Toronto’s Belarusan community numbers 3,000 people. Until the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, Belarusans in the Western world were called Byelorussians and Belarus was known as the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic.
Belarus is a country located between Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, the Russian Federation, and the Ukraine. Belarus fell under the Russian Empire from the latter part of the 18th century until 1918, when the Belarusan Democratic Republic was declared. It was conquered in 1920 by the Russo-Bolshevik armies and was divided between Poland and Soviet Russia.
Belarusans began settling in Canada as early as 1817. Most early immigrants were classified as Russians. Between the First and Second World Wars, Western Belarus was under Polish rule, and immigrants coming to Canada were classified as Polish.
Following the Second World War, a large number of political refugees came to Canada and began to establish cultural organizations to preserve the heritage of Belarusans. Among them was Kastus Akula, who helped other Belarusans settle into the Canadian way of life. In 1947, while working on a farm near Toronto, he started publishing Bielaruski Emihrant, a bulletin that evolved into a monthly newspaper and lasted until 1954. Also in 1947, a group of Belarusan veterans laid the foundation for the Belorussian Alliance of Canada, later renamed Belarusan Canadian Alliance. It now belongs to the umbrella organization of Belarusan Canadian Co-ordinating Committee.
In 1950, a parish was formed. At first, parishioners worshipped at premises rented from the Anglican Church on College Street, later moving to a Ukrainian building on Bathurst Street. The congregation eventually split in two; half went to the Russian Orthodox Church and then later to St. Euphrasinia of Polatzak; the other half formed the independent Belarusan Autocephalous Orthodox Church in Canada. Both parishes acquired their own buildings and are still practising churches.
In 1969, a 47-acre farm on the shore of Lake Manitowabing was purchased and converted into a community resort called Slutzak. Every six years, Toronto is the site of the Biennial Convention of Belarusans in North America, a cultural, business, and social gathering. The last convention held in Toronto was in 2004.
INDEPENDENCE DAY commemorates March 25, 1918, the day of the proclamation of the Independence of the Belarusan Democratic Republic. Church services, meetings, and festivals are held each year on the nearest Sunday.
EASTER is celebrated by most Belarusans according to the Julian calendar, in March, April, or May.
ST. KRYLA (CYRIL), the bishop of the Eastern Orthodox Church who lived in the city of Turow in 1169, is honoured on May 11. He became known for his missionary work and sermons. On the Sunday nearest May 11, church services and dinners are held in his memory.
ST. EUPHRASINIA OF POLATZAK DAY, June 5, is observed in honour of the patron saint who was a member of the ruling family of the Polatzak principality in the 12th century. Euphrasinia devoted her life to God and to her country. She established two monasteries that became centres of education, and two churches that were monuments to art. Special church services are held in her memory.
BELARUSAN MEMORIAL DAY, November 27 (or the first Sunday following), is recognized in remembrance of the anniversary of the Slutzak (Slucak) Uprising. The anniversary commemorates the heroic stand that was taken by the forces of the Belarusan Democratic Republic against the Communist forces near the city of Slutzak in 1920. It is celebrated with recitals and a traditional meal.
CHRISTMAS is celebrated by Belarusan Catholics and Protestants on December 25, while members of the Orthodox Church (the largest group) celebrate on January 7. The Christmas Eve celebration, known as Kalady and Kucia, consists of a meal of 12 meatless dishes eaten in honour of the apostles.
BELARUSIAN CANADIAN ALLIANCE, (Tel. 416-530-1025, 524 St. Clarens Ave), Established in 1948.