Monday, 19 February 2007

From a historical point of view - Multicultural Canada

Multicultural Canada



About seven million Armenians are dispersed throughout the world. Over three million live in the recently created Republic of Armenia (1991), formerly the Soviet Socialist Republic of Armenia. Another one million in-habit other parts of the former Soviet Union. Thriving Armenian communities exist in Europe and in North and South America. There are also large settlements in the Middle East, composed originally of refugees from former Ottoman Turkey and their descendants, although these communities have since the 1950s been weakened because of emigration resulting from political instability in the region. (See also EGYPTIANS.)

Armenians show a strong attachment to a heritage that has endured for over 3,000 years. They refer to themselves as Hai and to their historic homeland as Haiastan, a mountainous and volcanic region south of the Caucasus that in terms of present-day borders includes Armenia, eastern Turkey, northwestern Iran, and parts of neighbouring Georgia and Azerbaijan. The heart of historic Armenia (Haiastan), which lay in the shadow of Mount Ararat, was a battleground for warrior tribes from the steppes north of the Caucasus Mountains who for centuries were drawn to the rich sedentary civilizations of Mesopotamia to the south.

A powerful kingdom was established in Armenia during the first century B.C.E., but afterwards the country was subjected to frequent invasion by armies from Persia, Greece, Rome, and the Arab Caliphate, as well as by Turkic tribes from Central Asia. Despite these many incursions, Armenians managed to retain a measure of political autonomy, religious independence, and cultural freedom, or they fled and founded colonies elsewhere. They settled in the cities of Tiflis, Baku, and Constantinople, farther westward in Italy, Transylvania, and Poland, or eastward in India. For nearly three centuries (1199–1375) an independent kingdom, sometimes known as Lesser Armenia, flourished in Cilicia (present-day south-central Turkey) along the shores of the Mediterranean Sea.

Contemporary religious affiliations and political alignments of Armenians in Canada have their roots in the old country. The majority of Armenians belong to the Holy Armenian Apostolic Church. It is called Apostolic because it claims descent from the apostles, Thaddeus and Bartholomeus, who, between 43 and 68 C.E., brought Christianity to the Armenians. In 301 C.E. St Gregory the Illuminator converted the Armenian king, making Armenia the first state to adopt Christianity as its official religion – hence the name Gregorian, which, together with the term Orthodox, is often used to describe the Armenian Apostolic Church. When, at the very outset of the fifth century, St Mesrob Mashtots and St Sahag invented the Armenian alphabet (thirty-eight characters), they ushered in the Golden Age of Armenian literature that included a translation of the Bible (c. 433). Religion and language, therefore, became integral components of a distinct Armenian identity.

It was also during the fifth century that the Armenian Apostolic Church broke with the rest of the Christian world based in Constantinople and Rome, and followed its own course under the spiritual and sometimes temporal leadership of a primate, called the catholicos. From the time of St Gregory, the original seat of the catholicos was at Echmiadzin near Armenia’s present-day capital, Yerevan, but, after 485, it was based in several different cities. Ever since 1441, two seats (catholicates) of the Armenian Apostolic Church have existed: one at Echmiadzin, the other at Sis, the capital of Cicilia, whose catholicos today resides in Lebanon. There is also an Armenian patriarch of Constantinople, who after 1461 functioned as head of the Armenian millet (religious community) in the Ottoman Empire; and the Armenian patriarch of Jerusalem, who since 1311 has been responsible for the Holy Places in that city. On the eve of World War I, about 95 percent of the estimated 4 million Armenians in the Ottoman and Russian empires adhered to the Apostolic Church.

Armenian Roman Catholics or Armeno-Catholics also trace their origins to St Gregory in the fourth century, but it was not until 1742 that they received their own jurisdiction, the Armenian Roman Catholic patriarchate; in 1830 they obtained the status of a millet in the Ottoman Empire. The Armenian Catholics also have two male and one female monastic orders, one of which, the Mechitarist, has since its establishment at the outset of the eighteenth century become renowned for its contributions to the development of the Armenian language, literature, and education. Before World War I, approximately 200,000 Armenian Catholics lived for the most part in the Ottoman capital, Constantinople, as well as in Ankara, Aleppo, and Mardin.

Protestantism came to Armenians as a result of American and Canadian missionaries proselytizing in the Ottoman Empire. By 1846 the Ottoman authorities recognized Armenian Protestants as a millet with specific rights and responsibilities. The Protestant missionaries were to have a profound impact on the Armenian national reawakening, even though the number of converts reached only about 80,000 before World War I.

With the fall of the kingdom in Cicilia (1375), the last independent Armenian state ceased to exist and the lands of historic Armenia gradually came under the control of the Ottoman, Persian, and Russian empires. By the nineteenth century, the majority of Armenians lived in the Ottoman Turkish Empire, and their fate was to be closely linked to the gradually declining political fortunes of that state.

Increasing oppression and intolerance characterized the condition of the Armenian masses, a development partly attributable to the religious, economic, and political changes in the Ottoman Empire and to its relations with Europe’s Great Powers, notably Great Britain, France, Germany, and Russia. Armenian bankers, artisans, professionals, and businesspeople formed a small but prosperous and influential elite in the capital, Constantinople, and in other large cities, such as Izmir (Smyrna). Most Armenians, however, eked out a living as agriculturalists, artisans, and shopkeepers in the small towns and villages of eastern Anatolia. There Armenian villages were interspersed among settlements of Kurds, Turks, Georgians, and Azeris.

There were as well approximately 1.5 million Armenians living in the Russian Empire, especially in the cities of Tiflis and Baku. Their situation was marked by periods of tolerance and progress that were interspersed with repression and persecution. The Russian imperial government introduced a modern administration in the Armenian province based in Yerevan, assisted the Armenian Apostolic Church at Echmiadzin, and promoted the general welfare of Armenians. There were also times, however, when it confiscated church property, closed Armenian schools, and imprisoned political dissidents.

The nineteenth century was characterized by a national reawakening that was stimulated by the work of Armenians abroad, the growth of a nationalist intelligentsia within the Armenian homeland, and the spread of literacy among the masses. The widespread poverty of the Armenian masses gave rise to self-defence bands and protest movements, and eventually to political parties that championed basic human rights for Armenians in all three empires where they lived. The Armenian Social Democrat Hunchagian party (Hunchags), founded in Switzerland in 1887, called for a proletarian revolution and establishment of a Marxist Armenia. The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF, or Tashnags), a socialist party founded in Tiflis in 1890, sought to improve conditions through political and economic reform, or through revolution if necessary. The Armenian Democratic Liberal party (Ramgavars), formed in 1921 from several older political organizations, was a predominantly middle-class party representing conservative, Christian, anti-revolutionary, and anti-socialist elements.

It is impossible to understand the mentality and loyalties of Armenian Canadians without reference to developments in the Ottoman Empire during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Armenian demands for political and social reform were supported by Europe’s Great Powers and by certain elements in the Ottoman government. In the end, the authorities rejected the demands of the reformers and responded with force, so that between 1894 and 1896 an estimated 300,000 Armenians were massacred by special forces of Kurdish troops known as the Hamidiya. In 1908 the Young Turk party revolted against Sultan Abdul Hamid II, deposed him, and proclaimed liberty, equality, and fraternity for all. There were hopes for reform and progress under the new Turkish government, but these were dashed the following year with the murder of an estimated 30,000 Armenians in the city of Adana.

Armenian resistance to pan-Turkism and pan-Islamism, demands for improved conditions, and determination to retain a distinct identity served as pretexts to depict the Armenian minority as an enemy of the state. During World War I, the Turkish government, controlled by an ultra-nationalist faction of the Young Turk party, unleashed a systemic program to eliminate all Armenian leaders as well as soldiers serving in the Ottoman armies, and to deport Armenian civilians from their homes. As a result of the arrests and deportations that began in 1915, an estimated 600,000 to 800,000 Armenian men, women, and children either perished during forced marches, were killed in camps, or were massacred by Ottoman troops (primarily Kurdish divisions). Those who managed to survive (in some cases with the help of Kurdish and Turkish neighbours) were eventually forced to flee to the Transcaucasian region of the Russian Empire or to neighbouring Middle Eastern countries. Nor did the armistice of late 1918 that ended World War I stop the bloodshed. In the course of its war with Greece (1920–22), Turkish forces under Mustapha Kemal (Atatürk) attacked Armenians in refugee camps and several cities in eastern Anatolia, while, in the burning Aegean port of Izmir (Smyrna), they drove both Armenians and Greeks permanently out of the city. Meanwhile, the Turkish government passed legislation facilitating the confiscation of Armenian lands and bank accounts, and it even laid claim to insurance policies in the United States and Switzerland belonging to Armenians they said had “disappeared.”

Armenians in the Caucasus region of the Russian Empire took up arms in self-defence. After the withdrawal of Russian army in 1917, they defeated the numerically superior Turkish forces and formed in 1918 an independent Armenian republic. The Armenians appealed to U.S. president Woodrow Wilson to assume mandatory control over the newly created state, but growing American isolationism crushed these aspirations. In the end, the western powers abandoned Armenia to a combined Turkish and Bolshevik Russian invasion in 1920 and to the partition of the Armenian Republic. What remained (about 30,000 square kilometres) became the future Soviet Socialist Republic of Armenia.

The traumatic events that began in 1915 and that by 1923 had claimed an estimated 1.5 million lives have become etched into the Armenian historical memory as “The Genocide.” Prohibited by Turkish decree from returning to their home, the survivors began to rebuild their lives in Europe and the Americas as well as in refugee colonies in the Middle East. Almost no Armenians remained in the historic homeland that lies within the borders of post–World War I Turkey. The destruction of the Armenian community in much of its historic homeland forced the diaspora to set about the laborious task of reconstructing all aspects of life, not the least of which was the rekindling of traditions and culture.

Meanwhile, the sovietization of Armenia had widespread ramifications. Soviet leader Josef Stalin implemented a policy of nationalization of businesses, collectivization of the land, and suppression of all political parties, individuals, and organizations opposed to the Communist way of life, including the Armenian Apostolic Church and the Tashnag party. Stalin’s 1923 decision to transfer the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh (Karabakh Mountain Area) to Azerbaijan, whose population was 90 percent Armenian, was to have repercussions to the present day.

In the decades after World War II, Soviet Armenia witnessed a marked demographic increase (2.5 million people in 1970), a rise in educational standards, rapid urbanization, and an aggressive government-directed program of industrialization. There were also manifestations of Armenian nationalism which prompted arrests and trials by the Soviet authorities. By the mid1980s, the Soviet Union had embarked on a program of reform that within a few years produced political instability and the country’s eventual collapse. In 1988 the Armenians, who represented 75 percent of the population in Nagorno-Karabakh, proclaimed their desire to unite with Armenia. This led to conflict with Azeris in the region and to the expulsion of over 350,000 Armenians living in the Azerbaijan cities of Baku and Sumgait. In 1991 Armenia declared its independence and the following year the Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh proclaimed an independent state as well.

