Description of Historic Place
St. Michael’s Ukrainian Greek Orthodox Church National Historic Site of Canada, located in Gardenton, Manitoba, is a small, white wooden church surrounded by farmlands built by the first group of settlers to immigrate to Canada from Bukovina (now in western Ukraine). Its distinctive massing, plan and “onion-dome” cupola reflect the Byzantine-influenced architectural heritage of Ukraine. A nearby wooden free-standing bell tower of stacked cube design was added in 1906. Official recognition refers to the church and bell tower church on their legal lot.
St. Michael’s Ukrainian Greek Orthodox Church was designated a national historic site of Canada in 1987 because of:
- the Church and Bell Tower’s place in the early history of Ukrainian ecclesiastical architecture in Canada;
- the quality of workmanship of the Church and Bell Tower. (Verbatim SOCI-DP)
Forty-three volunteers from the district constructed St. Michael's under the supervision of Wasyl Kekof, a skilled carpenter from Bukovina. Adapting age-old techniques using the available simple tools and found materials, they began by cutting the logs in the winter of 1897-98. They had arrived only months before, during the first wave of migration from the western Ukraine, Bukovina and Galicia. By the time the church was consecrated in October 1899, the district was home to 250 Ukrainian families who followed either the Greek Orthodox or the Greek Catholic rites.
To preserve the Greek Orthodox Church's heritage, which reflects the ''Eastern Rite'', with ties to the Byzantine Empire, the settlers had to rely on the memory of their modest village church architecture that was developed in the 10th and 11th centuries. The plan used here reflects this traditional link, with a series of spaces, called “frames”, which lead through the three main areas towards the iconostas. In the centre frame, the largest dome opening is richly painted with gold stars on a deep blue background to inspire heavenly thoughts. The walls and iconostas in the final frame are richly ornamented with framed icons and religious furnishings all of exceptional craftsmanship. The interior remains today essentially as it was in 1915.
While the church is of log construction with moss chinking and dove-tailed corners, resting on a shallow fieldstone foundation, parishioners covered the logs with wood siding in 1901. In 1906, a separate wooden two-tiered bell tower containing three cast-iron bells was built in the churchyard, also in the Bukovinian style. When the church was in need of a new roof in 1915, parishioners turned to a young local man, Menholy Chalaturnyk, who had come from Bukovina in 1905 and had learned the art of traditional Ukrainian carpentry from a neighbouring craftsman. Chalaturnyk designed and built the three cupolas, one large over the centre frame and two smaller ones over the east and west frames, in 1915. By reconfiguring the original hipped and thatched roof to this distinctive roofline, St. Michael’s was brought to its present appearance.
With the opening of a second church in 1934, the original St Michael’s Ukrainian Greek Orthodox Church, now only used for an annual celebration in August, stands as a reminder of the rich cultural heritage and skilled craftsmanship the first Ukrainians brought to the land.
Source: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, November 1987.
Key elements that relate to the heritage value of the site include:
- its location in the community of Gardenton, surrounded by farmlands;
- its east-west axis orientation within its churchyard;
- its freestanding wooden bell tower of two cubes capped by pyramidal roof with worked wooden shingles, above a small open arcade;
- its varied roofline, with broad eaves and three “onion domed” cupolas each topped with the Greek Orthodox cross;
- its massing, reflecting the three interior frames, indicative of its Ukrainian influence;
- its richly decorative interior, including the iconostas wall with its three symbolic openings, the candlelit brass chandeliers of exceptional workmanship, the carved wooden furnishings, and the many wood-framed icons of richly layered colours that cover most of the available wall space;
- the interior ceiling of the largest cupola, richly painted in blues and golds to simulate the celestial sky.