Global True Lithuania Encyclopedia of Lithuanian heritage worldwide

Canada

History of the Lithuanian community in Canada is like a scaled-down version of the Lithuanian Americans history (today there are 47 000 Lithuanian Canadians). It also began later. The first Lithuanians came to Canada in some 1900 to work in Nova Scotia mines. The first ethnic parish was erected in 1913. Main immigration took place ater the Soviet occupation of Lithuania and like in the USA there was a post-1990 third wave. Most Lithuanian Canadians live in Ontario (~27 500) where there are numerous lively communities. Quebec Province, Alberta and British Columbia has between 4000 and 6000 each. The Maritimes still have ~1500 descendants of first Lithuanian immigrants but most are now of mixed heritage (less than 100 pure Lithuanians). Two Canadian towns - Wilno, Ontario and Vilna, Alberta - are named after Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital (Wilno is the Polish name of Vilnius while Vilna was the Russian name).

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Toronto, Ontario

Toronto is the main hub of Lithuanians in Canada by far. It has multiple large patriotically named Lithuanian hubs established by post-WW2 Lithuanian refugees. Fleeing the Soviet occupation they saw themselves as deportees rather than migrants and devoted their lives to rebuilding a part of Lithuania on Canadian soil. Much of the Toronto Lithuanian heritage dates to 1950s-1980s and is an interesting testament to that occupation diaspora culture. Toronto Lithuanian community and its heritage are the largest in Canada.

Lithuanian heritage in Toronto is grouped around three hubs: the Lithuanian House near High Park, the Anapilis Lithuanian cultural center in Mississauga and the Ressurection Lithuanian parish in western Toronto.

Hill of Crosses and the Lithuanian Martyrs chapel of the Mississauga St. John Lithuanian cemetery

Hill of Crosses and the Lithuanian Martyrs chapel of the St. John Lithuanian cemetery (Mississauga)

Downtown Toronto Lithuanian House area

The areas immediately west of Toronto downtown were where the Lithuanians initially settled.

Lithuanian House (1573 Bloor Street West, „Lietuvių namai“) is the city‘s largest secular Lithuanian institution. The building was built in 1922 as a Protestant church but it was acquired in 1971 by Toronto Lithuanians to become a secular hub for Lithuanian culture.

Lithuanian House of Toronto

Lithuanian House of Toronto

Toronto Lithuanian House entrance

Toronto Lithuanian House entrance

The Lithuanian House has three halls, all of them named after key Lithuanian historical figures and places (Birutė, the wife of grand duke Kęstutis; Gediminas castle of Vilnius; Mindaugas, the first and only king of Lithuania). One of the halls is dedicated to the 650th anniversary of Vilnius city as the center of culture and learning (1974).

Main event hall of the Lithuanian House of Toronto

Main event hall of the Lithuanian House of Toronto

A sign that dedicates the balcony of the main hall of Lithuanian House to king Mindaugas

A sign that dedicates the balcony of the main hall of Lithuanian House to king Mindaugas

On the ground floor of the Lithuanian House bar „Lokys“ („Bear“) is located (serving Lithuanian beer and sometimes food), while another entrance hosts a Lithuanian credit union and yet another an honorary consulate of Lithuania. The Lithuanian House has some 960 members while the credit union has over 6000. Lithuanian House also hosts numerous other Lithuanian organizations, although their numbers have dwindled since the golden years.

Bar Lokys with Lithuanian memorabilia

Bar Lokys with Lithuanian memorabilia. Everybody is welcome here - not only club members. ~20% of customers are actually non-Lithuanians who like Lithuanian food, which is prepared on Sundays.

Vilnius Manor (1700 Bloor Street West, „Vilniaus rūmai“) next to the Lithuanian Hall has been developed by the Lithuanian Hall to house elderly Lithuanians. Far from simply a senior housing, Vilnius Manor is a unique attempt to create a piece of Lithuania-outside-Lithuania for the Lithuanian refugees who were forced to leave their homeland by the Soviet occupation (1940, 1944) and were never able to come back yet always longed for Lithuania. Its facade is adorned by the Lithuanian traditional Columns of Gediminas symbol and Lithuanian symbols are also abound inside.

Vilnius Manor

Vilnius Manor

Vilnius Manor sign close-up

Vilnius Manor sign close-up

Vilnius Manor thus offers a Lithuanian restaurant that prepares Lithuanian meals daily (something absolutely unique in Toronto), Lithuanian TV stations in rooms, Lithuanian library in the building, many Lithuanian details and artworks in and around the building. Many of the artworks have been created and donated by the residents of the building.

Daily Lithuanian menu at Vilnius Manor restaurant

Daily Lithuanian menu at Vilnius Manor restaurant

Next to Vilnius Manor, there is a small Lithuanian garden with a Lithuanian pensioner‘s club shrine in the garden (erected 2013). The shrine is called „rūpintojėlis“ although it does not include this traditional Lithuanian image of a contempt Jesus. It has been created by artists Algis Gelažauskas, Petras Pečiulis, Gintas Repečka, Jonas Slivinskas.

Lithuanian senior Rūpintojėlis at Vilnius Manor garden

Lithuanian senior Rūpintojėlis at Vilnius Manor garden

The life in Vilnius Manor is comfortable as most inhabitants live alone in their apartments with balconies, the subway is located nearby, there are also facilities like sauna, summer terrace, rentable rooms for personal festivals and others.

Toronto downtown as visible from Vilnius Manor

Toronto downtown as visible from Vilnius Manor

Therefore, there is a constant queue of elderly Lithuanians wishing to live here after retirement.

A few blocks westwards a Lithuanian Lutheran Christ Redeemer church (1691 Bloor St W) stands, however, the Lithuanian parish has been closed down ~2017 as the parish became smaller (129 members in 2008, 92 in 2012). This church had been established in 1951 and looks like a smallish dark red home. A Lithuanian community size of that in Toronto warranted its own Lutheran church because while in today's Lithuania Lutherans make up merely 0,6% of the population, before World War 2 that percentage stood at 9%. Lutherans were especially targetted in the Soviet Genocide, however, so-much-so that in the 1940s the Lutheran community in Lithuania declined even more than the Jewish community during the same period (that included the Holocaust). That said, those Lutherans who fled Lithuania often survived and could continue their faith; among diaspora there they continued to make a significant share of Lithuanians (probably ~5% in Toronto).

As the generations changed, however, the youth would often marry non-Lithuanian-Lutherans and leave the parish, leading to its slow decline.

The mass used to be held in both Lithuanian and English in the Toronto Lithuanian Lutheran church but only the English mass remains now. There are no more Lithuanian symbols but an LGBT rainbow flag now hangs there. This signifies more has changed than the ethnicity or the language of the Mass: Lithuanian Lutheran church understands that same-sex relations contradict the Bible teachings, whereas the Lutheran church of Canada which operates in the building now even began celebrating same-sex marriages.

Former Lithuanian Redeemer Lutheran church

Former Lithuanian Redeemer Lutheran church

A few blocks north from here near Glenlake Avenue there is a Lithuania Park. It has been named so in 1973 when there was a worldwide campaign by Lithuanian diaspora communities to set up Lithuania-related street names in their cities, this way reminding the world about the plight of occupied Lithuania. The park is taken care of by local Lithuanians. However, in 2013, the Toronto council received a petition by 130 persons to rename the park back to its previous Oakmount Park name. Still, the “Lithuania” name remained. The sign is the only Lithuanian detail.

Lithuania Park sign in Toronto

Lithuania Park sign in Toronto

Lithuanian Ressurection church and monastery

The Ressurection Lithuanian church itself is the newest Lithuanian church outside Lithuania, constructed in 2001 as the parish has relocated from downtown.

It forms the heart of a larger Lithuanian hub that covers several addresses (1-5 Ressurection Road) and outflanked by Lithuanian and Canadian flags. It is commonly unlocked.

Lithuanian church of Ressurection in Toronto

Lithuanian church of Ressurection in Toronto

Form follows function here and the church itself (architect J. Švedas) is just a small part of the entire complex. The church is usually unlocked and one may witness some glorious stained glass Windows relocated from the previous Ressurection church, such as the Our Lady of Vilnius one (that includes images of Vilnius buildings and Columns of Gediminas) and the St. Casimir one (that also incorporates images of Vilnius).