Since independence, both Armenia and Karabakh, which remain separate political entities, have undertaken to create democratic states with market-oriented economies. At the same time, they have attempted to overcome the economic and environmental problems inherited from the Soviet regime while coping with the ongoing tensions with Azerbaijan over the status of Karabakh. The situation has become more complex as a result of Turkey’s blockade of Armenia and military support of Azerbaijan, civil unrest within neighbouring Georgia, and the sympathy of the international oil cartel towards Azerbaijan largely because of the rich productive capacity of its fields at Baku. The instability in the region will likely assure the ongoing concern of Armenians abroad, including Armenians in Canada, for the fate of their ancestral homeland.


Armenians began immigrating to Canada from the Ottoman Empire in the 1880s. At first there was a trickle of students and entrepreneurs, and later, at the turn of the century, a larger number of men migrated, primarily to southern Ontario. About two thousand Armenians settled in Canada before 1914. Some thirteen hundred survivors of the Genocide arrived as refugees during the 1920s. Beginning in the 1950s, thousands of Armenians immigrated from the Middle East, and since the late 1980s Armenians have arrived from the former Soviet Union.

The work of American and Canadian Protestant missionaries in Ottoman Turkey played a role in the early movement of Armenians to Canada. Garabed Nergararian, the first known Armenian in Canada, arrived in the 1880s from the Ottoman Empire, probably sent here to study by Protestant missionaries. In the 1890s Paul Courian, a Protestant rug merchant from Constantinople (Istanbul), settled in Toronto with his family and opened an oriental carpet store. During the same decade, Harry Cockshutt, a Protestant, recruited ten workers in Constantinople for the Cockshutt Plow Works in Brantford, Ontario.

The pre-1914 exodus of Armenians from the Ottoman Empire was directly related to their status as a racial, religious, and linguistic minority. Persecution of Armenian Christians by Muslims, Ottoman Turkey’s political and economic decay, anarchy and corruption in the interior, and periodic state-sanctioned massacres drove Armenians out of the Ottoman Empire in increasing numbers. Some eventually made their way to North America.

The first wave to reach Canada had left farms and villages in Anatolia, a region destabilized by confiscation, exorbitant taxation, famine, and brigandage. Men also migrated to Canada from intermediate places, such as Constantinople, the Balkans, and the United States, usually as recruits for southern Ontario’s new and expanding factories in Brantford, Galt, Guelph, Hamilton, Preston, and St Catharines. Word about jobs spread quickly through letters and the complex and extensive Armenian migrant networks. These “caravans” of men, money, and information consolidated the pattern of chain migration.

Leaving the Ottoman Empire before 1908 was expensive, complicated, and dangerous. After the coup d’état in 1908, however, reforms relaxed travel barriers, shipping increased, and fares declined. Immigrants wrote home about opportunities in the New World, and some returned home with capital, culture, and stories of freedom. Like the North American Protestant missionaries, the repatriates and the “America letters” opened up new frontiers for young men, at a time when the Ottoman Empire’s wars with Italy (1911) and in the Balkans (1912) compelled the government to step up conscription and to raise the military-exemption tax to the exorbitant sum of $260 (U.S.). Beginning in 1908 Canadian immigration regulations also restricted the entry of Asians and blacks, considered “undesirables.” Classification of the Armenians, who were Caucasians, as Asiatics – except in September and October 1930, when they were briefly ranked as Europeans – effectively curbed their immigration to Canada for half a century. Immigration authorities admitted 563 Armenians in 1907–08, but only 20 in 1910.

The majority of Armenian settlers in southern Ontario – mainly small farmers, artisans, and traders from rural villages – hailed from Keghi (province of Erzerum) and other impoverished districts in eastern Anatolia. Those who arrived by 1908 were generally older men, usually heads of households; after 1909 younger men fled conscription and joined their compatriots in the New World. Most intended to return home when they had enough money or when conditions improved in the Ottoman Empire. But life in Canada convinced some sojourners to stay and bring out their relatives.

Small groups of Armenians migrated to other parts of Canada. Catholics from the Mardin region arrived in Asbestos and Thetford Mines in Quebec; most worked in and around the asbestos mines but gradually took on other jobs or moved to Sherbrooke and Montreal. Another contingent migrated from Russia and temporarily settled in the prairies before moving on to California.

The Genocide transformed the Armenian communities in Canada. As tens of thousands of destitute and traumatized refugees were wandering in foreign places, Armenians in Canada set about to search for surviving family and for suitable wives in orphanages and refugee camps. Armenians viewed immigration to Canada in terms not only of saving the homeless but also of saving a nation from extinction.

Refugee status and racial classification, however, blocked many Armenians. During the 1920s Canada admitted refugees only if they complied with all existing regulations, some of which presented obvious obstacles for the displaced. A 1923 regulation excluded Asians, except bona fide farmers, farm labourers, and domestics. Armenian refugees were obliged to have $250 and, later, a bond posted by sponsors. They also had to possess a valid passport and to be in excellent health, and they had to travel to Canada by continuous journey from their country of citizenship.

From 1919 until after World War II Canada admitted only about thirteen hundred Armenians – refugees who entered as sponsored family members or as farm workers or domestics. Most were young women and children and came from urban as well as rural areas and from a variety of backgrounds. Each had a traumatic and tragic history. Among them were members of group movements sponsored by charitable organizations. About fifteen teenagers were brought in as farm labourers under the auspices of Fegan’s Homes. During the 1920s the Armenian Relief Association of Canada (ARAC) – an offshoot of the Armenian Relief Fund of Canada – sponsored a more sizeable contingent. The ARAC was an interethnic (largely non-Armenian), interdenominational (mainly Protestant), public organization established in 1922–23, and it aimed to help young Armenian refugees reach Canada, educate them, train them in farm work, and assist their adjustment. It assumed responsibility for about 110 orphan boys, aged eight to twelve, and placed them on a farm/home/school near Georgetown, Ontario, purchased through public subscription. The ARAC and later the United Church of Canada, which took over its refugee work, sponsored about forty young women, recruited as domestics for Toronto homes.

All immigration declined during the Depression and World War II. Armenians began to arrive again in the 1950s. To promote immigration, in 1948 a group of business leaders set up the voluntary, non-partisan, and non-profit Canadian Armenian Congress (CAC), headquartered in Montreal. Under the presidency of Yervant Pasdermajian, the CAC immediately asked the government to rescind the Asiatic designation for Armenian immigrants. Finally, in 1952, Ottawa exempted Armenians from this designation. Family reunification became easier, but not admission of unsponsored individuals from the Middle East, where many Armenians had found refuge after the Genocide. However, immigration authorities allowed the CAC to sponsor individuals and families who had no relatives in Canada; they could do so “without numerical limit” from 1964 to 1968, at which time such sponsorship was disallowed. Until its demise in 1969, the CAC was the principal agent of Armenian migration to Canada. In the 1960s Canada began to assess potential immigrants based on points, rather than on race. From this period on, events in areas with many Armenian settlers – anti-Armenian riots in Turkey, economic constraints in Egypt, the Greek-Turkish conflict in Cyprus, military rule in Syria, the Arab-Israeli wars of 1967 and 1974, civil war in Lebanon, revolution in Iran, the Iran-Iraq War, and the Gulf War – destabilized Armenian communities in those countries and compelled members to seek safety elsewhere. Many immigrated to Canada.

Most new arrivals headed for Quebec, and some for Ontario. The former had been exposed to French language and culture in the Middle East (“l’amour pour la francophonie”) and to efforts by Armenian-Canadian sponsors, including Kerop Bedoukian, who, in conjunction with the Canadian Council of Churches, sponsored Armenians, mainly from Greece and Istanbul. In contrast to their rural predecessors, most newcomers entered under the manufacturing, mechanical, professional, or clerical classification and settled principally in Montreal and Toronto. Unlike the oldtimers who had come from the homeland, the new settlers were exiles from exile. After 1958, crises in the Soviet Union and the Caucasus spurred immigration, primarily to the United States but also to Montreal and Toronto.

The 1991 census indicates just over 33,000 Armenians in Canada (26,005 give a single response and 7,280 a multiple one). Armenian leaders place the figure at about 70,000, but 50,000 seems more reasonable.

Arrival and Settlement

Armenians who settled in southern Ontario before 1914 clustered near their places of work, creating Armenian quarters. In St Catharines, they concentrated near the McKinnon Dash and Metal Works (later General Motors); in Hamilton, not far from Deering (later International Harvester, and now Case); and in Brantford, in the heart of the city, near factory workplaces. The sojourners converted single family dwellings into collectively organized boarding-houses, which were set up by village of origin, political affiliation, and/or place of work. In a society dominated by sojourning men, the boardinghouses facilitated mutual protection and assistance.

Changes in employment patterns after World War I led to population shifts. Before 1914 Brantford, Ontario, had the largest Armenian settlement in Canada, but a downturn in the city’s economy and job opportunities elsewhere led to an exodus after the war, often to Detroit, Michigan, or to other Ontario cities. In the 1920s St Catharines emerged as the biggest Armenian settlement in Canada, with almost five hundred residents. Jobs attracted more Armenians to Galt, Guelph, Preston, and Windsor, where little neighbourhoods sprang up, close to factory workplaces.

While mobility and transiency characterized the pre1914 settlements, stability and permanence marked the same communities after the Genocide, when Armenians in Canada thought in terms of family reunification, marriage, and home purchase. Vernon’s City Directory for St Catharines in 1930 reveals that, of the fifty-eight men mentioned in the Armenian quarter, forty-two owned homes, four owned farms, and only twelve, mainly newcomers, rented accommodation.

Although post-1918 refugee newcomers did not alter either the location of Armenian neighbourhoods or the predominance of Keghi regional culture, their youth and heterogeneous background revitalized the old settlements. In Toronto, by contrast, refugees, including women domestics and the Fegan’s and Georgetown men who left farms, soon outnumbered the earlier settlers, who were reduced to three or four merchant families and a few transient factory workers. As well, their economic, educational, social, and cultural differences meant that no single group dominated the Toronto community. Most Armenians in Toronto settled in three areas. The business elite – a small group of well-off, well-educated, and cosmopolitan families, including the Babayans, Courians, and Utujians, and, after the war, the Papazians – originally from Constantinople and its environs, resided in elegant homes in Toronto’s north end. Another group, mainly farm workers from Anatolia, worked in west-end factories and occupied humble homes in the Junction area of west Toronto. The third group – mainly refugees, who formed a budding entrepreneurial class – resided in downtown central and eastern Toronto. As in Toronto, so in Montreal, Armenian settlement started slowly before 1914. About twenty sojourners from Anatolia worked in such factories as Montreal Locomotive and the Steel Company of Canada. After 1918 an equally small group of refugees joined them. Gradually, Park Avenue evolved as the city’s main artery of Armenian settlement and enterprise.

