St. Nicholas’ Serbian Orthodox Church is home to the oldest Serbian Orthodox parish in Eastern Canada. The earliest record of Serbs in Hamilton dates to 1904. The parish was founded in 1913 on the initiative of a group of Serbian families who had emigrated to Canada primarily from regions within the former Austro-Hungarian Empire. These hard working labourers were able to purchase a house on Sherman Avenue north, converting the lower level to a chapel and keeping the upper storey as a residence for clergy and their family. The parish began its ministry under the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church, but came under the jurisdiction of the Serbian Orthodox Church in 1920.
On December 19th 1917, Serbian Bishop Mardarije Uskoković consecrated the community’s first formal church building, St. Nicholas’ Church at the corner of Beach Road and Northcote Street in Hamilton. The Beach Road community was a small enclave of Slavic immigrants, with the Serbian Church and Hall, Croatian National Home, Slovenian Hall, and several businesses run by families from these south Slavic groups as well as Ukrainian, Polish, and Russian all located there. A large influx of Serbian immigrants and refugees strengthened Hamilton’s Serbian community in the years immediately following the second World War. This is, in turn, a period of rapid cultural growth for Hamilton’s Serbs: a women’s organization, a school, choir & theatre group are all established in the period between 1948 and 1952. As the Serbian community grew both in size and in prosperity, they outgrew their original community centre. In 1957, the Canadian Serbian Community Centre was opened on Barton Street East. It was only a matter of time that the centre of parish life would follow.
The beautiful Serbo-Byzantine Church of St. Nicholas was consecrated by Bishop Irinej Kovačević in 1974. The church retains the bells of the original 1917 church, and a collection of Russian icon prints dating to 1907. A monumental mosaic over the entrance is the work of artist Sava Rakočević.
The icon wall, or ikonostas, was produced at the workshop of Argyrios Kavroulakis in Heraklion, Crete, in 1977. It is handcarved from solid walnut, as is the choir loft. The fresco murals were completed in 2004, and are by the hand of Father Theodore Jurewicz of Erie, PA. In 2003, the 90th anniversary of the parish, the Church was blessed with the arrival of the Holy Icon of Our Lady of Three Hands (Bogorodica Trojeručica), a copy of a miraculous icon housed at the holy monastery of Hilendar on Mount Athos, Greece. The shrine housing this icon, as well as the Shrine of the Epitaphios (plaštanica) and the church entrance doors were all hand carved from Slavonian Oak in a workshop in Belgrade, Serbia.
In a century of ministry among the Serbs of Hamilton and Ontario, the parish and the community have gone through two world wars, the Great Depression, economic boom and bust periods in Steeltown, and tragic events in the Balkans in more recent years. The parish has always participated in humanitarian aid work both for the citizens of Hamilton and in aid of Serbians abroad. As the parish approaches its centennial, we can reflect on our history with pride and look to the future with great hope.