Global True Lithuania Encyclopedia of Lithuanian heritage worldwide

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.

In fact, the French-speaking Montreal and its surroundings arguably has at least as much Lithuanian heritage as the entire remaining French-speaking world combined.

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.

St. Casimir Lithuanian church of Montreal

St. Casimir Lithuanian church of Montreal

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.

St. Casimir Lithuanian church of Montreal interior with St. Casimir statue above the altar

St. Casimir Lithuanian church of Montreal interior with St. Casimir statue above the altar

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

In the church hall in the basement of St. Casimir church

In the church hall in the basement of St. Casimir church

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.

Side-altars carved in a traditional Lithuanian way at the Montreal St. Casimir church

Side-altars carved in a traditional Lithuanian way at the Montreal St. Casimir church

In 2007, St. Casimir Lithuanian church became the only Lithuanian institution in Canada to celebrate a centenary. To commemorate this, a traditional Lithuanian cross has been constructed outside the church. While traditionally Lithuanian crosses are made of wood, this one was built of more permanent metal.

Lithuanian cross of the Montreal St. Casimir Lithuanian church

Lithuanian cross of the Montreal St. Casimir Lithuanian church

Currently, the St. Casimir Lithuanian parish of Montreal is the oldest surviving Lithuanian parish outside of historic Lithuanian lands.

Our Lady 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 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) and form (the church itself reminds the gate of dawn).

Front of the Our Lady Gate of Dawn church, reminding of a gate

Front of the Our Lady Gate of Dawn church, reminding of a gate

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.

Three Crosses of Vilnius behind the altar of the Montreal Our Lady Gate of Dawn Lithuanian church

Three Crosses of Vilnius behind the altar of the Montreal Our Lady Gate of Dawn Lithuanian church

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.

Interior of the church

Interior of the church

There is also no stained-glass Windows inside except for the one with the image of Our Lady 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.

Memorial plaque for the Lithuanian soldiers and partisans (left) and an amber artwork (as amber is considered to be one of the national symbols of Lithuania)

Memorial plaque for the Lithuanian soldiers and partisans (left) and an amber artwork (as amber is considered to be one of the national symbols of Lithuania)

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.

Tamošaitis's works in the basment area of the Montreal Lithuanian church of Our Lady Gate of Dawn

Tamošaitis's works in the basment area of the Montreal Lithuanian church of Our Lady Gate of Dawn

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 cross at the Montreal Our Lady Gate of Dawn Lithuanian church

Lithuanian cross at the Montreal Our Lady Gate of Dawn Lithuanian church

Our Lady Gate of Dawn church rectory is also much more than a priest's residence, serving as a continuation of the Lithuanian zone of Our Lady Gate of Dawn. Inside the rectory, "Litas" Lithuanian credit co-operative operates, the largest secular Lithuanian institution in Montreal, with over 1000 members. "Litas", established in 1955, is essentially a bank for Lithuanians and is one of four such Lithuanian banks in Canada. This is the largest number of Lithuanian credit institutions in the world save for Lithuania itself (outflanking even the USA).

Also, the rectory serves as a Lithuanian language school.

Entrance to Lithuanian credit co-operative Litas at the rectory of Our Lady Gate of Dawn

Entrance to Lithuanian credit co-operative Litas at the rectory of Our Lady Gate of Dawn

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 its 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).

Vytautas Club building today

Vytautas Club building today

Cornerstone of the Vytautas Club, now in the Lithuanian museum-archive of Toronto

Cornerstone of the Vytautas Club, now in the Lithuanian museum-archive of Toronto

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 (Lithuania Street). The street is suburban and consists mostly of townhouses.

Lithuania street in LaSalle, Montreal

Lithuania street in LaSalle, Montreal

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.

One of numerous inscriptions where the Lake Dainava name is written

One of numerous inscriptions where the Lake Dainava name is written

Lake Dainava near Montreal

Lake Dainava near Montreal

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

According to some sources, Rue Senkus in LaSalle is named after a Lithuanian council member. If you know more about who this Senkus was, please write in the comments.

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.

Leonard Cohen grave in Montreal

Leonard Cohen grave in Montreal

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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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