Stained-glass windows of the Ressurection Lithuanian church of Toronto

Stained-glass windows of the Ressurection Lithuanian church of Toronto

When these images were created, Lithuania was still occupied and beyond the reach of Lithuanian-Canadians, making them wish to see these locations at least in their church. Therefore, the church had lots of Lithuanian memorabilia that has been moved to the new location in 2001 even though Lithuania was independent by then. In fact, the new church was constructed on purpose in such a way that old stained glass windows would fit. Behind the altar, there is a statue of Jesus with a red light on his bosom, representing his blood.

Christ at the Ressurection Lithuanian church

Christ at the Ressurection Lithuanian church. Altar sculptor Kęstutis Kesminas.

Outside of the church, a group of three traditional Lithuanian chapel-posts stands, while the church „tower“ (actually more like a high roof) is covered by a traditional Lithuanian sun-cross that combines Catholic and Pagan symbolism into one Lithuanian whole. Those are the only external symbols to show the church as Lithuanian.

Traditional Lithuanian sun-cross that crowns the Ressurection church

Traditional Lithuanian sun-cross that crowns the Ressurection church

The church building also includes parish hall where post-mass Lithuanian gatherings take place, as well as sport and other activities. The church is united with a monastery where the Lithuanian Franciscan fathers that serve the church live.

Event hall of the Ressurection church that can be transformed from sports hall to performance area to a dining room. After every Lithuanian mass it is a dining room where the parishioners may eat Lithuanian meals

Event hall of the Ressurection church that can be transformed from sports hall to performance area to a dining room. After every Lithuanian mass it is a dining room where people may buy Lithuanian meals or Lithuanian memorabilia from fellow Lithuanians

Other institutions built for Lithuanian needs in the complex are the Ressurection credit union, the Labdara Lithuanian nursing home (est. 2002, constructed 2010). Like Vilnius Manor, it provides a Lithuanian zone for elderly Lithuanians to live (full of Lithuanian memorabilia), however, unlike Vilnius Manor, here the seniors who are no longer able to look after themselves mostly live.

Lithuanian memorabilia inside the nursing home at Ressurection parish

Lithuanian memorabilia inside the nursing home at Ressurection parish. Such 'memorabilia corners' exist in every Lithuanian parish, club or other institution of Canada. The largest ones have multiple. They include things such as Lithuanian artworks, maps of Lithuania, images of famous Lithuanians, Lithuanian traditional crafts, often created by Lithuanian-Canadians themselves

Not far from the Ressurection Lithuanian hub there is "Parama" main building, which is yet another Lithuanian credit union of Toronto area.

Parama Lithuanian credit union of Toronto

Parama Lithuanian credit union of Toronto

“Anapilis“ Lithuanian cultural hub and cemetery of Mississauga

The Mississauga suburb has a major Lithuanian center Anapilis (2185 Stavebank Rd.) which also has a modernist Lithuanian Martyrs church, Lithuanian secular centre „Anapilis“ and Lithuanian cemetery. Interestingly, the Lithuanian „Anapilis“ (literally „another castle“) typically means the afterlife (i.e. world after death), although official explanation here is that it means the world after emigration.

Anapilis cultural center with the Lithuanian Martyrs church in the middle

Anapilis cultural center with the Lithuanian Martyrs church in the middle

Lithuanian Martyrs church, constructed in 1974 (architect Kulpa-Kulpavičius), was the first church in the world to have this name which had a symbolic meaning while Lithuania was occupied: martyrs may also mean Lithuanians tortured and/or murdered by the Soviets for their beliefs. Befitting its name, the church‘s stained glass windows depict such martyrs: archbishops Mečislovas Reinys and Teofilius Matulionis, bishop Vincentas Borisevčius, as well as an „unknown female martyr“, presumably one of the thousands of Lithuanian women raped and killed by the Soviets (the stained-glass windows were created by Albinas Elskus and Juozas Bakis). The altar (by Ramojus Mazoliauskas) incorporates traditional Lithuanian sun-crosses, as does the exterior. The church is usually locked.

Stained-glass windows for Lithuanian Martyrs in the Lithuanian Martyrs church of Mississauga

Stained-glass windows for Lithuanian Martyrs in the Lithuanian Martyrs church of Mississauga

Mississauga Lithuanian church altar

Mississauga Lithuanian church altar

Lithuanian hub in these areas is older: the local St. John Lithuanian cemetery had been opened in 1960. The cemetery is extremely ethnic, as it attracts those Lithuanians who care the most about their heritage and thus wish to be buried among compatriots from all over Canada. Therefore, most graves have Lithuanian symbols on them and many have Lithuanian inscriptions, sometimes dedicated to that lost "Homeland beyond the ocean".

Many graves, like this one of Balys Savickas, have Lithuanian patriotic symbols and inscriptions. The inscription on the left grave says ‚After losing my homeland I lived for its freedom and I lived to see it‘, referencing to him dying in 1996, after Lithuanian independence was restored. The inscription on the other side of the same grave adds ‚Such was my fate given to me by the Almighty‘. Symbols on this grave are the Vytis (Lithuanian coat of arms), Cross of Vytis and the Three Crosses memorial, a potent symbol of Vilnius and of Soviet repression as it was demolished by the Soviets and then rebuilt by Lithuanians as independence seemed real

Many graves, like this one of Balys Savickas, have Lithuanian patriotic symbols and inscriptions. The inscription on the left says ‚After losing my homeland I lived for its freedom and I lived to see it‘, referencing to him dying in 1996, after independence. The inscription on the right adds ‚Such was my fate given to me by the Almighty‘. Symbols on this grave are the Vytis (Lithuanian coat of arms), Cross of Vytis and the Three Crosses memorial, a potent symbol of Vilnius and of Soviet repression as it was demolished by the Soviets and then rebuilt by Lithuanians as independence seemed real

Additionally, numerous Lithuanian monuments have been constructed in the center of the cemetery. Among them is the Monument for those who gave their lives for Lithuania‘s liberty (1988). When it was commissioned, Lithuania was still under a deep Soviet occupation and its independence seemed impossible yet soon after its completion the drive for Lithuanian independence became an unstoppable tide, with it being declared in 1990. The memorial was erected by Lithuanian-Canadian Šauliai. Variously translated as Riflemen or National Guard, Šauliai is a patriotic organization that has been banned and especially persecuted by the Soviets, forcing many of them to flee to America and continuing the fight there by encouraging the governments not to recognize the independence of Lithuania.

Monument for those who died for Lithuania‘s Liberty is adorned by patriotic symbols: Vytis (top), Columns of Gediminas (bottom left) and Cross ofVytis (bottom right). The inscription of monuments purpose is available in both English and French on the back

Monument for those who died for Lithuania‘s Liberty is adorned by patriotic symbols: Vytis (top), Columns of Gediminas (bottom left) and Cross ofVytis (bottom right). The inscription of monuments purpose is available in both English and French on the back

This grave is inscribed with a quote ‚We loved Lithuania from afar‘. It also incorporates traditional Lithuanian sun-crosses

This grave is inscribed with a quote ‚We loved Lithuania from afar‘. It also incorporates traditional Lithuanian sun-crosses

An older similar memorial has been erected in 1968.

Old memorial for those who died for Lithuanian freedom in the Mississauga Lithuanian cemetery

Old memorial for those who died for Lithuanian freedom in the Mississauga Lithuanian cemetery. It incorporates the first stanza of the Lithuanian national anthem

Even more massive is the Mississauga Hill of Crosses, inspired by the Hill of Crosses at Šiauliai, Lithuania. It was erected in the 1990s as the Toronto Lithuanians learned about the Lithuanian Hill of Crosses while watching the Papal visit to the newly-independent Lithuania. It started as an exhibition of Lithuanian crosses by the Lithuanians who immigrated to Canada from Punskas/Seinai area of Poland. After the exhibition, they were moved here. The crosses continue to be erected there: one of the latest is 2018 cross dedicated to the 40th anniversary of the church, 90th anniversary of the parish and 100th anniversary of the cemetery‘s founder. An older cross is dedicated to 70th anniversary of the parish.

Mississauga Hill of Crosses

Mississauga Hill of Crosses

Next to the Hill of Crosses, there is a Lithuanian Martyrs memorial chapel, erected in 1969 by the architect Vladas Liačas, in the form of a contempt Jesus. It is a traditional form of Lithuanian art called Rūpintojėlis although traditionally it is built of wood. Here, it is built of concrete. After the Hill of Crosses was built nearby, the chapel itself has been also crowned by a traditional Lithuanian sun-cross. The back of the chapel is covered in Lithuanian ethnic patterns.

