Beginnings of Immigration
Our first newcomer to Toronto was Sremac Herceg. He came in August of 1903, and his wife in December of 1910. Ilija Joksimovic from Belgrade, settled in Toronto in 1904. Dimitrije Bjelic from Negotin settled in 1907.
Between 1907 and 1911, there is no information whether the Serbs were coming to Toronto or not.
Serbian settlers were coming again in 1911. Amongst the first ones in that year were: Todor Pejcic, Mladen Ristic and Vaso Tomic.
A great number of our settlers that came in 1912. were from Nis region. Amongst them was Bozidar M. Markovic from Rogacica, and several Montenegrins, amongst whom were: Radoja Bulatovic who went back to partake in Balkan Wars, Zarija Janketic who was helping our immigrants to find jobs and to accommodate to Canadian lifestyle. His son, Milivoj, joined Canadian army during the WWI, and died on the frontline in France. Zarija returned to Montenegro after the end of WWI.
Zarko Trumic from Sabac, and his younger brother Milos, came to America in 1907. Five years after, Zarko, his wife Katarina (maiden Vrbaskovic), and his brother, moved to Canada, during the summer of 1913. That was the first Serbian family in Toronto. After the brother, in 1917, Zarko Trumic and his wife joined Serbian army. He was translator with English Mission, and his wife worked as nurse in military hospital. After the war, they returned and settled in America.
In between Balkan Wars and WWI, in Toronto lived more than two hundred Serbs. Most of them were single males, coming from villages, and without any or with minimal education. They had to perform hard labor, being paid 25 cents/hour. Very few of them made progress, got married and brought over their families, and rooted in New World.
Only after the WWII, Serbs gathered in the area in bigger numbers, and in February of 1948, established Provisional Board, with Bozidar Markovic as it’s chairman, whose task was to find and acquire piece of land for Serbian Centre and the Church. Place was found on 221 Sitton St, as well as some other locations, but final selection was made in favor of corner of Gerard & River Street.
On October 3rd, 1948, a founding meeting od Serbian Centre and Serbian Church was held in hotel Alpine. To Executive Board were elected following people: Bozidar Markovic – president, Vaso Volarov – vice president, Aleksandar Andjelic – secretary, Petar Karalejic – treasurer, Stevan Cuk – member, Nikola Basta – member, Mihajlo Dukic – member, Marina Selak – member, Jelka Adamov – member, Mara Sustern – member. Overseeing committee had following members: Savo Kovacevic, Dusan Nesic and Luka Misic. Citizen’s committee had following members: Nikola Miklusev, Nikola Mrkobrada and Dragomir Vulovic.
With great élan, these committees started to work, and soon after, first draft of the statute of the Serbian Centre and the Church was accepted on October 29th, 1950.
On third regular congress, held on March 3rd, 1952, Eng. Pera Popovic presented his plan on how to build The Centre and The Church. All involved worked hard, but, donations fizzled out, and project fell to $51.59 of cash on the account. On emergency meeting held on October 10th, 1952, it was decided to take $10,000 loan, with the interest of 6.5%. Construction work continued and foundations were consecrated on August 22nd, 1953. At the beginning of next year, on January 30th, 1954, Church Hall was consecrated, and celebration of St. Sava’s day was held afterwards. Consecration was performed by St. Nikolaj Velimirovic on September 5th. First Divine Liturgy was celebrated on Easter Day, 1954.
Church building adjacent to Church Hall was completed and consecrated on May 22nd, 1955. Consecration was performed by Bishop Dionisius, and kum was Petar Karalejic from Toronto, and kuma was Lenka Lalic from Montreal.
Princess Olga was present at this celebration and banquet, sister of Russian Tsar Nikola II. She presented the new church with the icon of Aleksandar Nevski, made by her own hands. At this celebration were also present: Mr. & Mrs. Roland Michener, member and late president of Canadian Parliament, a big sympathizer of the Serbs.
Founding meeting of the Church Assembly "Saint Sava" Toronto was held on March 28th, 1954. At that time, original name was changed to mentioned one. Board mandate was set to three years. Membership application was set to $25.
Interest to improve cultural life was great. In the early days of Serbian colony, youth club named "Sumadija" was established. It was a sport’s club. First president of the club was Kosta Joksimovic, elected on December 3th, 1953. Later, club changed name to become "Saint Sava" and beame church’s choir. That happened during the mandate of Ben Mioc as president.
Choir "Sveti Sava" was established on February 20th, 1955, under the direction of Betty Labas. Board had following members: Kosta Joksimovic – president, Mara Topolac – vice president, Olga Saban – secretary, Aleksandar Ristic – treasurer. In November of same year, choir had begun to sing on Divine Liturgies, and held it’s first concert.
In 1956, Sunday school was organized in church St. Sava, where children learned to read and write in Serbian, and learned about history and Orthodox faith. First school director was teacher Vasilije Zecevic, and later, in 1963, Slavko Teodosijevic.
