Canada and the Armenian Genocide

Laval-Genocide-Monument-017The 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. 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 communities 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.