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Romanian Settlements

Built in 1902, St. Nicholas Romanian Orthodox Church is the second oldest building in Regina's downtown area and the oldest Romanian church in North America.
Regina Leader-Post

Romanian settlements included immigrants of Romanian ethnic origin, and also people of other ethnic origins—Ukrainians, Germans, and Jews—who had emigrated from “Greater” Romania (historical Romania at its maximum extent). The complex ethnic settlement patterns of “Greater” Romania were duplicated in the Canadian prairies. After 1895, Transylvanian and Bukovinian Romanians and Hungarians settled near DYSART, while Bukovinian Romanians and Ukrainians settled around Yorkton as well as in the Boian-Ispas area in Alberta. Between 1901 and 1908 some 200 Jewish settlers from Bukovina established forty homesteads to the east of Dysart in the Lipton area, and Romanian Jews also settled in the Hirsch and Hoffer colonies. While Romanians were already in Regina by the turn of the century, they were largely a rural farm population. A Romanian settlement began to develop in the Dysart-Lupescu area during the 1890s, where St. George Romanian Orthodox parish was established in 1907. The Kayville-Dahinda area was also settled after 1905 where first Sts. Peter and Paul parish was founded in 1906, then St. Mary’s by a dissident group in 1915. By 1906 a Romanian settlement straddling the Saskatchewan-Manitoba border had developed, comprising the parishes of St. John the Baptist at Shell Valley, St. Elias the Prophet at Lennard, and Holy Trinity at MacNutt, together with the parish of Sts. Peter and Paul founded at Canora in 1920. At Elm Springs, first settled in 1905, the Ascension of Our Lord parish was founded in 1926. Down south in the Assiniboia-Wood Mountain area, the parish of Sts. Peter and Paul at Flintoft was established in 1911, and the community of Wood Mountain, settled by Romanians by 1914, was served by Holy Transfiguration parish from 1929. Romanians had moved into the nearby town of Assiniboia by the 1930s; today one parish priest serves several parishes in surrounding districts.

St. Nicholas parish in Regina, founded in 1902, is the first Romanian Orthodox parish in North America. Regina is the seat of the Archimandrite administrator of the Western Canada Deanery of the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America (Episcopia Orthodoxa Romana din America), whose presiding Bishop is based near Detroit; in turn this Episcopate is affiliated with the Orthodox Church in America (OCA), based in New York City. While there is no specifically Romanian Orthodox parish in Saskatoon, there is an OCA parish. The Romanian Orthodox parishes in Saskatchewan are all members of the Episcopate. A split occurred in the 1950s between the Romanian Orthodox Missionary Episcopate of America, based in Detroit but closely tied to the Patriarchate in Romania, and the anti-Communist Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America: this division within Romanian Orthodox Christians continues today despite political changes in Romania. During the early years of Romanian settlement in Saskatchewan, priests were sent from Romania, but in more recent times they are more likely trained in seminaries in Winnipeg or Detroit. Some Romanians may be members of the eastern rite Greek Catholic Church in Transylvania (dating from 1697); however, their descendants in Canada have tended to participate in eastern rite Ukrainian Catholic or western rite Roman Catholic parishes rather than form their own parishes.

The early Romanian immigrants to Saskatchewan were mostly young men; by 1920 husbands and fathers had been joined by their families and supplemented by second-generation migration from the United States. Over 80% of the early settlers were homesteaders; an estimated 15% were manual labourers, who helped build the streets and sewer system in Regina; and about 5% were in small businesses (including grocery stores, bars, insurance companies, confectionaries, coffee shops and restaurants, hairdressers, shoeshine parlours) established between 1905 and 1920. Many urban women homemakers earned extra income in cottage industries such as dressmaking. Romanian women shifted gradually from being farmwives to urban occupational diversity. Today, at least two-thirds of Romanian women in the prairie provinces work outside the home. Romanian voluntary associations in Saskatchewan have included a mutual aid society in Regina, linked to American counterparts based in Detroit. In 1928 the Bok-O-Ria Romanian restaurant and Social Club appeared in Regina (bok-o-ria is a phonetic spelling of bucurie or pleasure). Women’s and youth organizations such as ARFORA (the Romanian Orthodox Women’s Auxiliary) have been closely tied to the church; however, with a weakening of Romanian identity younger women have become less active in such organizations.

Progressive acculturation of Romanians in Saskatchewan has been reflected in the loss of ability to speak Romanian (by the 1970s only about 6% of people claiming Romanian origin in Saskatchewan were still speaking Romanian as the primary language at home). It has been caused by intermarriage, especially with Ukrainians, and high and increasing rates of exogamy since the second generation; changing family values among youth; involvement of women in the wider community after the first generation; a shift from the extended family to the nuclear family; and a continuous movement away from the Romanian Orthodox church. Yet there have been signs of continuing interest in Romanian culture as well: for example the second generation formed in 1965 the Eminescu Romanian Dance Group, which has performed widely in North America.

In 1914, most of the 8,000 Romanians living in Canada had settled in the prairie provinces; by 1921 this population had increased to over 29,000. Of all Romanian-speaking immigrants, some 85% were from Transylvania, Bukovina, and Banat; another 10% included Vlachs from throughout the Balkans (Thrace, Bulgaria, Greece, Macedonia, and Serbia), so perhaps only 5% were actually from the “Old Kingdom” of Romania. But with the arrival of a second wave of Romanian immigrants in central Canada after World War II, the proportionate distribution of Romanians in Canada would change: in 1991, 28,665 Canadians claimed Romanian-only ethnicity, compared to 45,405 who claimed other ethnic identities as well. In 2001, 10,290 Saskatchewan residents claimed Romanian ethnicity—1,930 solely and 8,360 in combination with other ethnicities.

Alan Anderson

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Further Reading

Patterson, G.J. 1999. “Romanians.” In P.R. Magocsi (ed.), Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
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