Saint Nicholas Regina, Saskatchewan
(Reproduced from Historical Anniversary Album 1929-1979, The Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America, Jackson, Michigan, 1979).
Regina has the largest Romanian community in Saskatchewan. A 1977 estimate reports about 6,500 people of Romanian descent in the province, of whom about 3,500 live in Regina or in outlying areas around this provincial capital. „Regina was the city through which almost all the early immigrants passed on their way to homestead, it was the centre to which they returned for employment when the cash income of the farm was not sufficient, and it is the city to which many have permanently moved”.
The first Romanians in the region came in 1890 and 1891, and Nicolae Zora from Bucovina appears to have been the first. Thirty families were homesteading in the district by 1891, including loan Nicolae, Mihai Zora, Tom McRadu, Samuel Cismacu, Nicuta Donisan, Hie and Emil Bancescu, Alexandru Ursaki, and Gheorghe Lechinsky. Most were from Bucovina and most of them farmed, but others worked as laborers on the city sewer and water systems, on the Parliament Building, or operated small businesses. They passed through the immigration house at the 1600 block of Saint John Street, where McRadu, Lechinsky, and other English-speaking Romanians helped them with settlement arrangements.
As of 1901 a group of Orthodox faithful bought property in the 1700 block of Saint John Street, and using local lumber began construction of the small white church with its distinctive Byzantine domed steeple which still stands on the spot three-quarters of a century later. With the completion of the building and the formal organization of the parish in 1902, Saint Nicholas thus became the first Romanian Orthodox Church, and the earliest parish, on the North American continent.
Correspondence with the Metropolitanate of Moldavia had also produced a priest by this time. Although the date of his arrival is in doubt, Archimandrite Evghenie Ungureanu blessed the church on May 20, 1903, thus inaugurating the first missionary activity on Canadian soil. Ungureanu returned permanently to Neamf Monastery after serving Regina seven years, and was replaced by Father Ghenadie Gheorghiu (1910-1912), and then by Father Silvestru Ionescu, who organized a Canadian Deanery under the Metropolitan of Moldavia in 1913. Fifteen years after the founding of Saint Nicholas, the population of Regina grew to more than 1,000 Romanians, and a second Orthodox church was built. The distances separating Canadian communities, however, and the lack of central organization, often led to difficulties. Shortage of priests in the early years was acute, and Romanians had to make do with Ukrainian or Russian clergy, who often tried to convert them into their churches. The quality of clergy sent out from Ia§i was often lacking, and certain of the Moldavian „vagabond monks” became infamous in the early history of Romanian settlement in America. Nevertheless, the isolation of the rural areas, especially, meant that the church would become an intense center of community life, and moreover the more traditionalist, patriarchal society of Canadian Romanians as compared to their more rapidly assimilating brethren in the industrial cities of the United States added to the survival and growth of religious life despite many obstacles. Finally, restrictive immigration policies which affected the size and content of the Romanian population south of the border after 1923 did not have the same impact on Canada. Immigration continued to take place, under the „bona fide agriculturist” provisions of Canadian immigration legislation, and the Romanian population continued to grow in the 1920s and 1930s. When Archimandrite Daniel Maxim arrived in Dysart in 1922, and began administering Saint Nicholas part-time, church life stabilized, although the parish never grew extremely large. The 1936 Calendar listed fifteen members for Saint Nicholas, and fifty communicants. Still, it remained the very symbol of Orthodoxy in the New World. In 1926 Patriarch Miron of Romania declared Saint Nicholas a national monument, and all one hundred places in the church were filled on June 21, 1936, when Bishop Policarp consecrated the pioneer building.
Saint Nicholas’ longest resident pastor was Father Petru Tatoiu, whose name will always be remembered as long as there are Orthodox souls in Canada. Born in Bran, Bra§ov, in 1883, Father Tatoiu arrived in Canada with the pathbreaking generation of early comers, in 1907. He was ordained by Archbishop Samuel David in Toledo, Ohio, on January 14,1944, and took charge of Saint Nicholas at once. Here he remained for the rest of his priestly life, until his retirement in 1962. Under him in 1944 the original church was renovated, and a basement added to serve henceforth as a parish hall. A new parish house came in 1947.
During the war years and after, Saint Nicholas remained as it had been, satisfied to enjoy Christian fellowship and worship quietly. It was obvious that these Romanians preferred their small and intimate country church to the more pretentious – and crowded – modern edifices which urbanites began to plan for after World War II. As city Romanians sought during the 1950s and 1960s to get their churches out of deteriorating factory districts into the clear air outside, Saint Nicholas worried about no vast building programs and how to pay for them. Its members had had the secret all along.
Many of the improvements of these years, certainly, came about through the strivings of the Associafiunea Femeilor of Saint Nicholas. How unfortunate that the loss of many early records due to the fire leaves large gaps in our knowledge of the early years of Saint Nicholas, and the first record of the Women’s Association’s contributions is in the 1935 financial report only; the inference is that it began much earlier. Velicu Dragu, Verona Franciuk, Paraschiva McRadu, Elena Cismasu, Verona Capraru, Maria Mihail, Maria Bujea, and Ana Ciorpeta were the active leaders in these years, along with Velica Dragu who headed all kitchen arrangements as of 1939. Not a year went by that the ladies did not raise $200, or arrange teas, church din ners, or other functions, or donate needed funds to paint the church, or whatever was needed. The first formal Minutes of the „Regina Maria Reuniunea Femeilor” are dated November, 1949, and set a membership fee of 250 for the 52 paid members. It is interesting to note in the 1965 minutes that the ladies were taking cooking lessons from Romanian women recently arrived from the Old Country: one wonders who taught who. The auxiliary’s efforts did not flag as time went on, and a long list of „Biggest Garage Sales,” dinners for the Orthodox Brotherhood Conference, bakeless bake sales, and the like could be compiled. Saint Nicholas would not have survived without them.
Likewise a loosely structured young people’s club existed at least as early as 1940, when it asked the council’s permission to play croquet on the church lawn. Saint Nicholas young people caught the spirit of AROY (American Romanian Orthodox Youth) by the late 1950s, and some thirty one of them formed a SaintNicholasAROY in 1960. Within a year they had purchased an organ for the church, and were buying new chairs and tables for the hall, and furniture for the Church School. The „Regina Romanian Orthodox Youth” or ReRoy, grew to 101 members almost overnight, and through the years made vital contributions to the newly established religious education camp at Shell Valley, helped start a Children’s Choir, sponsored a „Wheat Queen”, contest, and organized a junior chapter in January, 1964. That year ReRoy had a 156% increase in its membership and won the AROY Annual Trophy, then hosted the 16th AROY Convention for 1965: the first time such a gathering was hosted by a Canadian parish. Also in these years ReRoy took part in numerous folk festivals, heritage programs, and multicultural forums. After 1970 it merged its separate identity into the framework of the Regina Multicultural Council, its most recent work being the hosting of a Mosaic Pavilion in 1978.
Since December, 1971, Saint Nicholas has been administered by Father Constantin Turcoane, who was born in 1942 at Nikolinti, Yugoslavia. After two years at the University of Belgrade, he attended Saint Sava Seminary for five years, and emigrated to Canada in April, 1969. He was ordained by Bishop Valerian at Saint Elias Church in Lennard, Manitoba, on February 29, 1970 and served that parish until coming to Saint Nicholas.
Thus the tiny parish on the Saskatchewan frontier goes on, having celebrated its 75th anniversary in 1977, conscious of its long and deep contribution to the religious and cultural life of its multi-ethnic province, certain that its future will be as rich as its past.