Find by Year/Month

Find by Category

Anatole Portnoff – From Memoirs


The author of this history was only 18 at the time, much has slipped his memory, but he will attempt to the best of his ability to note certain events, and to put down in this tale the names of Russian people who have labored much to the glory of the Holy Resurrection Russian Orthodox Church. The Russian exiles, cast by the tidal wave of the revolution out of their motherland, on the shores of different foreign countries, have brought with them one single treasure – the Orthodox Faith that was their guiding light in the hard times of their emigrant lives and helped them overcome all hardships and adversities.

In late July 1926 the majestic (by the standards of the time) steamship Empress of Canada completed the 10-day transpacific voyage from Yokohama and moored quietly at the port of the fair city of Vancouver. About forty Russians from Harbin arrived with this ship – several families and several singles. We all prepared to disembark to the new Promised Land, but when the Canadian officials checked our passports, it turned out that the passports issued to us by the British Consulate in Harbin had no value in the eyes of the Canadian government, so we were to return to Harbin. The situation was tragic. At that time there were no human rights organizations or immigrant services societies to serve penniless immigrants, Russians in particular. Of the whole group, only one happy family consisting of the charming Mrs. Kovtunovich, her married daughter and granddaughter could disembark, because their papers were in order and they were met by her son Ivan Fyodorovich Kovtunovich who lived in Seattle. The rest had to stay aboard and wait for the return trip.

The ship was to stay in port for about two weeks, as usual. I will never forget the moment: we were standing on the upper deck, admiring the beautiful morning and the city we were not destined to live in, when we spotted a majestic figure – a gray-haired elder, a Russian monk, advancing toward the ship along the pier. We could not believe our eyes that in this faraway country, thousands of miles from our native land, we were actually seeing a Russian Batyushka, with a big cross on his chest, wearing a kamilavka. He walked straight to us, and we all rushed to him to get his blessing.

58 years have passed, and still I have tears every time I remember that meeting. The Batyushka was Archimandrite Antonin Pokrovsky, Rector of the Holy Resurrection Church in Vancouver, founded by him in 1924. Right away a table was brought to the upper deck and covered with a white tablecloth. Fr. Antonin laid a Cross and a Gospel on it, donned his vestment, blessed us and started the prayer service. The warm August sun was bright in the blue sky, and we Russian exiles forgot our misfortunes when the Russian Apostle’s chant sounded resonantly: Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages, and we all sang in unison: Amen. We sand “Heavenly King, consoler of the souls of truth”, we sang the complete service as if a proper church choir. Our prayers flew with great faith and heart to the Throne of the Almighty Creator, with hope for His mercy and help. I don’t remember now how was it that Fr. Antonin learned of our stay aboard the ship, but the Lord speaks in strange ways; for us it was a miracle.

After the Moleben, Fr. Antonin learned our names, asked us about our situation and said he would try to help us. There was one influential man in his small parish – Misak Yeremeyevich Aivazov, owner of a big factory and an emigrant from Russia. Fr. Antonin explained our situation to him and asked him to help the Russians. Misak Yeremeyevich was kind and helpful, he talked to the immigration authorities, he sent many telegrams to Ottawa, and three days before the scheduled departure of the ship, we Russians were suddenly told to pack, since in the morning we were to be moved to the Immigration House to await there the Government’s decision. Our spirits rose.

The next day, we were moved to the Immigration House located not far from the pier. The house was clean, roomy and well lighted, with a fine view of the sea and the mountains, but the windows had bars in them. We were given three meals daily. The weather was fine. We spent five days in that “hotel”. Next came the miracle – we were allowed to stay in blessed Canada. Some of us stayed in Vancouver, others moved to Alberta.

Holy Resurrection Church at that time was located on 7th Avenue, one block west of Granville Street, in an old house. In the dining room was installed the Altar and the iconostasis, and the churchgoers stood in the living room. A tiny windowless room beside the dining room (probably a clothes closet) now was the choir’s place, with room for six people standing. Fr. Antonin lived upstairs – there were two bedrooms, a bathroom and a big room, which were the kitchen, dining room and living room. The furnishing consisted of one big table and several kitchen chairs. There was no heating save for the kitchen stove with three gas burners, and Fr. Antonin was often cold in that spacious house. Besides, this septuagenarian Elder priest-monk had no means of existence and rarely had enough to eat. I cannot forget one occasion when he was asked about his nourishment and he replied with a faint smile: “these here dried crusts”.

He never complained and greeted everyone. He was truly a Shepherd kind and helpful. He endured the harsh conditions of emigrant life with Christian humility. Canadians treated him with much respect, and in the city streets he was often approached by total strangers who said “Hello, Father’ and shook his hand politely, he blessed them, and they went away contented. There were hardly any bearded people in the city at that time, so he stood out with his big gray beard, and in his monastic attire, with a big cross on his chest, he had the appearance of an Apostle.

