Canada and the Armenian Genocide

Canadians began learning about the Armenians of the Ottoman Empire in a meaningful way only in 1878, in the aftermath of the Russo-Ottoman War. Thanks to the presence of Protestant missionaries—mostly Congregationalists from Ontario—this interest grew with time.

Influential figures such as the principals of Queen’s College (now University) and Knox College (now part of the University of Toronto) organized fundraising and lobbying efforts, and support was received from the Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire, the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), and other national organizations.

Media coverage peaked during the world war; Canadians read details of the horrific killings in hundreds of articles published across the country. In 1916, the Armenian Relief Fund of Canada—later renamed the Armenian Relief Association of Canada (ARAC)—was established to coordinate fundraising and news-sharing efforts. Over 15 years, it collected an impressive $1,000,000 in donations and had among its patrons Toronto’s Roman Catholic archbishop and Anglican archdeacon, an Ontario Supreme Court justice, and two governors general. Its officers were mostly businessmen and clergymen. It had more than 25 chapters and worked in conjunction with the British Lord Mayor’s Fund and the American Near East Relief. It was part of an international pool of agencies that also included the League of Nations, the League of Red Cross Societies, the International Labour Organization, and l’Union internationale de secours aux enfants. All were involved in refugee relief, including Armenian relief.

A project that did find success was the bringing of orphaned survivor children to Canada. By the summer of 1922, there were 50,000 such children being taken care of in institutions across the Balkans, the Middle East, and the South Caucasus. In October, the ARAC began working to bring some across the Atlantic. Over the next five years, through much hard work and convincing, it was able to secure the entry of 109 boys and 22 girls and women. The United Church of Canada brought in another boy and 18 girls and women after taking over the project in 1928.

All were brought in with promises that they would be trained in professions much in demand: agricultural and domestic work. While the girls and women spent only a short time under the ARAC’s direct care, boys aged 8–12 were set up at a specially built institution: the Armenian Boys’ Home, a farm and orphanage established in Georgetown (now Halton Hills), Ontario.

These boys had lost their parents, their homes, and their country. While they may have been glad to be in the safety of Canada, they often found it difficult to adjust to a new environment with a different language, culture, and traditions. The project became the ARAC’s flagship undertaking and was featured often in the press. Donors and politicians were invited to visit the institution to get a firsthand look at how their support was helping these few survivors of a campaign of annihilation. It was remarkable as an example of Canadians not only considering but also acting upon notions of humanitarian resettlement just 25 years after Confederation. (The coincidence that the first group of children arrived at Georgetown on July 1, Dominion Day [now called Canada Day], was probably not lost at the time.) Its importance becomes clear when we consider that while these children were allowed in by special permission, Canadian immigration policy remained restrictive against Asians at that time and most adult survivors were prohibited from entering.

As the Armenian community grew in Canada, many refugees and later immigrants from Europe and the Middles East sought to organize the community under the auspices of the Armenian Apostolic Church and umbrella organizations such as the Armenian National Committee of Canada (ANCC). Through the tireless efforts of the ANCC and its affiliate organizations, the recognition of the Armenian Genocide by the Canadian government was became a reality at the turn of the 21st Century. In 2002, the Senate of Canada passed a motion recognizing the Armenian Genocide, followed by a Motion-380 in the House of Commons, that was passed in 2004. Subsequently, responding to the calls of the Armenian-Canadian community, in 2006, then Prime Minister, the Right Hon. Stephen Harper, recognized the Armenian Genocide on a governmental level. Ever since, successive Canadian governments have reaffirmed their recognition of the Armenian Genocide, citing it as a grave crime against humanity.

In October 2018, the Right Hon. Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister Canada, visited the Armenian Genocide National Memorial in Yerevan, during a historical bilateral visit to the Republic of Armenia and planted a tree in memory of 1.5 million victims of the genocide.

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