The credit to build the first Armenian Community Center (ACC) at 18 Dupont street goes to hundreds and more humble and dedicated people who contributed to its success and helped paved the way to build the current ACC and School at 45 Hall Crown Place. Maybe it will be appropriate to write about some of those humble individuals who played an important role in building and maintaining both of these institutions.
First among them probably is Kourken Magarian who best personified the Armenian orphans known as “George Town Boys” brought to Canada from an orphanage in Greece, to George Town in Southern Ontario during the early nineteen twenties. He not only survived and prospered as an Armenian but also played an important role in building and maintaining these institutions. But first, a brief backgrounder, if I may say so.
On a very COLD February day in nineteen sixty-five, I landed at Montreal airport with the decision to settle in Montreal, after living my share of “The Wondering Armenian” Թափարական հայը, especially the previous more than six years in Ghana, West Africa. I had a few Armenian friends in Montreal whose friendly welcome, and equally friendly and well-organized Armenian Community of Montreal made me feel “at home” and make it easy for me to settle in a nice furnished apartment in the neighborhood of Soorp Hagop Church.
But after “enjoying” the first two weeks of the cold minus twenty weather, I started to have doubts about settling in Montreal and it was more than just the weather. The bilingual nature of the city, and the little french that I have learned in school, complemented with a “crash course” through teaching yourself conversational books prior to coming to Montreal, was no match to the conversational french that was spoken in the public spaces in Montreal.
Defying the wisdom of “Avec patience on arrive a tout” (not an exact quote but roughly means with patience you will get there) I packed a carry-on suitcase and took the train to Toronto for a “short break”. Needless to say, at the time I knew nobody in Toronto.
At Toronto’s Union Station while looking through the Toronto map that a friend gave me in Montreal, an elderly man approached me and said “what are you looking sony” when he learned that I was looking for a hotel close to the subway in downtown, he recommended to go to Simco Hotel at the northeast corner of Bay and Dundas and gave me very specific directions how to get there by subway, and repeated it. It was perfect.
After checking in the hotel, and with the help of the Toronto map “explored” the city and especially the subway system and came back to the hotel to rest, then it dawned on me why I was feeling more “at home” here in Toronto than in Montreal. It was the unilingual nature of the city and the people, and my better knowledge of the English language. (Maybe the unsolicited help of the”old man” had something to do with it as well).
That evening, or the day after, I phoned Vazken Terzian in Saint Catherine whose number was given to me by a mutual friend in Montreal. Vasken gave me the business phone number of Kourken (Kirk) Magarian and said it was close to the hotel, and he said he was going to phone Kourken to let him know about my possible meeting with him.
The next day around 5 pm when I walked into Careful Hand Laundry on the west side of Avenue Road just north of Davenport, I was visualizing to meet an assimilated Canadian Armenian Kirk. But when the receptionist opened the sliding window hatch and yelled out loud, KIRK soon out came an unmistakably Armenian Kourken, an energetic medium built man in his early fifties with a dark complexion as if just arrived from the old country “Էրկիր”.
(Airgeer was how the first Armenian immigrants to North America from old country pronounced it while it is written and pronounced yairgeer. I was privileged to meet a few of the old-timers from airgeer who were thrilled to meet and enjoy an Armenian conversation with newcomers and I enjoyed their company and especially listening to their conversation with each other in old Armenian dialect).
Before even I could introduce myself to Kourken he assertively said, “Երթանք հաց ուտենք.”Let us go eat bread”. (I had never heard that expression the way Kourken said it. Maybe it was because, in the orphanage, bread was probably the most precious food that they could afford, thus the use of the terminology?).
We walked to a Diner on the same block on the north side of Davenport avenue and got to know each other while having supper. Kourken turned out to be a very energetic and engaging person, and his warm and welcoming attitude was very reassuring and comforting for me.
After supper, we went to Antranig Artinian’s house on the north side of Merton street in Yonge and Davisville area, where they were having a committee meeting to organize the remembrance of the fiftieth anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. The warm welcome at Atranig Artinian’s home by everyone present, further helped me decide to move to Toronto, and as the saying goes “the rest is history”.
Kourken was one of the founding members of Toronto ACC “ՀԱՅ ԿԵԴՐՈՆ” especially so, for 18 Dupont street. With his enthusiastic involvement, from the purchase, through the renovation, and till the sale of the building, 18 Dupont street became a second home for Kourken. It was truly a “Dream come true” for Kourken Magarian the “George Town Boy” who dreamed of having an Armenian community center “Ակումբ ” in Toronto like other Armenian Communities in smaller cities of St Catherine, Hamilton, Brantford, and Galt/Cambridge, in Southern Ontario.
Kourken’s favored Armenian hero was Karekin Njdeh the founder of the “Ցեղակրոն” youth organization in the United States and Canada. Kourken use to talk about his meetings with the hero, listening to his nationalistic speeches, participating in the parades, etc. (Later the “Ցեղակրոն” organization was renamed Armenian Youth Federation (AYF).
Kourken’s most loved and respected Canadian personality was Mrs. Margret Campbell who has been like a loving and caring mother for “George Town Boys”. (At the time Mrs. Campbell was a city hall alderman in Toronto and then became a Member of the Provencal Parliament MPP). She was very supportive of the Armenian Community of Toronto, and she was also instrumental in flying the Armenian flag, the Երագույն in front of the City Hall every Armenian Independent Day on may the 28.
Kourken was married to Angie and they had no children. They retired in Campleford Ontario. He passed away at his advanced age. He willed everything he owned to ACC but only after the passing of his beloved wife Angie. Kourken was the embodiment of a surviving Armenian in most challenging circumstances and a founding member of ՀԱՅ ԿԵԴՐՈՆ in Toronto. I feel honored to have known him and learned and humbled from his experiences and wisdom. Աստուած հոգին լուսաորէ.
Zohrab Bebo Sarkissian