Global True Lithuania Encyclopedia of Lithuanian heritage worldwide

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 an unused chapel. After being given that chapel by the bishopric, Lithuanians converted it into a shrine for not only the Christian faith but also 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, melskis 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

The map of Lithuanian heritage sites of Hamilton area

All the Lithuanian heritage locations of Hamilton are marked on this interactive map, made by the "Destination Lithuanian America" expedition (click the link):

Interactive map of Hamilton Lithuanian sites

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