Mona Selyan collection (part 2) - Toronto

Text written and research made by Cassandra Tavukciyan, 26 August 2019.

This series of photographs focuses on Mona Selyan’s paternal family members who were originally from Bardizag (present-day Bahçecik, Turkey). The photographs include rare depictions of the village of Bardizag, Mona’s father’s family’s settlement in Toronto, Canada, as well as members of Toronto’s early Armenian community.

All information was provided by and all materials were written in coordination with Mona Selyan, her mother, Azad (Azadouhie) Selyan, born in Piraeus, Greece, in 1931, and her father, Arthur Minas Selyan, born in Toronto, Canada in 1929.

Mona’s paternal grandfather, Haroutune “Artin Agha” Selyan, was born in 1888 in Bardizag. A graduate from the American High School in Bardizag, Haroutune immigrated to Boston, Massachusetts where he served in the US Navy during World War One. He later crossed the Canada-United States border to St. Catharines, Ontario in 1920 and made his way to Toronto. Haroutune soon married Anahid Ouzounian (1904, Amasya-1992, Toronto), whose birth name was Nazenig and later changed to Hanza before she married Haroutune. Anahid was an orphan who had for years lived in The Birds’ Nest Orphanage in Lebanon under the care of Danish missionary Maria Jacobson. She was later brought over to Canada via the Armenian Relief Association of Canada through the Georgetown Girls program in 1927 and met Haroutune in Toronto. Their first child, Arthur Minas Selyan, was born in 1929 and their second child, Dalita Selyan was born in 1930. Arthur Minas was named after his father “Artin” Haroutune and grandfather Minas Selyan who died in December 1920 in Constantinople upon returning from exile in Konya.

Minas and Dalita grew up in a two-story house on Dermott Place in the heart of Cabbagetown, Toronto with their grandmother Dalita “Medz-Mayrig” Selyan (1858, Bardizag-1945, Toronto, Ontario) and their Uncle Yervant “Hopar” Selyan (1898, Bardizag-1985, Toronto). Their neighbours on one side of the street was their other Uncle Megerditch Selyan (1879, Bardizag-1965, Ottawa), his wife Ovsanna Tersagian Selyan (1884-1954) and their two children, Arpine (1911, Boston-1997, Ottawa) and Eddie Selyan (1914, Boston-2006, Kirkland). On the other side of the street was the family of Israel Seferian, a member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation party (ARF, Tashnag), who was twice reprimanded by the Toronto Police for hoisting the Armenian tri-colour flag atop his house.

Having no official place to worship in many Armenians attended services at High Anglican Churches in Toronto, which seemed familiar with their use of vestments, incense and procession. Between 1930 and 1953, the community was granted the use of the Holy Trinity Anglican Church (currently located behind Eaton Centre) once a month when Circuit Priests Reverend Father Zkon Charkougian and Very Reverend Father Vasken Tatoyan came to celebrate Divine Liturgy. Finally, in 1953, a new church was established on Yonge Street and Woodlawn Avenue, the Holy Trinity Armenian Church, named in honour of the Anglican Church parish that hosted the Armenian community for so many years. Minas became the first Choirmaster for Holy Trinity, having been a member of the St. Thomas’s Anglican Boys’ Choir for most of his childhood and adolescence.

Left to right: Papa Selyan (Haroutune) and friend – Prof Yacoubian’s brother-in-law Levon, Constantinople, 1912. This is a well-circulated postcard – many members of Selyan extended family have it.

During this time, the Armenian community in Toronto was small but determined. Comprised mainly of Genocide survivors and the Georgetown Boys and Girls, a group of orphans who between 1923 and 1927 were brought over to Canada with funds raised by the Canadian government and the Armenian Relief Association of Canada, the Armenians joined forces to create a unique diaspora community. The Selyan family quickly became active players in this growing community. Haroutune was elected the first chairman of the Toronto Armenian community and instilled the love of family, classical music and all things Armenian in his children. The first Armenian choir was formed in 1927, led by Uncle Yervant “Hopar”, a pupil of Gomidas Vartabed in Constantinople, and Armenian dance troupes performed, complete with homemade national costumes. There were social gatherings and picnics on Toronto’s Centre Island and Armenian communities from different parts of Ontario, including Hamilton, Brantford, Guelph, Galt and St. Catharines, fraternized with one another.

