Written by: Angeline Antonakos Boswell, KGHP Researcher
LOCATION ON THE WALKING TOUR: St. George’s Cathedral, 270 King Street East
AUDIO CLIP: LISTEN TO VOULA STATHOPOULOS DESCRIBE HOW SHE MET HER HUSBAND
St. George’s Cathedral, at the end of Johnson Street near the location of our current Greek Orthodox Church, served an important role in the history of Kingston’s Greek Community. Before the Greek Community bought and renovated our current location at 121 Johnson Street in 1964, turning it into a Greek Orthodox Church, St. George’s Cathedral was often used as a location for Greek ceremonies (such as weddings and baptisms) as well as Greek church services. In this section of our walking tour, we will look at the importance of St. George’s Cathedral in the memories of members of our Greek community. Since many weddings within our Greek community took place at St. George’s Cathedral, we will also look at weddings, marriage, and courtship in general within our Greek community, as told through the stories and memories of our oral history narrators.
Ceremonies Before the Church
Weddings, baptisms, and the celebration of major holidays such as Christmas, Panagia, Easter, and the Holy Week leading up to it, are important ceremonies and pillars of Greek culture. The Greek community of Kingston received its largest wave of immigration around the 1960s, and so the Greek population in Kingston before then was relatively sparse. Because of this, there was no official community organization among early Greek immigrants, nor was there an official gathering point for church services or celebrations. Saint George’s Cathedral on Johnson Street became the go-to place for Greek weddings, baptisms, holidays, and church services before 1964.
Maria Karis Brousalis, whose family was one of the earliest Greek families to immigrate to Kingston, remembers attending services at St. George’s Cathedral. She and her family would take their communion there, and eventually became active members of the St. George’s Cathedral community. Maria’s brother participated in the choir, her father was a Rotarian, and her mother participated in “Women’s Aid” at the church; the family made connections and friendships in St. George’s that lasted even after the Greeks started organizing their own community, as Maria remembers her family attending meetings for both of the communities.
As more and more Greeks started immigrating to Kingston, St. George’s Cathedral provided a space wherein Greek Orthodox services and ceremonies could be held. Maria describes how Greeks could use the chapel at St. George’s to hold baptism ceremonies, holidays, and weddings. They would bring a Greek Orthodox Priest to Kingston from elsewhere in order to conduct these ceremonies, as it was not until much later that there was a permanent Greek Orthodox Priest in Kingston. Maria remembers when the Archbishop Athinagoras came to Kingston in 1961 to help set up a Greek community. He gave Maria and her sister a book of Greek Orthodox choir music and told them they were in charge of the church choir, since Maria could play the piano. Since they still did not have a church space of their own, the choir was held at St. George’s Cathedral. Maria’s sister was eventually married at St. George’s by a Greek Orthodox Priest, too.
Fil Menikefs, who came to Kingston in 1951, also remembers the importance of St. George’s Cathedral for the Greek Community before the establishment of our own church. Greek Orthodox church services at the time, which involved bringing a priest from elsewhere, were only held once in a while, either at St. George’s Cathedral or very occasionally at the Masonic Temple on Queen’s Street. Fil and his friend Chris Zakos would attend the Anglican services at St. George’s Cathedral every Sunday, whenever a Greek Orthodox service wasn’t being held. During Holy Week (the week preceding Easter), Fil remembers travelling with Chris to Watertown, where there was a large Greek community, every single day in order to attend Church services.
Clearly, there was a large need for a Greek Orthodox church in Kingston – a need that was only growing over time as more and more Greeks were immigrating to Kingston and searching for a space to hold their important ceremonies, holidays, and services.
Weddings and Marriages in Greek Communities
A wedding is not a small event for those in a Greek Community. The ceremony itself is large, loud, and lasts nearly the entire night filled with Greek dancing, drinks, and food. The actual wedding takes place typically within a Greek Orthodox Church, under the guidance of a Greek Orthodox Priest. As Father Chrysostomos Achilleos described in his interview for the Kingston Greek History Project, in Greek Orthodox weddings there is the distinctive tradition of the bride and groom wearing small circular crowns during the ceremony. These are the crowns of “martyrdom”, Fr. C. says, “because in marriage we sacrifice for one another.” The entire ceremony is filled with symbolic meaning, as is every ceremony within the Greek Orthodox church. For more information about baptisms and holidays within the church, read this.