Post-1918 refugees who migrated to Toronto or Montreal found no Armenian neighbourhoods, organizations, or institutions to welcome them, but the roots they set down attracted Armenian immigrants arriving after 1950. In the 1981 Canadian census, the largest single group among those giving Armenian as their ethnic origin was born in Canada (19.7 percent); of the remainder, 19.3 percent were born in Turkey (including past and recent immigration), 16.8 percent in Lebanon, and 15.3 percent in Egypt. Clearly, Armenians in Canada constituted an immigrant community, despite the growing proportion of Canadian-born.

Quebec has gradually replaced Ontario as the province of principal settlement. According to a 1962 survey, almost 75 percent of Armenians resided in Ontario and slightly more than 25 percent in Quebec. In the 1986 census, Ontario still dominated in numbers, but by 1991 Quebec had replaced it. British Columbia and Alberta ran a distant third and fourth. Immigration since World War II has been mainly directed to Montreal and Toronto. In 1960 the number of Armenians in Brantford, Galt, Guelph, Hamilton, and St Catharines exceeded that in Montreal or Toronto. The largest single Armenian settlement, however, was Metropolitan Montreal, a ranking it still holds. According to the 1991 census, 98 percent of Quebec Armenians resided in Montreal and 73 percent of Ontario Armenians in Toronto. In both cities the Armenian population was youthful, with more than 55 percent below the age of 40 in Toronto in 1986 and almost 66 percent under 45 in Montreal, according to the 1981 and 1991 censuses.

Post–World War II immigrants settled in Calgary, Cambridge, Edmonton, Hamilton, Montreal, Ottawa, St Catharines, Toronto, Windsor, and Vancouver, where they rejuvenated community life. In Brantford, in contrast, limited job opportunities discouraged immigration and induced young people to leave, crippling organized Armenian life.

In Toronto, newcomers fell into the established residential pattern – dispersal throughout Metropolitan Toronto and neighbouring Markham, Mississauga, and Thornhill. In Montreal, settlement started pushing northward in the 1960s, into Ville Saint-Laurent and Nouveau Bordeaux. In 1988 it was estimated that roughly two-thirds of Armenians in greater Montreal lived in Cartierville, Laval, Nouveau Bordeaux, Ville Saint-Laurent, and along the Park Extension.

In both Toronto and Montreal, community centres attracted settlement to new districts. In 1979, for example, the Tashnag group in Toronto erected a centre near Highway 401 and the Don Valley Parkway, far from the previous location at Avenue Road and Dupont Street. The new edifice drew settlers who later built a school (1982) and a church (1990) on the same premises. The Armenian General Benevolent Union constructed its complex nearby. The resulting settlement has created a sprawl in North York and Scarborough, north and south of Highway 401, west of the Don Valley Parkway, east of Morningside, and northward to Thornhill and Markham.

Economic Life

In the period before 1914 most Armenians in southern Ontario, lacking money, English, and knowledge of North American ways, started out on farms or in the expanding iron foundries as shake-out men and stokers, later becoming coremakers, pattern makers, and moulders. They laboured in hot, filthy, dangerous conditions, with no job security, under constant threat of lay-off, and at the mercy of the shop foreman. Most worked at General Motors in St Catharines, at the malleable iron foundry at International Harvester in Hamilton, or at Brantford foundries, including Pratt and Letchworth, Massey-Harris, Cockshutt Plow, Buck Stove, Waterous Engine Works, and Verity Plow. If they had a job with a decent wage they stuck with it. Some Armenians moved to trade or entrepreneurial activities, such as barbering, tailoring, shoe repairing, farming, or running boardinghouses or serjarans (coffee-houses). During the inter-war years Armenians also worked at Galt Malleable, Guelph Malleable, Clare Brothers (Preston), and Sandwich Foundries. As they took on mortgages and started families, they became more tied to the factory. They also learned more about labour issues and grew militant in labour disputes, especially during the Great Depression of the 1930s. At General Motors in St Catharines, for instance, four Armenians were among the founding members of Local 199 of the United Auto Workers. Armenian activists also spearheaded the union movement in Galt and Brantford.

Armenians took up farming around St Catharines and in the Niagara peninsula. At Georgetown, Ontario, the ARAC dispatched the young Armenian boys as indentured farm workers. When the United Church of Canada bought the farm/home/school in 1928, it closed the facility as a home for Armenian orphans and supervised their work on Ontario farms. Many were exploited as cheap farm labourers. As soon as they reached maturity, most headed for the cities but a few remained on the land. Young Armenian refugee women sponsored by the ARAC and the United Church as domestics provided a much-needed service in Toronto homes, where they learned about Canadian ways and values. As soon as their contracts expired, usually in two years, they left domestic service and married shortly afterwards. Most Armenian women stayed at home during the 1920s, but circumstances later sent them into the labour force. During the Depression many worked on farms or in homes, cafeterias, and factories. During World War II they worked in canneries, textile mills, tailoring establishments, and in industry, but notably not in offices; Canadian employers excluded them from clerical work, even those with commercial high school training. As soon as men were demobilized, women returned to their homes or launched into enterpreneurial activities.

For newcomers, opening a business was a way of coping with prejudice, lack of skills, faulty English, and – during the Depression – unemployment or dead-end jobs. Self-employment offered upward mobility, and work by family members compensated for lack of capital. Armenians set up grocery stores, confectioneries, coffee shops, restaurants, ice-cream and shoe-shine parlours, barber and shoe-repair shops, and dry-cleaning, hairdressing, and tailoring and dressmaking stores. In St Catharines, Armenians favoured confectionery shops; in Halifax, grocery stores; in Montreal, mainly restaurants and ice-cream parlours; and in Toronto, rug dealerships.

In the carpet industry in Toronto men imported and sold rugs and did the heavy labour of washing them; women usually worked in the office or shared with men the skilled craft of repairing rugs. Diligent young people could work for someone else, acquire experience and proficiency, and then start their own business selling or servicing oriental rugs and later broadloom. From Toronto, Armenians took their skills to Montreal, Hamilton, St Catharines, and London, Ontario. Specialization and mutual assistance enabled Armenians to dominate the trade in Canada by the 1940s.

Armenian Canadians relied on an age-old tradition of mutual help, based on friendship and reciprocity. Earlier settlers passed on jobs, expertise, and Canadian practices to new immigrants, who in turn helped the next flow. Despite some fractiousness and feuding, an intricate network of interdependence and commercial contacts emerged. Mutual assistance was crucial because post-1918 immigrants had had their education and training abruptly checked by events starting in 1915.

Armenian participation in the Canadian labour force evolved with the country. In the 1950s and 1960s Armenians shifted away from factory work. Older settlers were retiring, and, if their children worked in factories, they usually had clerical or managerial positions. Most young people chose commercial activities or professions, notably medicine, nursing, and teaching. Post1950 arrivals left large, cosmopolitan Middle East cities; many were well educated, highly skilled, and affluent and in Canada chose entrepreneurial trade and professional work. Some entered the jewellery business; a 1983 study indicated that Armenians operated almost half of the gemstone-setting ateliers in Montreal. Some chose the automotive industry – including importing, selling, and repairing automobiles, trucks, and buses. Others engaged in printing and photography; food- and catering-related enterprises; shoe repair, tailoring, and dressmaking; and manufacture of precision tools and leather goods. Teaching and medicine remained popular professions, supplemented by pharmacy, law, accounting, and computer technology.

All along, Armenian women have taken paid work. Their contributions in family enterprises – from running boarding-houses to operating jewellery stores – were often unrecognized but crucial to family and community. Armenian women also became teachers or nurses and, later, dentists, pharmacists, doctors, or lawyers.

In the early years, discrimination or injustice against Armenian workers provoked group protest. Today, professional and business associations link members more formally: the Armenian Bar Association, the Armenian Engineers and Scientists of America, the Armenian Medical Associations of Ontario and of Quebec, the Armenian Medical International Committee, the Canadian Armenian Dental Association, and the Canadian Armenian Business Council. They assist students, strengthen the Armenian-Canadian community and its links with Canadian society, and send assistance to Armenia and Karabakh. By cutting across political, regional, and religious lines, these bodies redefine “Armenianness” in innovative ways.

Family and Kinship

Before 1914, most Armenians in Canada were male sojourners, who came as part of a family or village group. Most wanted to aid their families back home and tried to retain their Old World mores and values. Feeling vulnerable in a relatively free and open society, the men protected and watched over each other.

After the war, Armenian Canadians endeavoured to reconstitute family life by locating and bringing surviving family members to Canada. Settlers who had lost their wives in the Genocide tried to find a refugee survivor as spouse. Through matchmakers, letters, photos, and the Armenian network, marriages were arranged between men in Canada and often-much-younger women – “picture brides” – from orphanages and refugee centres abroad.

Widespread fear of national extinction led Armenians to condemn exogamy and treasure children. For example, at Grace Anglican Church in Brantford, Ontario, where many Armenian rites of passage were performed, all but two of the sixty-eight weddings between 1917 and 1931 involving Armenians were endogamous. Most couples had a child within a year or two of marriage and a total of at least three children. Typically the birth rate fell during the Depression, through the practice of birth control, including self-administered abortion, but more usually by abstention.

Armenian women were expected to be obedient, respectful, and formal. In the early years, they depended almost totally on their husbands, who were older and more familiar with Canadian society. Men generally dealt with the “outside world”; at home they were authoritarian and patriarchal. During the 1920s at least, they earned enough at the factory to enable their wives to stay home to look after their families. But as the women grew older and more confident, they assumed greater responsibility, and by the 1950s and 1960s the ageing men were deferring to their younger wives. Traditional ways involved respect for elders, deferential treatment of men, sober clothing for women, no public display of affection or emotion, no loud laughter or speech, and no pampering of children. Invariably the behaviour of wife and children reflected on the honour of the household head. The disgrace attached to marriage break-up, loss of or separation from family during the Genocide, the struggle to make ends meet in Canada, and the preoccupation with carving out a new life usually ruled out marital separation, desertion, and divorce. Alcoholism, crime, and juvenile delinquency were rare.

In a community with a strong sense of propriety and shame, deviant behaviour brought ostracism. As children grew up in Canada, tensions inevitably arose, particularly with fathers, and mothers often acted as intermediaries at home. Disputes between the generations, the sometimes-stifling milieu, the fractiousness of political organizations, and career opportunities drove many young people away from the community.