Haroutune eventually opened up a shoe repair business in Cabbagetown and sponsored his friend Puzant Courian from Bardizag to join him in the shop. Haroutune was able to secure a contract with the Salvation Army re-soling the boots of soldiers, and was able to survive the difficult years of the Great Depression in relative comfort. During this time, Minas helped his father and his Uncle Megerditch’s cleaning business while attending school. The shoe repair shop closed down in 1939, and soon after Haroutune contracted a debilitating disease which, over the years, rendered him unable to move and lead to his eventual passing in 1948. The early loss of his father and his beloved Dalita “Medz-Mayrig” catapulted Minas into a wholly adult role at the age of 19. When his Uncle Yervant “Hopar” opened his own carpet company, Selyan’s Oriental Rugs, Minas worked there for years before purchasing the business from his Uncle in the late 1970s. Today, Minas still continues to drive to work every day.

1. Top row L to R: Haroutune Selyan, Megerditch Selyan. Middle row L to R: Arpine Selyan, Dalita “Mayrig” Selyan , Alice, Basmadjian, Dr. Chambers Junior, Yervant. Bottom row: Ed Selyan, Gananoque, Ontario, at the Chambers' family estate, ca. 1920s.
2. Top row L to R: Edie Selyan, Haroutune Selyan, Yervant “Hopar” Seylan, Arpine Selyan. Bottom row L to R: Megerditch Selyan, Ovsanna Tertsagian (wife of Megerditch died in 1954), Dalita “Mayrig” Selyan).
3. L to R: unknowns, Dalita “Mayrig” Selyan in centre, Victoria and Alice Basmadjian, Bardizag (?), ca. 1910s.
4. Bardizag (?), ca. 1910s. Top row L to R: Nevart or Zevart? Bottom row L to R: unknown, Dalita “Mayrig” Selyan, Makrouhi Shemavonian.

After the war, Minas’s Uncle Matteos and Aunt Elizabeth Ouzounian and their daughters Jacqueline and Suzanne immigrated to Toronto from Saint-Etienne, France in the early 1950s. Matteos and Elizabeth met in an Armenian orphanage in St. Etienne after being transferred from orphanages in the near east. Matteos was at the Achilles Palace Armenian Orphanage in Corfu, Greece for a time being before going to France. Elizabeth was born in Marzivan/Merzifon province. Matteos and his sister Anahid Selyan (née Ouzounian) were separated and orphaned during the Genocide death march into the Syrian Desert at ages eight and ten and were reunited in Canada after years of being apart.

The extended family lived together in one house and the Selyan home became a hub of all Armenian youth activity in Toronto hosting meetings, parties, and outings. Later in 1953, Minas met his wife-to-be Azadouhie Yezeguilian, who had recently immigrated from Pireas, Greece to Montreal, and who had come to Toronto to visit her sponsor Setrag Tatarian. With the support of their family and friends, the couple married in 1955. In 1957 Mona was born and her brother Ara arrived in 1960.

fig.1-2-3: Postcard with Haroutune Selyan's photo, Boston, ca. 1910s, fig.4: postcard dated 1914 July (a Thursday), fig.5: postcard addressed to brother Yervant in Constantinople, Boston, before 1914, fig.6: photo probably taken in Toronto, ca. 1930s.

fig 1-2-3. Haroutune Selyan, Rhode Island, ca. 1910s, fig 4. Haroutune Selyan, Toronto (?), ca. 1920s.

Armenian Protestant church of Izmid, ca. 1910s.