Tribulation and Schism in Early 60’s
Emergency Council of the members, held on July 14th, 1963, came up with the resolution in which, at the start is said: "Our Church Assembly of St. Sava in Toronto stands that Holy Serbian Church is one and indivisible in the eternity. That is why our Assembly remains to be integral part of the Holy Serbian Church in the motherland, and under it’s Holy Synod."
On meeting of the Board, held on November 24th, 1963, it was decided to call up another Emergency Council, with the intent to ask members whether they are in favor of separation from the Serbian Church or not. At that event, father Aleksej Sevcenko is asked not to mention name of the Bishop Dionisius during the Holy Liturgy.
During the Emergency Council held on December 22nd, 1963, out of 119 members being present, 27 members have left, and remaining 92 members remained on the meeting and voted in favor of unity with the mother Church. After few days, on December 29th, 1963, at the meeting, new priest, father Simeon Grozdanovic was present. He held services in the St. Sava church for about one year, and after falling sick, was succeeded by father Nikola Stojsavljevic, who stayed in the St. Sava church until August 15th, 1972.
Church Assembly, besides these frictions in 1963, continued to flourish and had shown successes and fruits of it’s work. On regular Council held on May 2nd, 1965, it was noted that membership rose from 97 to 223 members, and that another 81 applications were in processing state. Choir lost 21 members, but accepted 30 new members.
Upon initiative of Rade Skopljak, on February 9th, 1964, Humanitarian Relief Board was founded, and first members were priest as it’s chairman, and another three members. At that time, folklore group was started again. Soon after, on September 27th, it was decided to start publishing Herald of St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Church of Toronto – "Glasnik". Board was established with father Nikola Stojsavljevic and another five members. Even though, in it’s appearance and content, new herald was not impressive, it played important role in all major events in the parish. At the end of May 1964, Kosta Joksimovic suggested that Church Assembly should have it’s own slava, just as other Assemblies do, and that on that day celebration should be organized. First slava of the Assembly, St. Sava’s day, was celebrated on January 31st, 1965.
In May of 1964, Assembly acquired first parish’s condominium.
Serbian Sunday School had 84 students in 1966. Teachers were Miro Miketic, Velimir Jovanovic, Kosta Joksimovic and his wife. It contained folklore group lead by Dragoslav Radosavljevic. On February 23rd, 1964, Radisav Dodic came to help in leading the group. They were excellent team, working together with the children of the folklore group as well as with the adult members of the choir. On Sepetmber 27th, Ana Grajpel replaced Mr. Dodic, and Mimica Zivkovic together with the Danica Novakovic, joined the team. On December 8th, Dragoslav Radosavljevic concentrated on work with the adults only. President of the choir was at the same time president of the folklore group.
In the 70’s, parish life was very reach and fruitful. Besides the choir "St. Sava", choir of the youth existed as well as the tamburica orchestra. Sunday School had 60 students, and in October of 1971, library with about 350 books was organized by professor Jovetic, and with generous help of many donors.
Lead of Church assembly, Kosta Joksimovic, was at that time very busy man. At that time, idea that Board should be reelected every year, surfaced, and Council approved it. Professor Jovetic made a draft of the new statute, and gave it to the Council to be discussed.
At the time of presidency of the Vasa Kosevic, there was serious thinking about acquisition of some other property for the church, and even acquisition of the park behind the existing property of the church. Father Miloje Raicevic on November 30th, 1975, left the parish, and was replaced by father Zarko Mitrovic, who stayed in the parish until our Lord called him on May 16th, 1980.
(Excerpt from the book "Spomenice Povodom 25 Godisnjice CSO", based on the book of Olga Markovic "Serbian Immigration to Canada and Their Acts)
Building the New Church
In 1983, Church Assembly had bought the building and the property on Dixie Road. Fight to acquire that property was successfully fought from the end of the 1982, until June of 1983. A small group of very enthusiastic people made sure that Serbian community wins the bidding, money gets collected, loan gets approved, purchase gets completed, and that construction work starts on the property.
Existing building on the property was adapted for the Divine Liturgies on the lower level, and for the celebrations and meetings on the upper level. Between 1984 and 1985, building is renovated and lower level has been adapted to serve as temporary chapel. At the end of the May of 1989, new iconostasis was consecrated in the chapel. It was architected by Rastko Misic, and was made by carpenters Zivan Mirkovic and Sinisa Gajic. Kumovi were Dusan Randjelovic and his wife Andjelka. All icons were made by Dragan Marunic, and all of them were donated by faithful parish members.
In 1986, renowned architect of Belgrade, Predrag Ristic, architect of many Serbian churches in Serbia, started the new project – new church building. He based plan on the base of known Serbian middle age monasteries. Plans and model of the new building were made. In the end, project was not executed, as Ristic did not have Canadian license to architect buildings.
