The Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan

 

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Greek Community

Greek settlement in Saskatchewan dates back at least to the turn of the 20th century. Influential early pioneers of Greek origin in Saskatoon included Kostas Valaris in 1901, as well as Gus Thanagen and Gus Golf respectively in 1909 and 1910. The first permanent Greek settler in Regina was likely Gus Trihas in 1903, who ran a coffee shop and candy store. However, most early settlers of Greek origin arrived during the1930s. George Kangles in Regina and the Girgulis family in Saskatoon were particularly responsible for encouraging chain migration from the Pelopónnisos region (the southernmost region of mainland Greece), especially Kastri in Arkadia and later Nafplion in Argolis. “Uncle Bill” Girgulis owned the Elite Café in Saskatoon with his brothers Sam and James; Sam’s wife Cleo, or “Nouna” (godmother), earned her nickname by participating in many baptisms. Throughout Canada, the Greek population increased substantially after World War II due to crop failures, excessive Taxation, escalating inflation, widespread unemployment, hunger, and continuing civil unrest in postwar Greece. In these years a large proportion of Greek immigrants were single males, who initially lived in shared apartments and rooming houses. Once established and employed in Canada, they were joined by women and children whom they sponsored.

Greeks tended to develop restaurants in Saskatchewan cities: there were more than forty Greek-owned restaurants in Saskatoon alone by the 1970s, most operated by relatives and/or immigrants from the same areas in Greece. Although these restaurant businesses were by definition competitive, they were largely established through the strong Greek tradition of mutual help. A close familial and geographical link prevailed in the Greek communities of Saskatoon and Regina. Greek restaurant owners eventually became investors in prime urban real estate, condominiums and apartment buildings, the stock market, and many business ventures. They tended to view the restaurant business as intermediary toward improving the financial and social status of the next generation. While the educational level increased with each generation—many second and third generation Greek-Canadians entered university—efforts were made to preserve the Greek cultural heritage in Canada: Greek language schools had been established in Saskatchewan cities by 1970, which served to familiarize the younger generation with Greek history, literature and drama, to teach non-Greek partners in mixed marriages, and to cement bonds between Greek children.

While Eastern Orthodox Churches had long existed in Saskatchewan, specific Greek Orthodox congregations were not established in Regina until 1961, and in Saskatoon until 1964. In Regina a larger new church (St. Paul’s) was constructed in 1976. In Saskatoon a former German Protestant church was purchased in 1976 through fund-raising by AHEPA (American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association). The first priest, Fr. Kakavalakis, himself an immigrant from Greece, held a conservative view of the traditional role of the church in the Greek community; he was replaced by a Canadian-educated priest, Fr. Nikolaou, who attempted to maintain age diversification in the parish rather than simply to cater to the now-elderly immigrants. Services, which had originally been in ancient Greek, now accommodated an increasing demand for modern Greek and for English.

A chapter of AHEPA was established in Saskatoon in 1930. Through the 1980s differences between a more traditionalistic church and the more secular and modernistic AHEPA led to a split in the Greek community, with rival duplication of community services. The church had its Saturday “Greek school” and Sunday school, while AHEPA had its own language school. Both the church-oriented community and AHEPA organized separate pavilions at Folkfest for several years. The Women’s Auxiliary of AHEPA (founded in 1938) had its counterpart in the Philoptochos Society (“friends of the poor”) in the church. The AHEPA junior orders, the Sons of Pericles and Maids of Athena, had their counterparts in GOYA, the international Greek Orthodox Youth Association. While some more secular Greek-Canadians have tended to view as intrusive the church’s efforts to become more involved in socio-cultural aspects of the Greek community, the third generation have become more interested in compromise. By the 1960s the Saskatoon Greek Society had been founded. Today, meetings of Greek community organizations are usually conducted in English. A previously high degree of ethnic endogamy has gradually been replaced by increasing exogamy; in Saskatchewan this is to be expected, given the relatively small size of the Greek population compared to many other ethnic groups: approximately a thousand people claim Greek ethnicity in whole or part.

Alan Anderson

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Further Reading

Gavaki, E. 1977. The Integration of Greeks in Canada. San Francisco: R&E Associates; Chimbos, P.D. 1980. The Canadian Odyssey: The Greek Experiment in Canada. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart.
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University of Regina Government of Canada Government of Saskatchewan Canadian Plains Research Center
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