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Edmonton, Alberta (Canada)

The hub of Lithuanian activities in Edmonton and the entire Alberta is the Edmonton Lithuanian home. Small in size, it would look more like a personal home from the outside, except for the Lithuanian markings near the entrance ("LITHUANIAN HOME", "LIETUVIU NAMAI") and the metal columns of Gediminas patriotic symbol. The interior, though, is quite spacious.

Lithuanian Home of Edmonton

Lithuanian Home of Edmonton

The main floor consists of one large hall, which is the centerpiece of the Home. All the events take place here. The hall may be „converted“ for secular or religious use: the back wall may either cover or open the altar room (with an altar designed by V. Zaleskis). With the altar room open, the entire home turns into a chapel, therefore it is officially known as the Lithuanian Home-Chapel and, above the entrance to the building, a cross is fixed. In the halls‘ decor, one may find Lithuanian symbols such as the coat of arms but it is modest and functional. Additional premises are located under the main floor (kitchen, restrooms, etc.).

The main hall during a secular event (Destination Lithuanian America presentation)

The main hall during a secular event (Destination Lithuanian America presentation)

The main hall when converted to the chapel

The main hall when converted to the chapel

Edmonton Lithuanian home has been built by Lithuanian refugees (DPs) who were forced to flee Lithuania from the advancing Soviet armies in 1944. Initially, they lived in refugee camps in West Germany and Denmark, hoping to get back to Lithuania soon after it is freed but as the Soviet occupation of Lithuania became entrenched they began looking for a more permanent settlement. Among the countries that accepted migrants rather freely was Canada, which required only to work for several years for its government in return (often in some far-away towns). By the 1950s, the newly massive Lithuanian-Canadian community was already free of obligations and free to choose their own place to live. Several hundred of them chose Edmonton. The 1961 census shows that 463 Lithuanians live in Edmonton and 3000 in the whole of Alberta, however, this may also have included some pre-WW2 immigrants. Still, this was a small number compared to Toronto, Hamilton, or Montreal. Therefore, the community decided not to build its own Lithuanian church which, in its typical Lithuanian-American (or Lithuanian-Canadian) version, would have included both the main religious hall and a secular hall (of a similar size) below it or next to it. Rather, they built a single-hall Lithuanian home that uniquely managed to merge both functions in a single room, thus conserving money.

Nevertheless, for its first decades, the Chapel-Home essentially functioned as a de facto Lithuanian parish as it had its own Lithuanian priest. The first priest was Bruno Jurkšas who led the Lithuanian mission that covered the whole Alberta in its official area; he was instrumental in building the Chapel-Home. Later, as the Soviet Genocide refugee generation of Lithuanian priests was dying out and Edmonton was too far from Canada's Lithuanian parishes for priests to visit it regularly, non-Lithuanian priests from other Edmonton parishes started coming to hold the Mass. The Mass is still being held, even though not in the Lithuanian language anymore.

The original builders (or sponsors) of the Lithuanian Home are listed and a specific plaque at the back of the hall's main room. That list, titled "Founding shareholders 1953-1957", includes 81 members, most of them Soviet Genocide refugees (DPs).

A list of the first shareholders of the Home

A list of the first shareholders of the Home

After 1990, some new Lithuanians immigrated to the Edmonton area from Lithuania and joined the Lithuanian Home. The Lithuanian Home now has some 200 members.

All the activities of Edmonton Lithuanians take place in the Lithuanian Home. It attracts patrons from beyond Edmonton as well, as Calgary, which has a larger Lithuanian community (especially after 1990), lacks a Lithuanian Home and thus Lithuanian events there require renting a hall. Historically, Calgary's Lithuanian community was somewhat smaller than Edmonton's, so a Lithuanian Home was not built there (according to 1961 census, Calgary had 324 Lithuanians).

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