His plans were put through several variations, and in the end, after emergency Council, plans were given to architect of Toronto, Milutin Kopsa. Keeping original vision of the plan, he modified it, and gave it his own spirit and idea. Today, church building is decoration of the east Mississauga, and at the same time, modern and functional place for Orthodox Divine Liturgies.
Foundation stone of the building were consecrated by Patriarch Pavle, on June 1994, when he was visiting Canada. Foundations were consecrated on November 26th, 1995, by Bishop of Canada, Georgie.
Caused by war in Balkans, construction of the building was stopped, as Serbians were preoccupied with the relief efforts in the motherland. That was the reason for the construction to take so long to complete.
In 1999, construction was continued, supervised by the president Zoran Curcic, and parish priests: Mihajlo Doder and Prvoslav Puric, and made possible by many donors. On September 12th, 1999, when Assembly was celebrating slava of the church, $200,000 was collected. Construction work was continuous, and there was a hope that consecration would take place in September of 2001. Even though, everybody was making extra effot to make that happen, circumstances brought the construction to the end in the spring of 2002.
This beautiful church building is architected in Byzantine style, which is traditional for Orthodox churches. The building has three balconies for choirs, and hand made iconostasis, with icons made in one of the best icon painting places in Belgrade.
- Main characteristics of the building are:
- Style is traditional Byzantium-Serbian, with cross within the rectangle in it’s base, with one dome above the central part,
- Main section of the building (naos) measures 17 by 17 meters. Total length is 39 meters, and width is 25 meters,
- Total space is 637 square meters, and basement where utility rooms are has 300 square meters,
- Average height of the main section is 12 meters, and tip pf the dome is at 24 meters in height, measured from the floor level,
- Tip of the cross mounted on the top of the dome is at 30 meters above the ground,
- Building can accommodate about 800 faithful,
- Outside walls are of artificial concrete stones, and domes and roves are covered with zinc plated copper. This kind of materials provide long lifetime with minimal costs of the maintenance.
Further plans on this property would include building of the banquet hall and home for the elderly people.
On Saturday, June 15, 2002, the building was consecrated. End of the major construction work was celebrated for four days, between June 13th and 16th, 2002.
On this celebration, many eminent Serbs, and Serbian clergy from Serbia, Canada, USA and Europe were present:
- Bishop of Canada Mr. Georgie,
- Metropolitan of Zagreb and Ljubljana, Mr. Jovan,
- Metropolitan of Montenegro, Mr. Amfilohije,
- Bishop of Nova Gracanica in USA and Canada, Mr. Longin,
- Bishop of Britain and Scandinavia, Mr. Dositej,
- Bishop of Middle Europe, Mr. Konstantin,
- Metropolitan of the Greek Orthodox Church, Mr. Sotirios,
- Bishop of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Mr. Serafim,
- Bishop of the Branicevo, Mr. Ignjatije,
- Bishop pf the Zahumlje and Herzegovina, Mr. Grigorije.
At this celebration, so important to all Serbs in Canada, were also rpesent: Prince Aleksandar and princess Katarina Karadjordjevic, Mr. Miodrag Perisic – ambassador of Serbia and Montenegro in Canada, Minister of Religious Affairs of Serbia and Montenegro, Minister of Immigration of Ontario, etc.
During the ceremony, rich cultural program was prepared. Amongst many guests, performers were present:
- "St. Sava",
- "Kir Stefan Srbin",
- "Sveta Trojica",
- vocal ensemble "Savice".
- Folklore Groups
- SCA "Oplenac",
- "Hajduk Veljko",
- "St. Sava Oplenac".
- "Novi Zvuci".
Cultural program was enriched by the performances of the following artists:
- Dragana Varagic with children of the School of Acting "April",
- Poet Radovan Gajic,
- Poet Milan Jankovic,
- Poet Milena Cvetkovic,
- Actor Dimitrije Porobic,
- Actor Ned Vukovic,
- Guitar Virtuoso Bozidar Hadzi Vitkovic,
- Milorad Lukovic,
- Vesna Vuksic.
Program was versatile, and during all of those days, culture of Serbians had a chance to be presented in best manner.
Dinner in honor of prince Aleksandar and princess Katarina was held in beautifully decorated hall of the Serbian Center in Mississauga, with many floral and other decorations. It was an opportunity to show our hospitality. In her speech, mayor of Mississauga said that it is a great pleasure to see this beautiful building in the city.
Many guests generously donated into the building fund during those days.
Kum role of the new church was honored to Mr. Jova Vujasinovic, and Mrs. Dragana Hertog Vujasinovic, who donated to the fund $100,000 at that event.
After the consecration, banquet was organized. Bishop of Canada honored president of the Church Assembly, Mr. Ziran Curcic with Order of Saint Sava, third class.
Members of the parish had an opportunity to chat with the prince and princess after the banquet.
We have to mention members of the Committee for Consecration, who did a great and successful job in organizing everything. Head of the Committee was Nikola Manojlovic. Two hundred volunteers helped in organization of the Consecration and celebration. Results are witness about Serbian existence on these lands, and witness of our faith.