In 1905, the first Belarusians who arrived in Canada were classified as Russians, because Belarus, then a part of the Russian Empire, was not recognized as an independent state by the imperial regime.
On March 25, 1918, the independent Belarusian National Republic was established. However, on March 21, 1921, after Belarusian national forces failed to defend the new republic, Belarusian lands were divided between the Bolshevik Russia and Poland. The Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic (proclaimed on January 1, 1919) consisted of the Eastern part of Belarus and any emigration from the Soviet state was prohibited. As the Western part of Belarus was under the Polish rule that did not restrict emigration, many Belarusians immigrated to Canada for political, social, and religious reasons.
At the end of World War II, during the United Nations Conference on International Organization, aka San Francisco Conference, Belarus was given a status of an Independent Nation (while still a part of the Soviet Union). Around this time, seeking refuge from the Soviet regime, many representatives of the Belarusian intelligentsia fled to Canada and laid the foundation of the Belarusian cultural diaspora.
On November 28, 1948, a “Byelorussian Alliance in Canada” was established. On May 28, 1949, the first Belarusian Canadian Congress took place in Toronto, where its participants created the statute of “Byelorussian Alliance in Canada” and elected its first leaders.
Among the pioneers of the Belarusian national movement in Canada were Kanstantyn Akula and Jazep Pituska. A number of other Belarusian organizations were established around the same time, such as the Byelorussian National Committee in Winnipeg (February 26, 1950) and the Byelorussian National Association in Canada based in Toronto (March 25, 1952).
Under the auspices of the newly established national organizations, the Belarusian people in Canada started making their contribution to Canadian cultural diversity.
On May 25, 1951, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation aired the first series of Belarusian songs performed by a talented countertenor Mikhail Radchenko from Winnipeg.
On October 21, 1951, under the guidance of prof. Dr. Zhuk-Grishkevich, the University of Toronto organized the first lecture on Belarusian Studies.
Around that time, the Belarusian Theater troupe, based in Montreal, brought first Belarusian plays to the Canadian stage and started touring with a Belarusian choir.
On March 25, 1952, the first Belarusian parish in Canada was organized and incorporated as “St. Euphrasinia of Polacak, Byelorussian Orthodox Church” under the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, US Secretary of the Holly Synod of the Byelorussian Orthodox Authocephalic Church. The services are held in the Old Slavonic language while the Belarusian language is used in sermons.
In 1948, the first Belarusian monthly newspaper “Belarusian Immigrant” was founded in Oshawa, ON. On March 25, 1952, the second Belarusian newspaper “Byelorussian Voice” was founded in Toronto. The magazine “Ray” was also published in Montreal.
Extract from the book “Notes”
Written by Natallya Gardzienka and Liavon Yurevich
Published by Belarussian Institute of Arts and Sciences