The Russian colony, if we may use that expression, included some twenty-five families that had arrived over the years from Harbin. There were, of course, other Russians in Vancouver – those who had arrived before the Great War; they had assimilated already and had no interest in the Church. It was only later that we found out about those Russians’ existence. Attendance in the Church was low, since four or five of the families lived on Lulu Island and the trip from there was no less than three hours. Several families made their homes in Abbotsford and Chilliwack. Only some ten families lived in the vicinity of the Church. The services took place on Saturdays and Sundays. The choir had five singers, led by Sergei Mikhailovich Loshchinsky, a charming man who never before had been a choir leader, but tackled the task with vigor. He used to say proudly that we all sang in the eighth tone, and I can add that our singing was harmonic and prayerful. None of us singers had sung in church previously, but we all knew Slavonic, we all had been churchgoers since childhood, so we remembered the sacred chants.

In 1954, when the old church building at 1570 W. 7th Avenue was demolished by the City of Vancouver to make way for the Granville Street Bridge, half-decayed sheets were found under the cornerstone, on which was typed the history of the founding of the Holy Resurrection Church. Here is the text: Russian Orthodox Christian worship in Vancouver began with the arrival of Fr. Archimandrite Antonin Pokrovsky on 14 September 1924. The very first service was held at the YMCA. After the service a meeting of Russian Orthodox people took place that decided to establish an Orthodox parish in Vancouver and to rent a house for a temporary Church and priest’s residence. An organizing committee was elected: Nikolai Romar (Romanian), Alexander Shipunov and Vladimir Pitalyov, with two alternates: Vladimir Kazansky and Frank Styler. A couple days later Fr. Antonin was introduced to M. I. Aivazov and asked him to help the Russian community, which was very small and poor and could not afford by itself to decorate the Church and maintain the Priest. Mr. Aivazov, a former citizen of Russia, agreed willingly to help his compatriots, and together with Fr. Antonin they started the search for the right house.

After viewing many houses, they chose one with a big enough plot. A mortgage was taken out for $2,500. The Russian community could not afford the down payment of $200, and Mr. Aivazov donated the sum. Further funds were needed for repairs and decorations. Mr. Aivazov and Fr. Antonin asked the Mayor for permission to conduct a one-day collection in the streets of Vancouver, and after much red tape, permission was granted. Mrs. Aivazov undertook to organize the collection, and under her energetic direction, $468 was collected. This sum sufficed to refurbish the house and keep the Church going for a year. In 1925 Mrs. Aivazov staged a concert at Hotel Vancouver, starring the Russian Choir and the choreographer B. G. Novikov. The concert was a great success, artistically and financially; it brought the Church $571. The Greek community welcomed our undertaking. Mr. Bancroft managed to dispose the Greeks in our favor, and they paid Fr. Antonin to perform sacraments for them, providing him with means of existence. Mrs. A. Todos, the sister of Mr. Bancroft, organized a bazaar that brought the Church $425. With these funds we entered the second year of our Church’s life.

On 15 November 1925, the Greco-Russian Orthodox Brotherhood was established in association with the Church. The selection of the Brotherhood Council was unfortunate, a trial of the Lord; the growth of church life ceased, there was strife and altercations, eventually a new Council was elected and several dissatisfied families left the Church. 1926 was a year of hard work for the Council and executive. By the end of the year, the financial situation of the parish was rectified, by 1928 the mortgage was nearly paid off, and the decision was made to build a new Church. On 25 November 1928 a prayer service was held on the occasion of the laying of the cornerstone of the new Church dedicated to the Memory of the Restoration of the Holy Resurrection Temple in Jerusalem.

At the time the building was completed, the parish had grown to some eighty families. The most outstanding donors were Mr. And Mrs. Aivazov, Mr. Bancroft and Mrs. Todos. The organizers of the worship were: Mrs. Dakserhof, Mr. Hondurov, Mr. And Mrs. Nedzvetsky, Mr. And Mrs. Pytalov, Mr. Babok, Mr. And Mrs. Grigoriev, Mr. Ivanitsky, Mrs. Pashkovsky and in particular Mr. S. M. Loshchinsky, who over 1926-1928 missed 3-4 services at most, serving for free as singer and church warden. The Church was maintained mostly with funds donated by Mr. Aivazov and other local benefactors, as well as the parishioners.

