Olha Basarab Branch – Calgary, Alberta (1926-1976)
The history of the Ukrainian Women’s Association of Canada, Calgary branch, is tied in with the history of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Calgary. As the church grew, so did the women’s association. In the early years the Ukrainian Orthodox and Ukrainian Catholics met together in the National Home. In 1927 the Orthodox started to meet in a rented hall and were under the Ukrainian Fraternal Society of Canada Life Insurance organization. The women came to meetings together with their husbands because they lived too far away and had no way of getting to meetings on their own. When there was to be a dinner or some other gathering which they wanted to make plans for, the women had their own separate discussions on the same evenings.
Anna Danilowich, one of the first members of the Ukrainian Women’s Association, was an active member in the National Home before 1927, and was also an organizer in the Fraternal Society from 1927, which now met in rented halls and homes.
In 1928 the first Ukrainian Orthodox Church service was held in the home of Michael and Anna Danilowich. The next year there were three church services in a rented hall which was owned by the Anglican Church. Plans to build an Orthodox Church began to take form, but were postponed, mainly due to the fact that there was a world depression and people did not have the money.
From 1927 to 1938 they continued to meet in rented halls and in homes; they held dinners, picnics, concerts, and had a Ukrainian school.
One of the first members of our association, Anna Boyanowski, was active in Ukrainian cultural work from about 1930. Together with her husband they taught Ukrainian school, prepared plays, led a choir and prepared concerts, for a period of about 14 years.
Anastasia Swityk, also one of the first members of our association, has been an active member since 1929. One always receives a warm welcome at the Swityk home which has been a centre for organizational life of the Ukrainian Orthodox community.
The women’s organization Olha Basarb was formed in 1932. The first president was Anna Danilowich. In 1933 it was affiliated with the central organization and became known as the Ukrainian Women’s Association of Canada, Olha Basarab Branch.
About this time thoughts were turning to building a church as it had become impossible to make any headway in rented halls and churches. Families, such as Danilowichs, Swityks, Petraschuyks, Onyschuks, Kurchabas, and Oryschaks, began to make plans, and in 1938 the church was built.
The women’s organization helped to raise money for the church by organizing bazaars, teas, picnics, carnivals, bake sales and other social gatherings.
When the church was built, membership in the women’s association increased and the group made progress. They not only assisted financially by raising money for the church, but they also provided embroidered rushnyky, altar covers and kylyms for the church; vestments for altar boys; furniture for the manse; and chairs, stove and kitchen equipment for the church hall.
Supporting the Ukrainian school has always been a priority with the women’s association. School has progressed well, but with interruptions. There were years when the parish priest taught Ukrainian school and Sunday school on Saturdays. As the parish grew, the number of children attending school increased, and it became necessary to divide them into groups. Men and women of the congregation became involved in teaching. Members of the women’s association who taught Ukrainian school in the lower hall of the church were the following: Nadia Kobylnyk, Jean Mekitiak, Olga Kurczaba (taught singing), Olga Boykiw, Lesia Hawrelak, Anne Krupnik, Virtue Humeny, Elaine Harasymiw, Louise Charko and Shirley Din.
In the early years, Sunday school was taught by the parish priest. With growth in the congregation, more and more children were attending church services, and in 1957 it was decided to hold Sunday school in the lower hall of the church during church services. Children were divided into groups and taught by men and women of the congregation, also students. The following members of our women’s association taught these classes: Olga Boykiw, Olga Kurczaba (taught singing), Jean Mekitiak, Anne Putnik, Nellie Bodnar, Doris Markowsky, Mary Meronek, Mary Swityk, Virtue Humeny and Polly Zip.
A nursery class was also started which was held during church services in the parish residence beside the church. Members of the women’s association looked after the nursery: Virtue Humeny, Louise Charko, Jean Holuk, students assisted.
Our members have devoted a great deal of time and effort towards furthering the work of the young people’s group – SUMK. Advisors and instructors for projects undertaken by SUMK have been from amongst members of the church, both men and women. The following members of our association were instructors: Jean Makowsky was drama leader-SUMK won first prize at their competition during the 1968 Jamboree for Western Canada, Elena Kowal gave demonstrations in baking, Mary Swityk taught embroidery and Ukrainian dancing; Olga Kurczaba wa choir director-SUMK took part in concerts; Nellie Bodnar taught embroidery; others were Elaine Harasymiw, Jean Holuk, Anne Putnik, and Shirley Din.
Members have helped at summer camps, and children from the Calgary congregation have gone to Camp Bar-V-Nok, almost every year from the time this camp was organized. Children from Sunday School and Ukrainian school were sponsored by the women’s association to go to summer camps.
The following anniversaries of our association and the church were celebrated: in 1952, the 20th anniversary of the Ukrainian Women’s Association of Canada, Calgary branch; the same year, the 40th anniversary of the Ukrainian Greek Orthodox Church of Canada; in 1962, the 35th anniversary of the Ukrainian Women’s Association of Canada; in 1968, the 50th anniversary of the Ukrainian Greek Orthodox Church of Canada.
Our members gave demonstrations in making pysanky and embroidery, and had displays in our own chuch hall as well as in other public places and schools.
As well as making donations to the Calgary church, we donated money towards summer camps, institutes, the association publishing fund, the women’s monthly journal “Promin”, our organizational fund, “The Ukrainian Voice”, Sunday school and Ukrainian school, SUMK, and public charitable organizations.
It was through the influence of Nadia Kobylnyk that, in 1947, our association became an affiliate of the Calgary Local Council of Women. She represented our group for a number of years, and to this day we have had representatives and have taken an active part. The following members have been on the executive of the Calgary L. C. W.: Anne Rutnik, Jean Mekitiak and Olga Kurczaba.
Our association has representatives to the Citizenship Council and has prepared lunches as part of the welcoming ceremonies for new citizens to Canada. We have also prepared lunches for gatherings at the Rehabilitation Society for Physically Handicapped.
Members of the women’s association took part in the church choir, prepared concerts for Taras Shevchenko Day and other holidays. Member Nadia Kobylnyk led the choir for 30 years, beginning in 1942. Member Olga Kurczaba led the choir for two (three)years. In 1967 the church choir joined wit the Ukrainian Catholic Choir to form a 100 –voice Centennial Choir. They performed at the Kiwanis Festival and on TV, and at various community and city functions. They also made a record of Ukrainian Christmas Carols. Nadia Kobylnyk was co-conductor, and many members of our association took part.
Presidents of our association were as follows: Anna Danilowich (now Dutchek), Anna Boyanowski, Kateryna Bilawy, Kateryna Komarnicky, Dokia Petrashuyk, Kalyna Zvarich, Nellie Petruk, Maria Lysak(now Ostrowercha), Julia Kurchaba, Nadia Kobylnyk, Maria Smelski, Elena Kowal, Sophie Sadownick, Joana Young, Mary Chernezky, Jean Mekitiak, Pauline Andrusiak, Zonia Petrasuk, Lesia Hawrelak and Jean Makowsky.
As our church congregation grows, so the membership in the Ukrainian Women’s Association increases. A new hall is needed as the lower hall of the church is no longer suitable accommodation for many of our functions. Plans are under way to build a new hall, and it is hoped that in the not to distant future these plans will be realized.