St. Nicholas / Immaculate Heart of Mary
100th Year Anniversary Celebrations

 

A History of the Construction of I.H.M.S.

 

In 1961, after almost 60 years, the old St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic School on Flora Avenue was in dire need of major renovations. Numerous structural problems, new building code requirements, and high maintenance costs threatened to close it down forever. In addition, almost 100 students and their teachers had recently been released because of severe financial problems. The Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate, who owned and operated the school, had been losing money for years.
The old St. Nicholas School needed major renovations by the early 1960's
 
In late January of that year, two members of the St. Nicholas School Fund Committee decided they had to do something in order to keep the school open. So they began a letter campaign to members of the Ukrainian community and former students of St. Nicholas School. In the letter they suggested that it was necessary to to either begin a very costly renovation, or to start a new building campaign.
 
 
The decision was quickly made to tear down the old building and erect a new one in its place. The original plans were for a $200,000 ultra-modern building with eight classrooms, a library, a nurse’s room, and an all-purpose auditorium chapel. The plans were soon revised to include nine classrooms rather than eight. On March 11, an architect’s sketch of the proposed building was made public for the first time.
 
Architect's sketch of new school. Click here to view in larger format
 
 
 
Soon afterwards, zoning notices began to appear in Winnipeg newspapers, and contractors began preliminary testing of the soil for the foundation of the school.
 
Equipment used to test the soil for the foundation of the new school
 
Once it was decided to tear down the old school and rebuild, a St. Nicholas School Building Fund Committee was formed. The committee, headed by Mr. Walter Paschak (chairman) and Mr. Walter Sahan (co-chairman), officially launched their campaign on June 7th with a dinner meeting at the Charterhouse Hotel on the corner of York and Hargrave. The purpose of the dinner was to formally announce plans for the campaign and the building of the school.
 
 
Eighty two guests attended the dinner, including patrons, sponsors, clergy, heads of various Ukrainian organizations, and the building committee. It was an extremely successful event, raising well over $20,000 in pledges that night.
 
The June 7th, 1961 Fund Raising Dinner. Click here to view additional photos
 
During the fund raising dinner, it was pointed out that the proposed school was being built to serve the needs of all Ukrainian Catholic children in the city of Winnipeg. The school, which would be owned and operated by the Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate, would be interparochial, and not connected with any particular parish.
 
 
 

The Building Fund Committee immediately followed up with a mail blitz of over 10,000 letters making a plea for assistance to get the new building started that fall. Canvassers were also sent out to solicit funds for the campaign. An example of a canvasser's identification card is shown on the left.

 
 
 
Information pamphlets were also distributed among the Ukrainian community describing the deteriorated conditions of St. Nicholas School, and explaining the reason to build a new school.
 

Informational pamphlet explaining the build campaign. Click here to read the pamphlet

 
Efforts by the Building Fund Committee were so successful that construction of the new school began on November 2, 1961. The story was covered in the Sunday, December 3, 1961 issue of Progress.
 

These photos show land being cleared for the new gymnasium. Click here to read the article

 

After the section of land to the west of St. Nicholas School was cleared, piles were driven into the ground to support the foundation of the new gymnasium (the photo at the left is from the January 14, 1962 issue of Progress).

Heavy construction continued throughout the winter of 1961-62. During this time, the fund raising drive was in full gear, raising money through events such as a Shopper's Supper, Carolling, a Mardi Gras Dance, a School Tea, a Banquet and Ball, and through donations from various sources.

 
 
 
Sometime in the spring of 1962, part of the canvassing group of the St. Nicholas School Building Fund Committee posed for a very interesting picture. They stood within the walls of the partially built gymnasium while the back of the old St. Nicholas School loomed in the background.
 

The St. Nicholas School Building Fund Committee. Click here to view in larger format

Front row (l-r):  Mr. Frank Paluck; Mr. Paul Maychruk; Mrs. O. Paschak; Mr. John Bednarski; Mrs. J. Bednarski; Mr. S. Petelecky; Mr. J. Wm. Balagus.
Back row (l-r):  Mr. Walter Paschak (chairman); Mr. Walter Sahan (co-chairman); Mr. Martin Korban; Mr. D. Mazur; Mr. S. Ilyniak
 

The May 27, 1962 issue of Progress showed further development in the construction of the gymnasium.

The Ukrainian caption below the photo to the left translates as follows: "Pictured is the old St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic School, and the start of the new building, of which the cornerstone will be blessed on June 30."

 
By the end of June, major construction of the gymnasium was complete. On Saturday, June 30th, 1962, in one of the most important events in the history of the school, the cornerstone was blessed in a solemn ceremony conducted by His Grace, Archbishop-Metropolitan Maxime Hermaniuk.
 
The blessing of the cornerstone of the school on June 30th, 1962
 
Although the gymnasium was the only section of the school completed at this point, the cornerstone was blessed to coincide with the Golden Jubilee Celebrations of the Ukrainian Hierarchy in Canada.
 