Rūpintojėlis of Mississauga Lithuanian cemetery chapel

Rūpintojėlis of Mississauga Lithuanian cemetery chapel

Inside the Mississauga Lithuanian cemetery chapel

Inside the Mississauga Lithuanian cemetery chapel

Backside of the Lithuanian Martyrs chapel of Mississauga cemtery (not to be confused with the Lithuanian Martyrs church)

Backside of the Lithuanian Martyrs chapel of Mississauga cemtery (not to be confused with the Lithuanian Martyrs church)

Behind the chapel and the Hill of Crosses a monument for „Mary, the mother of exiled Lithuanians“ has been erected in 2011. It commemorates the exiles of 1941 06 14 when the Soviet Union, having had occupied Lithuania beforehand, expelled 2% of the entire nation to the inhospitably cold Siberian hinterland within a period of a single week. The expulsions were stopped by the Nazi German invasion but were resumed after 1944 and remain a painful memory for most Lithuanians.

Mary the Mother of those exiled statue in the Missisauga St. John Lithuanian cemetery

Mary the Mother of those exiled statue in the Missisauga St. John Lithuanian cemetery

Almost anybody who mattered in the Lithuanian-Canadian community is buried in the St. John‘s Lithuanian Cemetery. The most famous burial is that of historian Adolfas Šapoka. His somewhat romanticized „History of Lithuania“ was essentially the official one in pre-WW2 Lithuania. Learned by all the schoolchildren of the era, its stories continued to inspire generations of Lithuanians during the Soviet occupation and only after some 2000 would alternative histories of Lithuania be seriously considered. Actually, Šapoka died before the St. John Cemetery was built and was later reinterred there.

Adolfas Šapoka grave

Adolfas Šapoka grave

Less famous but no less important is the burial of priest Ažubalis, the founder of the cemetery. In Canada, ethnic cemeteries do not exist as that would be seen as ethnic discrimination. Therefore, creating St. John cemetery required a major effort. At the same time, Ažubalis essentially started Anapilis. Ažubalis is almost legendary among Lithuanian-Canadians, especially the stories how he managed to create the cemetery by giving a drunk bishop a document to sign or how he managed to escape Nazi concentration camp by promising Nazis that he would be the priest of Gestapo should they set him free, and then immediately running away, ending up in Canada.

Priest Ažubalis grave

Priest Ažubalis grave

Other personalities include Jonas Matulionis, the first chairman of the Global Lithuanian Community. This seminal organization was established in 1949-1958 to preserve Lithuanity abroad. At that time, Lithuanians who fled the Soviet occupation understood that the occupation was to be long-term: Soviets defeated yje Lithuanian guerilla campaign, most of the Lithuanian patriots who remained were murdered or expelled from Lithuania and those who fled were long since relocated by the Allies from the refugee camps in Europe (still rather close to Lithuania) to more permanent and more far-away locations such as Canada. Unlike in the refugee camps where Lithuanians still formed tight communities, they were now spread among non-Lithuanians in each foreign land. They understood that their families would assimilate soon if nothing was done, while Lithuanians who remained in Lithuania may as well be all but wiped out in the Soviet Genocide, making the Lithuanian culture extinct. That's where the Global Lithuanian Community came into place. It was essentially a "nation without territory" but with its own constitution (Charter), parliament, school system (that taught Lithuanian on Saturdays), religious system and so on. Jonas Matulionis was, essentially, its first president, while its citizens were all the Lithuanians who lived outside the Soviet sphere of influence. The organization lives on, albeit with different goals since Lithuania became independent in 1990.

Matulionis grave in St. John's cemetery

Matulionis grave in St. John's cemetery

Several Lithuanian consuls to Toronto are buried there too: as Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union, they could not have been buried in Lithuania. The longest-serving one was Jonas Žmuidzinas, who served for nearly half of the Cold War: from 1959 to 1982.

This marker on Žmuidzinas's grave marks that he was a consul of Lithuania

This marker on Žmuidzinas's grave marks that he was a consul of Lithuania

There is a row of priest graves, forming a symbolic memorial.

Graves of Lithuanian priests at Mississauga Lithuanian cemetery

Graves of Lithuanian priests at Mississauga Lithuanian cemetery

The cemetery gate is far from prosaic as well: created ~1980 by artist Rimas Paulionis, they too have Lithuanian symbols on them: Columns of Gediminas and the sun-crosses.

Destination Lithuanian America volunteers Augustinas Žemaitis and Aistė Žemaitienė at the Mississauga St. John Lithuanian cemetery gate

Destination Lithuanian America volunteers Augustinas Žemaitis and Aistė Žemaitienė at the Mississauga St. John Lithuanian cemetery gate

The Lithuanian secular center „Anapilis“ (built in 1973) includes three halls for Lithuanian events, „Tėviškės žiburiai“ (Homeland Lights) newspaper (published 1949-2019 and online since). The most important institution there is the Lithuanian-Canadian culture archives and museum (built in 1987, opened 1989). „Museum“ title is a bit far-fetched as it has no constant exhibition – however, temporary exhibits do take place, and what works permanently is the sole archive that collects Lithuanian-Canadian materials and books.

Lithuanain organizations in Anapilis listed next to the territory entrance

Lithuanain organizations in Anapilis listed next to the territory entrance

Unlike the very Lithuanian cemetery, „Anapilis“ and Lithuanian Martyrs church are modernist and rather international in design on the exterior. Only the interiors hold Lithuanian details.

Former locations of Toronto Lithuanian churches

Historically, the Lithuanian churches of Toronto used to be located in or near downtown.

What is now the Lithuanian Martyrs church in Mississauga used to be St. John the Baptist Lithuanian parish. The St. John the Baptist church still stands in central Toronto and, even though no longer Lithuanian, still has a few Lithuanian details.

St. John the Baptist once-Lithuanian church of Toronto

St. John the Baptist once-Lithuanian church of Toronto

Lithuanians acquired the towerless building from Presbyterians in 1928, thus establishing the first Lithuanian parish and the first important Lithuanian institution in Toronto.

As the fledgling Lithuanian community was joined by thousands of religious refugees from the Soviet-occupied Lithuania in the 1940s, the church had to be expanded and it was important to give it more Lithuanian character. The expansion of 1954-1956 added not only more space and a tower but also a symbolic traditional Lithuanian village house roof with a traditional Lithuanian sun-cross on top. The most famous Lithuanian-Canadian architect Kulpa-Kulpavičius was behind the project.

Original building of the St. John the Baptist church as Lithuanians acquired it

Original building of the St. John the Baptist church as Lithuanians acquired it

In 1975, as the parish relocated to Mississauga (after long debates), the former building was left to other Catholic communities (now Hispanic). The sun-cross built on top of a traditional Lithuanian „roof“ are now the sole two remaining Lithuanian details.

Lithuanian 'crown' of the St. John the Baptist church created by architect Kulpa-Kulpavičius

Lithuanian 'crown' of the St. John the Baptist church created by architect Kulpa-Kulpavičius

The former Ressurection church is now demolished and replaced by apartments (on College St between Rusholme Park Crescent and Rusholme Road). This parish, the second, in Toronto, was established after World War 2 in order to accommodate the newly arriving refugees. The church was built in 1956 under a project by famous Lithuanian-Canadian architect Alfredas Kulpa-Kulpavičius but it never fulfilled his vision: in fact, what was erected was envisioned to be only a parish hall while what was planned to be a church was never erected. Instead, seeing the drift of Lithuanian-Canadians westwards, the parish decided to relocate, selling the former building ~2000.

The location of the old Ressurection Lithuanian church of Toronto

The location of the old Ressurection Lithuanian church of Toronto

Ressurection Lithuanian church of Toronto as it stood before 2001

Ressurection church of Toronto as it stood before 2001

Original blueprint of the old Ressurection Lithuanian church. Actually, only the building on the right was constructed. The initial plan was for that building to serve as a church only temporarily (before the main church on the left is constructed) and then serve simply as a hall for secular activities afterward. In reality, however, the main church was never build until 2001, when a smaller church was constructed for a then-smaller community in western Toronto

Original blueprint of the old Ressurection church. Actually, only the building on the right was constructed. The initial plan was for that building to serve as a church only temporarily (before the main church on the left is constructed) and then serve simply as a hall for secular activities afterward. In reality, however, the main church was never built until 2001, when a smaller church was constructed for a then-smaller community in western Toronto

Not far away from this church, the Lithuanian nuns have established a Lithuanian kindergarten in 1955 (near the corner of Differin and Sylvan streets). It still operates although it has nothing to do with Lithuanians today (since 1999).

