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Historic Plaque Unveiling for 170 Jarvis St. in Honor of Early Greek Community

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2021 marks an important milestone for Greek Communities across the globe as we recognize and celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Greek Revolution of 1821, also known as the Greek War of Independence.

As part of this commemoration and under the auspices of the Greece 2021 Organizing Committee, the HHF was proud to hold the following event today:

Historic Plaque Unveiling – 170 Jarvis Street, Toronto:

170 Jarvis Street is a very important location in the history of the Greek Community in Toronto.

In 1912, Greek immigrants across Ontario raised funds so that the community could purchase the building. It served as our first church, our first Greek School and our first community centre. It’s where the earliest Greeks founded our community in Toronto.

We at the Hellenic Heritage Foundation felt it was important to honour this part of our heritage and have successfully applied to have an historical plaque erected at 170 Jarvis St. through Heritage Toronto.

While capacity was limited, the event was attended by the following special guests:

Consul General of Greece, Victor Maligoudis
Member of Parliament, Julie Dabrusin
Member of Provincial Parliament, Effie Triantafilopoulos
Member of Provincial Parliament, Peter Tabuns
City Councillor, Paula Fletcher
City Councillor, Nick Mantas
Historian, Michael Mouratidis
President of the Greek Community of Toronto, Andonis Artemakis
HHF Chair in Modern Greek History at York University, Sakis Gekas
Emcee/Heritage Toronto Board Chair, Liza Chalaidopoulos
And of course, Toronto Mayor, John Tory who provided remarks

Thank you all once again for your support of our efforts and allowing us to continue our mission to preserve, promote and advance Hellenism in Canada.

Special thanks to HHF Director Sandra Gionas for her initiative on this project, Mr. Michael Mouratidis for the original idea to honour this historic location and to the HHF History Committee for carrying out this important initiative.

Photo courtesy of Michael Mouratidis.

Photo courtesy of Michael Mouratidis.

170 Jarvis Street acted as the first Greek Orthodox Church and Greek language day school in Toronto. While the site is of ostensible significance to the Greek community in Toronto, it is also emblematic of the city’s social and cultural landscape in the early 1900s. Like many other ethnic groups, early Greek immigrants negotiated their belongingness and relationship with mainstream Toronto in unique ways.

While inserting themselves into Toronto’s commercial landscape, many Greeks in Toronto organized themselves into an official community. The purpose was to construct an organization that offered a sense of familiarity and tradition. The building at 170 Jarvis Street signifies two spaces where Toronto’s Greeks resisted integration; religion and language. The allure of Toronto as a place for economic betterment compelled many Greeks to settle in the city, but as many married and had children, connections to a known rootedness grew in importance.

The site’s history is well over a century old. In 1909, approximately two hundred Greek immigrants in Toronto met at a Y.M.C.A. to officially form the St. George Greek Orthodox Community of Ontario. In 1912, the organization bought Kay’s House, here at 170 Jarvis Street. The down payment was collected from Greeks all across Ontario by a sub-committee consisting of George Letros, Bill Karry, and Constantine Kanas. In 1917, $14,000 was collected from donations and the mortgage was paid in full. Prior to the building’s transformation into a church, the Greek Orthodox community in Toronto’s religious services were performed by itinerant priests. The first priest assigned to the community was Reverend Amvrossios Parashakes, who left the parish in 1912 to fight for Greece during the Balkan War.

In 1921, the upper level of the building was turned into a day school called Athena, which taught both English and Greek. Eventually, the programme was turned into an afternoon Greek language school where approximately one hundred students attended.

The site was also home to the St. George’s Ladies’ Auxillary. The organization was formed in 1921 following a visit to Toronto by the Bishop of Boston, Rt. Rev. Joachim Alexopoulos. Its purpose was community charity, primarily caring for the sick and needy. The first president of the organization was Maria Harakas. Despite an all-male clergy, the ladies auxillary unit was organized and run by Greek women and offered one of the few spaces where women could take on public leadership positions.

