The 25,000-member Armenian community is among the city’s most active in preserving its culture and heritage. Armenians have clung tenaciously to their rich traditions, organizing language classes, youth groups, theatrical and choral endeavours, churches, and political, cultural and benevolent organizations.
Two striking monuments in Toronto are dedicated to the Armenian people whose existence was once threatened throughout the First World War by Turkey. At the Armenian Community Centre in Willowdale, Revival, a poignant sculpture by Armenian artist Arto, depicts the survival and rebirth of the Armenian people. A second memorial depicting the tragic past of the Armenian people is located at the Alex Manoogian Cultural Centre in Scarborough. Designed by Dick Dakessian, the monument’s two arches join at their peak to form a cross, while the base holds an eternal flame, symbolizing peace.
Armenian students were among the first members of the community to come to Canada, sponsored by Protestant missionaries in the late nineteenth century. One student, Mesrob Baghdasarian, and his family were allowed to stay permanently. Early Armenians in Ontario worked on construction of the Canadian Pacific Railroad, and others who intended to work only temporarily as labourers in Southwestern Ontario became permanent residents due to the outbreak of the Balkan Wars in 1912.
In 1915, during the First World War, Armenians sought refuge from the genocide that was taking place in their homeland in South Caucasus. A group of successful Canadian businessmen formed an association that helped in the adoption of a group of 109 orphaned Armenian children. Set up and cared for on a farm training school in Georgetown, Ontario, the children became affectionately known as the Georgetown Boys.
By 1923, some Armenians that had settled in Canada were living near Church Street. Many were involved in the rug business—including the selling, repairing, and cleaning of rugs. At this time, Armenians began to organize cultural, political, and religious activities. In the 1930s, the upstairs chapel of the landmark Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Eaton Square became the site of Armenian religious services. The first community-owned religious building was the Holy Trinity Armenian Church on Woodlawn Avenue, consecrated in 1953.
Armenians who came to Toronto in the late 1950s were largely from the Middle East and outside Turkey, where Armenians had settled after fleeing their country. In the 1960s, thousands of Armenian business men, craftsmen and professionals from the Middle East, Europe, and Soviet Armenia moved to Toronto and Montreal. In the 1970s and 1980s, during the Lebanese Civil War and the Iran-Iraq war, more Armenians from the Middle East came to Canada.
Armenian Torontonians have excelled in the arts. Personalities include comedian and actress Andrea Martin, children’s songwriter Raffi, and film director Atom Egoyan.
In 1988, Toronto’s Armenians, along with other Torontonians, worked day and night in a compassionate effort to send supplies and money to the victims of the major earthquake in Armenia. The generosity of the community is also extended to their fellow Canadians and their new homeland. Every year, the Armenian community hosts an awards dinner in honour of an outstanding Canadian. Proceeds from the event are placed in a university scholarship fund to encourage interest in Armenian studies. Past recipients include former Ontario premier Bill Davis, Prime Minister Jean Chretien, former U.N. Ambassador Stephen Lewis, labour leader Bob White, and author Margaret Atwood.
VARTAN’S DAY (VARTANANTZ), in February or March, honours the battle of Avarair, 451 A.D., between Zoroastrian Persians and Armenians. The Armenians fought to retain their Christianity, and although they lost the battle and General Vartan Mamikonian was killed, they still maintained their faith. Thirty years later, under Vartan’s nephew, Vahan Mamokonian, the Armenians were victorious.
MEMORIAL DAY or MARTYR’S DAY, April 24, is the most significant day of the year for Armenians. It commemorates the day in 1915 that Armenian intellectuals and religious leaders were put to death by the Turkish government. The day is commemorated worldwide with memorial services and political rallies. Members of the community pay their respects by visiting the two monuments located at the Armenian cultural centres.
SARDARABAD DAY, held in May, celebrates a victory over the Turkish army and remembers Armenians who died in the great battle at Sardarabad, Armenia from May 22 to 26, 1918.
INDEPENDENCE DAY OF THE FIRST REPUBLIC, May 28, commemorates the proclamation in 1918 of Armenia as an independent republic. The republic lasted two years.
INDEPENDANCE DAY September 21, 1991, following the collapse of the USSR, Armenia became an independent republic and elected its first parliament and president, Levon Der Bedrossian. The embassy of the republic of Armenia opened on March 19, 1995.