Sign of the once-Lithuanian Toronto kindergarten

Sign of the once-Lithuanian Toronto kindergarten

What is now the Slovak- and Polish- Lutheran Grace church near the corner of Davenport and Dufferin streets briefly served as a Lutheran church for Lithuanians from Lithuania Minor after World War 2 until that parish disintegrated (at that time, Lithuanian Lutheran community was divided between those who hailed from parts of Lithuania that were ruled by the Russian Empire before 1918 and those who came from parts of Lithuania ruled by Germany before 1918. The latter were often somewhat Germanized culturally and sometimes preferred German language for mass even if they spoke Lithuanian natively - they used the Grace parish. The rest established the Redeemer parish).

Lithuanian House moved as well, albeit to a much closer location. Its original location used to be a now-unmarked building on the corner of Dundas St. W and Ossington St. That building was acquired by the Lithuanian House in 1952 and the Lithuanian House moved to the current larger building from there in 1971.

Before World War 2 there were some far-left Lithuanians who didn't go to church and had their own club at 160 Claremont. After the Soviets occupied Lithuania, however, the far-left ideas slowly declined.

Famous Lithuanian graves outside St. John cemetery

While nearly all the more famous Lithuanians are buried in the St. John Lithuanian cemetery, at least one – consul Vytautas Gylys – is buried separately in Park Lawn cemetery (section V). He was a consul-general of Lithuania in Toronto from 1949 to 1959. At the time Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union, however, Canada did not recognize such occupation. Lithuanian embassies and consulates in countries such as Canada arguably thus were the final unoccupied areas of Lithuania.

Consul Vytautas Gylys grave in Toronto

Consul Vytautas Gylys grave in Toronto

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Small town Ontario

In addition to Toronto after World War 2 Lithuanians also moved to small Ontario towns. Multiple such town have Lithuanian churches dating to ~1950s: somewhat modern, somewhat old in style appropriate for a time when the Lithuanian refugees were living with both the modern realities of Canada and their old traditions. A wooden corss or chapel-post stands in the yards to tell everyone that Lituanity has not been destroyedeven if there was no independent Lithuania at the time.

In Delhi the Lithuanians worked at tobacco plantations. In 1959 they used an opportunity to buy a small local church (as its parish moved into a larger building) thereby establishing St. Casimir church (41 Talbot Road).

St. Casimir Lithuanian church in Delhi with a traditional Lithuanian wooden cross. Google Street View.

Lithuanian Canadians loved church names related to Lithuania. A church named after St. Casimir (Lithuania's patron saint) also stands at Windsor (1043 Greendale Drive). London had an Our Lady of Šiluva church (1414 Dundas Street), destroyed ~2010.

Wasaga Beach is a small town but has many Lithuanians. ~1952 they were encouraged to buy summerhouses here by a Toronto priest Petras Ažubalis as this location reminded of Palanga (the Lithuania's prime seaside resort, then firmly behind the Iron curtain). Like the Baltic Sea nearby Lake Huron is so big that the other shore is invisible and the world's longest lakeside beach (14 km) reminded of the famous Palanga sandy shore. It was one of the rare times when Lithuanians moved in somewhere in an organized fashion. One summerhouse has converted in 1993 to a Good Shepherd church (2121 Mosley Street). It became needed as an increasing number of Lithuanians permanently left the major cities for their Wasaga Beach summer homes.

In St. Catherines near the famous Niagara Falls Lithuanian Franciscan monks, forced to flee their homeland by the Soviets, established their monastery and the Our Lady of Angels mission. The building has been sold in 2001 as the numbers of Lithuanians were declining, however, Lithuanians are still permitted to use it.

Hamilton city between Toronto and St. Catherines has an Our Lady of the Gate of Dawn church (58 Dundurn Street) established in 1948. It is named after the Virgin Mary painting that hangs on the final remaining gate of the Vilnius city.

Our Lady of the Gate of Dawn Lithuanian church in Hamilton witha traditional Lithuanian chapel-post in front of it. Google Street View.

Ontario also has a city named after the capital of Lithuania. However, it is "Wilno" rather than "Vilnius", "Wilno" being the Polish name of the city. This town has been established by Kashubians - a small ethnic group that lives near Gdansk. The nature here reminded them of their homeland - and it reminds of Lithuania as well. The settlers were led by Ludwik Dembski who had been born in Vilnius. Being too modest to name the town after himself he named it after his city of birth instead. Wilno has numerous crosses around it and also hosts the Canada's oldest Polish parish (est. 1875, current church built in 1937).

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Montreal, Quebec

Montreal Lithuanian community is the oldest in Canada, the only large community born before World War 2 and the Soviet Genocide refugees came. It is second only to Toronto in terms of numbers of Lithuanians and the only significant area of Lithuanian-Canadian heritage outside Ontario.

St. Casimir Lithuanian church

The original Lithuanian parish of Montreal has been established in 1907, becoming a hub of Lithuanians. The first St. Casimir Lithuanian church was constructed in 1915 and it attracted multiple waves of immigrants: pre-WW1, the 1920s, and some Soviet Genocide refugees. Its address is 3426 Parthenais.

The current church building was erected in 1955-1956 after the parish expanded. Its main Lithuanian accent is the statue of St. Casimir (the sole Lithuanian saint) above the altar, adorned with the Lithuanian columns of Gediminas. The altar is surrounded by two chapels in traditional Lithuanian wooden carving.

Under the church is the events hall where Lithuanians meet after masses and various events are held, allowing Lithuanians to meet each other.

In 1932, Lithuanians made the largest non-French speaking group in the district of St. Marie (where the St. Casimir Church is located) and there were some 5500 Lithuanians in Montreal in total.

In 2007, St. Casimir Lithuanian church became the only Lithuanian institution in Canada to celebrate a centenary. To commemorate this, a traditional wooden Lithuanian cross has been constructed outside the church.

Our Lady of Gate of Dawn church

As the droves of Soviet Genocide refugees arrived in Montreal in 1948, there was some rift between them and the older „economic“ immigrants. Proudly intellectual, patriotic and anti-communist, the post-WW2 refugees saw Canada as their temporary step, English/French languages as a temporary need, and often saw the older „economic“ migrants as too unpatriotic, uneducated or too leftist.

Even more than the St. Casimir Lithuanian church, therefore, the Our Lady of Gate of Dawn church (built by the Lithuanian refugees in 1954 ar 1465 Rue de Seve) is Lithuanian. Everything here reminds of Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital, beginning with the name (the church is named after a famous miraculous image of Virgin Mary in Vilnius that hangs on its Gate of Dawn).

The interior is also especially Vilnius-esque with a statue of Three Crosses behind the altar. The statue is remarkably similar to the Three Crosses monument, one of the symbols of Vilnius, that had been destroyed by the Soviets in 1950 (since rebuilt in 1989), making the congregation to essentially look at the lost-behind-the-Iron-Curtain Vilnius during the Mass.

This makes the church not extremely elaborate, but highly symbolic and solemn as the sun rays fall on the Three Crosses of Vilnius during a mass. Very appropriate for a church that was meant to be a „temporary step“ yet ended up being permanent, as when Lithuania finally became independent in 1990, it was too economically ravaged and the Montreal Lithuanian refugees too ingrown into the Canadian fabric for them to actually come back.

There is also no stained-glass Windows inside except for the one with the image of Our Lady of Gate of Dawn miraculous painting from Vilnius that is visible from the outside above the entrance (in a similar fashion as the real painting hangs above the entrance of the Vilnius Gate of Dawn). Among the few artworks inside is the 1958 plaque to commemorate those who died for Lithuanian freedom – volunteers, soldiers, riflemen, and guerillas.

Like in St. Casimir Church, the entire basement is a massive Lithuanian area. The main hall could be used for events and even basketball matches, while there are also rooms for many Lithuanian organizations ranging from parish choir to pensioner club (doubling as a Lithuanian library) to sports clubs. There are interesting artworks depicting Lithuania and Canada by A. Tamošaitis.

Like in St. Casimir Church, a traditional Lithuanian sun-cross is standing near the entrance (here it is without inscriptions/dedications and simply marks that the both purposes of the building - a church and a Lithuanian hub).

Lithuanian club of Montreal

Montreal Vytautas the Great Lithuanian club was a large edifice where one could eat, drink, play and party. It was expanding since it opening in 1907. In the 1960s, it received a new two-floored edifice and had ~700 at the time. Sadly, less than a decade passed and the club was sold by its owners in 1971, leaving the two parishes as the only „Lithuanian clubs“ in the area.

