Open invitation Martyr’s shrine among destinations on Doors Open weekend

On Jefferson Avenue, attached to St. Joseph’s Ukrainian Church, sits an unassuming beige brick building housing the mortal remains of Blessed Vasyl Velychkovsky, a Ukrainian Catholic martyr beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2001.

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On Jefferson Avenue, attached to St. Joseph’s Ukrainian Church, sits an unassuming beige brick building housing the mortal remains of Blessed Vasyl Velychkovsky, a Ukrainian Catholic martyr beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2001.

The Bishop Velychkovsky National Martyr’s Shrine, Canada’s second martyr’s shrine, is one of the 55 buildings to be featured in this year’s Doors Open Winnipeg, the yearly event organized by Heritage Winnipeg.

The Bishop Velychkovsky National Martyr’s Shrine, Canada’s second martyr’s shrine, is one of the 55 buildings to be featured in this year’s Doors Open Winnipeg, the yearly event organized by Heritage Winnipeg. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Relentlessly persecuted for his religious beliefs, twice-arrested, and on death row for three months before his sentence was commuted to ten years in Soviet labour camps, Bishop Velychkovsky arrived in Winnipeg in 1972 at the invitation of Metropolitan Maxim Hermaniuk after being exiled from Ukraine.

A year after his arrival in Winnipeg, his body succumbed to the torture and drugs he endured during his final prison sentence in a jail in Komunarsk, eastern Ukraine and he died on June 30, 1973.

Doors Open

Doors Open Winnipeg is a free community event organized by Heritage Winnipeg.

It takes place Saturday and Sunday.

Doors Open visitors are invited to visit the Bishop Velychkovsky National Martyr’s Shrine on Saturday from between 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Registration is not required although there are a number of building and walking tours which do require pre-registration.

More information can be found on doorsopenwinnipeg.ca.

“It is a good opportunity for Winnipeg to become aware of this precious treasure right here: a martyr’s shrine,” says Fr. John Sianchuk, C.Ss.R., shrine director.

“Doors Open bring in people from all walks of life and from all faiths. This year with the war in Ukraine this shrine is especially apropos since Blessed Vasyl himself suffered and was tortured under Russian/Soviet aggression,” he continues.

The shrine chapel, commissioned by the Redemptorists of the Yorkton Region after the beatification of the bishop by the Pope, was designed by local architect Ben Wasylyshen.

Following his beatification, the bishop’s body was exhumed in September 2002 and according to Vatican protocol was re-vested with new vestments and placed in a stainless steel sarcophagus.

Priest John Sianchuk says a prayer at the shrine of Bishop Vasyl Velychkovsky at St. Joseph’s Ukranian Catholic Church. (Mike Sudoma / Winnipeg Free Press files)

“We wanted to build the shrine to house his remains. Once you are beatified, whatever is left of your body should be in a church. In the case of the bishop, we have a full body,” Sianchuk says.

The shrine also houses a museum which holds artefacts belonging to Bishop Velychkovsky including items he personally used as well as secret documents which were smuggled into and then buried in Ukraine.

“Among the things we have is a spoon which Bishop Velychkovsky used in prison as a chalice and the staff he received from the bishop who ordained him in a hotel room. It’s ended up here with us. We have all these precious things,” Sianchuk says.

“We also have secret documents from Rome, which he buried in a garden of a house in Lviv, Ukraine. We went to the house in 2004 and we found them in a glass jar buried three feet deep between two trees and we brought them here,” Sianchuk added.

Blessed Bishop and Martyr Vasyl Velychkovsky, C.Ss.R. was beatified in 2001 by St. Pope John Paul II. His holy relics (a fully intact body) are enshrined in a shrine chapel at St. Joseph’s Ukrainian Catholic Church on Jefferson Ave. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press files)
While many of the participating buildings and free tours are unique to Doors Open Winnipeg, the shrine is open to everyone throughout the day.

“The shrine witnesses to the cost one sometimes has to pay for the freedom to believe and to be faithful to one’s faith,” Sianchuk says.

“I believe that the people of Ukraine can take inspiration from the life of Blessed Vasyl who never gave up in his struggle for truth, faith and freedom. He continued to remain faithful to his beliefs placing himself in great danger to his own life and freedom. In the end he laid down his life for this cause.”

Free screenings of Stand! at The Burt

The Burton Cummings Theatre is one of the city’s oldest buildings, and as part of Doors Open Winnipeg this weekend, it will relive a historic role it played during Winnipeg General Strike of 1919.

It will host two free screenings of the 2019 movie musical Stand!, tonight and Sunday at 6 p.m., which will include question-and-answer sessions about the theatre, the strike and the film.

The Burton Cummings Theatre is one of the city’s oldest buildings, and as part of Doors Open Winnipeg this weekend, it will relive a historic role it played during Winnipeg General Strike of 1919.

It will host two free screenings of the 2019 movie musical Stand!, tonight and Sunday at 6 p.m., which will include question-and-answer sessions about the theatre, the strike and the film.

The 115-year-old auditorium was known as the Walker Theatre on Dec. 22, 1918 when it hosted a labour meeting organized by the Winnipeg Trades and Labour Council. Speakers denounced federal orders-in-council enacted during the First World War, which included the establishment of 25 internment camps across Canada where 9,000 Ukrainians and Ukrainian-Canadians were detained.

The evening helped set in motion the events of the following year, which reached a climax on June 21, 1919 with Bloody Saturday when Royal Northwest Mounted Police officers clashed with a strike rally at city hall.

The violence that ensued led to two deaths and about 30 people injured.

Danny Schur, a historian of the strike and one of the producers and songwriters of Stand!, says undercover police were in attendance at the Walker Theatre meeting and evidence they gathered were later used in sedition trials held in 1920.

“The trials have long been acknowledged to be an overreach of the judiciary and the government,” he says.

No registration is required to attend the screenings, and people will be admitted on a first-come, first-served basis. Schur predicts Saturday night’s showing will be packed.

— Alan Small

Doors Open Winnipeg is a yearly event first established in 2004 in partnership with Heritage Winnipeg and the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ. Part of Doors Open Canada, Heritage Winnipeg has managed the event on its own since 2005.

“We wanted to bring Doors Open to Winnipeg, as a free event to Winnipeg as it allowed visitors to explore and learn about our unique built and cultural heritage. It allows people to tour buildings and go on walking tours not normally open the rest of the year,” says Cindy Tugwell, executive director of Heritage Winnipeg.

“This year we have 55 buildings and walking tours. We are not near our pre-COVID numbers, but we are much higher than 2020 or 2021.”

During the pandemic, the event shifted to September and was modified to conform to COVID-19 public health regulations.

“Although it was much smaller, we never stopped the in-person event. I believe we were the only Doors Open event in Canada that did not go virtual. We felt the physical tours and social connectivity were a very important component to this event. We also started pre-registrations so all COVID restrictions were followed, and almost all our tours were sold out to their capacity,” Tugwell says.

Buildings taking part this year include the The Parish of the Protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary which is celebrating its 100th anniversary, Grant’s Old Mill Museum which is a re-creation of the 1829 water-powered grist mill originally built by Cuthbert Grant, one of the early leaders of the Métis people, and the Vaughan Street Jail.

“Probably the most unusual building featured is still the Vaughan Street Jail, as it is not open to the public since closing decades ago. The theatrical performances inside during Doors Open Winnipeg, make learning some of judicial history intriguing and interesting, while raising awareness to visitors that the building needs to be protected and utilized,” Tugwell says.

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The Shrine Chapel contains the holy relics, a fully intact body, of Blessed Martyr Vasyl Velychkovsky. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press files)
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