to do this repair job. After working a while, my father felt that they were being watched and he looked up towards the doorway of the church. He saw a tall man standing there ob­serving what the two of them were doing. He was dressed in dark cloth­ing and had white hair and a long white beard. My father nudged Mr. Bujea, who after looking up at the man whispered to my father to con­tinue working and not to say anything to this man. My father obeyed Mr. Bujea and after several moments they looked up again and the old man had disappeared. Both men jumped up and ran to the door and looked around the church but there was no sign of him. Mr. Bujea was a most religious man and my father remembers him com­menting that what they had seen was a vision of Saint Nicholas.

A highlight in the life of Saint Nicholas Parish was the visit of His Grace, Bishop Policarp Morusca of Romania in 1936 who consecrated the church, declaring it an historic monument for all Romanians in North and South America. A document to this effect was placed in a pipe, sealed and placed in the Holy Altar Table during the consecration. My father, at this time, was President of the Church Council, an office he held for many years. In 1944 he became Treasurer of the Church Council, an office he held until his departure from Regina in 1955. During Bishop Policarp’s visit to Canada, he conse­crated other Romanian churches in the three prairie provinces. My fa­ther arranged with a photographer to take pictures at the various churches and these pictures are presently at the Vatra. It is in one of these pic­tures that one can see the old, origi­nal Saint Nicholas Church building.

Until Father Petru Tatoiu became parish priest at St. Nicholas Church in 1944, the church did not have an organized Ladies Auxiliary. Tata Vilica, one of the older members, led the ladies from the parish. I remem­ber my mother was very active in church work, especially during the time my father was President of the Church Council. Some of the first records regarding Saint Nicholas Ladies Auxiliary can be found at the Vatra and appeared in the „Solia“ Calendars, probably after Bishop Valerian became head of our Roma­nian Episcopate.

The first Romanian Society in Regina that my father recalls was called „Carol I“ and it met at the old Romanian Hall which was located on Victoria Avenue. (My father can­not recall the year the hall was built.) This hall was a meeting place for all the Romanians in the area, who would congregate after church and exchange news about their homeland. Many kegs of beer were drank and many tears were shed in that hall, as well as many happy times shared.

In the 1920’s Nicolae Tenasiu, a baritone, came from Toronto to visit his friend, Nicholae Surdia. He was so impressed with Regina’s Roma­nian community, he decided to pro­long his visit during which time he helped reorganize the Romanians. He was instrumental in having the name of the original Society changed to „Clubul Cultural Mihail Eminescu“ and ordered books from Romania. Concerts were held and my parents were among those who participated.

During the difficult years, it was necessary to sell the hall and the Ukrainians bought it. The Romanians were unhappy until they were able to buy it back. During this time, three concerts for the benefit of Saint Nicho­las Church were held in the base­ment of a hotel owned by Toader Slanina. (Mr. Slanina later became known as Fred Solomon and the ho­tel … Saint Regis Hotel). Traian Vulcu was the instructor. Skits were performed as well as Romanian sing­ing and dancing. Three musicians provided the music … violinist called Niculitz, old man Vancha (a Hungar­ian) on the drums and Vlaju.

Another organization that sprang forth during the 30’s and comprised mostly of Romanians from Banat was the Gloria Club. Some of the fami­lies that were active in this organiza­tion were the families of Tom Dudletz, Harry Kulick (in particular Tina Kulick), Traian Barbu, Joe Gushba, Roy Mihaiescu, Gus Sapergia, our family and others.

In 1947 Trifan Maxim organized the Romanian youth at the old Ro­manian Hall and the first „Mihail Eminescu Dance Group“ was formed. (My sister, Ilaria, and I were among the dancers, and I was President of the group. It was then I met my fu­ture husband, William Popescul, also a dancer, whom I married in 1950.) A Junior Dance Group was also formed at this time and on April 16 and 17, 1948 both groups performed Romanian Folk Songs and Dances at the Darke Hall. Lazar Sudom was the Dancing and Singing Instructor and the six piece orchestra in atten­dance was led by Albert Laslo (a Hungarian).

In 1944, Saint Nicholas Church was renovated during the time Dan Cuciurian (who was a contractor) was President of the Church Council. The church was raised, a basement was put in, heating and plumbing installed and the exterior of the church was stuccoed. At this time a bell tower was added. (The old, original barn had been dismantled in the early 1920’s and the lumber was used to build a separate bell tower which was in use until 1944.) Pews were also installed and two new „wings“ for exits were added. A few years later, a Parish House was built and Father Petru Tatoiu was the first priest to take up residency there.

During the many years my father was active at Saint Nicholas Church, the Romanian community was made up of about 200 families. Out of these families about 75 to 80 were mem­bers at Saint Nicholas Church, the others at Saint George Church.

It is sad for my father to espe­cially recollect the passing of Nicolae Zora, one of the founders of Saint Nicholas Church (in the 1940’s). My father rang the bells at Saint Nicho­las Church in memory of Mr. Zora at the time of his death according to our custom for three consecutive days, three times a day, each time thrice. This, too, he hopes will be done for him.

Luca (Franciuc) Francis fell asleep in the Lord on February 24, 1987 in Windsor, Ontario, Canada, at the age of 94. He was predeceased by his beloved wife, Veronica, on Novem­ber 2, 1971. Both are buried in Saint Mary Cemetery, Vatra Romaneasca, Grass Lake, Michigan.

May their memory be eternal!

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