The former Vytautas club is now a sports shop and even its Lithuanian cornerstone has been removed (moved into the Lithuanian-Canadian archives in Mississauga).

Lithuanian-named locations around Montreal

Montreal Lithuanians have been active in putting Lithuania on the map of Canada and Montreal by lobbying for name changes, mainly ~1960s-1980s when Lithuanians already attained some influence and Lithuania was still occupied, making a need to remind Canadians about Lithuania especially felt.

Under the initiative of the Lithuanian community, a street in Montreal has been named Rue Lithuania (after Lithuania). The street is suburban and consists mostly of townhouses.

An artificial lake in the area around Montreal has been named Lac Dainava (Lake Dainava) after Dainava (a.k.a. Dzūkija), an ethnographic region in southeastern Lithuania. The area was developed by Lithuanians who acquired summer homes around the lake. The wooded area around the lake reminds of the real Dainava that is full of forests, giving a hint for the name.

Further on, in another similar Lithuanian-led suburban housing development, a road has been named Neris road after Lithuania‘s second-largest river.

Language of Lithuanians in Quebec

Canada is a bilingual state: most of its provinces are English-speaking (former colonies of England). However, Quebec (where Montreal is located) has been initially a French colony and has French as the official language. Sings on the Lithuanian churches are thus bilingual (Lithuanian and French) and Montreal Lithuanians are the only sizeable Lithuanian community in a French-speaking land (most Lithuanian diaspora is in English, Spanish or Portuguese speaking areas). However, the majority of Montreal Lithuanians speak better English than French, Montreal Lithuanian website is also available in just Lithuanian and English. After all, English itself is the second language to older Lithuanians, making French more difficult to master well. Moreover, English is more important in Canada (and North America) as a whole.

After the increase of separatist ideas in Quebec which led to increased requirements to speak French in many jobs some of the Montreal Lithuanians migrated to Ontario.

Montreal also is one of the most-Jewish cities in the world outside Israel, hosting some 100 000 Jews or 2,5% of the population. It has also attracted some Jews from Lithuania, among them the mother of famous singer Leonard Cohen, who is also buried in Montreal.

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Hamilton, Ontario

Hamilton is the third largest Lithuanian center in Canada after Toronto and Montreal. It has very diverse Lithuanian heritage: church, youth center, senior apartments, credit union and hunter‘s club, all of them especially Lithuanian in design.

Lithuanian cross (left), church, and Youth Center (right) of Hamilton

Lithuanian chapel-post (left), church, and Youth Center (right) of Hamilton

Hamilton Lithuanian church

It would be impossible to say now that Hamilton Lithuanian church until 1948 was a sports hall. After being given that sports hall by the bishopric, Lithuanians converted it into a shrine for both Christian faith and their ethnic heritage. These Lithuanians were refugees who fled the Soviet occupation of Lithuania (1944), most of them wanted to return but were unable to, so they created a piece of lost homeland in this church.

Lithuanian church of Hamilton

Lithuanian church of Hamilton

In Lithuanian, the church is dedicated to Our Lady of the Gate of Dawn, a famous miraculous image of the Virgin Mary in Vilnius, Lithuania (located in the Gate of Dawn there). A copy of that image is above the altar. In English, though the name is simplified as „Our Lady of Mercy“.

Altar of the Hamilton Lithuanian church of Ontario

Altar of the Hamilton Lithuanian church of Ontario

Initially, Lithuanians had little money, so the church was built gradually, with the first expansion done in 1953. The tower and front extension were built that has some of the prettiest stained-glass windows: several of them are actually secular, dedicated to Lithuanian history. One shows a „school of sorrow“: a secret Lithuanian language school during the era Lithuanian language was banned by the Russian Empire that then ruled Lithuania (1865-1908). Another one shows a Lithuanian freedom fighter of the struggle against the Soviet regime (1945-1953), the longest post-WW2 guerilla war in Europe, with an inscription „Žuvome už Tėvynę“ (we died for our homeland).

A fragment of the Lithuanian soldier stained-glass window in Hamilton Lithuanian chruch extension

A fragment of the Lithuanian soldier stained-glass window in Hamilton Lithuanian chruch extension

Religious stained glass windows are also closely related to Lithuania and its plight. Two of the stained-glass windows depict archbishop Teofilius Matulionis (murdered by the Soviets) and blessed Jurgis Matulaitis. The stained glass window over the choir depicts St. Casimir (the only Lithuanian saint) with an inscription „Šv. Kazimierai, melsikis už mus“ (St. Casimir, pray for us) and colors reminiscent of the Lithuanian tricolor.

St. Casimir stained-glass window

St. Casimir stained-glass window

Even where details are not directly related to Lithuania, they are signed in Lithuanian: every saint that is depicted in a stained glass window anywhere, or on the vault paintings, has his name written in Lithuanian under it, also Lithuanian are the explanations under the stations of the cross. The Virgin Mary stained glass window has „Marija, gelbėk Lietuvą“ (Mary, save Lithuania) inscribed under it.

Virgin Mary stained-glass window of Hamilton Lithuanian church

Virgin Mary stained-glass window of Hamilton Lithuanian church

The images of the Virgin Mary near the altar are copies of famous Maryan paintings in Lithuania: that of Krekenava and Žemaičių Kalvarija towns.

The stained-glass windows continue to be added and there are still clear windows that are not yet replaced by the stained-glass windows. The last stained-glass window was added in ~2001, however.

Holy Mass at the Hamilton Lithuanian church

Holy Mass at the Hamilton Lithuanian church

The church also includes a small memorial with the images of those killed by Russians on January 13th, 1991 and a cross dedicated to the 600th anniversary of Lithuanian Christening (1387) and 70th anniversary of Lithuanian independence declaration (1918).

A plaque with the images of people killed by the Soviets in 1991 01 13 (left) and the stained-glass window depicting a secret Lithuanian language school during the time Lithuanian was banned by the then-ruling Russian Empire (1965-1904)

A plaque with the images of people killed by the Soviets in 1991 01 13 (left) and the stained-glass window depicting a secret Lithuanian language school during the time Lithuanian was banned by the then-ruling Russian Empire (1965-1904)

Outside the church, a traditional Lithuanian chapel post stands. It is dedicated to the martyrs of Lithuania (Lithuanians murdered by the Soviets).

Hamilton Lithuanian church is regularly unlocked.

A fragment of the Lithuanian chapel-post of Hamilton

A fragment of the Lithuanian chapel-post of Hamilton

Next to the church stands the Hamilton Lithuanian Youth center where the youth activities used to take place and many Lithuanian organizations were hubbed. Old images of the huge Lithuanian dance festival reminds of those times as today the large hall is mainly used for post-Mass meetings of the Lithuanians. As many of them formed mixed families and the offspring often speak better English than Lithuanian, the number of parishioners declined and the average age grew rapidly.

Inside the Lithuanian Youth Center of Hamilton during a coffee-break after Sunday mass

Inside the Lithuanian Youth Center of Hamilton during a coffee-break after Sunday mass

Lithuanian details include a - a small traditional Lithuanian „house“ inside the Youth center.

Lithuanian barn at the Hamilton Lithuanian Youth Center

Lithuanian barn at the Hamilton Lithuanian Youth Center

Rambynas pensioner house

This apartment block adorned with patriotic Column of Gediminas symbol has been established by the Lithuanian community of Hamilton in 1982 for the elderly Lithuanians for whom it became too difficult to take care of their own detached homes.

Rambynas Lithuanian Senior Citizens House of Hamilton

Rambynas Lithuanian Senior Citizens House of Hamilton

While the function is prosaic, the aim to create a Lithuanian atmosphere is what separates Rambynas from other similar projects. Lithuanian atmosphere was especially important for the Lithuanian DPs – refugees who had fled the Soviet occupation of Lithuania in the 1940s. By 1982, many of them were aging and they wanted to age in as Lithuanian atmosphere as possible.

Later, however, the majority of the tenants were non-Lithuanians although the Lithuanian component is still strong and the Lithuanian details remain.

Lithuanian symbols at the entrance of Rambynas

Lithuanian symbols at the entrance of Rambynas

Talka credit cooperative

Yet another column-of-Gediminas adorned a building in Hamilton is „Talka“ credit cooperative, part of a string of ethnic credit cooperatives founded by Lithuanians to help each other save money and lend other Lithuanians in need.

