It was 1927 when Dusan and Jelena Pavlov (nee Maric) left Saravale Romania in search of a better life in Canada. Western Canada needed farm labourers and the people from the Banat were well suited to fill the void. It was to be a temporary move just long enough to earn money to buy land back home and start a farm of their own. However, the advent of WWII changed all that. After a long train ride to the port of Hamburg Germany they boarded a ship bound for England. Another long train ride ensued until they finally reached the port of Glasgow Scotland and boarded the Canadian Pacific steam ship “Melita” for their journey to Canada.
A few days later after a rough voyage as steerage in the lower decks of the ship, where Baba Jelena stated that she was extremely seasick, they disembarked in the port of Quebec City, this time boarding a Canadian Pacific train bound for western Canada. The door of their coach was locked, and they were not allowed to disembark until advised to do so. Arriving in Regina SK they were advised that this was their stop and that they could now disembark. Waiting on the platform were many of the farmers in need of this new labour force. As my grandmother spoke fluent German, she struck up a conversation with a German farmer who offered my grandfather his fist job in a new country.
There was already a significant community of Serbs in Regina many of whom were from the Banat. They settled in a neighbourhood which is now part of downtown Regina called German Town. As most from the Banat had lived under the authority of Austro-Hungarian Empire, it felt familiar. There they became parishioners at Holy Trinity Serbian Orthodox Church built in 1916 by these Serbs from the Banat. Holy Trinity was the very first Serbian Orthodox church in Canada.
At the time a fellow “seljats” from Saravale was there, Vic Nedin. Vic had met Julia Yakovlev and the two were set to marry. Julia’s father Misha was a founder and first president of the Church School Congregation “Holy Trinity” in Regina. As they were “seljatsi” Vic asked my grandfather to be Kum at their wedding.
After the birth of my father in Regina in 1928 the great depression hit in 1929, and many either lost their jobs or saw no future in Regina. The winters were harsh compared to those back in the old country. As a result, in 1930 our family left for Windsor ON as the automotive industry was still hiring. They were shortly followed by the Nedin’s and Yakovlev’s who settled in the Amherstburg area and the Stoyshin’s (our other Kumovi who baptised my father in Regina) in Windsor.
It was now the early 1930’s and Dusan and Jelena were part of the growing diaspora in Windsor. They settled in “Ford City” which was on Drouillard Road where many of our people resided. The community owned a hall on Drouillard Road which became the centre of Serbian life in Windsor. But eventually the time had come for the next step, a church. Along with other families in Windsor monies were raised and Gracanica was built and completed in October of 1952. A week or so later mom and dad (Dragoljub and Radmila nee Jovanovic) were the first couple married in the newly consecrated church.
As time went by the family grew. My sisters Juli (Swartz) and Georgina (Boow) and I were baptised in Gracancia. I was married in Gracanica as was Georgina. Participation in church and community life began. Sunday School, Jr./Sr. choir, alter boy duties and folklore group both as a participant and later briefly as an adult instructor assisting chika Lala Stevanov. Dad a member and former president of SSS Gracanica choir and mom a long-time president of The Serbian Women’s Heritage Society and one of the founders of the museum. Deda Dusan a church tutor and Baba Jelena a member of the sisters.
But an opportunity arose for me in the early 1980’s and I left Windsor for ironically where it all began Regina SK to join the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and upon graduation was posted to the Province of Alberta where I completed a 26-year career. But ties to Gracanica always remained strong and in the 1990’s returned home to baptise my two sons Nikola and Petr.
Which brings me full circle again and at the request of Father Vranic the telling of this story. As it was time for my son Nikola to marry, we returned home to Gracanica once again in May of 2022 to baptise his fiancée (Riana nee Gee) into the Serbian Orthodox faith. The wedding was set for October 21, 2023, almost 71 years to the day that his grandparents were married in Gracanica. To bring a piece of Gracanica back to Alberta Father Vranic graciously agreed to preform the wedding ceremony in Jasper AB with the assistance of Father Obrad Filipovic of Calgary. As there is no Orthodox church in Jasper the historic St Mary and St. George Anglican church built in the 1920’s stood in its place. Thank you, Father Vranic, and Filipovic for helping our family stay connected to our Serbian roots, however Gracanica will always remain home!
Submitted by Stephen Pavlov and Family