Ukrainian-Canadian Architectural Fusions

The landscape of Ukrainian ecclesiastical architecture reveals a large number of churches that employ fusions of styles. Stylistic fusions are not necessarily a bad thing. Creating a church in a particular style or a hybrid of styles can only be bad if the result is a diminishment of the liturgical purpose of the building.

Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Zhovka, Ukraine

In the old country one sees many examples of churches with a fusion of different regional styles, so it should not be surprising that similar such churches were build in Canada. For example, Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Zhovka, located north of L’viv, is an example of a church that has characteristics of various traditional styles of wooden churches found in Western Ukraine. It was built in 1705 and appears to have both Boyko and Hutsul influences.

However, a great number of churches were also built with western stylistic elements so that one could say these churches are actually a fusion between traditional Eastern Rite styles and Western Rite (Protestant or Roman Catholic) styles. There are also some churches in Canada that are a fusion of different Ukrainian regional styles and Western Rite styles.

One area of western influence is the Gothic-arched windows found in many of the early Ukrainian-Canadian churches. While Roman Catholic and Protestant churches frequently have such windows, they were not common the Eastern Rite churches of the old country. In Canada, such prefabricated windows could be readily found in construction supply centres so they were often used for convenience sake in Ukrainian-Canadian churches.

For example, one sees Gothic arches on the windows of Holy Ascension Ukrainian Orthodox Church located near Westbrook, SK. The church is interesting for being a mix of styles that make it very difficult to classify. Aside from the Gothic windows, the two frontal towers, capped with four-sided pyramids, are also are a western-influenced fusion. The graceful roof is oddly parabolic shaped rather than being a true gable roof. Perhaps the most unusual thing about the church is that it has highly abbreviated apsidal-shaped transepts.

Holy Ascension Ukrainian Orthodox Church, near Westbrook, SK

No less interesting is Holy Trinity Ukrainian Catholic Church built in 1917 at Grifton, Manitoba. This church also exhibits the Gothic-arched windows. However, what is rather unusual is that there are two towers supporting cupolas at each the front and the back of the church. In this instance the church has a massive double dome over the centre of its tripartite plan. Essentially, there are elements of Kievan, Boyko, and Ternopil styles in Holy Trinity church.

Holy Trinity Ukrainian Catholic Church, Grifton, MB

A common style found in Ukrainian-Canadian churches is the twin-tower façade construction. In this style, the prominent exterior feature distinguishing the edifice as a Ukrainian church is the placement of two towers on the front of the building that are surmounted by cupolas. This type of church is not very typical in Ukraine, firstly because the twin towers are an architectural element that developed in Western Europe where it became common to place two steeples at the front of Roman Catholic or Protestant churches. Secondly, the twin-tower provides for only two cupolas. In Ukraine, churches with one, three, five, or seven domes are common since these numbers have liturgical significance; however, one usually does not see churches with two or four domes in Ukraine.

Sacred Heart Ukrainian Catholic Church, Erickson, MB, is an example of the twin tower style of church. It has two beautiful onion-shaped cupolas resting over towers placed at the front of the church. The towers have loudspeakers on them, which indicates that they are meant to be bell towers as would be common on a Catholic or Protestant church.

Sacred Heart Ukrainian Catholic Church, Erickson, MB

A similar Ukrainian-Canadian hybrid is the triple-tower façade. It also appears to result from a Western Rite influence. While three cupolas are commonly found on churches in Ukraine, generally the largest of them would be situated over the centre of a tripartite church or over the crossing of a church with a cruciform plan. However, in the triple-tower variety all three cupolas are placed over the façade of the church. In some instances, the larger tower in the centre also serves as a belfry and this is also a typical feature commonly found in Western European churches. Parishes opting for the triple-tower design may not have made the choice strictly as a result of western influence. Structurally speaking, the triple-tower design is also easier to execute because the weight of the cupolas is born by the wall; whereas, a central dome may require more complex construction techniques.

St. George Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Flin Flon, Manitoba, exemplifies the triple-tower design. The church has a basic rectangle floor plan with a hall that adjoins it in the rear of the building. There are three towers with domes located over the façade of the edifice and the largest, the central one, contains a bell. Except for the domes being onion-shaped and the crosses having three bars, there is not much to readily identify the church as Ukrainian from the exterior.

St. George Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Flin Flon, MB

There are some instances in Canada where parishes have opted to buy a structure already completed rather than build an entirely new church. When the building is redesigned for the Eastern Rite, the result is invariably a fusion of styles. St. Ivan Suchavsky Ukrainian Orthodox Sobor located on Winnipeg’s Main Street is a good example of this. The original structure was completed in 1884 to serve a Methodist parish and then bought by Ukrainians in 1931. The renovated building features a large closed onion dome over the centre of the building and two smaller domes rest on the frontal towers. The circular windows, however, are more typical of western architectural styles. The interior features a mezzanine-style gallery that extends around three sides of the church. While this style of gallery is not typical in Ukrainian churches, it functions as a large and roomy choir loft.

St. Ian Suchavsky Ukrainian Orthodox Sobor, Winnipeg, MB

A good example of a fusion of several styles is St. John Ukrainian Orthodox Church located in Sachava, Alberta. The church is reminiscent of the Ternopil-cruciform style with its impressive central dome. However, there are two frontal towers that feature tiny windows and are surmounted by cupolas and this bears witness of western influence. There is another cupola located between the central dome and the apex of the front gable, which is not really typical of any style. There is another small cupola located over an apsidal sanctuary. Thus there are five domes, which are typical in number but not typical in their placement. The building is aesthetically pleasing but is stylistically puzzling.

St. John Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Sachava, AB, is a church that is a mixture of styles.

Finally, there are some Ukrainian churches that have so much western influence that it is difficult to identify the church as Ukrainian. For example, Sts. Volodymir and Olga Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral in Winnipeg is of a basilica style that would comfortably fit into any Western European city. The prominent features of the façade are two massive frontal towers and a very large rose window. It is beautiful, but it is more in keeping with western European ecclesiastical architecture and the exterior has nothing in particular that would suggest it is a Ukrainian church.

Sts. Volodymir and Olga Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral Winnipeg, MB

Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Church 14 ½ miles northeast of Arran, Saskatchewan, is interesting because it is a fusion of various traditional Ukrainian church styles and also has slight western influences as well. It is cruciform in shape and has a moderate-sized dome over the crossing. The roof at the front is gabled while the roofs over the transepts are hipped.

Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Church near Arran, SK