Traditionally, marriage between two Greeks has been preferred within Greek Canadian Communities (Chimbos 1980, 111). Over time, marriage between Greeks and non-Greeks has become more widely accepted, and some members of our community in Kingston attest to the rewards and difficulties of marrying outside the Greek community here. Typically, however, through much of the twentieth century, single Greek men “fleeing terrible economic conditions” and wishing to “remake their lives” returned to Greece once they became established in Canada in order to find a bride (Century Man: The Father Salamis Story). Many of these marriages were arranged by their families (ibid).
While times changed and arranged marriages were no longer the norm, the broader Greek Community still tended to play an important role in match-making over time. It is through a network of connections, often based in the community, that Greek youth tended to meet one another. In the stories compiled below, we will see a range of different courtship and marriage experiences within the community.
Marriage Stories from Our Community
In discussing their life stories, many narrators included in this project spoke about how they met their spouse, and how these courtship and marriage stories took place within their broader stories of migration or community involvement. Many couples moved to Kingston from Greece together, for example, and many people followed future spouses from Greece to Kingston in order to marry. Many even returned to Greece after establishing themselves in Kingston in order to find a spouse to bring over into the new country and build a family. The following stories, of course, are only a sample of all of the wedding and marriage stories within our community and by no means give voice to the full range of experiences of our members. To read more background information on each individual narrator mentioned below, please click here.
Spiro Sakell’s father, Andrew Sakell, migrated from Greece to North America at 16 years old. He was one of the earliest Greeks in Kingston, and his story serves as an example of Greek Canadians who traveled to Greece in order to find brides. After he had been living in Kingston for some time, he went back to Greece to meet a woman he had been “fixed” with. The moment he met Chrysanthy in Greece, however, he changed his mind and married her instead. They stayed in Greece for two years and had their first child, Spiro’s sister, before returning to Kingston. It should be noted that, at this time, finding a Greek man living in Canada was a desirable path for many girls living in Greece, as this represented hope for a better economic future for a family, in a new land. Greek Canadian men knew the status symbol their new country gave them when returning to Greece, and so they often used it to their advantage when trying to choose a bride. Maria Karis Brousalis shared a humorous story about family friend and Kingstonian George Karkoulis, who returned to Greece in the 1960s in search of a bride. He brought along his North American car by boat as a status symbol in order to impress potential suitors. He married Andromahi (pictured below) that summer and returned to Canada by boat along with the car.
Maria Karis Brousalis’s parents met each other in the 1930s through connections in the Greek community. A lot of Greeks went to Church in Toronto to celebrate big holidays, since there was no Greek church in Kingston at the time. It was there that Anastasia (her mother), from around the Toronto area, met Frank Karis (her father), from Kingston. A family friend suggested they would be a good match four or five years before they got married. They danced when they first met, but nothing happened. It wasn’t until they met again at another event (this time at a wedding) in Toronto that they decided to date. Frank drove every Sunday to see Anastasia, on his one day off from work. He would drive all day to get there, they would spend a couple of hours together, and then he would drive back home. The first time he went to take her for a drive, Maria describes, her Theia (aunt) hopped in the car to chaperone and Anastasia said “get out, he’s here to see me!” She was strong-headed. Frank visited her for many weeks until, in October, they decided they should marry. They were married in Toronto on November 5th 1939, and the best man was the one who had matched them years ago.
The following story about Manos Tryfonopoulos comes from his son, John:
“Manos Tryfonopoulos met his first wife, Maria Kosovos, when he was a teenager. Her family would come from Kalamata to Methoni for summer vacation and she became best friends with one of Manos’s three sisters.
They had an instant attraction and “were crazy in love”. They kept in touch for several years while Manos completed his military service and worked in northern Greece. In 1953. Maria and her parents moved to Kingston, Ontario as her father had a brother already living there. Manos and Maria kept in touch by writing letters and after some time Manos decided to emigrate to Canada to join Maria and get married. He left Greece on October 26, 1954 on a converted war ship named the Jerusalem and arrived in Halifax on November 11. This decision was not taken lightly as Manos had a good job in Greece and was unsure of what sort of labour he would have to accept once he came to Canada with no knowledge of English. They were married within seven days of his arrival as they were required to wed within 30 days according to the current Immigration Laws. The wedding was held on November 21, 1954 in the Greek Orthodox Church in Ottawa as there was no Greek church in Kingston at that time.
