May 26, 2015


Pioneer church has history behind its beauty

St. Michael's remains a centrepiece for city's Ukrainian Orthodox community

The iconostas at historic St. Michael's is said to have been crafted by early parishioners, and some icons may be older than the 96-year-old church.

CHERYL GIRARD PHOTO The iconostas at historic St. Michael's is said to have been crafted by early parishioners, and some icons may be older than the 96-year-old church.

Tucked away in one of Winnipeg's oldest neighbourhoods is a tiny historic gem founded by early settlers from Ukraine.

St. Michael's Ukrainian Orthodox Heritage Church at 110 Disraeli St., is neither large nor grand but it is a cherished pioneer legacy filled with historic charm and a beauty all its own.

"There were a lot of immigrants from Eastern Europe, Ukraine and Russia and they wanted to have a church," says Ihor Mayba, a longtime member of the parish.

In 1918, Ukrainian settlers bought what used to be St. Mark's Mission, thought to have been built in 1890, from the Anglican Diocese of Rupert's Land. The small white chapel had been moved to Disraeli as the city had plans then to extend Sutherland Avenue.

"The pioneers bought it for $1,800," says Mayba. "They had to modify it to the Byzantine style with domes and the Orthodox cross on each of the domes."

The parishioners have a long devoted history with this church. Helen Mayba, Ihor's wife, is the president of the parish executive and her grandfather, Mykola Dolynchuk, was the president in the late 1940s.

Tiny but colourful icons line the walls inside. As you enter, the icon of St. Michael, the patron saint of the church, is on the right. Various icons of Christ and scenes from his life fill the walls.

A large banner on the left "is of St. Andrew (patron saint of Ukraine) who is said to have been crucified on a different shaped cross, shaped like an X," says Ihor Mayba.

There is a huge bronze medallion of St. Olha (the first state ruler to accept Christianity) designed by Leo Mol. And close by is an old gospel believed to have been brought from Ukraine by the early pioneers.

The large but modest iconostas, said to have been crafted by early parish members, is adorned with many small icons. Some may have been written before 1918, says Mayba.

"The church bell was donated by the CPR," (Canadian Pacific Railway) adds Mayba, who also gives historical tours during the annual Doors Open Winnipeg event in May.

In the church hall coffee, perogies and other Ukrainian specialties await the roughly 40 members, old and young, after each service.

"This is a historical church, not a regular parish," explains Father Oleh Krawchenko, parish priest. And so services are only held on certain Sundays and sometimes at St. Nicholas in Gonor.

Born in eastern Ukraine, Krawchenko left when he was seven.

"We ended up in Germany in refugee camps and then immigrated to France... " His father heard there were lots of Ukrainians in Canada "and he said that's the country for me." The family settled in Quebec with the younger Krawchenko moving to Winnipeg in the early 1950s, when he became a priest.

He's now retired, "but nobody retires unless you are sick or dead," he quips. He has been serving at St. Michael's for the past four years.

The parish celebrated its 95th anniversary in 2013.


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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 2, 2014 D15

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