Though the second generation would inevitably marry outsiders, the first few such unions caused anguish. An informal survey of second-generation children in Hamilton in 1945 indicated that, of 104 on the list, twelve never married, forty-one wed Armenians, and fifty-one married non-Armenians – a proportion considered outrageous by some Armenians.

As a result of the Genocide and immigration restrictions, there were few extended Armenian families in Canada between the wars, and so the bonds of surviving family were particularly precious. The need for intimacy often led adults to develop fictive kin, including godparents, who served as witnesses or attendants at the wedding and as godparents to children ensuing from the marriage and became virtual members of the family. For children with few blood relatives, everyone in the neighbourhood was “aunt” or “uncle,” every Armenian house was a second home, and every Armenian peer was a “cousin.” Children created their own games, group outings, and bonds of friendship.

Traditionally, Armenians indulged sons more than daughters. As future breadwinners, boys received education and training; girls were sheltered and scrupulously disciplined. Daughters were required to help in household chores and until the 1950s expected to marry before the age of twenty or twenty-one. A few, however, took post-secondary education and entered teaching or medicine. At a time when Armenians were assimilating into Canadian society, sending sons and daughters to university, and acquiescing in intermarriage, the post-1945 flow of immigrants brought in renewed resistance to exogamy and re-emphasis on Old World values. Often newcomers frowned on oldtimers for their “un-Armenian” outlook.

Recent immigration has created many large, extended Armenian-Canadian families. Younger couples are gradually assimilating, and more women are pursuing post-secondary education and careers outside the home. As in earlier days, distance from the immigrating generation increases the incidence of intermarriage, a practice still discouraged. Inevitably, the juxtaposition of values has redefined family roles, including generational and gender relationships. In general, family solidarity serves as a basis for Armenians to integrate smoothly into Canadian society and maintain vigorous community organizations.

Community Life

Armenian family and community life has been scarred by the Genocide; underlying grief characterized the immigrant world for decades, intensifying the usual stresses of adaptation. Armenian neighbourhoods provided a haven and a bridge to the odar (non-Armenian) world; they also gave the community geographical delineation, encompassing living spaces, workplaces, and major amenities.

Except for a few wealthy families, most Armenians before World War II were struggling to establish an economic foothold in Canada. They were of the same socio-economic class, bound together by their ethnicity. While class differences are far more pronounced in the later immigration, ethnicity still supersedes differences of class and education in the community.

The post-1950 wave of immigrants rejuvenated existing institutions and created new ones, adding to the Armenian-Canadian mosaic. Language is a case in point: settlers from Iran and Armenia introduced the Eastern form of spoken Armenian in Canada. Newcomers also brought characteristics and behavioural patterns identified with their countries of provenance. The flow of immigrants led to tensions between the pre– and post–World War II Armenians. Oldtimers who had established and nurtured community activities through enormous sacrifice did not always agree with immigrants with other ideas and modes of operation. The senior group was viewed as “not being Armenian enough”; the younger, “too Middle Eastern.” Such differences were less pronounced in Toronto and Montreal, where the later wave was larger.

Leadership, however, remained in the hands of the pre-1939 settlers until the 1970s. Early leaders – the school teacher, the priest, the interpreter – had talent, experience, and command of English. Gradually, as a merchant class evolved, businessmen took the helm, joined more recently by professionals. Fifty years ago, leaders were either Canadian-born or had lived in Canada for decades. Twenty years ago, most were newer immigrants. Today organizations want “Canadian experience,” facility in English or French, and a working knowledge of Armenian language, history, and culture. An Armenian high school in Montreal is producing graduates who are as comfortable in the Armenian milieu as in the Canadian. Also, family networks are becoming more evident in the power hierarchy during a period of community stabilization and maturation.

Most community activities in Toronto and Montreal are held in complexes that usually include a community centre, church, school, and gym – a new, more elaborate version of the halls or clubs in the old working-class neighbourhoods. Cambridge, Hamilton, and St Catharines have built new structures far from the old districts.

From the start, Armenians in Canada established regional associations. The Village Educational Associations helped village schools in the Ottoman Empire. After the villages were destroyed in 1915, the associations continued to help and educate refugees and their children, and they sustained their predominantly overseas perspective until their gradual demise in the 1960s. As societies derived from village of origin, they often neutralized political and religious animosities.

After the Genocide, most village associations gave way to the partisan, pan-Keghi movements. Pro-Tashnags joined the Keghi Patriotic Society; leftists, the Reconstruction Association of Keghi. In 1972 the two groups joined forces as the United Nor Keghi (New Keghi) Committee, raised $50,000, and built a school in New Keghi, Soviet Armenia, a town founded in 1962 through their efforts. Since the original immigrants were dying off and their children showed little interest, the pan-Keghi associations declined and finally ceased operations in the 1980s.

New regional associations are functioning in Canada today. The largest and most active are the Society of Armenians from Istanbul (formed in Montreal in 1967) and the Cultural Society of Armenians from Istanbul (Toronto, 1988). They promote Armenian language and culture, aid immigrants and the indigent, and help students. They operate community centres, publish periodicals, and support the local Holy Cross schools. Two major organizations have shaped Armenian charitable, educational, and cultural life in Canada and, more recently, in Armenia and Karabakh. In 1906 in Cairo, Egypt, a group of wealthy Armenians led by Boghos Nubar Pasha founded the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU) to provide relief and to enhance community life. In 1924 affluent Toronto merchants started the first Canadian chapter, which finally got under way in the late 1930s. The post-1945 immigration gave an impetus to the AGBU in Canada. Currently three chapters (in Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver) have a combined membership of over eight hundred.

Two large community centres are the hub of AGBU activities in Montreal (founded 1977) and Toronto (1981). The Union supports two full-day schools; sponsors dance, theatrical, and choral groups; organizes youth and sports activities; and offers scholarships to worthy students. The AGBU publishes a bi-monthly bulletin, Khosnag (Advocate; Toronto, 1979– ), and until recently it produced Nor Ayk (New Dawn; Montreal, 1978–93). The AGBU has always been a conservative force, balanced a global and a local focus, remained open to men and women, and organized auxiliary activities for all ages.

Founded in the United States in 1910, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation Red Cross was the first pan– North American movement for Armenian women; in 1946 it changed its name to the Armenian Relief Society (ARS) but retained its affiliation. Brantford, Galt, Guelph, Hamilton, and St Catharines pioneered the movement in Canada, and refugee women started chapters in Windsor and Toronto during the 1920s. New arrivals from the Middle East rejuvenated the society in the 1960s. Currently the ten chapters in Canada have about twelve hundred members; in 1990 they formed the ARS Canadian Regional Board of Directors, with headquarters in Montreal. The ARS provides aid to Armenians in distress and nurtures Armenian educational, social, and cultural development. It gives moral, financial, and professional assistance to Armenian schools, offering scholarships, visiting the ill, setting up senior citizens’ homes, and establishing community social service offices. The ARS continues to develop external links by working with other Canadian women’s groups. Women’s organizations such as the ARS have broadened the scope of activities and nurtured the talents of Armenian women within the structures of Armenian community life.

Most Armenian organizations and institutions sponsor religious, educational, athletic, and social activities for youths. In 1926 young newcomers in Toronto founded the Canadian Armenian Young Peoples’ Association – a non-partisan organization of refugee settlers. They set up social and cultural activities and taught Armenian to the growing number of children in Toronto. The association did not survive the conflicts that split Armenian communities in the early 1930s. The oldest youth group in Canada is the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF), launched in Brantford, Galt, Hamilton, and St Catharines in 1934–35 to keep alive the Armenian heritage and to encourage fraternity. The AYF promoted educational, political, athletic, and social activities. In 1975 it created its own Canadian Region. Four years later it became the Armenian Revolutionary Federation—Canadian Youth Association and turned its focus to the Armenian cause. In 1995 the eight chapters in Canada had approximately eight hundred members.

Other organizations also serve young people, including scouts and guides, AGBU youth groups, and the Armenian Church Youth Organization of Canada (ACYOC), under the auspices of the Armenian Apostolic Church (Echmiadzin). In addition, Armenian students have established associations at several universities; recently those at Concordia, McGill, and the Université de Montreal set up the umbrella Armenian Student Congress for those and other universities.

Armenians also have seniors’ groups and lodges, such as the Knights and Daughters of Vartan. The Armenian General Sports Union (HMEM), founded in Constantinople in 1918, promotes physical fitness, athletic competition, and moral development. Five Canadian chapters, starting with one set up in Montreal in 1958, serve approximately sixteen hundred members. In 1974 they formed the Canadian Regional Association, which has regular winter games, and in 1993 Toronto and Montreal hosted the HMEM world championships. A competitive spirit has led to a proliferation of Armenian organizations and activities, producing in turn criticism of duplication, fragmentation, and waste.


The Genocide was a watershed in Armenian cultural life. At a time when survivors needed to strengthen their heritage and to reinforce their identity, their creative leadership had been annihilated and their artistic infrastructure demolished. The thread of learning, linking youngsters to their cultural past had, moreover, been brutally cut. Newcomer refugees to Canada, many of them children at the time of the upheaval, brought with them only shreds of their heritage.

For survivors, the main objective was to revitalize what had been lost. Typical of refugee rehabilitation, Armenians in the first years following their trauma concentrated on restoring a treasured past. Every Armenian group tried to rebuild a shattered culture. To this end, immigrants established the Canadian Armenian Union (CAU) in Toronto in 1925. Members formed a choir, which, under the direction of Yervant Selyan, gave regular concerts of traditional Armenian music on stage and radio. Similarly, the choir organized for the Hamilton Centennial in 1946 sang Armenian folk, patriotic, and émigré songs, usually from the compilation of the monk Gomidas. Theatrical repertoire also derived from the period before 1914, with a penchant for the works of Hagop Baronian and Yervant Odian or translations of classics, such as the Hamilton production of Othello in 1958.

In the pioneer settlements in Canada, many women did needle work – skills often learned in the orphanages– making lace, embroidering, knitting, crocheting, and tatting. They did not, however, pass their knowledge on to their daughters, who often preferred manufactured clothing. In telling stories – folktales, fables, tales of village life, exploits of heroes of resistance – mothers often referred to the sanctity of bread,jagadakir jagadakir (destiny), and sayings about the eye: “blind your eye,” “light in your eye,” “the good eye,” “the evil eye.”

Little clubs provided a gathering place for adults and children alike. Here the men had their kratarans (reading rooms) and coffee-houses, smoked, drank coffee, played cards and backgammon, and discussed local and world events. Organizations held meetings and periodically the community staged a play, held a hantes (concert), or put on a khunjoik (feast) – a social function combining speeches, musical entertainment, recitations and skits, feasting, and dancing. As well, community members held birthday parties, wedding receptions, and funeral wakes.

