Monday, 3 October 2016

Oseredok Ukrainian Cultural and Education Centre

Long before 184 Alexander Avenue was home to the Oseredok Ukrainian Cultural and Education Centre, the building was home to the British and Foreign Bible Society. The Bible Society was formed in England in 1804, with the intent to bring the word of the Bible to "heathen" people across the world. This Bible society came to Canada in 1808, and they quickly began translating the Bible into numerous languages and distributing copies of it.

The Bible Society hoped they would be able to use the word of God to help the new immigrants and the other poor and disenfranchised people in the North End to better their lives.

The Bible Society purchased the property 184 Alexander Avenue in 1911 at a cost of $14,000 and construction of their building began in the summer of 1912. They chose their location because the North End of Winnipeg was home to a large population of recent immigrants, and many of them were very poor, with few opportunities to make a strong start for their new lives. There was a concerted effort by government and different stakeholders to keep the poor immigrant population grouped in the North End, away from the rest of the city. The Bible Society hoped they would be able to use the word of God to help the new immigrants and the other poor and disenfranchised people in the North End make better lives.
Source: Winnipeg Downtown Places 
The building itself was five storeys tall, and had 45 rooms. It was 66 feet across and 48 feet in depth. It was more expensive to build than the society anticipated. The final cost was $75,000, in addition to the $14,000 they spent to buy the property. Construction of the building was quite rushed, and it was occupied by 1913.

The Architect was a man named William Bruce, who was born in Scotland and came to Winnipeg in 1906. By all accounts, he was a rather eccentric fellow. He laid out plans for a city of half a million people to be located where the town of Churchill is now, and he worked extensively to find "the ultimate fire-proof material."

184 Alexander Avenue in 1969
Photo courtesy of the Winnipeg Historical Buildings Committee

The building soon proved to be an overly ambitious project. Not only was it over budget, but also the need for it soon diminished. When The First World War broke out, the large flow of immigrants into the North End was greatly reduced. The building was originally going to be occupied by three branches of the Bible Society from Manitoba, Alberta, and Saskatchewan. Although the Alberta and Saskatchewan branches soon become more independent, and they no longer wanted or needed to share the office with the Manitoba branch. Soon the Manitoba branch of the Bible Society was left with a very expensive, very large building with far more space than they could afford, or even needed.

They began to search for tenants from other Societies to rent out space in the building to with similar missions to promote charity and social well-being. The Church of England Missionary Society, The Dorcas Society, The Children's Bureau, and the Rupert's Land Women's Auxiliary were early tenants, and the major tenant was the Children's Aid Society. The Children's Aid Society stayed in the building until 1957, by which time they had grown too large and needed to seek larger office space elsewhere.

The Children's Aid Society actually stayed in the building longer than the Bible Society itself that had moved out almost a decade earlier in 1949. Alexander Street wasn't as bustling as it once was, and they wanted to move to a busier street hoping to be noticed by more people. When they left in 1949, they sold the building to the Ukrainian National Publishing Company. They printed the paper the New Pathway in the building and this publication still exists today.

184 Alexander in present day.
Courtesy of the Oseredok Ukrainian Cultural and Educational Centre

During the 1950s groups like the Ukrainian National Youth Federation, the Ukrainian War Veterans' Association and the Ukrainian Women's Organization occupied the building, and the Children's Aid Society stayed there until 1957. A year later in 1958, all of the Ukrainian groups that were in the building moved out, and the building was mostly vacant.

In the 1970s, the Ukrainian Cultural Centre rented the fourth floor of the building and converted it into a library. When New Pathway moved out in 1977, the building was transformed into a heritage site for Ukrainian culture. Half a million dollars were spent in renovations to include a library, museum, art gallery, and office.

184 Alexander today.
Courtesy of the Oseredok Ukrainian Cultural and Educational Centre.
Today, the building is known as Oseredok Ukrainian Cultural and Educational Centre. It is a multi-faceted heritage institution connecting Canadians with Ukrainian culture. It is recognized for the breadth and scope of its ethnology, art, archives and library collections that lie at the heart of its public programs, which include exhibitions, workshops, and public lectures. It provides information and research services pertaining to Ukrainian Canadian heritage.

They hold many events throughout the year, and participate in Doors Open Winnipeg each year. They are open to the public daily on Monday to Saturday from 10 am – 4 pm, and 1 pm to 4 pm on Sundays. It is a place worth visiting, and showcases how our built and cultural heritage can compliment each other and live in perfect harmony.

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