Thursday, 3 November 2016

The Ukrainian Labour Temple

The Ukrainian Labour Temple at 591 Pritchard Avenue, at the corner of McGregor Street was once one of many such temples across Manitoba and Canada. Now, it is one of the few of its kind left, and it is the largest and oldest of all.

The Ukrainian Labour Temple was constructed from 1918-1919. Individual donations financed much of the project, and volunteer labourers brought the temple from a vision into reality. The Ukrainian Level Temple is recognized as a heritage structure by all three levels of government. It has municipal designation from the City of Winnipeg, provincial designation from the Province of Manitoba, and is a National Historic Site of Canada.

The Labour Temple in the 1920s. Source: U of M Archives
 The Ukrainian Labour Temple Association (ULTA) was established in Winnipeg in 1918. The group began planning to build the Labour Temple. They initially raised $5,600 toward the building, and by the end of 1918 they successfully raised $50,000 in donations to go toward the building.

 The Labour Temple was designed by Robert Edgar Davies, who got into significant trouble with the Manitoba Association of Architects (MAA) because of the project. 1914 legislation required anybody practising as an architect to meet standards set by, and maintain good standing with, the MAA. Davies was not a member and had not passed their tests, therefore he was not supposed to be practising as an architect, or calling himself one. When he designed the Labour Temple, he called himself an architect, and the MAA threatened him with legal action.

A modern shot of the labour temple. Source: U of M Archives
 To avoid a legal quarrel, Davies applied for membership with the MAA. However, he failed one of their examinations and was not certified. He was involved in other major building projects like Winnipeg Hydro's Amy Street steam heating plant and the nurses' residence at the municipal hospital complex. He called himself an architect during both of those projects. He went on to work for the City of Winnipeg as an architect and building inspector. It is unknown if he ever faced serious legal action over breaking the 1914 law by working as an architect despite failing the MAA exam. 

The Labour Temple is of Neo-classical design, meaning it draws inspiration from classical styles of architecture. The interior originally contained a theatre and balcony that could seat up to 1,000 people. It also housed a classroom space, library, and a print shop. Later on, the theatre seating was removed to accommodate a large hall, with the grand stage and balcony still remaining to this day. The words "Workers of the World Unite," are inscribed above the front entrance, with the accompanying image of two hands clasping. The Pritchard and McGregor exteriors are faced with cut stone and fawn-coloured, sand-lime brick. A 1926 addition replicated the scale and fenestration of the existing exterior. Fenestration means the way windows and doors are arranged on a building. The building has tall rectangular windows set between single and twinned brick pilasters.

The Labour Temple. Source: City of Winnipeg Historical Building Committee
 The Labour Temple has been a major centre for trade unionists and socialist politics, and continues to host activists, politicians and educators spreading their messages to this day. The founders of the Labour Temple were all left leaning with socialist views. The Labour Temple's print shop printed and distributed Working People, a Ukrainian Newspaper. In fact, the Association of United Ukrainian Canadians, which owns the Labour Temple, continues to publish the Ukrainian Canadian Herald, a national progressive Ukrainian newspaper, with distribution taking place from the building.

The Labour Temple was also a meeting place for the Ukrainian Social Democratic Party. The Canadian government banned the Social Democratic Party and banned the publication of Working People, in a mass ban of anti-war and other groups they deemed radical.

Even after the ban, the Labour Temple continued to be a hugely influential centre during the Winnipeg General Strike, with working gathering there to organize and discuss action. The Labour Temple was raided by the RCMP on June 17, 1919. All letters and address books were seized, and the print shop and offices were completely turned upside down.

In the 1920s, the Labour Temple began expanding its Ukrainian cultural activities. In its early years, the ULTA was very much a male dominated organization. In 1921, several Ukrainian Women's committees established themselves to help with famine relief in Ukraine. These committees became the founding core of the ULTA's women's section, which was officially established in 1922. They focused largely on fundraising to sustain local labour temples.

ULTA's women's executives in 1929. Source: U of M Archives.
 The women's section hosted classes to help women learn to read. They would hold group readings of newspapers, novels by both Ukrainian and Canadian authors, and other reading material. They also had embroidery groups, crafts, and other activities specifically for women to take part in.

In 1919, they introduced activities for children. By 1922, schools were being established in labour temples across Canada, including the Ukrainian Labour Temple in Winnipeg. The schools were called the Ukrainian Workers' Children's Schools, and one of their goals was to foster a sense of community among Ukrainian children. They also wanted to preserve Ukrainian identity by teaching Ukrainian language, spoken and written, and Ukrainian music and dancing. In 1928, more than 400 students attended one of the four Ukrainian schools in Winnipeg's north end.

Ukrainian Labour Temple Children's picnic in 1927. Source: U of M Archives
The ULTA founded the Worker's Benevolent Association in 1922. The Association's purpose was to provide accident, sickness, and life insurance for workers who did not have access to benefits. The Association was open to working class men and women, and was open to other Eastern Europeans as well as Ukrainians.

In 1924, the ULTA expanded to become a national organization, and renamed themselves the United Labour-Farmer Temple Association (ULFTA) and sought to create greater unity between urban labourers and rural farmers. 18 years later, in 1942, the ULFTA re-branded again, and officially changed their name to The Association of United Ukrainian Canadians (AUUC.)

The Labour Temple has continued to be a gathering place for both progressive politics and activism, and Ukrainian cultural preservation, to this day. Members of the AUUC were extremely active in the women’s rights movement, various worker’s rights movements and now in supporting and working towards reconciliation with Indigenous peoples in Canada. The Labour Temple is also home to the Winnipeg Mandolin Orchestra, the Yunist Dance Ensemble, and the School of Ukrainian Dance, groups which carry on a long legacy of celebrating Ukrainian culture and arts.

Ukrainian Dancers. Source:  U of M Archives

The Labour Temple is home to the Ivan Franko Museum, the only museum in the world dedicated to the poet outside of the Ukraine. Ivan Franko was a Ukrainian writer known for his poetry, journalism work, and fiction work. He wrote than 1,000 works in his lifetime. The Ivan Franko Museum is free to the public, and tours can be booked by calling (204) 589-4397.

The Ukrainian Labour Temple has an exceptionally rich and detailed history. Today, the AUUC continues to operate the Labour Temple and serve a diverse community consisting of much more than Ukrainians. Groups of 10 or more wishing to take part in a tour of the building, may call Emily Halldorson at (204) 891-8238. Individuals or organizations wanting to rent the building for an event of any kind, can also be in touch with Emily.

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