There were many special days on the Christian calendar. Armenians celebrated Christmas on 6 January, then dined on the traditional Keghetsi dish, the bagharch (baked whole wheat flour with madzoon [yoghurt], garlic, and hot, clarified butter). They combined Christian, Jewish, and ancient pagan elements when they lit fires for Diaruntarach, commemorating Christ’s presentation at the temple, and dumped water over each other at Vartavar (Transfiguration). On Easter, the holiest of all days, they cracked boiled, terracotta–coloured eggs. At Ascension, women gathered together to celebrate Veejag, drawing lots to predict their fortune. In August, Armenians rejoiced at the feast of the Assumption of Mary and the Blessing of Grapes. Periodically, to give special thanks, they held the ritual of madagh, the sacrificial lamb.

Community picnics featured traditional dishes such as rice or bulgour pilaff, shish kebab (barbecued-skewered meat), beorag (cheese or spinach in philo pastry), gatah (coffee cake), keefteh (stuffed meatballs), paghlava and bourma (nuts wrapped in philo pastry), and herisah (chicken or veal with hulled whole wheat). People danced the classic Armenian shoorch bar (circle dance) to the strains of a local violinist and later to the music of a four- or five-piece popular Armenian band. These traditions, including the Christmas feast of bagharch and herisah, continue to the present.

Early Armenian Canadians – few in number, dispersed, and isolated from mainstream Armenian cultural activities – looked to diasporan centres such as Boston, Paris, Cairo, and Beirut as well as to Soviet Armenia for cultural inspiration. As a generation of Armenian artists and intelligentsia emerged in Soviet Armenia and in the diaspora, a post-Genocide Armenia culture began to take shape. By the 1930s and 1940s, as the children and grandchildren of the early settlers were reaching maturity, a hybrid culture had begun to emerge. Popular music, for example, was a mixture of traditional Armenian, Turkish, and American influences. If people listened to recordings of Armenian music, these were usually of Armenian-American bands performing Armenian melodies with a North American or Latin beat or Armenian-American compositions, such as Catskilleen Jampa (the Catskill Road). Post-1950 settlers added a different dimension to cultural life, for they were knowledgeable about their Ammenian heritage and determined to preserve it. Cultural exchanges with Soviet Armenia also stimulated Armenian literary and artistic expression in Canada. Cultural renewal has promoted efforts to purge foreign influences, usually Turkish, and to restore traditional folklore, arts, crafts, festivals, language, and literature. As the Armenian community matured and felt more self-confident in Canada, and as members participated in Canadian literary and artistic life, a fusion of Armenian and Canadian cultures began to appear.

For Armenian Canadians, theatre, performed either by travelling troupes or by local groups, has been popular. It enabled survivors of the Genocide to mourn in public with dignity and to find release from sorrow in comedies and operettas. Armenians are devoted to traditional Armenian playwrights and to the world classics, especially Shakespeare. However, as more modern plays are being written in Armenian and performed by theatrical groups, the community is beginning to accept avant-garde work as well. Local troupes perform also in English and French and participate in multicultural theatrical festivals.

Earlier generations wrote autobiographies and memoirs, poetry, and village or regional histories, dominated by the theme of loss. The same theme remains prevalent today, as in Aram P. Aivazian’s Armenia: Usurped by Genocide and Treachery (1992); Ara Baliozian’s Fragmented Dreams: Armenians in Diaspora (1987); Shant Basmajian’s poetry; Kerop Bedoukian’s The Urchin: An Armenian’s Escape (1978); Agop Hacikyan’s Un été sans aube (A Summer without Dawn, 1991); and Lorne Shirinian’s works of literary criticism, such as Armenian–North American Literature: A Critical Introduction: Genocide, Diaspora, and Symbols (1990).

Musical expression remains popular. In the early days, singers such as Mary Ohanian and instrumentalists such as Robert Melkonian performed for the community. Choirs sang sharagans (hymns) for church services, as well as traditional songs. Today, church and community choirs stage regular concerts, as do local and foreign musicians. With the growing popularity of Armenian-American and Armenian-Canadian bands, informal group singing began to decline, and many old songs were lost before ethnomusicologists such as Hasmig Injejikian could record them. Armenian bands perform Armenian pop music for social gatherings; they play Armenian melodies with a North American or Middle Eastern rhythm and use modern recording techniques and instrumentation. Tapes and compact discs bring Armenian liturgical, classical, and popular music from around the world to Canada.

Dancing has been an integral, participatory, and joyful part of community life. The most popular group dance is the traditional circle dance, where everyone – young and old, men and women – dances together as in a chain, with little fingers entwined. During the 1970s and 1980s, concerts by travelling dance troupes from the former Soviet Armenia encouraged the creation of Armenian-Canadian dance ensembles, which now give regular concerts. The concerts helped raise dancing to the level of art and popularized regional costumes and an extensive repertoire of dances. They transformed choreography, costume design, and accompanying music. Despite efforts to return to traditional roots in the arts, Armenian musicologists and dance experts bemoan the intrusions of non-Armenian elements, too often mistakenly labelled “Armenian” by the people.

Most institutions and organizations have cultural adjuncts. The Armenian Catholic Union, Hamaskine, the MEG (Meghitarian, Essayan, Getronagan colleges in Constantinople), and Tekeyan, for example, have a three-fold mandate: to strengthen and encourage Armenian cultural expression and disseminate it among community members; to bring Armenian artistic and literary endeavours to the attention of non-Armenian Canadians; and to expose Armenian Canadians to the great works of the world. The cultural groups organize choirs, theatrical troupes, folk-dance groups, literary and fine arts exhibits, and public lectures and debates; invite painters, lecturers, and performing artists from abroad; sponsor television and radio programs; teach Armenian language; operate lending libraries; launch books; and publish newsletters and newspapers.

Brief, handwritten notes of local news and announcements for Armenian Canadians gradually gave way to newsletters and bulletins. The Ararat (Georgetown, Ont., 1926–28) was a monthly/bi-monthly, stencilled by young Armenian men at first in English and then in Armenian, under the direction of Aris Alexanian, their teacher. Nor Serount (New Generation; Toronto, 1955– ) was published by Holy Trinity Church. Each organization puts out its own tabloid; in Montreal, for example, eight came out in 1989, and a ninth was funded privately.

Before the 1970s Armenian Canadians relied on Armenian-language newspapers – usually partisan – published abroad, frequently in the United States. Today, Abaka (Future; Montreal, 1975– ), edited by Arsen-Noubar Mamourian, is the organ of the Ramgavars; Horizon (Horizon; Montreal, 1979– ), edited by Giro Manoyan, is the mouthpiece of the Tashnags. About four pages in each offer English and French translations of the news. Pages for the young appear periodically, and monthly literary supplements carry poetry and prose in Armenian.

The press also sustains the Armenian language. Historically, Armenian has three forms: classical, for services of the Armenian Apostolic and Catholic churches; eastern, used by Armenians in Iran and in the Caucasus; and western, used in the former Ottoman Empire and in North America. Armenians from different places in the Ottoman Empire, using different dialects, ended up together in countries of refuge. The spoken and written languages needed to be standardized, and the press acted as a catalyst, standardizing and modernizing the language. The Armenian-Canadian press provides a forum in all genres for writers such as Garbis Armen, ‘Vrej-Armen Artinian, Harout Berberian, Mher Karakashian, and Chaké Minassian.

In the Ottoman Empire and the Middle East, Armenians were identified by their religion; in Canada, they were an ethnic and linguistic minority, and language became a means of retaining identity. Although parents insisted that children speak Armenian in the home and helped operate Armenian schools, language loss has occurred. According to the 1981 census, for example, about 64 percent of Armenians in St Catharines were born in Canada, and of them only 14 percent spoke Armenian as the main language in the home.

Concerned about language loss, leaders encourage participation in Armenian organizations, where Armenian typically is spoken. Some argue that Armenian must remain the language of communication both in the home and in community activities, while others fear that to insist on Armenian will discourage the young and eventually drive them away. Still, many young people are learning the language and taking an interest in Armenian affairs, as revealed by the growing numbers who travel annually to Armenia to work and study.

Armenian Canadians have excelled in photography: Cavouk (Artin Cavoukian), of Toronto, is famous for his colour portraits; Yousuf Karsh, of Ottawa, is a world-renowned black-and-white portrait photographer; and Malak (Malak Karsh), of Ottawa, specializes in landscapes. One of Malak’s photographs appeared on the back of the one-dollar bill before that note was replaced by a coin. In other arts, Anahid Aprahamian, Hagop Koubesserian, Berge Missakian, Gérard Paraghamian, David Safarian, Arman Tatossian, and Arto Yuzbasiyan have distinguished themselves in painting, and Arto Tchakmakchian in sculpture. Khazaros Surmeyan has contributed in ballet, and Richard Ouzounian in theatre and radio. Atom Egoyan has directed several award-winning films, including Exotica (1994) and The Sweet Hereafter (1997). Arto Paraghamian also produces film. Arsinée Khanjian has played leading roles in many of Egoyan’s films. Merj Fazlian combines acting with film production.

In music, notable Armenian Canadians have included Nourhan Arman, musical director of the New Brunswick Symphony; Raffi Armenian, former conductor of the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Orchestra; Norair Artinian, pianist; Mihran Essegulian, composer; Gérard Kantarjian, violinist and former concertmaster with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra; Aline Kutan, soprano; Zabel Manoukian, pianist; Peter Oundjian, violinist with the Tokyo String Quartet; Ludwig Semerjian, pianist; Hratchia Sevadjian, violin teacher; Bedros Shoujounian, composer and choir director; and Zaven Zakarian, clarinetist. Raffi (Cavoukian) is a children’s song-writer and performing artist, and Maryvonne Kendergi is a teacher and musicologist.


When Armenians first settled in this country, they founded a village educational association. Acutely aware of their own stunted education in the Ottoman Empire, they established reading rooms in Canada, where men congregated to improve their literacy, read newspapers, borrow books, listen to lectures, and debate topics of interest. Literacy in Armenian was also a top priority for the young refugees, who had had to leave school abruptly. The better educated helped illiterate compatriots learn to read and write their mother tongue. The Armenian Women’s Benevolent Association of Montreal (1930–46) gave women similar opportunities. U.S.-based Armenian-language newspapers, largely partisan, also helped strengthen the language and provided regular news and commentary.

Convinced that education was a key to upward mobility, Armenians encouraged their offspring to study and do well. Parents worked hard and sacrificed their own comfort to ensure children, especially sons, a good education. Of 104 second-generation young people in Hamilton in 1945, for example, at least thirteen completed university, and some others became nurses or elementary school teachers.