 
Construction continued throughout the fall of 1962, and into the following winter. During this time, St. Nicholas School remained standing on Flora Avenue while the new school was built behind it. The Building Fund Committee also continued with the demanding task of raising money.
 
 
One of the most successful and longest running of the fund raisers was the creation of the Fidelity Social Club. Beginning on March 28, 1963, and continuing until the late 1980's, the Fidelity Social Club raised money for the school by running weekly bingo games. Up until the early 1980’s, these games were held in the school’s gymnasium.
 
The Fidelity Club in the late 1970's. Click here to view in larger format.
 
 
By the spring of 1963, construction of the school was nearing completion. On April 20th, with the official opening just over a week away, a letter was received from Archbishop Sebastion Baggio, the Canadian Apostolic Delegate in Ottawa. The letter bestowed Papal Honours to the St. Nicholas School Building Committee. Mr. Walter Paschak was elevated to Commander of the Order of St. Sylvester, while Mr. Walter Sahan, Mr. Frank Paluck, Mr. Paul Maychruk, Mr. Martin Korban, Mr. William Balagus, Mrs. Jean Sahan, and Mrs. Olga Paschak were conferred the Cross “Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice”.
 
Members of the St. Nicholas School Build Committee were awarded Papal Medals by the Reverend Archbishop Metropolitan Maxime Hermaniuk on September 16, 1963
Back row (l-r): Paul Maychruk, William Balagus, Walter Sahan, Walter Paschak, Martin Korban, Frank Paluck
Front row (l-r): Mrs. W. Sahan, His Grace Archbishop Metropolitan Maxime Hermaniuk, Mrs. W. Paschak
 
 
On Sunday, April 28, 1963, a year and a half after construction first began, Immaculate Heart of Mary School was officially opened and solemnly blessed in a ceremony conducted by His Grace, Archbishop-Metropolitan Maxime Hermaniuk. The opening was also attended by Premier Duff Roblin, Archbishop George Flahiff, Bishop Andrew Roborecki of Saskatoon (a former student of St. Nicholas School), and Mother General Jerome Chimy, SSMI. During the ceremony, the Metropolitan announced that a blessing was also received from the Holy Father through a telegram received from His Eminence Cardinal Cigognani, the Vatican Secretary of State. After the ceremony, a reception was held inside the new school, and tea was served in the auditorium and in the classrooms. Over 2000 people turned out to witness the historic event.
 
 
Four months later, on September 3rd, 1963, two hundred and forty one students attended classes for the first time, including the senior high students from the old Immaculate Heart of Mary Academy. Interest in the new school was high within the Ukrainian community, and many students were refused admission because of insufficient classroom space.
 
 

The school was hailed for its modern design which incorporated large windows in the classrooms and hallways, and the use of wall to wall carpeting throughout the building. The carpeting was intended to create a quieter and more pleasant atmosphere, and the high quality building materials used in construction were intended to reduce future maintenance and upkeep costs.

When I.H.M.S. opened in 1963, the old St. Nicholas School remained standing in front of the new school, and wasn’t torn down until some time after. During this time, it was used for various activities, including the weekly Fidelity Club bingo games.

 
The above photos were taken from a Saturday, December 28, 1963 article in the Winnipeg Free Press. The photo on the left shows the kindergarten class with St. Nicholas School clearly visible outside the window. Click here to view the photos in a larger format and to read the captions.
 
Since only 9 classrooms were available to accommodate students from K-12, several classrooms were used by more than one grade. For the first year, grades 1 and 2 were taught in one classroom, as were grades 3 and 4, grades 5 and 6, and grades 7 and 8. This was not an ideal situation, and two years later I.H.M.S. settled on a K-8 format with one classroom for each grade.
 
Senior high classes were eliminated from I.H.M.S. in 1965
 
Many people were responsible for the opening of Immaculate Heart of Mary School in 1963, including all the patrons who generously donated the money necessary to finance the project. Absolutely no government aid was received, and the school was entirely financed from donations within the community. As a result, I.H.M.S. continues to be 100% owned and operated by the Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate.

However, special mention should me made of Mr. Walter Paschak (chairman), Mr. Walter Sahan (co-chairman), and the other members of the St. Nicholas School Building Fund Committee who spearheaded the entire project. When Immaculate Heart of Mary School opened in 1963, it was the culmination of almost two and a half years of intense planning and organization by this Committee. Once the decision was made to erect a new school in 1961, they quickly raised enough money to begin construction before the end of the year, and continued their efforts until the opening of the school a year and a half later. It’s a testament to the dedication of this Committee that I.H.M.S. exists today, and anyone associated with the school since its inception owes a debt of gratitude to the monumental effort that this group of former St. Nicholas School students did in the early 1960’s.