A VITAL AND ENDURING PRESENCE
One of the descendants of Romani pioneers in Canada is Michael T. Butch. The president of Toronto’s Roma Community Centre, Butch also heads the rhythm and blues band The Gypsy Rebels and is one of the leaders among the Kalderash Roma in Toronto.
His paternal great- grandparents, Yorgi and Baba Butchinski, migrated from Russia in 1906 and entered Canada from the United States in 1908. They were from a large group of Russian-Romani musicians who arrived in Canada after spending some time in Western Europe as fugitives from the Russian Revolution.
As author Ronald Lee tells it, Romani music, which had been enjoyed by the czarist regime and the aristocracy, was outlawed as decadent and reactionary. The Butchinski family settled in Alberta when the Canadian government attracted settlers with the incentive of free farmland.
Their land had poor soil, though, and they sold it in 1955, unaware of the oil deposits below the surface. Both Butch’s paternal grandfather and his maternal grandparents eventually settled in Montreal. To this day, Butch chuckles over the family’s lost opportunity to make its fortune from the oil deposits on their land. His extended family now constitutes one of the largest Canadian-Romani clans.
Left: Left to right, sisters Boby (Barbara), Annie, and Dolly Evanovitch, Michael T. Butch’s paternal grandmother and great-aunts, possibly in Edmonton, circa 1938. Centre: Yorgi (George), Butch’s paternal great-grandfather, Edmonton. Right: Michael T....