Holy Ghost me­mories linger

Slo­vak Greek church comes tum­bling down on Golden Boule­vard

The Welland Tribune - - Local - JOE BARKOVICH Joe Barkovich is a long­time Wel­land res­i­dent and re­tired journalist.

A one-time city land­mark has been turned into rub­ble.

For more than 50 years Holy Ghost Slo­vak Greek Catholic church and hall on Golden Boule­vard West fig­ured promi­nently in the city’s spir­i­tual, eth­nic and so­cial life.

It was a place of wor­ship and cul­ture for the city’s Slo­vak com­mu­nity from the mid-1950s to “about 10 or 15 years ago,” said Rose Dzu­gan whose fam­ily lived on Lyons Av­enue, a block away. On days when the breeze was just right, she might catch a whiff of breaded chicken and cab­bage rolls be­ing pre­pared for a wed­ding re­cep­tion in the spa­cious hall.

But its pop­u­lar­ity wasn’t lim­ited to the lo­cal Slo­vaks, said Dzu­gan.

The hall was a venue of choice for bingo, back in the day when Wel­land could lay claim to be­ing the prov­ince’s bingo hot spot. It was a favourite lo­ca­tion for wed­ding re­cep­tions, stags, show­ers, dances and more, she said.

A book­let pub­lished for the 25th an­niver­sary pro­vides some in­for­ma­tion about its his­tory. It said the par­ish “is orig­i­nally dated from the 1st of June 1952 when suit­able prop­erty for the fu­ture ac­tions was ac­quired and the first shovel of earth was lifted by Rev. Ni­cholas Chanat on 4th July, 1954.”

The book­let has a small col­lec­tion of pho­to­graphs in­clud­ing re­li­gious ser­vices and cul­tural events. But it has many ad­ver­tise­ments from busi­nesses, among oth­ers, ex­tend­ing best wishes on the 25th an­niver­sary. One of those was a full-page ad­ver­tise­ment from a dis­tin­guished Slo­vak-Cana­dian, the late Stephen B. Ro­man, pres­i­dent of Deni­son Mines Ltd.

Wil­liam H. Lewis, the late Wel­land his­to­rian, al­lo­cated sev­eral pages of ink to Wel­land’s eth­nic com­mu­ni­ties in Vol­ume 3 of his tril­ogy, “A His­tory of the City of Wel­land.” Al­though there is a dis­crep­ancy in dates, this is an ex­cerpt of what Lewis wrote per­tain­ing to the new Slo­vak church: “In 1954, some 60 fam­i­lies in Wel­land’s Slo­vak com­mu­nity played a ma­jor role in the for­ma­tion of a new par­ish for lo­cal Slo­vak Greek Catholics. In Au­gust of that year, Rev. Ni­cholas Chanat cel­e­brated the con­gre­ga­tion’s first Mass in the Slo­vak Hall (Hagar Street). On July 5, 1955, sod-turn­ing cer­e­monies took place on Golden Boule­vard for their new spir­i­tual home, Holy Ghost Greek Catholic Church.”

Rose Dzu­gan’s me­mories are rich and crys­tal clear.

“I re­mem­ber two things about it: It was the re­li­gious cen­tre for us. We at­tended weekly mass and the other cel­e­bra­tions like Christ­mas and Easter and I still marvel at some of the rit­u­als they brought from Slo­vakia with them. And sec­ond, it was the so­cial hub for most of our ac­tiv­i­ties like wed­dings, show­ers and dances. The peo­ple were close knit, there was al­ways a fam­ily at­mos­phere.”

Dzu­gan re­called she and an­other young Slo­vak girl would set ta­bles for as many as 600 guests at func­tions like wed­dings.

“Huge wed­dings were be­ing held there,” she re­called.

She found it amaz­ing that older Slo­vak women who staffed the kitchen “knew how to cal­cu­late right to the last chicken thigh how much was needed for 600 guests.”

Stan­ley Szymkow, a Wel­land-born sax­o­phone player with a large fol­low­ing, played at wed­ding re­cep­tions and dances in the church hall.

“The crowds were al­ways big,” re­called Szymkow, who played with the Nu-Tones, a lo­cal band that is still to­gether, and also the Na­tion­als.

“I played my first gig there around 1970, 1971. What a place it was back then. I re­mem­ber the late Bill Ni­tran­sky from Cen­tral Mu­sic ask­ing us to play a tango at this wed­ding and giv­ing us a $20 tip. That was a lot of money back then.”

Mark Dzu­gan, Rose’s brother, cher­ishes ties that go back to ele­men­tary school days. He was an al­tar boy from his Grade 3 year, but also started work­ing at bingo about the same time.

The church-spon­sored bingo was held weekly on Mon­day nights. Dzu­gan said the build­ing’s three floors were turned over to bingo on those nights. Hun­dreds of peo­ple would at­tend.

“Buses came from ev­ery­where, even New York state. It took us from Tues­day to Satur­day to clear out the smoke for mass on Sun­day.”

But it was worth­while be­cause it was lu­cra­tive. Even­tu­ally, the ban­quet busi­ness went south as new halls started open­ing and peo­ple showed a pref­er­ence for host­ing their wed­ding re­cep­tions and other events there, rather than a base­ment hall, said Dzu­gan.

“I get that. That’s how things go. But thank­fully the bin­gos made money for the church, that’s what sus­tained us.”

As did Rose, Mark Dzu­gan said the Slo­vaks who im­mersed them­selves in the hall de­voted “a labour of love” to all that they did. Women who cooked also helped carry heavy plates of food from the kitchen area to the ban­quet hall, which was no small chore for some of them.

“They did it be­cause they were do­ing it for the church,” he said.

Dzu­gan watched as the wreck­ing crew razed the build­ing that was a big part of so many lives over so many years. It was painful to do so.

“It re­ally af­fected me,” he said. “It (the church and hall) meant kind of ev­ery­thing to me, to us. But then things started dwin­dling down and peo­ple were pass­ing away and sooner or later, this is what hap­pens.”

The loss of bricks and mor­tar is one thing, but the loss of me­mories, of tra­di­tions, of cus­toms, of his­tory, of her­itage, well that’s some­thing else al­to­gether. These are ir­re­place­able and, once again, our com­mu­nity is di­min­ished be­cause of it.


A ghost of the past, this old Coke cooler stands in the rub­ble of Holy Ghost Church hall, Golden Boule­vard West, in Wel­land. The land­mark build­ing has been de­mol­ished. The hall is fondly re­mem­bered by many as a venue of teen dances for a cou­ple of decades.


Ground is bro­ken for Holy Ghost Slo­vak Greek Catholic Church in 1954.

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