The church also represents the propensity of early Greek immigrants to remain endogamous. In Toronto, where many Greeks resided, 170 Jarvis allowed for Greeks to marry other Greeks. This is not necessarily true in the rest of Canada where census figures do not support a monolithic construction of Greek identity or community. In 1921, 29.3 percent of the Greek born population had become naturalized British subjects (Canadians). This number grew to 62.7 percent in 1931. Of the 9,444 Greeks in Canada in 1931, 69.4 percent were Greek Orthodox, 10.9 percent were Anglican, 7.2 percent were Roman Catholics, 3.1 percent were followers of the United Church, and 13.9 percent professed to be adherents of other denominations. In Toronto, this site was a bastion of Greek Orthodox identity.

In short, 170 Jarvis Street is an important piece of Toronto and Canadian history. It is not strictly a Greek-Canadian tale, it is an immigrant narrative during one of the earliest expansions of this city’s diversity.

170 Jarvis, A History

By Chris Grafos, Co-Founder and Co-Director of the HHF Greek Canadian Archives at York University

170 Jarvis Street acted as the first Greek

Orthodox Church and Greek language day school in Toronto. While the site is of ostensible significance to the Greek community in Toronto, it is also emblematic of the city’s social and cultural landscape in the early 1900s. Like many other ethnic groups, early Greek immigrants negotiated their belongingness and relationship with mainstream Toronto in unique ways.

While inserting themselves into Toronto’s commercial landscape, many Greeks in Toronto organized themselves into an official community. The purpose was to construct an organization that offered a sense of familiarity and tradition. The building at 170 Jarvis Street signifies two spaces where Toronto’s Greeks resisted integration; religion and language. The allure of Toronto as a place for economic betterment compelled many Greeks to settle in the city, but as many married and had children, connections to a known rootedness grew in importance.

The site’s history is well over a century old. In 1909, approximately two hundred Greek immigrants in Toronto met at a Y.M.C.A. to officially form the St. George Greek Orthodox Community of Ontario. In 1912, the organization bought Kay’s House, here at 170 Jarvis Street. The down payment was collected from Greeks all across Ontario by a sub-committee consisting of George Letros, Bill Karry, and Constantine Kanas. In 1917, $14,000 was collected from donations and the mortgage was paid in full. Prior to the building’s transformation into a church, the Greek Orthodox community in Toronto’s religious services were performed by itinerant priests. The first priest assigned to the community was Reverend Amvrossios Parashakes, who left the parish in 1912 to fight for Greece during the Balkan War.

In 1921, the upper level of the building was turned into a day school called Athena, which taught both English and Greek. Eventually, the programme was turned into an afternoon Greek language school where approximately one hundred students attended.

The site was also home to the St. George’s Ladies’ Auxillary. The organization was formed in 1921 following a visit to Toronto by the Bishop of Boston, Rt. Rev. Joachim Alexopoulos. Its purpose was community charity, primarily caring for the sick and needy. The first president of the organization was Maria Harakas. Despite an all-male clergy, the ladies auxillary unit was organized and run by Greek women and offered one of the few spaces where women could take on public leadership positions.

The church also represents the propensity of early Greek immigrants to remain endogamous. In Toronto, where many Greeks resided, 170 Jarvis allowed for Greeks to marry other Greeks. This is not necessarily true in the rest of Canada where census figures do not support a monolithic construction of Greek identity or community. In 1921, 29.3 percent of the Greek born population had become naturalized British subjects (Canadians). This number grew to 62.7 percent in 1931. Of the 9,444 Greeks in Canada in 1931, 69.4 percent were Greek Orthodox, 10.9 percent were Anglican, 7.2 percent were Roman Catholics, 3.1 percent were followers of the United Church, and 13.9 percent professed to be adherents of other denominations. In Toronto, this site was a bastion of Greek Orthodox identity.

In short, 170 Jarvis Street is an important piece of Toronto and Canadian history. It is not strictly a Greek-Canadian tale, it is an immigrant narrative during one of the earliest expansions of this city’s diversity.

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