Ukrainian Labour Temple receives historic designation

Temple houses expansive 1919 Winnipeg General Strike archive

The Ukrainian Labour Temple is located at 591 Pritchard Ave., in the heart of the North End. Ingrid Doell
Ingrid Doell
Ingrid Doell

A site famously raided by police during the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike will soon be one of the only city buildings to have received official historic designation from all three levels of government.

On Nov. 19, the Ukrainian Labour Temple, a towering community hall at 591 Pritchard Ave. in the heart of the North End, will be officially designated a national historic site, years after the federal government announced the designation in 2009.

Although there are five Ukrainian labour temples in Winnipeg, 591 Pritchard is the largest and most prominent, with the recent national designation complementing earlier recognition from the province in 1995 and from the City of Winnipeg in 1997.

According to Cindy Tugwell, the executive director of Heritage Winnipeg, receiving national recognition goes a long way to protect the building from any attempt to demolish or dismantle it at the city level.

“The provincial and national (designation), although commemorative, makes the building become something ... that has contributed to the history of the entire country,” she said, adding the building acts as a symbol for the struggle of working class immigrants in the neighbourhood, culminating in the 1919 strike.

“There really was no prejudice back then, it was about better rights and better living conditions for everyone in the North End.”

The Ukrainian Labour Temple Association was formed shortly before the temple was built in 1918 and was a partnership of radical Ukrainian socialists, dramatic actors and journalists who actively supported the strikers in 1919, an event that saw 30,000 workers clash with industrial management, eventually ending in police violence.

The Labour Temple continues to house a treasure trove of archives documenting the events of the strike, which helped spark a RCMP raid on their editorial and association offices during the upheaval.

The temple was the focal point of Ukrainian left-wing political activities in the North End and included members who actively supported communism and the formation of a Soviet regime in the Ukraine.

For Myron Shatulsky, an 81-year-old musician and retired technical designer who has been active in the temple since childhood, the national designation is like the realization of a dream.

“This is the final one, unless the United Nations decides to contribute,” he said with a laugh, adding there will be a large, celebratory Ukrainian banquet at the temple on Nov. 19.

Shatulsky, who was born in 1930 and grew up during the Great Depression, was the child of Eastern European immigrants, living in the large working class community that surrounded the North End industrial sector.

It was people like Shatulsky’s parents who worked tirelessly to build the Ukrainian Labour Temple between the spring of 1918 and early 1919.

Shatulsky’s father, Mathew, was a working class immigrant and one of the key leaders of the association.

In addition to Mathew Shatulsky, the vast majority of the association members espoused socialist ideas stemming back to Eastern Europe and recognized the need to maintain a distinct cultural identity, and mount effective political resistance, in the face of extreme discrimination and poverty.

“We had a saying that Ukrainian immigrants were the last to be hired and the first to be fired,” he said.

Nolan Reilly, a history professor at the University of Winnipeg, has been actively involved in the temple since the early 1980s.

For him, it is not just an important cultural and political building.

“Not only do we have the building but we have the documentation to interpret and understand its importance,” he said.

Reilly believes the political aspects of the temple cannot be separated from its cultural activities, like traditional Ukrainian dance and music, all of which continues today with an orchestra and a choir.

“You can’t separate out their politics from all the other cultural expression. It reminds us that the experience of these immigrants was a very complicated one, and in many cases a very difficult one, and if it wasn’t for the existence of these halls, it’s uncertain what their future would have been here.”

For Shatulsky, the Ukrainian Labour Temple is an integral part of his identity as a North End resident and as a Ukrainian-Canadian.

He sang in the choir and played the violin in the orchestra at the hall during his youth and, although he lived outside of Winnipeg for many years, he eventually returned to conduct the temple’s mandolin orchestra.

For the last 13 years, he has written a regular column for the temple’s newspaper, the Ukrainian Canadian Herald.

“Everyone should know something of their background, even if it is very faint, because the person that has no background is more or less lost,” he said.

“And I guess that’s why I still come around.”

Published in Volume 66, Number 12 of The Uniter (November 17, 2011)

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