Talka Credit Cooperative of Hamilton

Talka Credit Cooperative of Hamilton

Talka was established by a Lithuanian banker Ernestas Lengnikas who, after immigrating to Canada as a refugee fleeing the Soviet occupation, found out that he could not get a similar job in Canada if he speaks no English. Therefore, he effectively established his own bank, catering to Lithuanian-speakers. His painting still adorns the interior.

Talka still has many Lithuanian employees albeit its services are no longer limited to Lithuanians. The current building dates to 1983.

Image of Lengnikas inside Talka building

Image of Lengnikas inside Talka building

Giedraitis club

Hamilton Lithuanians‘ own country club! 30 acres (12 ha) of land (~400x200 m) have been acquired in 1966. The club is officially dedicated to anglers and hunters and has two shooting ranges. However, it also serves for simple countryside events and festivals, mostly in summer, as the landscape is pretty, includes both fields and forests, as well as a lake island.

Giedraitis club gate with the Columns of Gediminas symbol

Giedraitis club gate with the Columns of Gediminas symbol

For such purposes, a clubhouse has been constructed in 1985, which includes one small hall in the basement and one large hall. In the hall, club trophies are also kept.

Giedraitis Club grounds

Giedraitis Club grounds

In Hamilton of the 1960s, such club was a real pride for the Lithuanian community. Many ethnic groups had similar clubs in Hamilton but just a few of them owned lands or big shooting ranges. They would compete with each other in ethnic shooting championships.

Trophies of Giedraitis club in the clubhouse

Trophies of Giedraitis club in the clubhouse

However, the fortunes turned against such clubs as Canada limited its gun ownership rights and imposed more stringent rules on the shooting ranges (~1990s). To more and more people, shooting was less and less fun due to bureaucracy and the youth failed to embrace the sport. As such, the number of members declined in the Giedraitis club from some 200 at its peak to just some 50 ~2019.

Giedraitis shooting range

Giedraitis shooting range

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Wasaga Beach, Ontario

To Lithuanians, Wasaga Beach is the „Palanga of Canada“. This no little feat since Palanga is the largest resort of Lithuania and one of the largest on the Baltic Sea.

Lithuanians who moved to Canada after World War 2 had nostalgic feelings to Palanga and, once it became possible, they bought their own summer homes in the area near Toronto that resembled Palanga the most: the pretty coasts and forests of Wasaga Beach.

Lithuanian camp „Kretinga“of Wasaga Beach

„Kretinga“ Lithuanian camp of Wasaga Beach is far more than a campsite: it is a kind of Lithuanian village that attracts Lithuanian children and teenagers from all over Canada. During summers, each week is dedicated to some particular group of people (e.g. „Lithuanian-speaking teens“, „English speaking teens of Lithuanian descent“) who come to „Kretinga“ and spend the week in a forest amidst Lithuanian symbols.

Among such symbols is the mystical Kretinga Hill of Crosses in the forest having a few large crosses and modeled after the one in Šiauliai. Crosses include one based on the Ateitininkai symbol (a Lithuanian Christian youth organization), one dedicated to Algirdas Trumpickas, one wooden post is dedicated to Kretinga camp itself (1992). One of the crosses is symbolically fallen down.

In the center of the camp, the main hall has its walls covered in Lithuanian artworks created by the visitors of the camp (each year a new one is made). One mural is on the exterior – it depicts the history of Lithuanian independence (1987-1991). Next to the building, a map of Lithuania is a land art that shows the map of the old big Lithuania (before World War 2).

The map is deteriorated though as the camp has been established in 1955.

There are also basketball courts and buildings where those camping lives at. ~100 children camp there at a single time.

As Kretinga is owned and has been established by the Lithuanian Franciscan monks, it also has a small Jurgis Matulaitis Catholic chapel dedicated to one of the few Lithuanians who have achieved the status of Blessed. Inside there is a traditional Lithuanian wooden cross and chapel-post. Next to the chapel, there is a pet cemetery: Franciscans of Toronto typically keep dogs in their monastery and this is where these dogs are buried when they die.

Three streets around Kretinga camp are named in Lithuanian: Wydunas (after a Lithuanian philosopher Vydūnas), and Nida, as well as Baltic Street.

Kretinga itself is named after a Lithuanian city of Kretinga, the first one where Franciscan monks became established in Lithuania. That is because Krteinga is owned by Franciscans. It thus also includes numerous religious references, including a small chapel, a mass during the camp activities and, rather weirdly, a pet cemetery: Lithuanian Franciscans of Canada have a tradition of keeping a pet in their monastery of Toronto and Kretinga is where they are buried after death.

Wasaga Beach Lithuanian church

Wasaga Beach Lithuanian church of Good Shepherd is located in a small building on the opposite side of Wasaga Beach from „Kretinga“, some 20 km away.

The church has a unique design: its main room can be transformed from a church into a hall by merely covering the altar. The back wall of the church also opens, allowing the alter and the priest to be visible from the outside where there also pews and the faithful could gather. Very appropriate for a church of a resort.

The austere interior still has a galore of Lithuanian symbols. The altar is surrounded by Lithuanian symbols, among the most prominent being the Hill of Crosses, one of the symbols of Vilnius that has been destroyed by the Soviets at the time Wasaga Beach church was constructed. Also, there is Rūpintojėlis, a Lithuanian flag, a copy of Our Lady of Vilnius painting.

On the front of the church, there is a Lithuanian traditional wooden cross, as well as Lithuanian wooden artworks relocated from London (Ontario) Our Lady of Šiluva Lithuanian church that had been demolished.

In the 1950s or 1970s, Wasaga Beach was largely a summer community and thus no year-round mass or Lithuanian activities took place. When the small church was constructed in 1955, it was constructed as a summer-only edifice. It mostly served the local Good Shepherd camp, owned by what is now the Lithuanian Martyrs parish of Mississauga. However, this camp was later (1973) closed down in favor of Camp Kretinga. Its buildings were demolished, save for the church and the so-called „rectory“ behind the church now used for post-Mass events.

While kids left this area of Wasaga, more and more older people came in: many of them would leave Toronto or Hamilton for good when retired, moving to their summer homes in Wasaga Beach. In 1974, 3 Lithuanian families permanently lived in Wasaga Beach and 15-16 in the surroundings and the numbers were growing.

In 1993, the Good Shepherd mission was thus consecrated as a permanent church, now heated in winter. In the summers, the church used to be full both inside and outside while in the winters, as temporary residents would move out, it is less full.

Midland Lithuanian Martyrs shrine

The cozy and impressive hilltop Canadian Martyrs shrine may be dedicated to the Jesuit missionaries who were killed by Native Americans. However, in 1957, Lithuanians chose the shrine as a site to erect their own cross for Lithuanian Martyrs, reminding Canada that while being killed for your faith may have been a distant sad past in America, it was still a real issue „behind the Iron Curtain“ where religious Lithuanians were persecuted by the Soviet atheist regime. The cross was initially wooden but replaced by a more permanent metal one in 1972.

The Lithuanian cross then became a destination for annual Lithuanian pilgrimages. More impressively, the cross began a tradition among Canada‘s minorities to create their own shrines near the Canadian Martyrs shrine, thus making the surroundings of the shrine into a kind of an international religious park where one can see how the same Christian faith may have different symbols and interpretations in different countries.

Interestingly, the Polish shrine also includes a sculpture of Divine Mercy, based on the painting of Divine Mercy that was painted (and still exists) in Vilnius, Lithuania. That is because the painting was created according to visions of a Polish nun Faustina Kowalska, who resided in Vilnius at the time. Arguably Divine Mercy has an even bigger following in Poland than in Lithuania.

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Alberta (Canada)

The Lithuanian Home in Alberta's capital city Edmonton (83 Street Northwest) is a small building in a district of single-floored single-family homes. This was the maximum what a small local Lithuanian community could have acquired and the small space is well used: the house includes a chapel (that replaces the otherwise usual Lithuanian church for which there were no funds). The outside is covered by the columns of Gediminas, ethnic ornamentation.

Lithuanian Home in Edmonton, Alberta. Google Street View.

Alberta also has a village (pop. ~250) Vilna named after the Lithuania's capital city Vilnius. The settlement has been established in 1907 when Vilnius was ruled by the Russian Empire and the contemporary Russian name of the city was "Vilna". As Russian has been the official language of the entire Empire this was the name that the city appeared as on maps worldwide and so it was also chosen by mostly Eastern European Alberta settlers. By the way even today in a few languages Vilnius city is still officially known as "Vilna" (Finnish, Spanish, Tagalog and Latin; Latvians call the city Viļņa). In those languages Vilna in Alberta and Vilnius in Lithuania are still homonymous.

