National Shevchenko Musical Ensemble Guild of Canada

The National Shevchenko Musical Ensemble Guild of Canada was federally incorporated as a charitable cultural institution as the supportive organization for the Shevchenko Musical Ensemble – to maintain and operate this unique performing group on a permanent basis. The year 2012 marked 40 years since the incorporation and a new vision for the future of the Shevchenko Musical Ensemble, a bold vision which reflected the reality of the times.

By 1972 the Shevchenko Male Chorus, Toronto Mandolin Orchestra and dancers had been welded into a performing ensemble unique in Canada. In addition to its local performances, both in large prestigious theatres and in the general community, this unique and highly qualified ensemble, then under the artistic direction of Eugene Dolny, won accolades from the media all across this country and from thousands of concert goers in the Ukrainian community and beyond.

More and more people from all walks of life and different ethnic backgrounds were joining the Ensemble and new audiences were giving their approval of the goals of the Ensemble.

The time had come. The male chorus, already in existence 20 years and the orchestra 15 years, became the nucleus of a unique performing group with years of experience in the arts community. Although proud of their Ukrainian roots, the Ensemble leadership knew that the future of the Ensemble lie in its ability to become relevant to as broad a cross-section of Canadian society as possible. They saw the Ensemble as a vehicle for reflecting not only the Ukrainian heritage, but a truly Canadian culture.

It was apparent that this large ensemble needed an organization solely dedicated to its maintenance and further development. After more than a year of discussion and debate the National Shevchenko Musical Ensemble Guild of Canada was incorporated as a charitable organization, the first musical guild established for an amateur arts group and the first guild for a Ukrainian Canadian group.

The Aims and Objects of this new organization articulated the core values on which the Chorus and Orchestra of the Ensemble had grown:

  • To perpetuate the finest of musical traditions of the Ukrainian people and weave those traditions with Canadians of other ethnic origins into a new Canadian cultural fabric
  • To promote international friendship and mutual respect among all peoples of Canada
  • To enlist the services of Canadian, Ukrainian and other composers, authors, choreographers and artists to create for and work with the Shevchenko Musical Ensemble
  • To support and work with other Canadian institutions dedicated to equality and fairness and the further development of Canadian culture.

The main purpose of the Guild – to maintain and further develop the Shevchenko Musical Ensemble – meant developing innovative programming for each group, broadening the repertoire and raising the level of performance. This was done successfully by reaching out and gaining support from the broader community, by bringing professional singers and musicians to work and perform along side the amateurs in the Ensembl, and by commissioning Canadian composers and lyricists to create original works for the Ensemble.

As early as 1969, under the inspiring leadership of Eugene Dolny, an audacious program of commissioning new works began and continued for a number of years after incorporation with the support of the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council. The five major compositions created for the Ensemble now remain in perpetuity in the annals of Canadian culture.

In addition to funding the cultural activity for the choir and orchestra, much effort and financing by the Guild went into nurturing young dance talent. An important development in the field of dance was the establishment in 1979 of the Shevchenko School of Folk Dance under the direction of Nick Pelowich and the growth of the adult dance group, the Kaniv Dancers. An outstanding annual event, presented over a period of five years, was Dance Fest, a series of concerts featuring dances of all nations performed by guest dance groups in addition to the Kaniv Dancers.

Over the years, four dance workshops were sponsored by the Guild, the first conducted by Myron Shatulsky, well know and highly regarded in Canada for his creative contribution to Ukrainian folk dance both in choreography and books and articles on the history of Ukrainian dance. Two of the workshops were co-sponsored by the Guild and York University and conducted by choreographers from Ukraine. The Guild also sponsored 14 dancers to attend dance seminars in Ukraine and three dancers for extended study in Kyiv in 1987 to 1989.

One of the finest examples of peoples’ commitment and dedication to the Guild and Ensemble was the purchase and renovation of Guild headquarters which opened in 1975. The purchase was made possible by contributions and investments by members matched by Wintario, the provincial government grant agency at that time.

Some 83 men, youth and women contributed almost 5,000 volunteer hours renovating an old house at 626 Bathurst Street once belonging to Philip Podoliak, musician, composer and teacher. The building provides office and meeting space, a Board room, costume and instrument storage, a Seniors’ club room and an extensive library of Ukrainian and Slavic Music available to the general public.

One of the Guild’s main tasks is to raise funds for the Ensemble. Many innovative projects and events have been held over the years led by active volunteers. Among these were the Spring Frolic (or bazaar) which continued for almost 20 years and involved hundreds of volunteers; numerous picnics, bar-b-q’s, Grey Cup parties, and New Year’s Eves parties; the making and sale of “pyrohy” (perogies) for many years, a bike-a-thon by the Kaniv dancers to raise funds for the 1989 Ukraine concert tour. There were great fashion shows and teas, stags, Monte Carlo and Euchre Nites. But nothing was so daring as the Guild’s sponsorship of the Veryovka Folk Ensemble of Ukraine and the Rajko Dance Ensemble of Hungary in Massey Hall in 1981.

A major fundraiser, the 1000 Club Lottery which was initiated in 1975 and continues to this day, is augmented by charity community bingos and many other fundraising projects run by Guild volunteers in support of the Shevchenko Musical Ensemble.

Since incorporation of the Guild over 40 years ago, thousands of people have lent their support by becoming Guild members, and hundreds of volunteers have served on the Board of Directors, Executive Committee and other committees, working hard to establish and maintain the credibility of the organization, to protect its integrity and maintain its standards.

The Guild’s success is above all thanks to the generous and continuing support of the community and the inspiration this support has given the Guild’s many volunteers – people who passionately believed that great things could be accomplished with foresight of vision and a will to be creative and innovative; people who were, and are still, willing to give of their talents, time and energy, and proudly be part of an organization which has made an outstanding contribution to the cultural life of Canada.