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Pashkovsky S.N. – Activities of Russian immigrants in Vancouver

Cultural and Artistic Activities Of Russian Immigrants In Vancouver, B.C., by Mrs. S. N. Pashkovsky

Boyar Wedding – performed at the Commodore Hall in 1932
First row: N. Vodotyko, I. Rozvaliaeff, T. Atamanenko, Abramov, G. A. Maltsev, L. Panovsky, V. Kovalyov, E. Mihailovsky. Second row: V. Mironov, unknown, F. Atamanenko, unknown, unknown, Fyodorov, V. Kukuruza

The first group of Russian immigrants who arrived in Canada in 1899 consisted almost without exception of peasant-farmers. Being spread out on pieces of land in the interior, they did not have the means or necessary ability to work in cultural and artistic fields. The next small group arrived after the revolution of 1905 and spread in B.C. as fishermen.

After the First World War and the Revolution of 1917, the immigration to British Columbia increased tremendously. This group consisted mostly of representatives of the middle class, called Russian intelligentsia. They naturally brought with them into the new country traditions of Russian art, culture and life. Having arrived without any financial means, not knowing the English language, Russian immigrants promptly organized around the Russian Christian Society in Vancouver.

This Society in 1929 built the very first stylish Russian Orthodox Church and a Russian Home with a small stage for concerts and plays. Together with the church they organized a beautiful church choir including quite a few concert singers. This choir and soloists performed at the annual Folk Festivals and also over the radio networks. Through culture and arts Russian immigrants were able to maintain their traditions and were able to express themselves. Thus they gradually learned English and came into close contact with local people.

During the quarter century, numerous plays, concerts, operettas and opera excerpts were performed in different parts of the city and in Seattle. The best-known productions were: Geisha (2 times), Curantes, Little Clodina, Natalka-Poltavka (4 times), Zaporojetz from Danube, Mazepa, and others. Exceptionally successful was the production of Boyar Wedding. It was luxuriously presented to the public at the Commodore, with captivating old songs, dances and scenery. The little Russian children were not forgotten either. Numerous fairy tales, legends and concert programs were enacted in Russian with children as performers.

Little by little representatives of local talents became more interested in these artistic endeavors. Thus mutual encouragement was pleasantly produced. The close contact of the Russian colony with Canadian life and its culture of many ethnicities produced mutual interest and understanding among people. The Canadian Folk Society has always found very enthusiastic performers in the Russian colony. The warm atmosphere in the Folk Society made all nationalities in Vancouver one big family. There are wider and brighter fields ahead for the musical and dramatic group activities here.

The time of the Great Depression made the material situation of the parish very difficult. But energetic activity based on friendship overcame everything. It was a time of extraordinary unity and resurgence. Operettas, plays, concerts were staged without interruption, also parties, lotteries and all kinds of events to raise funds and pay off the debts incurred in building the church. We performed not just at the church hall, but in many musical clubs of Vancouver, in hotels, in parks and in private residences.

After the Second World War our Society experienced an influx of new members – refugees from Europe and from China (Shanghai and other cities). They joined right away in the cultural life of the Russian colony.

In 1956 on the initiative of several Society members the Russian Community Center was established and a building purchased with a wonderful hall. It houses lectures, presentations, dramatic and musical plays, as well as meetings for social and family needs, youth functions, charitable events and annual bazaars.

Performing for CBC-TV in 1974: L.Wright, M.Gann, V.Phillips

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