Oldest Ukrainian Catholic Church Community in Ontario
The first Ukrainian families who came to Brantford, left Buffalo, New
York in 1902. Three years later, in 1905, another fifty (50) families
arrived from Detroit, Michigan. These Ukrainian families established the
oldest Ukrainian Catholic Church Community in Ontario.
These early groups of Ukrainians came from the western mountain ranges of Ukraine called Lemkiwshchyna and were called "Lemkos".
These Ukrainians named the Church Community "Ruthenian Catholic Church of St. John the Baptist" in honour of their own home community in Ukraine.
The first Ukrainians who arrived in Brantford settled on Buffalo Street,
which got its name from the first people to settle there who were also
from Buffalo, NY. They shared their adventures, joys and sorrows during those early days.
The life of the first Ukrainians in Brantford was difficult. They encountered many hardships, the worst of which was their inability to
speak English. They quickly learned the language and brought with them their faith, hope and love for their own traditions, customs and church life, which was the centre of their community.
In 1907, just before Christmas, the first Church Committee was elected.
Members of a special committee were Mike Madarasz, Dmytro Walkowycz, Wasyl Romanczak and Iwan Kastranee. The people raised money for a building fund by singing traditional Ukrainian Christmas Carols. It took three years to raise enough money. Originally, the plan was to buy a piece of land on High Street but in 1910, Fr. Herka and his parishioners decided to buy the land at 100 Terrace Hill Street.
There were three acres of land and a building. The top floor of the
building was used as a place of worship and the lower level for a
Ukrainian school, meeting place and clergy residence.
During the period of 1902 to 1910, services were held in private homes.
In 1911, the Brotherhood of the Parish of St. John the Baptist was
formed with Michael Pontus as President, Stefan Serdyskyj as Secretary, Stefan Kowalyk as Vice-President and Michael Madarasz as Treasurer. St. Basil's Roman Catholic Parish School was used for Sunday Liturgies (Mass) and other services until 1917.
In 1928, tragedy struck the Ukrainian community when the building burnt down. However, with the insurance money as a base, a new Building Program was started. It took a lot of hard work, prayers and solidarity to create a new image within this community.
Up until 1935, there was no permanent pastor for this Church and over
thirty priests were involved with its spiritual and social growth.
Most of the priests came from Buffalo or Detroit and had to return to
their own communities after spending several weeks in Brantford. In
1935, the Bishop of the Basilian Fathers assigned Fr. Joseph Bala to
help the people.
In 1938, through the grace of God, this Parish got its first full time
resident priest, Fr. Isidore Borecky. His talents and love for the
Church and its people were instrumental in raising the standards of this
community to a very high level.
Fr. Isidore fostered and encouraged the spiritual, cultural and
traditional Ukrainian life. Not only was Brantford fortunate enough to
receive these blessings, but so was all of Southern Ontario that was
under his care and influence.
In 1948, Brantford was granted a mixed blessing. Fr. Isidore Borecky was being elevated to the position of Bishop. Brantford was rejoicing at the honour that was being presented to His Excellency but there was sadness in the knowledge that he would be leaving us.
The iconostasis was built in 1962, and the current icons were added to it in 1983. The icons painted on the walls and ceiling around the altar were completed 1998 and 1999.
The first Ukrainian families who came to Brantford gave of themselves to build a better Canada, a better Ontario and contributed to the growth of Brantford and its communities while retaining their unique Ukrainian identity.