THEY are fixtures of a modest neighbourhood skyline, pillars of the community and symbols of pride for those who continue to make them part of their day-to-day life .
W hatonefindswhenwalking through the doors of a handful of North End churches and cathedrals during Heritage Winnipeg’s 11th annual Doors Open Winnipeg event this weekend is a foundation of spirit as strong as the thick limestone and brick that make up the buildings themselves.
"This is my home. I got married here when I was young. I can’t put into words what this church means... it’s just a heartfelt experience for me to be here. This place is a part of my life," said Elaine Kisiow, a longtime member of the Ukrainian Catholic Metropolitan Cathedral of Saints Vladimir and Olga.
Kisiow was summoned from the bullpen to assume the role of tour guide Saturday after the scheduled guide fell sick.
She had no problem taking the ball.
"The church has always been a standout building in this area. It’s been home to a lot of bishops in Manitoba and it’s been a welcoming home for many over the years," she said. "It’s a starting point for (Ukrainian) immigrants; they’re drawn here because it’s comfortable." The McGregor Street cathedral, which has a capacity of 1,000, but only sees a regular parish of around 300 people, remains a hidden gem among Winnipeg’s many religious meeting places. Built in a Byzantine and Romanesque architecture style, the current building opened in 1951 and remains famous for it’s incredible ornamentation.
The ark-shaped layout features gold detail in every sightline and brilliant blue ceiling complemented by 34 large stained-glass windows — 16 of which were designed by artist Leo Mol. Outside, a mammoth rose stained-glass window (which is undergoing a $100,000 renovation), is situated between the two giant towers that make up the impressive façade.
"This cathedral is an absolute treasure," said Reverend Monseigneur Mitrat Michael Buyachok, who’s been at Sts. Vladimir and Olga since 2005 after assignments in Dauphin and Transcona. "And it remains as a constant for those in the community. We don’t have the people like we used to have: church attendance is not what it used to be and there is a transient element to this area, but we’re doing OK." That seems to be the sentiment at another staple in the North End sky-scape — the Ukrainian Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral of the Holy Trinity.
Despite its 1952 opening, the familiar Main Street cathedral, with its five spires, tall front steps and large Mol-designed Holy Trinity mosaic, remarkably remains an incomplete work. Seating approximately 500, the cathedral makes use of its tight quarters with balconies along the north and south walls, connected by the choir balcony over the entrance
What you notice right away, alter and iconostasis notwithstanding: the rather bare walls and plain ceiling.
"That’s what I mean when I say it’s a work in progress," offered Doors Open volunteer Leona Hladiuk, a parishioner at Holy Trinity for more than 50 years. "This continues to be a project. We’re three generations in now, but those here, the few hundred we have, understand how important this cathedral is for the community." The Ukrainian cathedrals of the North End, be it Sts. Vladimir and Olga, Holy Trinity or St. Joseph’s Ukrainian Catholic Church and Blessed Bishop Vasyl Velychkovsky Martyr’s Shrine on Jefferson Avenue, grew up from the ground up as holy buildings of worship.
Sixty-plus years later, and decades to come, they’ll remain.
"The cathedral is still a place for the people," Buyachok says. "Our numbers may be down, the interest may not be as widespread throughout the community when compared to a rural church, but we have passionate members.
"The people we have, the families that continue to participate, are the building blocks now."