A Brief History of the Hellenic Community of Ottawa

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Seventy years ago and specifically on the 25 February 1929 a group of leading Hellenes, residing in Ottawa, founded the Hellenic Community of Ottawa and elected a committee for the management of its affairs with Peter Karson as its President. At the same time-frame the Reverend Daniel Gamvrilis accepted an interim assignment to Ottawa and became the first priest to serve the newly founded community.
In the early Thirties in order to maintain and improve contacts with Greek immigrants elsewhere in North America, the “Sir Edward Codrington” chapter of AHEPA was established on 4 February 1931. The first permanent priest of the Community, Reverend Theodoros Skartsiaris, arrived in 1936 and the religious services were held at the St. Elijah Antiochian Orthodox church at 341 Lyon Street N. In 1936, the Community ladies founded Ottawa’s Philoptochos Society with Mrs. Karson as its first president. John Klademenos became president of the Community the same year and was instrumental in the hiring of Reverend Vasilios Demeroutis who arrived in Ottawa in 1939. Both these men devoted much energy to providing assistance to Greece through the Canadian War relief programme during the Second World War.
The 1940’s found the Community much more organized. A Greek language school and a Sunday school were established under the leadership of Father Demeroutis and on the 18 June 1943 the Community was incorporated in the Province of Ontario under the name of “THE HELLENIC COMMUNITY OF OTTAWA”. George Stamos was elected president in 1943 and during his term of office the Community rented, in 1947, the Apostolic Catholic church at 360 Albert Street to become the Greek Orthodox church of the “Koimisis tis Theotokou” that served the congregation for over twenty years. Also in 1945 the Greek Legation in Ottawa was raised to the status of Embassy with Mr. Konstantinos Sakellaropoulos being the first Greek Ambassador to Canada
The Fifties had a tragic beginning with the untimely death of Father Demeroutis. The president of the Community was now George Andrews who was instrumental in appointing the Reverend Philip Ramphos as the fourth priest of the Community. George Andrews lead a team of prominent Greeks from Ottawa to negotiate the purchase of the rented church at Albert street. This he accomplished on 22 January 1954 and an immediate refurbishment started with a new “iconostatio” in place before the end of the decade. By the mid fifties James Karrys assumed the presidency of the Community and in 1956 John Bouris was elected President. His greatest contribution to our community was in convincing the membership to purchase the land on which the Hellenic Community Centre stands today. In 1955 another major milestone took place with the establishment of the local GOYA and the church became the focal point for both the young and old. Before the decade was out, in 1959, the first local organization was founded the “St. George’s” society Dafnioton.
The fifties ended with John Karakasis as President of the Community and with the Hellenic Community of Ottawa issuing its first Year Book in commemoration of the celebration of the 25th of March both as a religious day and an ethnic anniversary of Greek Independence
The sixties started with a new President, Paul Mefsut. The major event of the sixties was the purchase of land on Prince of Wales Drive and the planning and building of the original Centre of our community under the direction of Tasso Varaklis, who became the President of the Community in 1964. The Centre was inaugurated on 26 January 1968 and as it was to double as an interim Church place during the transition from the Albert Street Church to the new Church on Prince of Wales Drive, the first liturgy was celebrated on Palm Sunday of the same year. The sixties saw a big influx of new families in the Ottawa area and as a result the cultural activities of the Community were increased. The Greek school was better organized, GOYA increased their activities and the first local organized Greek soccer team was established. George Havaris was elected President in 1966 and was succeeded by John Fragiskos, as an interim President before the election of Nick Pezoulas as President in 1968. Under his presidency, the Council authorized Bingo Evenings at the Community Centre as a revenue-raising method to provide the much needed funds for our Community.