Considering the number of Armenians in Canada at that time and their socio-economic circumstances, the second generation has made distinguished contributions to Canadian society, particularly in the field of medicine, following in the footsteps of the noted naturopath, Alexander B. Davies: Arthur Haktsian was the first Armenian doctor trained in Canada, and Anaid Kiernan-Mooradian the first Armenian woman doctor. In addition to a number of general practitioners, Armenian specialists include John Basmajian, pioneer of electromyography and biomechanics; David Janigan, pathologist; and Matthew Bazoian and George Krikorian, anaesthesiologists. Canadian-born children of survivors have also been prominent in other fields: John Adjeleian, the engineer who designed the retractable dome in Toronto’s Skydome; Armen Manoogian, physicist; Levon Paroyan, lawyer; Ars Mooradian, formerly senior vice-president of Atomic Energy of Canada; and Edward Safarian, professor of economics and former dean of graduate studies, University of Toronto.

Education in Armenian language and culture differed between generations. Armenian supplementary schools in Canada sat three evenings a week, for two hours each evening, and reflected parents’ political or religious affiliation. Children acquired a rudimentary knowledge of reading and writing in Armenian. By contrast, children of survivors who had settled in the Middle East attended full-day Armenian schools, grew up in Armenian quarters, and had a much better grasp of the language and culture.

Many post-1950 immigrants took higher studies in Europe or the United States. Broad education and living in many countries gave them several languages and familiarity with a variety of cultures. The present community is thus remarkable for its cultural and linguistic scope and flexibility. As immigrants from the Middle East prospered, they concentrated on building full-time day schools; Montreal now has three. In 1970 the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU) founded the Alex Manoogian/Armen-Quebec school in Montreal, which in 1995 had six hundred students, from nursery to rade eight. Sourp Hagop (St James) Church in Montreal started a full-day school in 1974, and it now has nine hundred students, nursery to grade eleven. In 1983 the Armenian Sisters of the Immaculate Conception opened an Armenian school in Montreal. When they left five years later, it was renamed the Armenian Catholic School of Notre Dame de Nareg. Its 250 students range from kindergarten to grade six. Similarly, Toronto has three full-time day schools. The Society of Armenians from Istanbul is the spirit behind Sourp Khatch (Holy Cross) School (founded 1978), which has one hundred students, from nursery to grade six. In 1979 the ARS founded the Babayan Nursery and Kololian School, and it has 375 students, pre-school to grade eight. The AGBU inaugurated the Daniel and Alice Zaroukian School in 1985, which has 125 students, nursery to grade six.

Almost every Armenian church or congregation runs a Sunday school; as well, day-care centres, summer camps, Saturday schools, and publicly subsidized heritage-language classes also offer learning opportunities. In 1991–92 in Ontario thirty-seven Armenian heritage-language classes in both public and separate schools served almost seven hundred students. The largest and oldest is in Toronto: St Mesrob and St Sahag Saturday morning school, set up in 1956, is administered by Holy Trinity Church and had about 250 students in 1995. In 1992–93 St James in Montreal maintained a day-care centre, an elementary and secondary full-day school, a Saturday school, a summer camp, and a Sunday school, with total enrolment of about twelve hundred. It is estimated that at least 65 percent of Armenian youngsters of elementary- and secondary-school age in Montreal attend Armenian-language school. Challenges remain in funding, and debate continues over education of non-Armenian speakers, potential Canadian focus for textbooks, Canadian- versus Armenian-trained language teachers, and children’s preparedness for university. Such concerns reflect shifts in the community; for decades, Armenians concentrated on heritage maintenance, but now, as the community is maturing, retention of ethnic heritage is not the only educational goal. In a survey conducted in Toronto, immigrants listed lack of English-language skills as their greatest problem. All along, Armenians have made an effort to learn English. They attended day- and night-school classes and studied Armenian-English guidebooks and dictionaries. Today, newcomers attend classes in English as a second language (ESL), often organized in centres or church halls.

Community members also teach credit courses at the secondary level and in the community colleges (CEGEPs) in Quebec. The Armenian Studies Association of Quebec, established in 1982, encourages teaching of Armenian language, literature, and history at universities and colleges in Quebec.

Religious Life

The Armenian Apostolic, Armenian Roman Catholic, and Armenian Protestant or Evangelical churches have all been transplanted to Canada, and events outside this country have shaped them. Each has guarded its independence and retained distinctively Armenian and Canadian characteristics. As in the homeland, so in Canada, the Apostolic Church, both the Echmiadzin and the Cilicia sees, represents the majority of believers. In 1984 churches under the Echmiadzin catholicos established their own Canadian diocese under Archbishop Vasken Keshishian, with its centre at St Gregory the Illuminator Cathedral in Montreal. Currently, the diocese has five churches and an additional five congregations, including Canada’s first Armenian church, St Gregory the Illuminator, in St Catharines, founded in 1930. Parishioners under the authority of the catholicos of Cilicia look to the prelacy of the Apostolic Church in New York City. In 1994 Bishop Khajag Der Hagopian was appointed vicar-general of Canada, and Sourp Hagop (St James) in Montreal, the first Cilician church in Canada, founded in 1958, was named the mother church. There are now five Cilician churches in Canada.

The two sees do not differ in dogma, doctrine, liturgy, or rites; both view the Apostolic Church as the national church. Both admit as essential the dogmatic definitions of the first three church councils only and accordingly uphold the Nicene Creed. (By contrast, the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches accept the decisions of subsequent councils.) The Apostolic Church accepts as part of the Universal Church all who believe in the Trinity, Incarnation, and Redemption of Christ. It does not condemn those who neglect its precepts, nor does it insist on rebaptism or reordination. Part of the strength of the Apostolic Church lies in its democratic constitution.

Joint lay and clerical councils elect all clergy, including the catholicos; elected lay and ecclesiastical representatives share church governance. The kahanas (lowerorder priests) are allowed to marry, but not the vartabeds (masters of divinity), from whose ranks the hierarchy is chosen. To date all Armenian priests in Canada, except one, have been recruited abroad.

The Apostolic Church still celebrates its liturgy in classical Armenian, though the sermon, some prayers, and readings may be said in the vernacular. Usually, the chants and hymns are from the music of Magar Yakmalian or Gomidas Vartabed. For North America, the church has had the Bible translated into the modern vernacular, shortened and reduced the number of services, and offered instruction on the ancient service and its symbolism. The church combines baptism, confirmation, and first communion in one sacrament shortly after birth. Confession is public, with ritualized prayers, and unction (not extreme unction) is administered in the visitation of the ill. Women have participated in the church largely as members of the ladies’ auxiliary, the choir, and sometimes the board of trustees. Apostolic Armenians celebrate five main feasts: Nativity (6 January), Easter, Transfiguration, the Assumption of Mary, and the Exaltation of the Cross. St Gregory the Illuminator (founder of the Armenian church), St James, and St Mesrob Mashtots are the principal saints.

The deaths of about five thousand clergymen during the Genocide, the resulting collapse of the church’s leadership, and the destruction and theft of its property plunged the Apostolic Church into chaos. Eventually, the seat of the catholicos in historic Cicilia (present-day southeastern Turkey) was re-established in AnÛ ilyˆ s, a suburb of Beirut, Lebanon (1929). The Mother See of Echmiadzin, however, entered into a period of prolonged turmoil following the establishment of Soviet Armenia. Closure of churches and seminaries, confiscation of church wealth, and persecution and murder of the clergy placed the church on precarious ground. From 1920 to 1945, Communist leaders left the Echmiadzin see vacant for at least nine years and for the rest of the period held its catholicos under virtual house arrest. Initially, the church hierarchy defied Communist rulers, but finally, in order to retain a vestige of life, it adjusted to the new political order. The survival of the church in Soviet Armenia, although under conditions of “captivity,” and its profound influence on diasporan Armenians generated debate and rancour in North America. Reviled by his adversaries as a tool of the Communist regime, Archbishop Levon Tourian, primate of the Apostolic Diocese in North America, did not bring about rapprochement between the community’s opposing political camps, which in September 1933 locked horns at the National Representative Assembly and severed relations with each other. Events came to a head with Tourian’s assassination in New York City in 1933. Nine Tashnags were convicted, although the nationalist and anti-Communist Tashnag organization denied any role in the crime.

Thereafter two separate and parallel ecclesiastical authorities existed in North America. In 1956 the pro-Tashnag, anti-Communist parishes, which had been denounced by Echmiadzin, petitioned the newly elected catholicos of Cilicia to take them under his jurisdiction. The catholicos of Echmiadzin condemned these initiatives as an encroachment on its territorial rights, since, canonically, Armenian Apostolic parishes in North America fell under its jurisdiction. In 1957, however, a de facto division of North America between the two sees became a reality. Recent political changes and the fall of the Communist regime in Armenia have all but removed the grounds for schism. Concerted efforts to resolve the differences within the Apostolic Church have recently been undertaken by the catholicoi of the Echmiadzin and Cicilia sees. The recent death of Vasken I of Echmiadzin generated fears that another church crisis was imminent. A period of instability ended in 1995 with the election of the Cicilian catholicos to Echmiadzin as Karekin I and of Aram I as his successor at Cilcilia.

Like the Apostolic Church, Armenian Roman Catholics and Evangelicals have also tried to adjust to political changes in the homeland. The Armenian Roman Catholic Church, which is “united in dogma and faith with Rome,” adheres to the Vatican’s precepts on the nature of the sacraments, clerical celibacy, and the role of the hierarchy. But it uses liturgy similar to that of the Armenian Apostolic Church, reveres the same saints, and celebrates the same principal feasts, except that the Nativity is held on 25 December. Likewise, it holds services in classical Armenian, with some use of vernacular.

A small group of Arabic-speaking Armenian Catholics from Mardin settled in Quebec before 1914 and formed the beginnings of an Armenian Catholic congregation in Canada. Post-1950 immigration brought more Armeno-Catholics to Canada. Established as an autonomous parish in Montreal in 1966, they built their own church, Notre Dame de Nareg, in 1983, under the guidance of the Reverend Monsignor Edouard Kurdy. In Toronto, the Armenian Catholic congregation, established in 1974, built St Gregory the Illuminator in 1993. The pastors of both churches have been drawn from the Bzommar Order. Both churches fall under the direct jurisdiction of the Exarchate for Armenian Roman Catholics of North America in New York City (founded in 1982). In turn, the exarchate comes under the authority of the Armenian Catholic patriarch in Beirut, and ultimately the pope.