In the four-year period, the Pontifical Liturgy was served several times by Bishop Theophile of Chicago and Bishop Arseny of Winnipeg. The Church was founded with the blessing of His Eminence Platon, Metropolitan of All America and Canada. The blueprint for the new church was approved by the Metropolitan with this written comment: “20 June 1928 Should with God’s help the Holy Resurrection Church be erected in Vancouver following this plan I have scrutinized, it will be a great joy not just for Vancouver, but for the entire Russian Church in America and Canada.”

In the article that appeared in The Vancouver Sun on 24 November 1928, the members of the Building Committee are listed: M. I. Aivazov – Chairman, Archimandrite Antonin Pokrovsky – Vice Chairman, S. M. Loshchinsky – Secretary, A. A. Alikhan, S. Ryumkin, Y. I. Fetisov, M. K. Vodotyko, N. P. Abramov, M. P. Bancroft, N. I. Zotov.

This Gramota was interred yet again under the stone to the left of the main entrance to the present-day Holy Resurrection Church at 75 East 43d Avenue, testified by Archpriest Peter Kurzemnek – Rector, M. S. Sergeyev – Chairman of the Russian Orthodox Society (ROS), E. P. Rozvalyayev – Warden, L. A. Krivtsov – ROS Secretary, A.Y. Adamovich – ROS Treasurer.

In 1929 the old house was moved to the back of the plot, and the new church was built on the street corner. His Eminence Platon, Metropolitan of All America and Canada, took part in the cornerstone-laying ceremony. A solemn service was conducted with a great flock of worshipers. The construction proceeded at a fast pace and was finished by the end of 1929. The interior of the Church was the same as seen now at the modern building on 43d Avenue. In the old house the ground floor was transformed into a show hall with a stage, where many concerts and shows were staged. The entire box office take was used to pay off the debt, naturally. The new building cost $5,000, a colossal sum in that time, considering that sawmill workers, for instance, were paid 40c per hour, for a weekly wage of $17.60 for 44 hours of work. Most Russians worked at sawmills at that time and considered themselves fortunate, as the Great Depression struck.

Archpriest Grigory Prozorov was appointed in 1930, he served for one year and left for America. Finally, the Metropolitan’s office appointed a priest from Edmonton, archpriest Fr. Alexander Kizyun. He remained Rector of the Holy Resurrection Church for several years. He was a good Shepherd, energetic, kind and helpful. Sometimes people who needed to go to a hospital or to the SNDL – a trip of 25 miles – would call him at 7 p.m. or even 3 a.m., and he would always be prepared to drive them anyplace in his old Ford. He always refused compensation. Many Russians in that hard time of joblessness, with no work and no place to go spend some quality time, would come to Fr. Alexander to share their thoughts and find some spiritual support, and he would always receive them heartily. He always had a bowl of borsht stewing over a burner and treated uninvited guests with joy.

His labours were not only spiritual but also physical: in the reconstruction of the Church House basement he was carpenter, painter and plumber. The basement was transformed into a big dining room, where hard-working ladies of the parish treated viewers after the shows. The gifted artist Camilla Albertovna Horvath, wife of the famous General D. L. Khorvat, Chief Manager of the Chinese Eastern Railroad, painted Russian birch trees on all the walls, so that the diners got the impression of sitting in a birch grove in Russia. The other basement room contained the library, created by Konstantin Nikolayevich Mamontov, who started with one shelf of books and managed to put together a big collection with a fine selection. Russian people spent many fine evenings there, getting together and sharing their thoughts on current affairs.

In 1935 the world-renowned Don Cossack Choir of Sergei Zharov visited Vancouver for the first time. It was a great event for the Russian colony. The Russian people went to all three concerts of the choir, and then Sergei Aleksandrovich Zharov and the Choir honored our Church and Hall with their visit. In the course of the dinner the Choir performed many secular and spiritual songs, and there were many solo numbers by its famous singers. The great festivity continued until long after midnight. Words can’t describe the deep spiritual satisfaction we felt as we went home.

It is necessary to single out the great labours of Valentin Yakovlevich Podlegayev, Warden of Holy Resurrection Church for many years, formerly and Railroad Station Chief in Harbin. He arrived with his family in 1924 and was fortunate enough to find employment with a sawmill, where he worked until his death. In all the years of his warden ship, he never once missed a church service, despite hard physical labor all week long. Often after the services there were shows at the Church Hall and entertainment until long after midnight. Valentin Yakovlevich would check that everything is in order and always be the last to go home. The next day, on Sunday, he would be at Church at 9 a.m., greeting the parishioners.

During the late 20s and the 30s, up until the Second World War, many concerts and shows were staged not just at the Church Hall, but also at Hotel Vancouver and the luxurious (at that time) Commodore Cabaret (owned then by Greeks), and at the Peter Pan Hall. All these events were very successful, artistically and financially. Our Russian women had hard lives, most of them had to support their families by working in factories, laundries, hotels, but despite all that they always found time to make costumes for the shows, showing particular skill in the making of boyar costumes, of which no less than fifty were made.