The 1970s found the Community committed to build a new church. Paul Mefsut was re-elected as President of the Community and the newly established Building Fund Committee (BFC) proceeded on 25 September 1972 to sell the old church on Albert street. After a successful fund raising dinner night in the Spring of 1974 with the presence of the newly elected Bishop of Canada, Sotirios of Kostantia, a sod turning ceremony took place on 7 April 1974 where Father Ramphos was given a silver spade and turned the first spadeful of earth. The main church building was completed in early 1975 and the first liturgy took place on Palm Sunday 27 April 1975 with the presence of our regular and junior members choirs. Christos Georgaras was now President of the Community and his involvement saw the inauguration of the Greek Cinema, the August Annual Festival “Panigyri”, and the completion of three Sunday School classes in the church basement. In 1976 Gus Pezoulas was elected President. The Community honored in 1977, with a plaque, the 30 Canadian soldiers, nurses and aircrews that are buried in Greece. During the mid 1970s, our members were confronted with another challenge and a major human drama. It was the Turkish invasion of Cyprus that resulted in the plight of 200,000 displaced Greek Cypriots and the disappearance of 1,614 persons captured by the Turkish army. The community was mobilized and in a short time funds, clothing and medicine were collected and were soon on their way to Cyprus. At the end of 1978 Terry Pantieras was elected President of the Community and on 1 January 1979 a major mishap was experienced by the Community. The church’s roof under the influence of the elements suffered structural damage and water caused flooding of the church and the basement with major damage of the paintings and icons. The second half of the 1970s saw a proliferation of establishment of various Greek associations and societies. Parnassos Cultural Society (1974); Panevoikon Association of Ottawa, “Paliria” (1975); Cretans Association of Ottawa and District (1976); Samian Society “Polykratis” (1976); Society of Reiheoton of Canada (1976); and the establishment of two dancing groups, the Parnassos Hellenic Dancers group (1977) and the Hellenic Community Dancing group (1979).
The 1980s found the Community at the cross-roads. New challenges and needs were pressing requiring solutions. Among the most urgent ones were the appointment of a new priest, the Consecration of the church, the drafting of local by-laws and the expansion of the facilities to meet the needs of the congregation. The appointment of a new priest became even more urgent when in the summer of 1982 Father Ramphos became critically ill. In the Fall of 1982 the Reverend Antonios Athanassiadis was appointed the interim Priest of the Community. He spoke five languages and he introduced certain innovations to the long established religious practices in our Parish. For example, he conducted a bilingual Liturgy which is now standard practice. During his tenure also the third Clergy-Laity Conference took place in Ottawa. In the Fall of 1982 elections, Leandros Tryphonas became the new President. Having served also as President of an AHEPA chapter and the Parnassos society he was able to initiate various projects and to appoint the necessary committees to address the above mentioned needs. At the same time on an international basis there were increased contacts between Canada and Greece. These resulted in visits to Canada first of the President of Greece Constantine Karamanlis in October 1982 and subsequently of the Prime Minister of Greece Andreas Papandreou. The membership and the associations of our Community were given the opportunity and they met with both of the Greek dignitaries. In February 1984, a newly arrived deacon Nikolaos Alexandris was ordained as a priest and on 6 March 1984 he was appointed the sixth Parish Priest of Ottawa. During the first half of the 1980s a new music band was formed under the name of Poseidon. Also in 1983 the Macedonian Association of Ottawa “Alexander the Great” was formed. This was followed in 1985 by the founding of the Canadian Arcadian Society of Ottawa and District “Theodoros Kolokotronis”. At the end of 1984 Steve Ramphos was elected President of the Community. Steve Ramphos brought also with him great expertise regarding community affairs. He lead the Consecration committee and the challenge of dedicating the church building as a House of God was successfully met on 29 September 1985 with Bishop Sotirios officiating. It was fortunate that the health of Father Ramphos had improved and he was able to participate and see his dream completed. In 1985 another “first” was instituted, the “Gold Plate Dinners”. These events brought to the Community much needed revenue. In 1986 Constantinos Zigoumis was elected President The priority in the Community now was to provide appropriate facilities for the youth and the elderly. The Building Expansion Committee (BEC) was given the mandate to optimize the development of the Prince of Wales property. The BCE produced a master plan which provided for a new hall with lobby and facilities. It also provided new offices for the administration of the Parish and the Community and space for future development of Day Care facility. Steve Karaiskos became the Community’s President in 1988. By now the renovations of the Community’s Hall was in full swing and the official opening of the facilities took place in 1990.