His first job upon arriving in Kingston was as a shoemaker at a shop located at 561 Princess Street which was owned by an Italian gentleman. Oddly enough this worked in Manos’s favour as he had learned Italian during the Second World War when Greece was occupied by Italy. Later he also worked as a milkman and in a bakery among other jobs. In 1959 Manos purchased a shoe repair shop at 540 Alfred St. and he put the training he had obtained earlier to good use. Their first child, Caterina, was born in December of 1955. Though life was difficult with both of them working, they felt blessed and were happy. In March of 1960 their second child was born, a boy named John. Tragically Maria passed away suddenly in June of 1960, leaving Manos alone to care for two young children.
With the help of his sister and Mother back in Greece, where he had taken the children after the death of Maria, he began to rebuild his life. During this time Manos met Shirley at the shoe repair shop as she lived in the area and was a regular customer. Slowly their relationship grew and upon the children’s return from Greece in 1963 she also assumed the role of caregiver to his children and helped him look after them.
In 1966 Manos and Shirley were married in Kingston at the current Greek Orthodox Church located at 121 Johnson Street and after 63 years are still going strong!”
In the 1960s, Mike Kanellos and his wife met through Mike’s brother, Costas. Costas knew Mike’s wife from when he was living in Winnipeg. Mike eventually asked her to come to Kingston with him, and they were married in St. George’s Cathedral by a priest who came from Ottawa to perform the service.
Traditionally, Greek women married young. Voula Stathopolous was told she was becoming too old to be married when she was only 24 years old! She met her future husband, Tom Stathopoulos, through family. Her uncle had a successful Baklava store in Toronto and came to Kingston often for deliveries. Her uncle had been told to always be looking out for a groom for Voula, as her parents were intent on finding her a husband. They would often bring suitors to the home for Voula to choose from. Voula was not interested in an arranged marriage at all. One time, for example, they brought someone from Montreal who her father liked “because he had money and a nice car” and Voula said, “Dad, today he has money but tomorrow maybe he won’t, and then what do I have? Someone I don’t know?” She always battled it.
Tom Stathopoulos was working for her uncle’s Baklava store at the time. Her uncle brought Tom with him when he had to deliver cakes to Kingston, thinking Tom could be a potential suitor. Voula liked Tom’s personality, but was still hesitant to be set up for marriage. He was persistent, though. Tom would phone her often, and would do deliveries with her uncle almost every weekend. Voula remembers that one time he said “you know, Voula, you don’t know me and I don’t know you, but I think if we are married we will be a good couple.” She asked him how he knew this, and Tom said they would try their best. Eventually, he asked Voula to marry him and promised her he would be the best husband. This, as Voula recounts, was the start of their life together. They went to Greece so Voula could meet Tom’s parents. Tom met Voula’s family, and Voula’s father convinced Tom to move to Kingston. They did, and their wedding was held at St. George’s Cathedral.
Chris and Murva Nikas met through the coffee shop Chris owned at the time. Murva was working for a lawyer, and she would come to the coffee shop every day to pick coffee up for her office. Chris spoke English at a low level, but he would practice writing messages the night before that he would hand her with her coffee the next day. One day, he accidentally gave someone else the coffee cup intended for Murva: he laughs, saying that he and Murva felt so embarrassed that the customer “knew their secret”. Eventually, they began dating. At one point, Murva was living in Toronto and Chris would drive up every weekend to see her.
Murva is not Greek, and this difference was difficult for them at first. Before they were married, Chris brought Murva to St. George’s Cathedral (where the church services were being held at the time), so that he could ‘show her his culture’. People in the community were shocked to see him bring Murva, as it was not common to marry someone from outside of the community at that point. “But marrying Murva was the greatest thing”, he says. Not only do they work well together as a couple, but Murva also helped Chris a lot with his businesses.
Before they were married, Murva was given books to read about the Greek Orthodox religion. She wanted to be baptized into the faith for the right reasons, and not only because she was marrying Chris. She wanted to understand the religion more deeply. “And now,” Chris says, “she is more Greek than the Greeks are!” Murva is extremely involved with the church, and has been for the past 50 years. She works with the youth (and was a long time Sunday school teacher), chaired Folklore, and much more.
Toula and Louis Leos’s wedding was the last Greek Orthodox Wedding to be held at St. George’s Cathedral before the Greek Community bought a church in 1964. There were two priests at her wedding, Toula recounts: one from Toronto and one from New York. She and Louis brought the Orthodox materials to St. George’s for the wedding, such as the crosses, crowns, and other props. It was a huge wedding.
