St. John’s Institute Turns 100

Left to Right: Edmonton Councillor Ben Henderson, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, MLA Jessica Littlewood, SJI Director Suzanna Brytan. St. John’s Facebook

Meletiy Zyla, special to NP-UN.

St. John’s Institute, a mainstay in Edmonton’s vast cultural landscape, and a quintessential part of the Ukrainian community in the city celebrates its 100th birthday this year. On September 8th, the community observed this historic achievement.

Residents, guests, alumni, staff, and supporters all enjoyed the day’s festivities. Ernie Miciak and Trevor Payne of Marango Pie played at the door as people entered setting the tone with their music. Laughter and conversation rang out from the cafeteria as alumni and current residents shared stories over food and drink from their respective stays at the Institute.

Suzanna Brytan, current director of the Institute, comments that the event’s success was trifold, “in reuniting people who hadn’t seen each other in decades; being able to display some gems of relics and archives dating back to the very beginning of the Institute, and, in having the significance of the organization and its work in the community recognized by all 3 levels of government, plus numerous community umbrella organizations and UOCC affiliates.”

SJI board members spent the weeks before the celebration combing the building’s archives, framing and preparing displays of St. John’s Alumni and former residents. Dr. Andrij Hornjatkevyc played bandura in the archives room as guests visited the display.

From having explored the building’s archives, board member Tania Mysak emphasizes the way in which the Institute demonstrates the evident “consistent commitment to maintaining and celebrating the Ukrainian culture in Edmonton” mentioning the positives of the 2011 rebuild and the growth of the SJI community: SJI has “expanded focus to be more than housing for rural Ukrainian students,” it “now includes affordable housing, youth leadership, catering, cultural leadership in the community.”

Rameses Rhoad, a current resident at the Institute, says, “My favourite parts of SJI have to be the friendly faces around and the 3 prepared meals a day. As a student, I find the meals and location convenient because it’s a 10-minute walk from campus.”

Severable notable speakers were indeed present including: Rachel Notley, Premier of Alberta; Jessica Littlewood, MLA, Fort Saskatchewan and Vegreville; Member of Parliament for Edmonton-Strathcona, Linda Duncan; Councillor Ben Henderson, Edmonton City Councillor on behalf of Mayor Don Iveson; Volodymyr Viatrovych, Minister of Ukraine’s Ministry of Remembrance; Dennis Kuchta, Alberta Ukrainian Self-Reliance League; Olesia Luciw-Andriowycz, President, Ukrainian Canadian Congress-Alberta Provincial Council; Dr. Tania Mysak, Chair, SJI; and author, as well as SJI board member, Myrna Kostash.

Premier Notley via Twitter wrote, “for 100 years, with the innovative spirit that has long defined the contributions of Ukrainian people to our province, @SJIEdmonton has been a beacon of hope, opportunity, warmth and goodwill in our community. Here’s to 100 more for this life changing organization.”

Kotash, who is a member of one of the Institute’s founding families, mentioned that the residence’s 100th birthday “celebration coincided with the reception of the new (interim) consul from Ukraine to the newly-opened consulate in Edmonton; also, with the September 7 annual Day of Ukrainian-Canadian Heritage; and, just a month earlier, the Jubilee Sobor in Saskatoon of the 100th anniversary of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada. A lot of celebrating to go around!”

Mysak speaks for the community when she says “it was wonderful to see groups of alumni reconnecting and taking in all of the changes in the building since the rebuild. We were pleased to see so many familiar faces and reconnect with alumni and supporters alike.”

Looking forward, members of the St. John’s board anticipate “vibrant and relevant programming” in the building’s future. Director Brytan “would like to see SJI work with the community and government to develop sustainable sources of funding to pay for the programming that our community is accustomed to expecting of SJI.” Continuing by saying that, “the spiritual, cultural and artistic programming, and indeed, the support for initiatives in education and human services are all ways in which [the Institute] can meet [its] mandate, and in order to do this … pay off a mammoth mortgage, so a fundraising plan is in the works.” And concluding that, “once we have dealt with that beast, we will be able to pursue our programming goals with great gusto!”