For much of the 20th century, 300 Bathurst Street in downtown Toronto was home to Ukrainian-Canadian organizations. In 1918, the Ukrainian Labour Temple Association was established in Winnipeg and in 1921, the Toronto branch was established.
The Ukrainian Labour Temple building opened in 1927 for community organizations and unions; community and social spaces (an auditorium, dancehall, etc.); a library, including materials available in Ukrainian and Russian; a Ukrainian language school for children; as well as a tobacconist’s shop. Andrew Gregorovich noted that the Ukrainian Labour Temple “became a centre for Ukrainians who sympathized with the USSR.” By 1928, there were 167 branches of the Ukrainian Labour Temple Association across Canada.
In the 1930s, the government and mainstream media began accusing the Ukrainian Labour Temple of fostering Communist-related activities. This resulted in a series of investigations by Toronto’s police and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. In 1932, the Labour Temple’s hall license was revoked, as the venue was hosting fundraisers and protests for communists incarcerated in the Kingston Penitentiary. It regained its hall license by the mid-1930s, but in 1939 there were allegations that it facilitated the teaching of communist doctrines. The Temple issued public statements that their organization was “non-political and had no connection whatsoever with the Communist Party.”
Nevertheless, in June 1940, its property was seized on grounds of its facilitating activities linked to the Communist party and thus being an “unlawful association.” This seizure was conducted via Canada’s Wartime Emergency Powers Act.
This seizing of the Labour Temple sparked controversy. Mayor Ralph Day told the police commissioners that he was adamantly convinced that the Ukrainian Labour Temple was a central Communist site. Soon 300 Bathurst Street was sold to the Ukrainian National Federation, a rival of the Ukrainian Labour Temple. That resulted in several riots in front of the building and the Civil Liberties Association of Toronto launched a legal campaign to have the property returned.
After several investigations, a raid in December 1940 discovered subversive Communist books, such as those by Vladimir Lenin, in the library and school room of the Labour Temple. These books were used as evidence of Communist activities during a hearing about returning the building to its previous owners. Some witnesses reported not having previously seen the books in the library prior to the 1940 raid. Ultimately, the building was returned to its prewar owners and in 1946, the Ukrainian Labour-Farmer Temple Association changed its name to the Association of United Ukrainian Canadians (AUUC).
At 9:00pm on 8 October 1950 — a Thanksgiving Sunday — the AUUC’s Ukrainian Labour Temple was bombed. It was packed with around 1000 people, as the venue was hosting a children’s concert in the upstairs auditorium and a social dance for teenagers in the downstairs dancehall. The home-made bomb of powerful explosives filled with six-inch rail spikes was placed near the rear doors of the auditorium by the fire escape. Remnants of a foot-long fuse were later found. The explosion, which was heard over a mile away, blew out the auditorium wall, created a large hole in the ceiling, and shattered windows in the building and nearby. There were no fatalities but between ten and 12 people were injured. All injuries were from flying glass, as the railway spikes blew upward and lodged in the ceiling, not the audience. Between 500 and 600 people were in the auditorium, including 100 to 200 children.
Children were seated at the front of the auditorium, away from their parents, to be nearer to the stage for their performances in the children’s concert. This created pandemonium when hundreds rushed to the exits while others sat and prayed. Families couldn’t immediately locate children. A speaker from the Ban the A-Bomb Movement was scheduled to talk on the dangers of the atomic bomb on the same evening, and several members of the audience thought Toronto had been hit by an atomic bomb.
Amazingly, the 400 to 500 attendees of the dance that was being held directly below the auditorium reported only hearing a “dull thud” due to the reinforced and soundproofed ceiling of the dancehall. Some wanted refunds for their tickets when they were told to leave the building.
Following the explosion, thousands of people descended on Bathurst Street out of concern and curiosity. Mayor Hiram E. McCallum arrived and police detained a man who was questioning witnesses. He turned out to be an undercover RCMP officer.
After the bombing, the Association of United Ukrainian Canadians released statements accusing former members of the Ukrainian Halychyna Schutzstaffel (Nazi) brigade — also known as the Butcher Brigade — as being behind the bombing. Members of this former Nazi brigade had arrived in Canada as displaced persons after World War II and tensions had arisen between various Ukrainian organizations. Joseph Salsberg, then the district’s Member of Provincial Parliament, told the press that this bombing was the first fascist bombing in Canada. Damage to the Temple was reported to be $10 000 — equal to $110,000 today.
The Ukrainian Canadian Committee, which consisted of educational, religious, and women’s organizations, claimed that, instead of the Halychyna Brigade, the Communists had planted the bomb themselves to “create an unfriendly feeling among Canadians towards Ukrainian immigrants that might affect Canada’s immigration policy.”
Following World War II, the AUUC promoted ties between Ukraine and Canada. During the Cold War, its membership declined, as people recalled the organization’s previous experience during the war and felt pressured to distance themselves from alleged Communist activities.
However, some remaining members of the AUUC engaged in peace work. The AUUC supported the Canadian Peace Congress’s petition to ban the atomic bomb. Rhonda Hinthers notes that the “bulk of the work contributed by the [AUUC] was conducted by its female base of immigrant and Canadian-born members and supporters … The women went door-to-door across Canada soliciting support.” Many of the women were new to Canada and just learning English, yet they gained thousands of signatures for the Canadian Peace Congress’s petition. AUUC members also participated in other peace-related activities during the Cold War.
The Association of United Ukrainian Canadians sold 300 Bathurst Street in the late 20th century and moved to the Shevchenko Museum. The building on 300 Bathurst Street was renovated with a Chinese motif and is home to the Ching Kwok Temple, a Chinese Mahayana Buddhist group.
Peace Magazine July-September 2022, page 38. Some rights reserved.
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