Before 1950 the few, dispersed Protestant Armenians in Canada had no congregation. They held prayer meetings in their homes and attended Canadian Protestant churches. More Protestants arrived with the third wave of settlers. In 1960 Montreal Evangelicals founded the First Armenian Evangelical Church, and their co-religionists in Toronto started the Armenian Evangelical Church of Toronto, under the Reverend Soghomon Nigoghosian. The Armenian Evangelical United Church of Montreal (founded 1964) and the Armenian Evangelical United Church of Cambridge (1970) are affiliated with the United Church of Canada. The four churches founded the Armenian Missionary Association of Canada in 1984 and are partners of the Armenian Evangelical Union of North America, set up in 1971. Services are in Armenian, with some use of the vernacular. The Armenian Brotherhood Bible Churches in Toronto and Montreal are conservative, Bible-centred, evangelistic churches, associated with the General Union of Armenian Brotherhood Churches in the United States (founded 1980–81) but totally independent bodies.

All three religious groups (Apostolic, Catholic, and Protestant) face problems common to churches in Canada, such as consumerism, secularism, apathy, and the impact of technology. Like other ethnic churches, they must address competition from mainstream churches, recruitment of the young, the place of women, and tensions between different cohorts of immigrants and between foreign- and Canadian-born generations. In addition, they must deal with Armenian issues – whether to nurture spirituality or ethnic heritage, language of services (Armenians in diaspora possess a multiplicity of languages), involvement in relief missions to Armenia, and relations with the new republic.

Churches dominate Armenian community life in Canada. They publish newsletters and sponsor a host of organizations, including Armenian-language schools, ladies’ auxiliaries, youth and sports groups, senior citizens’ clubs, and theatrical, dance, and choral ensembles. Renewed interest in belief and spirituality and greater participation in feasts and traditions give church leaders hope of a spread of piety and a religious revival. Other currents reveal growing cooperation among the three religious groups, perhaps most evident in the combined sponsorship of the Genocide commemorations on 24 April. This is in keeping with a growing ecumenism among Armenian churches, notably marked by the work of Karekin II, catholicos of Cicilia, in the World Council of Churches.


The first collective expression of Armenian aspirations in Canada was the organization of branches of Armenian political parties. Armenians have been keen but low-profile participants in the Canadian political process. They have taken Canadian naturalization seriously, and many have joined, worked for, and financially supported various Canadian political parties and maintained good relations with their elected representatives at all levels of government.

In the past, Armenian factory labourers voted for the Liberal Party or the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF). More affluent Armenians also backed the Liberal Party. During the Cold War, staunch anti-Communists moved to the Conservative Party. Today, Armenians vote primarily Liberal or Conservative. For each election, Armenian political organizations suggest a slate of preferred candidates and arrange for speeches and rallies in their community centres, as they have done for decades.

Until the 1990s Armenians were generally not inclined to run for political office in Canada, perhaps because they were convinced that a “foreign” name could not win votes, or perhaps because they lacked connections in the established parties. More probably, the impact of trauma, uprooting, and loss inhibited them: refugees and their children devoted their energies to physical survival and to preservation of a threatened heritage.

Armenians entered politics initially through ethnic/ multicultural organizations; for example, John H. Mooradian of Hamilton was founder and first president of the Canadian National Unity Council, formed in 1947, and Kevork Baghdjian of Montreal was president of the Fédération des Groupes Ethniques du Québec from 1975 to 1988. As the community matures, more Armenians are vying for public office. Tom Jackson is a city councillor in Hamilton; another Hamiltonian, Ara Mooradian, was mayor of Deep River from 1958 to 1962. Noushig Eloyan, the first Armenian-Canadian woman to hold political office, is president of the executive committee of the city of Montreal, while Hasmig Vasilian-Belili and Jack Chaderjian are Montreal city councillors. In 1993 Sarkis Asadourian, an Ontario Liberal, became the first Canadian of Armenian descent elected to the House of Commons.

Armenian Canadians are inextricably drawn into the affairs of the homeland. As early as 1902–03, when they founded branches of the Social Democratic Hunchag party and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, or Tashnag party (ARF), immigrants sought to help needy compatriots in the Ottoman and Russian empires. In the post-1918 period, the Hunchag faction, loyal to Soviet Armenia, fell under attack by Communist agents, and by 1925 it had succumbed as a political party in Canada. No single, strong Armenian leftist organization replaced it. From the mid-1920s until the Cold War, when the Armenian left disappeared from the Canadian scene, leftists aligned with various Communist-front organizations, with headquarters and a press abroad, usually in the United States. These groups included the Relief Committee for Armenia (HOG), the National Red Cross (not the Armenian Red Cross), the Armenian Workers’ Party/Armenian Communist Party, and the Armenian-American Progressive Party, later the Armenian-American Progressive League. These bodies sought to provide moral and material aid to Soviet Armenia. Eventually, many Armenian leftists in Canada chose participation in the Apostolic Church with its Mother See in Soviet Armenia, but they continued to read the left-wing U.S. press, and some turned their energies to the trade union movement. In the meantime, the Tashnag party held firm and remained the only viable Armenian political organization in Canada. It continued to promote politicization and literacy among its members and, as a by-product of political consolidation, helped strengthen Armenian community cohesion. The party always worked for creation of a free, independent, and united Armenia.

The third wave of Armenian settlers swelled Tashnag ranks and also brought Armenian Democratic Liberals (Ramgavars) to Canada. After the Communist overthrow of the Armenian Republic in 1920, the Ramgavars upheld the Armenian Apostolic Church and the Mother See situated in Soviet Armenia, but they opposed communism. Taking into account geographical and historical realities, this conservative group opted for accommodation with Soviet Armenia as the only means of survival, both of the Armenian state and of the Armenian Apostolic Church.

Today, the Tashnag party is the largest Armenian political organization in Canada, with nine branches. Ramgavars rank second, with branches in Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver, followed by a small but active Hunchag group, established in Montreal and Toronto in 1979–80. In the 1970s and 1980s cultural and economic progress in Soviet Armenia, greater religious tolerance, and a more open attitude to the West improved relations between Armenia and Armenian Canadians. Exchanges and visits became more numerous, the transatlantic press more accessible, and Tashnag attitudes towards Soviet Armenia more favourable.

With renewed turmoil in the Caucasus since 1988, all groups in Canada have mobilized on behalf of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh by contributing relief supplies and personnel, undertaking reconstruction projects, and intervening with foreign governments. Following the creation of an independent and democratic Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, political groupings rushed in to establish a footing in the homeland. At the same time, they began to reappraise their future roles. Since Armenia was now free and independent, the question arose whether political parties should continue to function in the diaspora, transfer their activities to the homeland, or disband altogether. In 1994 the democratically elected regime unexpectedly expelled from Armenia the Tashnag party and its affiliates – the charitable Armenian Relief Society, the cultural Hamaskine, and the sports group HMEM; confiscated all properties, supplies, and equipment; closed the press; and imprisoned Tashnag members.

Armenian Canadians responded with disbelief and consternation, since their commitment to a free Armenian state dated back to the early years of the century. Such recent events in the ancestral homeland have forced them to reconsider their political priorities.

For decades Armenian Canadians have sought to familiarize their fellow citizens with the Genocide by petitioning all levels of government. In 1980 the Ontario and Quebec legislatures unanimously recognized the Genocide as a violation of human rights and decency and called on Ottawa to do likewise and to designate 24 April as a day of remembrance. Armenian-Canadian political parties have evolved into political organizations, with a host of ancillary subgroups, involved in all aspects of community life and centred around the little clubs or halls of the past and the large complexes of the present. Because each is so all-encompassing, each has tended to entrench its own set of attitudes. However, competition among them has stimulated cultural maintenance and development, and the structures that they set up have helped immigrants to integrate into Canadian society. While all Armenian-Canadian political groupings are part of worldwide organizations, they have distinctive Canadian characteristics and interests. For example, early Hunchags and Tashnags held annual party conventions of the Canadian chapters. The Tashnags revamped their branches in 1937 as the Canadian Regional Committee and in 1975–76 as the Canadian Central Committee. They created the Armenian National Federation to participate in the Canadian Ethnocultural Council and set up the Armenian National Committee of Canada as a liaison between them and Canadian governmental and non-governmental organizations.

Intergroup Relations

Armenians have become a viable component of Canadian society while still functioning as a distinct community. They have had centuries of experience as a minority in the Ottoman Empire and have also maintained a vast diaspora. Over time, Armenian colonies have interacted with each other, the homeland, and host societies, exchanging and propagating various intellectual, political, religious, and artistic currents. Early on, Armenians realized that Canadian society did not always understand dual loyalty and usually regarded perpetuation of ethnic culture as a rejection of Canadian values rather than an enrichment of the Canadian mosaic. So, like other ethnic minority groups, Armenians faced prejudice. Indeed, when they tried to immigrate to Canada a wall of resistance confronted them. Immigration officials labelled Armenians, a Caucasian people with an Indo-European language, as “Asiatic” – a category at the bottom of the official racial hierarchy. Such discrimination hurt especially during the 1920s, when Armenian survivors were desperate to find refuge in Canada to join their relatives.

Those who managed to enter the dominion found a free, democratic, and civilized society, “a country pure and beautiful as its snow.” From the beginning, Armenians have had a strong attachment to Canada and to its culture. Every Armenian family, school, organization, and church taught the same lesson to children: loyalty to their Armenian heritage and allegiance to their Canadian homeland. To show their commitment, Armenians enlisted in both world wars. The ratio of enlisted men in World War II was high, partly a reflection of birth rates during the 1920s. It was not always easy for Armenian children to cope with a dual heritage, particularly since Canadian society often treated foreigners with disdain and discouraged their participation in Canadian life. Early Armenian families, moreover, were on the lowest economic rung. The implicit message to the young was clear: to be Armenian was to suffer poverty and rejection; to be Canadian brought mobility and success.

For Armenians this dichotomy was intensified by the Genocide and its impact on survivors and their children. Their Armenian world was rooted in tragedy, psychological wounds, and sensitivity to intimidation by authorities – in short, a genocide complex. A legacy of massacre and unredressed crimes left a haunting message to the young: to be Armenian was to be the victim of brutality; to be Canadian was to be a member of the British Empire. The main avenues of mobility for Armenian Canadians during the first six or seven decades of settlement were relations with other Christian denominations, the workplace, and Canadian education. As early as the 1890s, Canadian Protestant missionaries working among Armenians in the Ottoman Empire tried to help people wishing to emigrate to Canada. Churchmen sought to mobilize public opinion in Canada during the 1894–97 massacres and the Genocide of 1915–23. Armenians’ expulsion and massacre galvanized many Canadians. Churchmen and business leaders, in cooperation with the Toronto Globe , raised almost $300,000 as a solatium (compensation) in 1920 to aid Armenian refugees. Religious groups also helped bring Armenian refugee orphans to Canada during the 1920s. Meanwhile, churches urged Ottawa to act in favour of an independent Armenian state. Their efforts induced passage of an order-in-council in 1920 opposing Turkish sovereignty over the Armenian provinces and recommending “the emancipation of Armenia from Turkish rule.” Church ties remain strong. The United Church facilitated immigration of Armenian refugees in the 1980s, and it remains connected to certain Armenian Evangelical churches. The Anglican Church, which has strong theological bonds with the Armenian Apostolic Church, has offered facilities for Armenian services (for example, at Toronto’s Holy Trinity and St Augustine of Canterbury) and has welcomed members of the Apostolic faith to worship with it (as at St Philip’s in Hamilton).

