The first Ukrainian pioneers who settled in St. Catharines were Hnat Nazar in 1912, and Hryhoriy Horhota who came from Toronto in 1914.
However, Ukrainian settlement in the Niagara peninsula started quite late. Ukrainians were lured by the wheat fields of the prairies more than by the fruit orchards and industry until 1929. In St. Catharines and vicinity there were not more than a hundred Ukrainians, scattered over the whole area, and poorly organized. Thorold was more densely populated with Ukrainians. Construction of the Welland Canal with its high dykes between Thorold and St. Catharines, paper mills in Thorold and Merritton, and the automotive industry in the 1930 s attracted more Ukrainians to this area. About this time also, when our farmers from the Canadian prairies learned about Niagara fruit farming, and other ways of earning a living, some ventured East to re-settle in this region.
The second wave of Ukrainian settlers began after World War II. Political persecution compelled a greater number of immigrants to leave their native land and seek freedom and fortune in Canada. About the time of World War II, St. Catharines could pride itself with the Ukrainian National Federation, a Credit Union, a Ukrainian School, theatrical groups, and other organizations. Since 1937, Ukrainian church services were held irregularly in private homes, usually in the home of Paul Gulaj who owned a car and could bring priests for church services. Rev. Wolodymyr Shek from Buffalo, Rev. Hladkyj from Welland, Rev. Michael Zajac, and Basilian Fathers from Grimsby provided the religious services in St. Catharines.
In 1939, the Niagara region was placed under the pastoral care of a young energetic Father Isidore Borecky who resided in Brantford. Now, services were held on a more regular basis, in the basement of the Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria. In 1942, the first church committee made up of Stefan Wojtowych, Nick Baraniuk, Michael Lastewka, Peter Fabian, Paul Sarhaniuk, and Paul Gulaj took upon themselves the responsibility of preparing plans for a church. In 1943, a plot of land was acquired for $600 at the intersection of QEW and Niagara St. A well known architect, Rev. Philip Ruh, who already had designed and built many Byzantine style Ukrainian churches in Western Canada and Ontario agreed to finalize the plans and build the church. Construction began in the spring of 1944. By fall of that year, the basement, in the shape of the cross, was almost completed and covered. Next May, this basement was consecrated and, from this time, Divine Liturgies were celebrated in our own building.
Further construction progressed very slowly because in the post-war years, building materials and finances were hard to come by. In August of 1947, Bishop of Canadian Ukrainians, Vasylij Ladyka, of Winnipeg, visited St. Catharines, and blessed the corner stone for the new church. Many post-war Ukrainian immigrants to Canada found their way to St. Catharines. They soon turned to their churches, to the established organizations, and enriched Ukrainian community life.
In 1948, the Holy See created four exarchs for Ukrainian Catholics in Canada, and the Rev. Isidore Borecky from this parish became the first Bishop of Toronto. To take his place in St. Catharines, the new Bishop assigned Rev. Wasyl Filevych — a young Canadian-born priest. Father Filevych completed building the church, crowning its summit with the cross. On January 1, 1950, Bishop Borecky consecrated the completed church, enabling all services to be held there.
During the next ten years, under the pastoral care of Father Jaroslaw Chyz, the parish built the residence, installed permanent pews, and paid off the existing mortgage.
From October of 1962, V. Rev. Mykola Komar, now the fourth priest in this parish, was assigned to carry out pastoral duties here, and continued at that post for 37 years (!) until September of 1999. In the first few years, the stained glass windows were finished, the church yard was completed, and the mortgage on the parish school building was paid off. This building housed Ukrainian school classes, various Ukrainian organization meetings, youth activities; meetings of the Myrhorod Senior Citizen s Club, parish dinners, and other community activities. The next phase of growth was the iconography of the interior of the church done by Igor Suhacev. (See our site under the heading “Divine Liturgy”). The church has a full three-level iconostasis, new altars, four chandeliers — all through the generosity of the parishioners. Above the north side altar, is the copy of the miraculous icon of Borusiw.
The solemn blessing of the iconostasis and the interior iconography was performed by His Beatitude Patriarch Josyf Slipyj, October 8, 1976.The greatest attention and concentration of effort in this pastoral assignment was focused on the young generation. In this phase of growth and development of the parish, there were 30—40 children for First Communion; up to 90 children annually attended Ukrainian School. The parish had a church choir and church organizations such as the Ukrainian Catholic Women s League (UCWL), and the Brotherhood of Ukrainian Catholics (BUC). Of great credit to the parish is the fact that the numerous members of the parish youth who moved out and settled in other communities, involved themselves in parish and community life assuming leading positions there.
Memorable events in the life of the parish will always be visitations of illustrious church dignitaries: His Beatitude Patriarch Josyf, Confessor of the Faith, who visited this parish on three occasions, Blessed Bishop Vasyl Velychkowskyj, Bishop Pavlo Vasylyk, and other leading personages of the church or state, whom the whole community of St. Catharines actively welcomed.
In 1997, Sts. Cyril and Methodius Church was officially designated historic, making it the fifth heritage church in St. Catharines.
As of September, 1999, the pastor has been Rev. Bohdan Choly.
Rev. Bohdan and Presbytera Tanya have 6 wonderful children.
The parish enjoys full co-operation and support of all Ukrainian national organizations; a fraternal relationship with the Ukrainian Catholic Church of St. John the Theologian and an amicable relationship with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of St. George. Bowing our heads before the hardship and the achievements of our pioneers, we express our sincere gratitude to all the faithful and honorable labourers in Christ’s vineyard in this parish, members of the Parish Council, leaders and members of the church organizations for the work and love, which they dedicated to this parish from its arduous beginnings until this day.
(An updated version of an article written by Rev. Dr. Mykola Komar in the booklet prepared on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Sts. Cyril & Methodius Church.)