1. Haroutune Selyan (centre) with friends, possibly USA, date unknown.
2. Selyan family in traditional homemade Armenian costumes. Photograph was taken at the same time as a Toronto Star photoshoot, Toronto, ca. 1920s.
L to R: Haroutune Selyan, Alice Basmadjian (Nevart Kubikian’s daughter), Arpine Selyan and Yervant “Hopar” Selyan
3. Selyan family, location unknown, ca. 1920s. Top row L to R: Garabed Boghossian, unknown. Bottom row L to R: Eddie Selyan?, Dalita “Mayrig” Selyan, Makrouhi Shemavonian, Yervant “Hopar” Selyan
4. Selyan family, Peace Bridge, Niagara Falls, ca. 1920s. L to R: Alice Basmadjian, Arpine Selyan, Haroutune Selyan, Eddie Selyan, Ovsanna and Megerditch Selyan.

1. Haroutune Selyan (?) sitting second row from the left with hat, Toronto, ca. 1920s.
2. Selyan family picnic, Toronto, ca. 1920s. L to R: Unknown, Megerditch Selyan, Roupen Shemavonian, Eddie Selyan (kid), Arpine Selyan (far right lying down) Ovsanna Tertsagian Selyan (far right).
3. Selyan family, Toronto, ca. 1920s. L to R: Ovsanna Tertsagian Selyan, Arpine Selyan, Haroutune Selyan, Eddie Selyan with Model T Car.
4. L to R: Greek priest (?), Megerditch Selyan (?), location unknown, ca. 1920s.
5. Haroutune Selyan (left) cracking eggs at Easter, Toronto, ca. 1920s.
6. Toronto Armenian community picnic, tug of war, Toronto, 1928. L to R: Megerdich Selyan (far left with hat), Setrak Adourian (second from the right).

The first Armenian Choir, Toronto, June 1927.
Middle row L to R: Setrak Tatarian (second from the left) unknown, unknown, Haroutune Selyan (top right of Yervant), Hagop Shishmanian (third from right), rest unknown. Bottom row L to R: Alice Basmadjian, (third from left), Yervant ”Hopar” Selyan, Arpine Selyan, rest unknown.

Haroutune Selyan, Anahid Selyan and Arthur Minas Selyan as infant, Toronto, 1929.

Arhur Minas Selyan being bathed by grandmother Dalita “Mayrig” Selyan, Toronto, 1929.

1. Selyan family, Toronto, 1930s. Top row left to right: Ovsanna Tertsagian Selyan (Megerdich Selyan’s wife), Dalita “Mayrig” Selyan, Anahid Selyan. Bottom row: Arpine Selyan (Megerditch and Ovsanna’s daughter), Dalita and Arthur Minas Selyan.
2. Dalita “Mayrig” Selyan, Dalita and Arthur Minas Selyan as children, Toronto, 1930s.
3. Dalita and Arthur Minas Selyan as children, Toronto, 1930s. Grandfather Minas Selyan is portrayed in photograph on the wall. Minas died in December 1920 in Constantinople upon return from exile in Konya; born in Bardizag.
4. Selyan family, Toronto, 1930s. Left to right: Haroutune Selyan, Dalita Selyan, Arthur Minas Selyan, Anahid Selyan, Dalita “Mayrig” Selyan and Yervant “Hopar” Selyan (Yervant was the family photographer and most likely set up the camera beforehand).

1. Selyan family picnic, Centre Island, Toronto, ca. 1930s.L to R: Alice Basmadjian (far left), the rest is unknown.
2. L to R: Yervant “Hopar” Selyan, Setrak Adourian, Kevork Semerdjian and Hagop Shishmanian, location unknown, ca. 1930s.
3. L to R: Unknown, Hagop Shishmanian (on rock), Eddie Selyan, Kevork Semerdjian, Centre Island, Toronto? ca. 1930s.
4. L to R: Setrak Tatarian, Eddie Selyan, Alice Basmadjian,  Arpine Selyan, Yervant “Hopar” Selyan, Toronto (?), ca. 1920s.

L to R: Arthur Minas Selyan, Anahid Selyan and Dalita Selyan,153 Gillard Avenue, Toronto, 1945. Letter written from Dalida to Matteos Ouzounian (Anahid’s brother in St. Etienne, France).