Originally, Armenians were recruited to gruelling work in Canadian iron foundries. Almost fifty years passed before a man with an Armenian name was allowed managerial or white-collar work in such factories; for women, it took even longer. Armenians joined other workers in Brantford, Galt, and St Catharines to take a lead in the trade union movement in the 1930s and 1940s. Some Armenian factory workers thought that the early unions were infiltrated by Communists and stayed away, but changes in the unions and in Canadian society brought more Armenians into the movement in the 1940s and 1950s. Many Armenians got a foothold in small businesses, but the major role of the oriental rug trade testifies to the difficulty of their moving into mainstream retailing. Still, men such as Yervant Pasdermajian, who ran rug enterprises, became active in mainstream Canadian life. Canadian-born children who attended public schools and universities were more upwardly mobile. The opening up of Canadian society since 1945 has coincided with greater professional and economic mobility for Armenian Canadians. Collapsing slowly and gradually until the mid-1970s, ethnic barriers against Armenians have now almost totally disappeared. Today, Armenian Canadians excel in every field: medicine and the sciences, architecture, engineering, law, and education. This intelligentsia serves as a role model for the young and a professional bridge – long overdue – to Canadian society.

Armenian leaders have for decades sought to influence Canadian policy towards their compatriots. In the period before World War I, they appealed to the Canadian government to bring pressure on Russia to free Armenian political prisoners. During and after the war, they sought Ottawa’s intervention at the peace negotiations on behalf of the Armenian Republic and in support of reparations. Indeed, Canada recognized the first Republic of Armenia and signed the ill-fated Treaty of Sèvres (1920). In 1932 it assigned $300,000 to Armenian Canadians as a solatium (compensation) for their losses during the Great War. Exclusion of Armenian immigrants during the 1920s brought efforts to force revision of the Asiatic classification; these exchanges continued until the classification was dropped and the points system introduced.

Following the events in 1915–23, a number of Turkish leaders were tried and convicted; Western newspapers and military, political, and religious observers offered extensive accounts of the procedures and of the horrifying evidence. Even so, later Turkish governments repudiated the events and launched a revisionist campaign. As a result, Armenians around the world began a sustained crusade to publicize the Genocide and to petition for its recognition and condemnation by governments and international tribunals – for example, the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal (Paris, 1984).

Each year on 24 April, Armenians in Canada have marked the Genocide, at first within the community itself, and only gradually more publicly. In 1955, on the fortieth anniversary, Armenians in Ontario organized a peaceful mass march in Toronto and invited non-Armenians, including the mayor, to speak about the tragedy. In 1965 Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Jewish, Polish, and Ukrainian leaders took part in the Canadian Armenian Crusade for the fiftieth anniversary. In 1980 the Ontario and Quebec legislatures recognized the Genocide. Each year in Ottawa Armenian Canadians march from the Turkish embassy to Parliament Hill. Armenian-Canadian efforts regarding the Genocide have come up against the Turkish government’s campaign of denial. In the 1980s Armenians in Ottawa proposed a teaching unit to the local board of education, which included a brief study of the Genocide and incorporated a Turkish perspective as well. Turkish political pressure and threat of economic reprisal, however, prompted the Department of External Affairs to intervene, saying it was not “appropriate to describe an event retroactively and to give it a legal connotation which it did not have at the time.” Turkish authorities expressed their concern that “the use of the word `genocide’ creates an association with Nazi and Soviet atrocities.” The teaching unit was quashed.

Intergroup Relations

Armenian ethnic commitment in Canada has remained intense because of loyalty to the homeland and a desire to hold together the remnant people in the diaspora and educate the young about their heritage. The collapse of Armenian communities in the homeland, resettlement in countries of exile, and subsequent uprooting a generation or two later from countries of refuge have created both a sense of insecurity and a determination to survive as Armenians: “It is the fear of dying which keeps us alive. It is just that fear that keeps us Armenian. If we lose the fear of extinction, then we will not survive. It is that fear which brings us together and leads us to build schools, churches, and cultural centres.”

For Armenians, history is one of the most powerful forces of group identity and cohesion. The events of 1915–23 galvanized opinion in the community, in favour either of the irredentists or of Soviet Armenia. Such polemics, while divisive, kept Armenian issues at the forefront of daily life. Since the 1920s Armenians have commemorated Martyrs’ Day (24 April) each year. They teach young people about it in their schools lest it be forgotten. Turkey’s denial of the Genocide has rallied Armenians in a common cause, and desire for recognition has mobilized them against a common foe.

In the past, immigrants consolidated their family and social networks to give the community a strong foundation. Partly by choice and partly from pressure, endogamy remained relatively common until the late 1950s. It persists in the third wave, though exogamy is increasing, despite family and community opposition. For example, 1981 and 1991 census data for Quebec reveal an increase from 14 percent to 18 percent of Armenians reporting multiple ethnic origins.

The Armenian neighbourhood was the locus of social integration and community activities. As inhabitants died or drifted away, the working-class areas in Brantford, Hamilton, and St Catharines declined; the Hunchag and Tashnag halls in Brantford were sold and not replaced. In cities where community life continued, changes in transportation and communications rendered the neighbourhood obsolete. The Tashnags in St Catharines and more recently those in Hamilton sold the halls and built new structures in the suburbs. Such community centres offer many services and facilities, allow for cultural, political, and religious expressions, and create opportunities for leadership within the community. The one notable exception to suburban drift is St Gregory’s Apostolic Church in St Catharines. Built in 1930 near the General Motors plant, in the heart of the Armenian neighbourhood, it continues to attract parishioners, both oldtimers and newcomers. Under the direction of the Reverend Shenork Souin, a Canadian-born Armenian, it recently marked its sixty-fifth anniversary with a project to expand church facilities on the same site.

As a minority in the Ottoman Empire and later in Middle Eastern countries, Armenians were conscious of their distinctiveness. They entered Canada as members of a collectivity, fully aware of their group identity. Early in this century, they set up two constituencies in Canada, which have sustained community life and provided leadership. For almost one hundred years, the Tashnag party and the Apostolic Church, with their ancillary subgroups, have translated Armenian aspirations and discontent into collective action and shaped Armenian identity in Canada. Following recent immigration, other Armenian agencies (notably, the AGBU), language schools, communications networks, and cultural activities have spurred ethnic revival. Seventy-five years ago Armenians tried to maintain a bond with each other through their newspapers and field workers. When Mourad (Hampartsoum) Boyajian, a noted Hunchag, and Agnouni Khachadour Malumian, a prominent Tashnag, visited southern Ontario before 1914, they brought the little settlements into the sphere of Armenian international life. Globalism marks community life even more today, because each grouping has intra- and international counterparts in the diaspora.

Modern technology facilitates quick and inexpensive communication among networks and individuals; developments overseas affect Armenian communities in Canada. The fall of the Communist regime brought an end to the pro– and anti–Soviet Armenia polarization in Canada and enhanced group solidarity with the free republics of Armenia and Karabakh. Events in the Caucasus mobilized Armenians in Canada to raise funds, ship supplies, and visit and work in the republics. Medical associations, for example, have sent supplies and expertise, and business organizations have begun joint-venture programs in Armenia. Under the sponsorship of Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, young people travel to Armenia every summer to help in reconstruction (Canadian Youth Mission to Armenia, or CYMA). The political crisis between the Tashnag party and the present regime highlights the relationship between a political party-in-exile and the homeland’s nation-state. In this case, the newly reconstituted state has claimed the powerful symbols of the first republic – flag, anthem, and insignia – at the same time that its regime has expelled the political party that sought creation of the free nation-state. The bonds of loyalty to party and to state are blurring. The current situation has also generated debate in Canada about the mutual expectations of the homeland and the diaspora, the responsibilities of the diaspora as part of the Armenian nation, and the diaspora’s existence as an autonomous entity with a life, history, and mission of its own.

During more than a century in Canada, Armenians have displayed three characteristics: ethnopatriotism, or a profound and engrossing attachment to the homeland and its causes; ethnoversion, or a strong emphasis on retaining their ethnic identity; and loyalty to Canada, a country that has given them peace and safety at last.

Further Reading

A comprehensive history of Armenians is Richard G. Hovannisian, ed., The Armenian People, vols. 1 and 2 (New York, 1977). Also recommended is Christopher J. Walker’s Armenia: The Survival of a Nation (New York, 1987), which is complemented by the more recent and bilingual (English and Armenian) Historical Atlas of Armenia (New York, 1987), compiled by Garbis Armen et al. An important part of the literature on Armenian history deals with the Genocide, and the principal works include the following, all edited by Hovannisian: The Armenian Holocaust: A Bibliography Relating to the Deportations, Massacres, and Dispersion of the Armenian People, 1915–23 (Cambridge, Mass., 1980); The Armenian Genocide in Perspective (New Brunswick, N.J., 1986); and The Armenian Genocide: History, Politics, Ethics (New York, 1992).

There is no general history of Armenian Canadians although Isabel Kaprielian’s Like Our Mountains: Armenians in Canada is forthcoming as a volume in the Generations Series published by Heritage Canada. Armenians in Quebec are presented in two studies: Garo Chichekian, The Armenian Community of Quebec (Montreal, 1989), and Kévork K. Baghdjian, La communauté arménienne catholique de Montréal (Montreal, 1992). Armenians in Ontario feature in a number of shorter studies that have appeared in various issues of Polyphony: The Bulletin of the Multicultural History Society of Ontario, and, in 1982, the same journal produced an entire issue devoted to them (vol.4, no.2, fall/winter). The earliest Armenian immigrants to Ontario were the subject of Isabel Kaprielian’s Ph.D. thesis, “Sojourners from Keghi: Armenians in Ontario to 1915” (University of Toronto, 1984). Kaprielian has also written a number of articles on Armenians in Canada, including most recently “Armenian Refugee Women: The Picture Brides,” Journal of American Ethnic History, vol.12, no.3 (1993), 3–29, and “Armenian Refugees and Their Entry into Canada: 1919–1930,” Canadian Historical Review, vol.71, no.1 (1990), 80–108.

The two trilingual weeklies, Abaka and Horizon, both published in Montreal, are excellent sources for both contemporary Armenian community life and historical accounts. The most important primary source materials are housed in the National Archives of Canada, the Archives of Ontario, the collections of the Multicultural History Society of Ontario, the Archives of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, Montreal, and the Archives of the Armenian Apostolic Churches, also in Montreal.


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