CHRISTMAS is celebrated by Armenian Catholics and Armenian Protestants on December 25. January 6 is Epiphany in the Armenian Orthodox Church, and on this day, the birth and baptism of Jesus Christ are celebrated simultaneously.
Every year a Christmas bazaar, offering handicrafts, sweaters and other items, is held by the Armenian Relief Society at the community centre. October is a cultural month at the Alex Manoogian Cultural Centre, with several activities, including drama and dance performances, recitals, and exhibits of art by artists from Armenia.
CANADA ARMENIAN PRESS, (Tel. 905-305-8144, Fax 905-305-8125, 2600 14th Ave., Markham). Published quarterly by the Armenian Evangelical Church. Editor: Rev. Y. Sarmazian.
KHOSNAG, (Tel. 416-431-2428, 930 Progress Ave). A newsletter published four times a year by the A.G.B.U. Editor: Salpi Derghazarian.
LOUSSAPATZ (THE DAWN), (Tel. 416-285-6982, 174 Shropshire Dr). A periodical published by the Nor Serount Cultural Association. Editor: Bedros Mouchian.
NOR SEROUNT (NEW GENERATION), (Tel. 416-431-3001, 920 Progress Ave). A periodical published by the Armenian Holy Trinity Church.
ZANK (BELL), (Tel. 416-491-2675, 50 Hallcrown Pl). A periodical published by the ARS Day School.
THE ARMENIAN COMMUNITY CENTRE, (Tel. 416-491-2900, Fax 416-491-2211, 45 Hallcrown Pl). The centre houses several organizations. The Homenetmen General Armenian Sports Union oversees basketball, volleyball, soccer, ping-pong, martial arts and tennis teams and other activities. The Scout wing includes Scouts, Cubs and Girl Guides, who participate in world jamborees as part of the Canadian delegation. Every two years in July, the Athletic Association hosts the annual Armenian Olympics in Toronto. Over 600 participants engage in three days of activities and celebrations.
Several other organizations are housed at the centre:
ARMENIAN RELIEF SOCIETY, a chapter of the worldwide women’s organization established in 1924, is dedicated to charitable and educational pursuits.
ARMENIAN SENIOR CITIZENS CLUB raises funds for various community projects and also runs day trips and gatherings.
The Senior Citizens Association is one of the most active organizations in the Armenian community of Toronto.
Armenian seniors gather at the Armenian Community Centre every Tuesday where they hold weekly gatherings, celebrate birthdays and Armenian holidays and host guest speakers. The association also raises funds for various community projects and organizes day trips for its membership.
As the elders of the Armenian community of Toronto, the members of the Senior Citizens Association serve as an example to the new generation of the Armenian community of Toronto.
ARMENIAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE OF TORONTO is a political organization that acts as a voice for the community.
ARMENIAN YOUTH FEDERATION sponsors seminars and social activities for their members.
HAMAZKAIN CULTURAL ASSOCIATION, has a choir of over 130 members, theatre group, arts exhibits committee, literary group, social group, music group and dance ensemble, the Hamazkain Dance Group.
ARMENIAN GENERAL BENEVOLENT UNION (AGBU), (Tel. 416-431-2428, 930 Progress Ave), is a cultural and charitable organization. It operates the Zaroukian Day School, ladies auxiliary, youth committee which includes sports teams, the Hrachia Nercessian drama group, Sanouts Alumni, A.M.C.C. Musical Society, choir, the Grounk dance group, art committee, women’s guild, and Scouts.
ARMENIAN FOLK DANCE ENSEMBLE, (Tel. 416-781-1620, 3180 Bathurst St). The ensemble has been performing at various multicultural functions held in the city for nearly 30 years. Director: Arpi Meras.
HAYASTAN FOUNDATION CANADA, (Tel. 416-332-0787, 5005 Steeles Ave. E., Suite 208), President: Mig Migirdicyan.
NOR SEROUNT ARMENIAN CULTURAL ASSOCIATION AND SOCIAL DEMOCRAT HENTCHAG PARTY, (Tel. 416-285-6982, 174 Shropshire Dr.) Contact: Bedros Mouchian.
TEKEYAN ARMENIAN CULTURAL ASSOCIATION, (Tel. 416-293-7173, 2105 Midland Ave).