The first president of the Nineties was Terry Pantieras that was elected President in the Fall of 1990. This was the second time that he held that position and he ably managed the transition to the demands of the 1990s. On 16 May 1992 Rev. Alex N. Michalopulos was appointed the seventh Priest of our Parish. Father Michalopulos a multilingual priest and his Presbytera Maria, a Speech-Language Pathologist, have worked diligently in cultivating a Christian and spiritual life for the members of the community. Several new programmes have been introduced such as Sunday Nursery, The Hellenic Play Group, the Junior Orthodox Youth(J.O.Y.), Junior GOYA and the Weekly Bible Study. Of great importance to our Community and Parish is the establishment of the Young Adult League (Y.A.L.) an organization for all men and women 19yrs – 40yrs to learn about Orthodoxy through various social and spiritual events. In November 1992 James Sioris became the President and he immediately placed an emphasis on the finances of the Community and his Council hired an accounting officer. He also expanded the annual Greek Festival to cover more events over a longer period. Also for the first time in Canada a position of Lay assistant was created to help with the parish work and the coordination of the youth activities. Elias Makris took over as President of the Community in the Fall of 1994. It was also in this year that the Ottawa Association of the Senior Citizens “Socrates” was created. The Community embarked in a programme expansion of the Church facilities by expanding on both sides of the main entrance and adding the necessary space to provide for an office for the Priest, a second conference room and most important facilities for the handicapped to access the main level of our Church. The Church was also Air Conditioned, a need long awaiting implementation. In the Community premises efficiencies were introduced including technological advances in order to yield future savings and quality enhancements. The Community continued to actively participate in the bi-annual Clergy-Laity Assemblies taking a principal role in shaping the financial relationships between the Metropolis (then Diocese) and the communities. In 1995 Rev. Fr. Alex Michalopulos was bestowed by the then Bishop Sotirios with the honour of Economos. In June 1996 a Director was appointed to reorganize the Hellenic Community’s Dancing School and to oversee its overall operations. Also in the 90’s a large number of Greek Traditional Dance Costumes were purchased due to the initiative and hard work of volunteers from our Community. An innovation was the establishment of a “Performing Dancing Group” for the Community. Peter Tzovas was elected President in November 1996. It was in May of 1998 that His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew 1st visited Ottawa. It was a landmark in the history of the Hellenic Community of Ottawa. The Ecclesiastical structure of our Greek Orthodox Church was also changed in this period. Canada became a Metropolis under the Patriarchate of Constantinople and Bishop Sotirios was appointed the Metropolitan of Toronto with jurisdiction over all of Canada. The year 1998 marked also the 60th anniversary of the Ottawa Hellenic School of our Community. A Strategic Planning Committee(SPC) was established with its task and terms of reference to investigate and recommend on the future spiritual and other needs and requirements of the members of our Community with special emphasis on the growing number of the younger people and the new families that will constitute the majority of the Hellenic Community of Ottawa in the next 10 years. In November 1998 George Mamalis was elected President of our Community. Because of personal reasons he had to resign from the Council early in 1999 and Jim Kalogerakos, the First Vice-President, became the new President. The Community in 1999 celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Greekfest “Paniyiri” with a best ever event from an organization & management point of view, increased attendance and profit making. In May of 1999 at the Clergy-Laity meeting, our Community took again a leading role by presenting positions to deal with the finances and rights of the Metropolis of Toronto and the communities at large over Canada. A Web Site for our community was implemented in the summer of 1999 together with an electronic e-mail access to the office. Our Banquet Hall Web Site is now also under construction. The Web Sites to see us are: www.helleniccommunity.com and www.hellenicbanquet.com.
The Hellenic Community of Ottawa together with the participation and assistance from ALL the Associations and Societies in Ottawa held a New Year’s Eve Gala Dance, at the Crown Plaza Hotel in Ottawa, so that all the Hellenes of Ottawa and District could celebrate and meet the New Millenium, year 2000, together.