Entering Vilna (Vilnius) of Alberta. Google Street View.

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Delhi, Ontario

Delhi is a traditional region of tobacco growing. It is unique in Lithuanian America, as it is one of merely two areas where Lithuanians in America typically worked in farms rather than in factories or mines. Also, unlike in most of Canada, where most Lithuanians are Sovet-era refugees and descendants (i.e. immigrated after World War 2), Lithuanians began moving into Delhi en-masse in the 1920s-1930s.

St. Casimir Lithuanian church in Delhi town may be small and austere, however, in a town of merely 4000 inhabitants its mere existence may seem rather miraculous. By 2010s this was the smallest town in the Americas where the Lithuanian mass was held.

The church was made possible as the Delhi area has a strong Lithuanian history, as many Lithuanians have worked in the tobacco plantations of the surrounding areas and, later, even owned them. Up to ~500 of them would typically drive to the church from places far and wide; in order to make it easier for the farmers to participate, the Lithuanian Sunday mass used to take place in the evenings. The church was so intertwined with the farming life that it actually even ordered fertilizer for Lithuanian tobacco farms in order to achieve a stronger bargaining position (buying the tobacco together, all parishioners could get a discount).

St. Casimir Lithuanian church was originally constructed as a general Catholic church (St. John of Brebeuf) in 1933 but acquired by Lithuanians after World War 2 (1960) as the non-ethnic-based Catholic church built a new bigger building for itself. The church includes the main hall above and a secular hall in the cellar where non-religious activities would take place.

At that time of church acquisition, the pre-WW2 Delhi area Lithuanian community was swelled by refugees from Soviet-occupied Lithuania. Many of them were religious and patriotic, and so the Delhi Lithuanian church became a hub of Lithuanian religion and patriotism.

The cross behind the church altar is a traditional Lithuanian sun-cross, there also are modest Lithuanian artworks in the basement hall. That said, given that it is basically a small village church, unlike in the bigger Lithuanian-Canadian parishes, much of what is inside was actually received as donations or otherwise from other churches and not created by famous Lithuanian-Canadian artists in an ethnic manner.

Lithuanian patriotism is primarily marked by the Lithuanian Martyrs cross outside of the church, erected in 1966 by architect V. Zubas and craftsman J. Vitkauskas. The cross is dedicated to those who died for faith and freedom in Lithuania – that is, were murdered in the Soviet Genocide or died fighting the Soviet occupation. Even though the Lithuanian refugees chose an alternative option of fleeing Lithuania, they always regarded those who remained as heroes and victims.

The refugees, or so-called DPs, always formed nearly all the congregation of the St. Casimir church. While there was a strong Lithuanian community in Delhi area tobacco plantations even before World War 2, those earlier Lithuanians mostly did not join as many of them were successfully influenced by the Soviet propaganda. In fact, the Delhi area had some of the largest frictions between the post-WW2 refugees and the pre-WW2 Lithuanian community.

Affected by the Soviet propaganda, the old leftist tobacco farmers of Delhi area often even viewed the refugees as criminals: they believed that nobody who was not a real criminal had any reason to flee the „Soviet Paradise“ as, surely, Soviets would not execute or torture anybody without reason. After all, most of these tobacco farmers emigrated from Lithuania to Canada in the 1920s and 1930s, well before the occupation of Lithuania.

For the refugees who just witnessed the Soviet Genocide of 1940-1941, the attitude of pre-WW2 Lithuanian-Canadians of Delhi area was simply incomprehensible: the „old Lithuanians of Delhi“ were either naive idiots or collaborating traitors. They wouldn‘t go to the Lithuanian Club of the area owned by old Lithuanians that has since closed.

Nearly no new immigrants from Lithuania came to Delhi area in the 1950s-1980s as the Soviet Union would not let Lithuanians out so 1944 was the last year it was possible to flee. At the same time, despite the efforts of the DP generation, Delhi community slowly assimilated: Lithuanian Saturday school was closed in 1987, for example, due to lack of children (children of mixed families typically did not attend, much of the youth also departed to the cities as tobacco ceased to be that lucrative). After Lithuania became independent in 1990 there were still few immigrants here as the tobacco industry was already on the decline. The only new Lithuanians were typically the few who had relatives in the area.

As such, while the Lithuanian church still was full of people in the 1980s (mostly aging), merely a few parishioners attended each Sunday mass in 2019. Still, the Lithuanian church has actually outlived the non-ethnic-based Roman Catholic church of Delhi that has been closed in 2005. It remained the sole Roman Catholic church in town.

Now, the multiethnic heritage of Delhi is concentrated in its Tobacco industry museum, which has exhibits on every influential ethnicity of the area, including Lithuanians (some others: Ukrainians, Poles, Hungarians, Belgians, British, Slovaks). There are also flags of each immigrant ethnicity there and in the town center. No less important than the rather simple exhibition are various ethnic activities that are organized there and help people remember their roots.

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St. Catharines, Ontario

St. Catharines Lithuanian community was small yet it created one of the most Lithuanian-looking churches of Canada. While no longer used by Lithuanians, the church still has a Memorial to Lithuania on the outside, with the words „To Lithuania“ („Lietuvai“) chiseled on it and a traditional Lithuanian sun-cross on the top. There is also a Lithuanian inscription on the cornerstone (something that is rare in Canada).

St. Mary of the Angels church began operating in 1949, in a simple house. During 1955-1964, it was reconstructed by the most famous Lithuanian-Canadian architect Kulpa-Kulpavičius who introduced the ethnic details and turned the building into a real church.

This would not have been possible if not the Lithuanian Franciscan monks. At the time, the ranks of Lithuanian monks abroad swelled as the Soviet Union has occupied Lithuania in the 1940s and banned monastic orders there. Staying in Lithuania meant death or torture for many monks, without much real possibility to continue their work. Thus, many monks fled and worked among the distant Lithuanian emigrant communities such as the one in St. Catharines, Ontario, and they needed monasteries for that.

Officially, the church was a chapel of that monastery but for the communities of St. Catharines, Welland, Niagara Falls and beyond it served as the only Lithuanian church and the place for Lithuanian activities. For example, between 1949 and 1964 it has Christened 87 children and had 356 members.

Like most Lithuanian churches abroad, the St. Catharines one promoted ethnic activity: Lithuanian scouts, Lithuanian folk dances and songs, etc.

Thus, the chapel had an entirely secular patriotic entrance mural depicting the rise of the Lithuanian flag in the Gediminas Hill of Vilnius (by S. Šetkus), as well as another mural depicting Lithuanian village women praying for killed Lithuanians (also by S. Šetkus). It also had a modern-style door with bilingual inscriptions („Franciscan Fathers - Šv. Marijos koplyčia“ – „Franciscan Fathers – St. Mary chapel“) and a traditional Lithuanian sun-cross above its main triangular entrance.

However, this and other Lithuanian details of the interior, as well as religious details on the exterior, no longer survives as the church has been acquired by Antiochan rite Orthodox church ~2011 as the Lithuanian community dwindled. For a while, Lithuanian mass still continued there but not anymore. According to the new owners, Lithuanians themselves (or rather the Roman Catholic diocese) has actually removed the art before the building transfer. Currently, the building operates as St. Ignatius of Antioch Orthodox Church.

The monument „to Lithuania“ was kept by the new owners. Some of its religious symbols (the image of Virgin Mary) were removed, presumably before the sale but the Lithuanian sun-cross survives.

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Romuva and northern Ontario

Nearly all Lithuanian-Canadian heritage is concentrated in the short strip of Ontario and Quebec close to the US border, where the main cities are.

As time passed, however, urban Lithuanians often sought for a place in the pristine countryside of Canada, thus creating their own camps, resorts, and country clubs in the forests some 200-300 kilometers north of Toronto.

The most famous of such Lithuanian resorts Wasaga Beach is described in a separate article, together with nearby Midland.

Lithuanian-related sites further north from Wasaga Beach are the Romuva Lithuanian Scout camp, Lithuanian hunters club and Wilno town, named after Lithuania's capital Vilnius.

Romuva camp gate

Romuva camp gate

Romuva Lithuanian Scout Camp

Romuva is a league of its own: a piece of truly Lithuanian countryside amidst beautiful Canadian forests 230 km north of Toronto, on the shores of Fox Lake.

Beginning at a beautiful wooden gate, the area includes numerous Lithuanian memorials, as well as pretty vistas. Every building here has something Lithuanian in it – at least a Lithuanian name.

