from: Cathedral Bells September 19, 2010 by Wasyl Sydorenko

Priests in the Attic
a memoir

The Very Reverend
Dr. S.W. Sawchuk,1965

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada (UOCC) was founded in 1918 by three young missionary priests, the Fathers Samuel W. Sawchuk, Dmytro E. Stratychuk and Peter Sametz. Today their life stories are as timely as ever, especially as our Church tries to adapt to both internal and external pressures trying to shape its future. Recently, William Sametz published his father’s memoir My Father the Priest (2008), an epic tale of the first wave of Ukrainian settlers in Canada. Now this story has been supplemented with the memoir Priests in the Attic (2010) by Elaine A. Small, the youngest daughter of the Very Reverend Dr. Samuel W. Sawchuk.

The Consistory of the UOCC was not always housed in the grey block of a utilitarian building where it finds itself today. On the spot once stood a fashionable old manse that served as the family home of Fr. Sawchuk. And there was an attic, and there were priests living in the attic, and there was Babka in the kitchen baking proskurky, and people getting married in the chapel across the hall, and secret rendezvous in darkened stairwells… And music, lots of music, all sorts of music – the New York Metropolitan Opera on the radio, jazz songs on the gramophone, Ukrainian Christmas carols, church hymns, conga dancing…

A local performance of Bizet’s Carmen impressed five-year-old Olanna (Elaine) Sawchuk and forged her destiny as a singer. The dream to sing on stage took Elaine to the Banff School of Fine Arts and then the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto. She started singing in the supper clubs of Winnipeg, but her big break was at the Ritz Carlton Café in Montreal in a dress made from vestment brocade taken from the Consistory stores. And then it was on to the Royal York in Toronto and even New York. Unfortunately, the responsibilities of a young family and her refusal to accept the seamier side of the singing business soon forced Elaine to give up her career as a supper club entertainer. Nevertheless, Elaine’s description of the music business in Canada during the 1950s and 1960s is priceless. Memoirs of such singers as Elaine (Steele) Sawchuk are rare. Her book belongs in every music library in Canada.

Growing up Ukrainian in Canada during the Great Depression and World War II was difficult. Elaine felt out of place in both communities, not realizing that British immigrants coming to Canada after WWII felt equally at odds with Canadian society. Her second marriage to CFRB radio host Alan Small proved to be just as difficult as the first one to CTV producer Michael Steele. Not being satisfied with the life of a 1960s suburban housewife, Elaine began to pursue a career in fashion at Eaton’s, Holt Renfrew and the Hudson Bay Co. Her first business trip to Europe as a buyer is narrated with biting satire. The insights on women in the workplace during the 1960s and 1970s are unique and unusually sincere.

Of interest to the Orthodox Ukrainian-Canadian community are the passages describing Elaine’s father, the Very Rev. Dr. Samuel W. Sawchuk. In her recollections, Dad was a visionary of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada. He recognized the fact that the Church had to be

Elaine Steele media photo, 1965

integrated into Canadian society. From a dissident movement he moulded it into a canonical entity. He pioneered bilingual Church Services and allowed the consecration of mixed marriages, yet he travelled to Ukraine on several occasions in search of a canonical bishop to lead the Church in Canada. At the same time, Fr. Sawchuk was a family man taking care of his eight children, numerous in-laws and extended family members. Dressing up as Santa Claus at Christmas time was a family tradition for him.

Elaine Small’s book came out last month. It is available in hardcover, softcover and electronic versions from the publisher. It is about 300 pages, illustrated with family photos and well worth the time to read.