The present St. George's Greek Orthodox Church, located on the shores of Melville
Cove, in Halifax, was consecrated for use in 1985. Although only a few years
have passed since the completion of the 'new' church, many visitors may not
be aware of the interesting history of the Greek Orthodox Church in Halifax
and of the local Hellenic community, which can trace its origins in Nova Scotia
to the early years of this century. Many Haligonians will remember the little
building, on the southeast corner of Queen and Morris Streets, which served
as St. George's Greek Orthodox Church for over 40 years - from 1941, until the
building of the new church in the mid 1980's. The old church, which has retained
its original facade, despite being turned into condominium apartments with the
addition of a second storey, was the center of religious and cultural life for
the Hellenic community of Halifax for many years and still retains an important
place in the hearts and minds of older members of the community.
The Morris and Queen Street Church was closely linked with the growth and development of the Metro area Greek Orthodox community and it is interesting to note that the little church, before becoming a Greek Orthodox Church in 1941, was closely associated with the Anglican Church for an even longer time, dating back to 1863, making it a preconfederation building, erected to serve the needs of the Anglican Community of south-end Halifax in the years immediately preceding the birth of Canada as a nation. A short digression from the history of the building's association with the Greek community is in order, at this point, to describe the origins of the little church, which forms such a varied and interesting part of the ecclesiastical history of Halifax.
The building was erected in 1863 as a parochial day school and Sunday School for St. Luke's Anglican Cathedral which was then located on the corner of Morris and Church Streets, site of the present Westminster Apartments. In the days before education was free and universal, St. Luke's was open, for a fee, to children of all denominations, although the instruction given was in strict accordance with the doctrines of the Church of England. The cornerstone was laid on Thursday, June 19, 1862, by the Countess of Mulgrave in the company of the Lieutenant-Governor of Nova Scotia and a large number of people. Following an eloquent address in Latin, several items, including daily newspapers and coins, were deposited in the cavity, before the cornerstone was sealed in place. The building was designed in the gothic style by a well known Halifax architect, Mr. Henry Eliot, and built by Mr. George Lang at a cost of about 1000 pounds.
St. Luke's Parochial School lasted only until 1.865 when public schools were established in Nova Scotia. The building was then leased to the Halifax School Commissioners who used it as a public school for the next nine years. Today, it is one of the oldest buildings in Halifax to have once housed a public school. The School Commissioners were given notice in May, 1875, that St. Luke's required possession of the building again. On the evening of December 14, 1905, St. Luke's Cathedral was destroyed by a fire which was believed to have been started by an arsonist who also set fire to the school house. The flames were first noticed around 1:00 a.m. in the school house by two passers-by who alerted the Queen St. Fire Station. Firemen arrived and put out the fire in the school house where some chairs and portions of the floor were ablaze. The destruction of St. Luke's hastened the construction of All Saints' Cathedral which was completed on its present site in 1910. When the new cathedral was opened, the school house continued to be used as a Sunday school and parish hall until it was purchased by the Hellenic community in 1941.
During World War 1, weekly services were held in St. Luke's Hall for three hundred Russian labourers who had been brought to Halifax to work on the construction of the ocean terminals. The services were conducted by the Rev. V.E. Harris, an Anglican clergyman, who had mastered enough of the Russian language to preach to his congregation in Russian. In 1915, Bishop Alexander, of the Russian Orthodox Church, came from New York and conducted a three hour service in the hall. The weekly offerings of the Russian congregation were set aside by Rev. Harris and later donated to the Hellenic community toward the purchase of a church. When this sum was handed over to the community in 1940 it amounted to $700 and encouraged other contributions so that within a year enough money had been raised to pay for the church.
In the years between the two World Wars, St. Luke's was an active social center for the Anglican community in south-end Halifax. On Sundays, the hall was transformed into 12-14 little curtained classrooms for Sunday School. Throughout the week, a variety of groups, including the Boy Scouts, a youth club, and a women's sewing club, met in the hall. Teas, suppers, dances and plays, were regular events. During the 1930's, the hall was also used for recreational badminton and for weekly games of a Church Badminton League. The downstairs portion of the building was used for rummage sales and also contained a small room where the Boy Scouts kept their equipment. At election time the downstairs became a polling station. ,
The earliest Hellenes arrived in Halifax in the first decade of the twentieth century, and by the early 1930's there were about twenty-five families living in the city. In 1932, the tiny congregation was able to obtain the services of a priest, the Rev. Theodore Scartsiades, whose duties included regular trips to St. John and Glace Bay, where several Hellenic families had also settled. In Halifax, services were held in rented premises on the corner of Hollis and Sackville Streets. On May 2, 1934, an Act of Incorporation was passed in the provincial legislature, officially establishing the Greek Orthodox Church in Nova Scotia.
On January 25, 1941, the trustees purchased St. Luke's Hall from the Anglican Diocese for the sum of $6000. Because of its architecture, the ample space for a church upstairs and a hall beneath, and because of its location in south-end Halifax where most of the congregation lived, the church was ideally suited to the needs of the Hellenic community at that time.
During World War 11, the church welcomed many seaman and armed forces personnel who visited or were stationed in Halifax. The hall was the setting for many social activities including events to entertain the servicemen and to support the war effort. For fifteen months in 1943-44, the hall was transformed into a depot for clothing and other materials, including 15,000 pairs of shoes, which were collected by the War Relief Committee for distribution in Greece.
The Hellenic community grew rapidly in the post war years. By the 1970's, there were over two hundred and fifty families living in the Halifax-Dartmouth area. The little church was filled with parishioners for regular Sunday services. At Christmas, Easter and during other special religious observances, members of the congregation had to stand in the aisles, the hallway and even gather outside the church, on the sidewalk on Queen St.
In December, 1974, the decision was taken to purchase a 3.5 acre lot on the shores of the North West Arm's Melville Cove. The lot was owned by the Rocca Group, a development company, which was planning to build a motel on the site but was unsuccessful in having the property rezoned for commercial use. In May, 1977, the sod was turned for a community center, designed by Mr. Gregory Lambros, and five years later, in the summer of 1982, construction of the new church was begun. The church was designed by the firm of Dumerasque and Byrne to incorporate Byzantine features of architecture, including a large plexiglass cupola which was fastened in place on January 28, 1984. The church was consecrated by Bishop Sotirios in 1985.
Once the church building was completed, the community took the decision to hold a Greek festival at the Community Center where guests could enjoy a real Greek 'glendi', or party, and sample Greek food, music, dance, and other elements of the Greek culture. It was hoped the festival could become an annual event to help raise funds for the church and for charitable work within the community at large. The first Greekfest, as the festival has come to be called, was held in 1986 and attracted over 10,000 people. Since that time the event has continued to grow in popularity in the Metro area, with attendance soaring to about 30,000 at last year's Fest. The proceeds from successive festivals have enabled the church to do some renovations to the community center, to fully landscape the property around the church, and to add an asphalt parking lot and a tennis court. Plans are underway to hire an iconographer to paint icons on the interior walls and ceiling of the church in the Eastern Orthodox tradition. Donations have also been made to the Children's Hospital and the Grace Maternity Hospital.
The Hellenic Community of the Halifax-Dartmouth Metro area has grown and flourished in the years since the first Hellenes arrived in Halifax early in this century. Next year, 1994, the community will be celebrating the 60th year of the incorporation of the Greek Orthodox Church in Nova Scotia. It is hoped that Greekfest '94 will be a celebration of this milestone and that citizens of the Metro area will join in the festivities.
HALIFAX, N.S., MAY, 1993