Maria Karis Brousalis and Ted Brousalis were married in the new Greek Orthodox Church. Maria met Ted through connections within the Greek community. He was a friend of the Karkoulis family, as was Maria. The Karkoulises brought a newly-immigrated Ted to a Christmas gathering one year. He was 24 years old and Maria was 13 years old when they first met at this gathering, so nothing happened. Maria says, however, that “he was like a Greek God. I never got him out of my mind”. She felt a strong expectation to marry someone Greek. In her generation, she felt that marrying someone who wasn’t Greek meant you were “getting away from the Church and the community”. Years later, Maria and Ted began seeing each other romantically and, when it came time to get married, Maria’s father did not approve of the union even though Ted was Greek. Approval from parents is significant in traditional Greek culture, and so this put a strain on Maria’s relationship with her father for many years, which finally was resolved. The photo below from their wedding day depicts the early days of our church: since it had not originally been an Orthodox church, the Greek community renovated it, adding the iconostas we see below (the wall of icons). The church looks markedly different today, although the iconostas remains the same.
Fil Menikefs met his wife, Maria, on a trip back home to Cyprus after he immigrated to Kingston. He was introduced to her by his family, as she was one of the girls that had been “chosen for him”. Fil wanted to bring Maria back to Canada and see if she would like to live there. They arrived in the Montreal airport and the immigration officers told her she had one month to get married before she had to leave the country. Getting married became a quick decision, and they arranged to have the wedding within a month. Unexpectedly, Fil became sick with pneumonia and was hospitalized. As the wedding was approaching, he asked if they would let him leave the hospital for the ceremony. Fil laughs as he describes attending the wedding ceremony, and then spending his first night as a married couple in the hospital. After he got out of the hospital, they finally had a real honeymoon and they went to Niagara Falls. Fil and Maria “matched very easily”, and they still match right up to today.
As we can see, Greeks have traditionally been matched through arranged marriages. This is the case with both Maria Triada Karkoulis and Voula Bettas, who described their experiences of being destined to marry a Greek Canadian. Maria Triada Karkoulis met her husband, Peter Karkoulis (brother of John and George Karkoulis), while he was visiting Greece on an AHEPA trip. When she met Peter, she was in the middle of applying to a military medical school in Thessaloniki where her brother was completing his military services. As she describes, the majority of the girls in Greece at the time were interested in getting married to a Greek who lived in Canada. It was a fortunate financial situation for women to be in during a time of economic uncertainty in Greece. This is why, as we saw earlier, venturing to Greece in search of a bride, even bringing a car overseas in order to emphasize one’s Canadianness to marriage prospects, would be so successful for young Greek Canadian men. Marrying a Greek Canadian man was desirable. And although Maria Triada was passionate about academics, she eventually chose to marry into the Karkoulis family instead, destined for Canada.
How Maria Triada and Peter first met was coincidental. Peter was at a barber shop, describing to the barber how he was searching for someone in Greece to marry. Maria happened to pass by the barber shop on her way to the post office, and Peter saw her in the barber shop mirror. He said to the barber, “if that young girl is available, I’ll marry her.” In the smaller town of Tripoli, people must have known one another well, and so the barber knew it was Maria Triada who had walked by. Eventually, Peter’s uncle, after hearing this joke, somehow urged the barber to contact Maria’s family. Maria’s family agreed for Peter and Maria to meet. They only met once before becoming engaged! They were married in August of 1962 and by September Maria Triada immigrated to Kingston to live with the Karkoulis family.
Voula met her husband through similar circumstances, when family friends sent her photograph to Pandelis Bettas while he was in search of a bride. Pandelis was already living in Kingston, and had already established himself financially. Voula was only 19 years old when she immigrated to Canada in 1965 to marry him! Eventually, they had three children, and Voula worked in a hospital while Pandelis ran a successful restaurant.
Modern relationship configurations are quite different than traditional Greek ones, with arranged marriages no longer the norm, and intermarriage between Greeks no longer so strictly enforced. We can see this change in the marriage stories of our younger community members – especially those who have described their experiences marrying outside of the Greek community and heritage. The children and grandchildren of Greek immigrants, as with any first and second generation immigrants, will inevitably become more entwined with the social norms of the broader host society. Many traditions eventually disperse, while some still remain. Being married within the Orthodox Church is still important to most, and up-keeping Greek traditions through other ways (such as through food, language, and religion) is still important to many descendants of Greek immigrants. You can read more about what it means to maintain Greekhood in the Greek Community here.