The Post-War and Modern Periods

St. George’s Ukrainian Catholic Church in Edmonton was a
parish that sprung up as a result of immigration after World War II.

After the end of World War II, Canada saw the third wave of Ukrainian immigration. However, unlike the first two waves of immigration, these new Ukrainian-Canadians were generally people displaced by the war rather than people coming to Canada for its agricultural advantages. There were also a larger percentage of educated professionals (including priests) than had been the case for the first two waves of immigration. Consequently, the third wave had a much greater impact on the urban communities than it did on the rural ones.

Canada, in general, entered a new age of prosperity starting in the 1950s and the country’s educational institutions expanded greatly to accommodate an influx of people of all backgrounds who could afford to seek higher education. This trend continued as the baby boom generation entered the various levels of the educational system.

The new prosperity and general increase in the standards of education had an impact on the building and decorating of Ukrainian churches in Canada. For the first time, it became the norm to employ professional architects in the building of new churches. The largest impact was felt in cities and towns, since there was a marked shift from the rural to urban population. Many parishes needed larger churches while some cities saw a need to establish entirely new parishes to accommodate growing urban and suburban populations.

Ecclesiastical architectural development saw the introduction of new techniques such as enforced concrete, steel beam construction, etc. During this period, traditional styles of church architecture were often blended with more modern styles creating a significantly new look. The effect was more stylish looking churches, but often it was at the cost of losing some of the theological elements of Ukrainian church architecture in the finished product.

Sts. Peter and Paul Ukrainian Catholic Church in Canora,
SK, is built in a classic Ukrainian style.

The direction of Ukrainian church architecture was anything but homogenous during this period as was witnessed in Canora, Saskatchewan, during the early to mid-1960s. Sts. Peter and Paul Ukrainian Catholic parish erected a new church that was constructed using modern techniques but the church has the classic Greek-cross plan with the traditional five domes. While modern in construction, the style of Sts. Peter and Paul church is centuries old.

Holy Trinity Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Canora, SK —
the first church was retained and the second church has
striking 1960s accents.

Taking an entirely different path, Holy Trinity Ukrainian Orthodox parish in Canora erected a church that reflects the modern tastes of the period. The floor plan is of the Latin-cross style; although the transepts are highly abbreviated so as to almost not be noticeable. The zig-zag roof line is typical of the sort of accents that were popular in the 1960s. However, the parish did not want to abandon tradition completely and it preserved the original Holy Trinity Church from 1924, which is now a designated heritage site.

Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Church, Winnipeg,
MB — Roman Kowal’s trademark was the use of pastel colours.

In many cases, bold new styles of Ukrainian church art appeared in the Canadian post-war period that reflected modern trends in secular art. The theology of Eastern Rite iconography sometimes seemed to be less important than the aesthetic value of the finished work. Roman Kowal was a prominent artist in great demand during this period. Pastel colours boldly exemplify his works that have highly stylized figures. While his style was thoroughly modern, Kowal also was partial to the ancient technique of mosaics.

A detail from the iconostas of St. Mary the Protectress
Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Winnipeg, MB

Nonetheless, there were also artists such as Sviatoslav Hordynski who championed the revival of traditional Ukrainian iconography in the post-war period. In his execution of the icons of the iconostas of St. Mary the Protectress Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Winnipeg, one sees an enduring style that evokes a feeling of timelessness.

In some instances, churches have been decorated by different artists resulting in a blend of styles. In St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral in Edmonton (built 1952), the iconostas was painted by Vadym Dobrolizh in a dramatic style that was popular well before the church was built. Above the iconostas, one sees the pastel mosaic work of Roman Kowal who also executed stain-glass windows for the church.

It is difficult to determine a date as to when the post-war period ended and when the modern period of Ukrainian churches began in Canada since the change in trends has been very gradual over a period of over six decades. However, in some instances, change has been dramatic. For example, there was a steady increase in membership in Ukrainian churches after World War II. The membership of the Ukrainian Greek Orthodox Church of Canada peaked at over 200,000 in the early 1960s; however, the trend subsequently dramatically reversed so that membership is currently down to about 10,000 active members. The Ukrainian Catholic Church has fared only slightly better. Another important change for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada happened when it was received into the Ecumenical Patriarchate in 1990, thus becoming fully recognised as canonical.

While many new churches were built in the post-war period, the modern period has been marked by a crisis of closing of churches. Today, the number of decrepit Ukrainian churches on the prairies is staggering. While seminarians were numerous in the 1950s, only a few young men are seeking vocations in the priesthood these days.

The architectural and iconographic trends have also changed somewhat. Ukrainian churches are less likely to experiment with modern styles and are returning to more authentic architectural and iconographic styles in which theological considerations are more apparent. The iconostas, which was almost abandoned by the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Canada, today is making a dramatic comeback in those parishes affluent enough to afford one. While there are a great many rural Ukrainian Catholic churches that do not have an iconostas, most city churches now have one; although, some remain rather rudimentary.

St. Joseph Ukrainian Catholic Church, Winnipeg,
MB, has a rudimentary iconostas

One impressive example of the return to “canonically correct” iconography is St. George Ukrainian Catholic Church in Edmonton. Here there seems to be hardly a square inch of the interior that is not painted with classic iconography or otherwise embellished with stencilling. The iconographer, Heiko Schlieper, set out to create a look that is authentically Ukrainian from the Kievan princely era. The result is most impressive.

In Ottawa there are two churches that exemplify current trends in Ukrainian church iconography. In St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Shrine, the icons are in line with traditional rules on iconography. However, the L’viv iconographer, Lubomyr Medvid', has used slightly brighter colours with a more variable palate. While it is not unusual for subjects to be slightly elongated in iconography, Medvid's subjects are particularly elongated to heighten the sense of otherworldliness. The actual structure of the iconostas is a modern-looking metal grill.

In another Ottawa church, Dormition of the Blessed Virgin Sobor, the Winnipeg iconographer, Vera Senchuk, used an approach that conforms to a more classical style of Ukrainian iconography. Additionally, the traditional iconography is enhanced by a splendid iconostas carved in a technique reminiscent of the Carpathian Mountain style.

Iconographer Heiko Schlieper painted the interior of
St. George’s Ukrainian Catholic Church in Edmonton, AB
Iconographer Lubomyr Medvid's work in
St. John the Baptist Shrine, Ottawa, ON
Iconographer Vera Senchuk's work in
Dormition of the Blessed Virgin Sobor, Ottawa, ON