The most famous monument in the Romuva camp is the Romuva camp gate, created by Lithuanian artists Stasys Kuzmas and his wife Genovaitė in 1970. It became a symbol of the camp.

Top of the Romuva gate

Top of the Romuva gate

Dedication on the gate says 'Lithuanians we are born' (a text from the famous song) and 'For the scouting youth'

Dedication on the gate says 'Lithuanians we are born' (a text from the famous song) and 'For the scouting youth'

Romuva was developed in the 1960s as a camp for Lithuanian Scouts. In comparison to other Canadian scouts, Lithuanian scouts have an additional goal of promoting the Lithuanian heritage. Scouts who came here were meant to have an opportunity to speak Lithuanian and meet other Lithuanians. Only here (and in the USA) could the idea of Lithuanian scouting be passed onto the next generation: Lithuania itself was occupied by the Soviet Union at the time (1940-1990) and being a boy scout was sometimes a death sentence there.

Main Hall of the Romuva Lithuanian Scout camp of Canada

Main Hall of the Romuva Lithuanian Scout camp of Canada

The main scout camps continue every year (a week in the summer with some 150 campers) but Romuva also attracts Lithuanians outside of these times for spending time in nature, angling, and other activities. Even in the deep Canadian winter they would come here and build temporary shelters in the snow.

Morning at Romuva with Fox lake visible

Morning at Romuva with Fox lake visible

Even outside the main, the Lithuanian atmosphere is created by all the history and monuments here. A cross erected in 1972 is dedicated to the Lithuanian sea scouts who celebrated their 50th anniversary then. The flag square includes a memorial with crosses. In the square during the camping days, the flags are raised: nearly always the Lithuanian and Canadian flags and also the flags of any other countries Lithuanians had come to camp from (often the USA, sometimes Australia).

Romuva flag square

Romuva flag square

Sea scouts jubilee cross in Romuva camp

Sea scouts jubilee cross in Romuva camp

There is also a Map of Lithuania land art monument: the map here is not that of Lithuania today but that of Lithuania in 1918-1940 that the builders of Romuva hoped to once restore.

Map of Lithuania (top) with Lithuania flag-colored steps leading to it

Map of Lithuania (top) with Lithuania flag-colored steps leading to it

The camp name Romuva means a Lithuanian pagan temple: while most Lithuanian scouts are Roman Catholics, the history of Lithuanians being the final Pagan country in Europe is still important.

The camp includes multiple buildings. The main hall of Romuva (the only larger building in the camp) is adorned with many artworks, each one of them created by one of the campers of one of the past summer camps. Each summer thus one additional artwork is created and left in the hall for the future generations of the scouts and others who use Romuva. Thus, the main hall also serves as a kind of museum of the camp.

Main Hall of the Romuva camp

Main Hall of the Romuva camp

Interior of the main hall of Romuva, filled with flags, posters, bas-reliefs and other artworks created in the decades by the participants of the summer camps

Interior of the main hall of Romuva, filled with flags, posters, bas-reliefs and other artworks created in the decades by the participants of the summer camps

An example of camp artwork in Romuva

An example of camp artwork in Romuva

Romuva also has several houses where people can lodge, 12 people per house. They are named after Lithuanian localities. However, this being a scout camp, most of the campers actually live in tents in numerous sub-camps located in pretty natural landscapes around the area, so some 100-250 people camp there in total every summer. Originally, the summer camp used to take two weeks but has been reduced to one week.

A house in Romuva called Vilnius (after the capital of Lithuania)

A house in Romuva called Vilnius (after the capital of Lithuania)

The camp territory is, however, locked when no one is there and could be visited only if a time is arranged.

There is also a boat shed with a symbol of Lithuanian sea scouts.

Lithuanian sea scout symbol on the boat shed

Lithuanian sea scout symbol on the boat shed

The total area of Romuva is 80 acres (31 ha) and it includes 300 meters of lakeshore. Much of the landscape here has been created by Lithuanians, with some trees removed, additional ones planted creating an atmosphere of a cozy park by the lake.

Wilno, Ontario

Wilno is en-route from Romuva to Ottawa.

Wilno – the name of this town – is actually the Polish name of Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. While small, Wilno (Ontario) is actually the biggest foreign location named after Vilnius.

Wilno tavern

Wilno tavern

The town has been named Wilno because its founder, Ludwik Dembski, hailed from the Polish-speaking community of Vilnius. He refused to have the town named after himself and so it was named after his hometown.

Wilno sign

Wilno sign

Most of the settlers of Wilno were actually from a very different part of Poland – Kashubia (near Gdansk). Kashubs are actually a unique minority within Poland and thus some things in the town are now written in three languages: English, Polish, and Kashub. Wilno is proud of its heritage and billed as the oldest Polish settlement in Canada.

Trilingual inscriptions in Wilno

Trilingual inscriptions in Wilno

Wilno St. Mary of Czestochowa church is the oldest Polish parish in Canada (the church itself dates to the interwar era, however). It also pays homage to Vilnius, as its interior houses the key Catholic figures associated with the city: Our Lady of the Gate of Dawn (Our Lady of Vilnius) image, Divine Mercy image (the originals of both are in Vilnius), as well as St. Faustina Kowalska image. St. Faustina was a Pole who, while residing in Vilnius (Lithuania), received visions from Jesus Christ that ended up in the creation of Divine Mercy painting.

Our Lady of Vilnius and Divine Mecy in the Wilno's church

Our Lady of Vilnius and Divine Mecy in the Wilno's church

Wilno also has a Skansen of Polish-Kashub heritage. The wooden farmsteads are actually not that different from those of Lithuania. Like Lithuania, the Wilno area is proud of its wooden wayside crosses.

A fragment of Wilno's skansen

A fragment of Wilno's skansen

A traditional house in Wilno

A traditional house in Wilno

Wilno was established in 1858 and a lot reminds the Poland-Lithuania area of the time.

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London, Ontario

London is the only city in Canada that once had rather significant Lithuanian heritage but now has no Lithuanian sites at all.

London Our Lady of Šiluva was the last Lithuanian parish to be established in Canada (1964). It acquired a building from another denomination but then converted its interior into a highly Lithuanian one, full of Lithuanian artworks: massive traditional Lithuanian cross, an altar for Lithuanian martyrs (killed by the Soviets), etc.

The most famous Lithuanian-Canadian architect Alfredas Kulpa-Kulpavičius led the reconstruction. The name itself was also highly Lithuanian, with Šiluva village of Lithuania being the place of Europe‘s first church-recognized Maryan vision. In the church, both Lithuanian religious and secular activities took place.

Sadly, the church was closed by the diocese in 2000. In 2006, the closed building was flooded due to a broken pipe. As the building was unused at the time, it took time to notice this and the water made heavy damage which made the repairs costly. Instead of repairing the building, therefore, the diocese decided to demolish the church.

This way, nothing visibly Lithuanian remains in the entire city of London, Ontario, despite there having been a sizeable Lithuanian community that actually still held Lithuanian holy mass in rented premises even after its Our Lady of Šiluva church was lost.

Some Lithuanian traditional wooden artworks from the Our Lady of Šiluva church have been relocated to Wasaga Beach Lithuanian church. The cornerstone is now located on a private ground.

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Windsor, Ontario

Windsor town is separated by just a river from Detroit, Michigan.

Its sole Lithuanian site was St. Casimir Lithuanian church of Windsor. It does not look like a church at all – it operated in a rather regular house. The local Lithuanian community was small and thus was never able to build a „real“ church yet they needed their own building for their activities, choosing to acquire such a house instead in 1963. After getting closed, the building was sold to another church – Life Gate Fellowship Church.

The former St. Casimir Lithuanian church of Windsor, Ontario

The former St. Casimir Lithuanian church of Windsor, Ontario

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Map of Lithuanian heritage in eastern Midwest

Map of the Lithuanian heritage in eastern Midwest (Michigan, Ohio) and western Ontario.

More info on Lithuanian heritage in Ohio, Michigan, Ontario.

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Map of Lithuanian heritage in Mid-Atlantic

Map of the Lithuanian heritage in Mid-Atlantic (New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, DC) and western Ontario.

More info on Lithuanian heritage in Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Washington, DC, Ontario.

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Map of Lithuanian heritage in New England

Map of the Lithuanian heritage in New England (Connectictut, Massachusetts, Maine, Rhode Island, New Hampshire) and Quebec.

More info on Lithuanian heritage in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire,
Rhode Island, Quebec.

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