Written by Avital Borisovsky
In 1950, shortly after the founding of Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Church, the Russian Canadian Cultural Aid Society (RCCAS) was established with the aims of providing social and cultural events such as lectures and dances, and of helping newly arrived Russian immigrants settle in Toronto. For more than 60 years, the RCCAS has offered a place where Russians in the city can connect with each other, and where Russian language and culture are fostered and promoted.
The RCCAS was first established in a house on Queen Street near Ossington Avenue. It hosted a library that included a wide range of books, from Russian language literature to a broader range of educational and political subjects, and it commonly presented lectures by professors and international guest speakers. In 1962, the growing organization moved to a new house, built in the city’s west end, and named Novgorod after the historic Russian city. Here, for over 20 years, the RCCAS participated in Toronto’s International Caravan, one of the city’s largest multicultural festivals, which encourages all ethnic groups to open their doors and share their culture.
During the 1980s, in response to a growing need, the RCCAS moved further into the area of settlement services and immigration. It became an important centre in the community, helping newly arrived Russians with the difficult but vital challenges of adjusting to their new surroundings, finding employment and housing and learning the English language.
The RCCAS currently has roughly 300 members. Since 2009, it has published a few issues of a magazine, Heritage, which contains stories, articles and photographs relating to Russian culture, literature and religion. In 2002, however, the RCCAS gave up its own dedicated space due to restricted funds and began to use space in Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Church on Henry Street for its monthly meetings.
Among the RCCAS’s members is Maria Blagoveshchensky, who arrived in the city in 1948, joined Holy Trinity Church and the RCCAS at their inception, and led the RCCAS for twenty years. Now 85 years old and recently retired as president, she remains dedicated to maintaining a place where new and old Torontonians can feel that they are not alone, can find help if needed and can remain closely connected to their heritage and culture. Like other similar cultural organizations, the RCCAS faces significant challenges around funding, finding space for its activities and recruiting new members and youth. Ultimately, it hopes to regain a permanent space where it can host a wide range of activities for Torontonians of Russian descent. For now, the RCCAS relies on the commitment of its members, donations and fundraising through various events. It holds an annual Russian New Year gathering on Jan. 13; an Easter Pancake week, and the annual Russian Gala Ball, now in its 58th year, which includes a concert, dance and traditional Russian food.
Despite its close ties to the Russian Orthodox Church abroad, the RCCAS has always been open to anyone with an interest in Russian heritage and culture, regardless of faith and cultural background. It is one of many symbols of Toronto’s multicultural society, and an important heritage organization.
Interview with Natalia Vikentieva
Interview with Maria Blagoveshchensky
Heritage Toronto is pleased to acknowledge the support of the Government of Ontario, through the Ministry of Tourism and Culture, for this project.