S.M. Loshchinsky, the original choir leader of the Holy Resurrection Choir, moved to New York, and for a while S. N. Pashkovskaya, a very musical lady with a fine soprano voice, managed the choir. By a stroke of good fortune, G. A. Maltsev arrived soon – a choir leader famous all over the Far East, and under his gifted direction a proper church choir came into being and for many years created a prayerful atmosphere in the Church and performed spiritual and secular songs on the radio and in Canadian churches. The mixed Holy Resurrection Choir had about thirty singers. Valentin S. Kukuruza, an 18-year-old from Harbin, stood out with his strong, beautiful tenor voice. G. A. Maltsev paid special attention to him and let him direct the Choir once in a while. I remember the first time Georgy Aleksandrovich handed the camertone to Kukuruza and had him take his place; we couldn’t believe that a man so young could direct a big choir, but Kukuruza set the tone correctly, if not without trepidation, and the service was sung flawlessly. Georgy Aleksandrovich was glad that his pupil proved worthy of his trust. After a few years G. A. Maltsev moved to Los Angeles with his family, V. S. Kukuruza took his place, and for many years we sang under his direction in the Church, in concert and on radio.

Let me name here the talented Russian singers who labored much for the Church and to the glory of Russian culture: Lidia Antonovna Panovskaya (nee Kritova), a truly charming soprano, she was the gem of our choir, and her performances in concert were hugely popular not just with Russians, but with Canadians as well. Elizaveta Aleksandrovna Kozina – a beautiful contralto, she created many musical shows. Seraphima Nikolayaevna Pashkovskaya – a fine pianist and remarkable soprano, she, too, staged many musical shows. Pyotr Dmitriyevich Patsali – an opera singer with a velvety baritone. Gerhard Augustovich Olle – a wonderful lyrical tenor, he always performed in the concerts and sometimes created “the Gypsy band”. Alexander Sergeyevich Znamensky – an opera baritone, he participated in many concerts and sang on radio. Lyubov Andreyevna Rossova (nee Palevskaya) – an excellent ballerina, she created many ballet shows. Nikolai Ivanovich Innokov – an actor and a very gifted director, he directed many plays, the most memorable ones are “Mazepa”, “Natalka Poltavka” and “Groza”. The brothers Boris and Ivan Novikov, choreographers known throughout the Far East, sometimes came from Seattle to help out their compatriots; so did the fine opera singer A. I. Malsky.

Memory permitting, I will enter in the history of Holy Resurrection Church the names of Russian Orthodox people who labored long to establish, mountain and enrich the Church: Archimandrite Antonin Pokrovsky, subsequently Bishop of San Francisco – founder. Misak Yeremeyevich Aivazov. Aleksandr Shchipunov. Vladimir Pitalyov. Vladimir Kazansky. Nikolai Romar (Rumanian). S. M. Loshchinsky. Mr. Bancroft. Mrs. Todos (Greek). Mr. And Mrs. Grigoriev. Bobak. Frank Stiler (Canadian). Mr. And Mrs. Podlegayev. Alikhan. The Balakshins. The Zotovs. The Ivanitskys. The Ivashchenkos. The Fetisovs. The Pichugins. The Mitrofanovs. The Kuritsins. The Medvedevs. The Gutenkos. The Sukhovs. The Krivtsovs. The Vodotykos. K. N. Mamontov. The Kovalyovs. The Sokolovs. The Abramovs. The Merkulovs. L.A. Kritova. The Patsalis. Eismont. The Pashkovskys. Dalserhof. The Stanzhalskys. The Ryumkins. The Gladyshevs. Borisov. Shmidt. Shlegel. The Ivanovs. The Nedzvedskys. Kushnir. Burdukov. Mazanov. The Dyakonovs. The Vershinins. The Kholodilins. Kukhar. The Mylnikovs. Atamanenko. The Blagovskys. Kirsta. The Shilovskys. Shtin. The Durovs. Levitsky. The Makovkins. Potapenko. The Kozins. The Znamenskys. Palevskaya. Hager. The Nekrasovs. The Prokudins. The Tyurins. The Dementsevs. The Maltsevs. Kukuruza. The Sergeyevs. Norton. The Chaikovskys. The Portnovs. The Andreyevs. The Rozvalyaevs. The Kholodilovs. The Innokovs. Ewachniuk. Pilipchuk. Polishchuk. Lenchenko. The Adamovichs. Syssoloff. Rudkiewich.

Comments are closed.