St. John’s Institute in Edmonton at critical crossroads

St. John’s Institute

Must borrow money just to survive day to day

NP-UN Western Bureau.

A century-old Ukrainian institution in Edmonton finds itself at a crossroads with its very existence up in the air.

Founded in 1918 under the name M. Hrushevsky Ukrainian Institute at a time when Ukrainians had just begun to settle Alberta and lived on rural homesteads, St. John’s Institute (SJI) was designed as a residence for Ukrainian Orthodox students who could live in an atmosphere where they could celebrate their faith and culture, while attending university.

It grew with the years and a new building was constructed and officially opened in 1960.

But the times they are ‘a changin’.

Today, there is a glut of student residences around the University of Alberta and SJI is only filled to 50% capacity. What’s more the institute is bleeding cash. The board has had to reduce staff considerably, removing the positions of executive director and operations manager altogether, reducing the cooking staff to 1.5 and taking care of maintenance and housekeeping only on a part-time basis. Even with the cutbacks the financial problems exist and the Institute is forced to borrow more money just to survive day to day.

Thirteen years ago, the board embarked on an ambitious renovation project, but the fundraising fizzled and the original $2.5 million mortgage has grown to $3.75.

Dr. Tania Mysak

At a meeting with members of the community at the institute September 22, Dr. Tania Mysak, Chair of the board stated that the institute faces three major problems:

Revenue – it is not enough simply to cut any more expenses;

Relevance – a diminished need for residential housing, particularly with students; and

Relationship – declining membership, little support from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada, but some support from the Ukrainian Self Reliance League (the lay organization of the UOCC).

The question, as Dr. Mysak put it is whether the Ukrainian Orthodox community continue to support five parishes, a summer camp, an institute/residence, a cemetery, and a museum?

As far as options are concerned, maintaining the status quo leads to insolvency, major revisioning needs a new partner, renovations have ultimately completed, and the remaining option is to sell.

Many of the participants resigned themselves to the fact that the sale may be the best option, but were concerned where the money left over from the mortgage payoff will go. They would like to see it retained for cultural programs and for maintaining Camp Bar-V-Nok, which St. John’s Institute owns.

The Board will hold their Annual General Meeting soon and afterward will hold another community meeting to determine the institute’s fate.