City Organizer: Paul MacDougall
Walk Leaders: Paul MacDougall and Tom Urbaniak
Text by: Paul MacDougall
Photographs by: Paul MacDougall
In 2014, the development of Whitney Pier (c.1890s) was designated a National Historic Event by Parks Canada. The Directory of Federal Heritage Designations says Whitney Pier “was the most distinctively multi-ethnic district in the Maritimes in the 20th century.”
“Overlooking the steel plant, the (immigrant) labourers shared a working-class identity that motivated them to form unions, bridge ethnocultural differences, and forge a sense of community. They founded numerous institutions, ranging from benevolent societies to houses of worship…”
We began in the Whitney Pier Historical Museum, a former Jewish Synagogue; 43 people from little children to 80 year olds and a lady in a wheelchair. First stop was the Ryder Building which houses the office of Big Brothers/Sisters, which in 30 years has paired over 5000 local children.
Next was St. Philip’s African Orthodox Church, the only one in existence east of Montreal. The church dates back to the 1920s and the early days of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and Marcus Garvey.
We passed a former “Turkish Bathhouse”, which garnered a lot of discussion, before dropping into Morraff’s Yarns and Crafts which originated about 70 years ago. Original woodwork, the vibrant colours of wool and nifty cubbyhole drawers surprisingly drew the interest of many.
In Holy Ghost Ukrainian Catholic Church, Father Roman, a natural storyteller, explained the artwork’s significance, swung an incense pot with gusty and rang a centuries old heavy bell, one he rescued from the neck of a grateful cow in the old country. One participant, not overly religious, described his visit to Holy Ghost as “quite moving.”
In an abandoned lot we chatted about what Jane Jacobs would do with. We walked down the recently renamed Galicia St., had home-made donuts in a decades old grocery store/bakery, and ended inside St. Mary’s Polish Church. The original burnt to the ground in 2014, but was re-built by the community to such original specifications the province designated it a Historic Property.