Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna of Russia

Toronto’s Imperial Russian Connection.

Russian imperial coat of arms,
Russian imperial coat of arms,

Fifty years ago, on November 24, 1960, Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna of Russia ~ the youngest sister of Nicholas II, the murdered Russian Tsar ~ died in Toronto.  She is buried in Toronto’s York Cemetery.  The fact that she spent the last twelve years of her life in the Toronto area is a little known part of Toronto’s multicultural tapestry.

Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna of Russia [June 1, 1882 – 24 November 1960] was the youngest child of Emperor Alexander III of Russia. Her older brother was Tsar Nicholas II.

NOW : The Gatchina Palace today, outside Saint Petersburg, where Grand Duchess Olga was principally raised as a child.  The palace contains over 900 rooms, and was just one of the many palaces that formed the day to day live of the Romanovs, Russia's Imperial Dynasty for over 300 years.
The Gatchina Palace today, outside Saint Petersburg, where Grand Duchess Olga was principally raised as a child. The palace contains over 900 rooms, and was just one of the many palaces that formed the day to day live of the Romanovs, Russia’s Imperial Dynasty for over 300 years.

She was raised at the Gatchina Palace outside Saint Petersburg. Olga’s relationship with her mother, Empress Marie, the daughter of King Christian IX of Denmark, was strained and distant from childhood. In contrast, she and her father were close. He died when she was 12, and her brother Nicholas became emperor.

Grand Duchess Olga in imperial dress.
Grand Duchess Olga in imperial dress.

In 1901, she married Duke Peter Alexandrovich of Oldenburg, who was privately believed by family and friends to be homosexual. Their marriage of 15 years remained unconsummated, and Peter at first refused Olga’s request for a divorce. The couple led separate lives and their marriage was eventually annulled by the Emperor in October 1916. The following month Olga married cavalry officer Nikolai Kulikovsky, with whom she had fallen in love several years before. During the First World War, the Grand Duchess served as an army nurse at the front and was awarded a medal for personal gallantry. At the downfall of the Romanovs in the Russian Revolution of 1917, she fled to the Crimea with her husband and children, where they lived under the threat of assassination. Her brother and his family were shot by revolutionaries.

Olga escaped revolutionary Russia with her second husband and their two sons in February 1920. They joined her mother, the Dowager Empress, in Denmark. In exile, Olga acted as companion and secretary to her mother, and was often sought out by Romanov impostors who claimed to be her dead relatives. She met Anna Anderson, the best-known impostor, in Berlin in 1925. After the Dowager Empress’s death in 1928, Olga and her husband purchased a dairy farm in Ballerup, near Copenhagen. She led a simple life: raising her two sons, working on the farm and painting. During her lifetime, she painted over 2,000 works of art, which provided extra income for both her family and the charitable causes she supported.

Emigration to Canada

The  Kulikovskys  in exile.
The Kulikovskys in exile.

In May 1948, the Kulikovskys traveled to London by Danish troopship. They were housed in a grace and favour apartment at Hampton Court Palace while arrangements were made for their journey to Canada as agricultural immigrants. On 2 June 1948, Olga, Kulikovsky, Tikhon and his Danish-born wife Agnete, Guli and his Danish-born wife Ruth, Guli and Ruth’s two children, Xenia and Leonid, and Olga’s devoted companion and former maid Emilia Tenso (“Mimka”) departed Liverpool on board the Empress of Canada. After a rough crossing, the ship docked at Halifax, Nova Scotia. The family proceeded to Toronto, where they lived until they purchased a 200-acre (0.81 km2) farm in Halton County, Ontario, near Campbellville.

By 1952, the farm had become a burden to Olga and her husband. They were both elderly; their sons had moved away; labor was hard to come by; the Colonel suffered increasing ill-health, and some of Olga’s remaining jewelry was stolen. The farm was sold, and Olga, her husband and her former maid, Mimka, moved to a smaller five-room house at 2130 Camilla Road, Cooksville, Ontario, a suburb of Toronto now amalgamated into the city of Mississauga. Mimka suffered a stroke that left her an invalid, and Olga nursed her until Mimka’s death on 24 January 1954.

Grand Duchess Olga as private citizen.
Grand Duchess Olga as private citizen.

Neighbors and visitors to the region, including foreign and royal dignitaries, took interest in Olga, and visited her small home, which was also a magnet for Romanov impostors whom Olga and her family considered a menace. Welcome visitors included Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent, in 1954, and Louis Mountbatten and his wife Edwina, in August 1959. In June 1959, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip visited Toronto and invited the Grand Duchess for lunch on board the Royal Yacht, Britannia.

By 1958, Olga’s husband was virtually paralyzed, and Olga sold some of her remaining jewelry in an attempt to raise funds. Following her husband’s death in 1958, she became increasingly infirm until hospitalized in April 1960 at Toronto General Hospital. She was not informed or was not aware that her elder sister, Xenia, died in London that month. Unable to care for herself, Olga went to stay with Russian émigré friends, Konstantin and Sinaida Martemianoff, in an apartment above a beauty salon in Gerrard Street East, Toronto. She slipped into a coma on 21 November 1960, and died on 24 November at the age of 78.

She was interred next to her husband in York Cemetery, Toronto, on 30 November 1960, after a funeral service at Christ the Saviour Cathedral, Toronto. Officers of the Akhtyrsky Hussars and the Blue Cuirassiers stood guard in the small Russian church, which overflowed with mourners. Although she lived simply, bought cheap clothes, and did her own shopping and gardening, her estate was valued at more than 200,000 Canadian dollars (about 1.5 million Canadian dollars as of 2013) and was mostly held as stock and bonds. Her material possessions were appraised at 350 Canadian dollars in total, which biographer Patricia Phenix considered an underestimate.

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Dirty and/or Horrible Jobs of Southern Alberta’s Past

So, you think your job stinks …

The following is from the Lethbridge Historical Society’s Facebook page, The author’s name is not known, but I extend my thanks for a most fascinating topic.
A "honey wagon" - c. 19112, courtesu the Lethbridge Historical Society.
A “honey wagon” – c. 19112, courtesu the Lethbridge Historical Society.

When you ask about the worst, most dirty/horribles jobs in Lethbridge and southern Alberta history, many people immediately respond with coal mining.

Certainly it was a dangerous job. In 90 years of coal mining in the Lethbridge area, over 100 men were killed. The coal miner faced many dangers – explosions, cave-ins, dangers with the carts and more. If they survived these dangers, then there were the long term problems of black lung and breathing problems. And certainly it was a dirty job with the coal almost impossible to remove – most certainly and there’s a reason it’s the one that immediately comes to mind.

But there were also other jobs that could certainly make the list of dirty/horrible jobs.

In 1907 Lethbridge City Council decided that a scavenger should be hired. The duties of the scavenger would be to clean the privies (outhouses) and pick up garbage but also to remove the dead animals from the coulees. The winter of 1906-07 was a legendary one for the cold and snow. Come spring there was said to be 40 head of cattle found dead around the coulees and community of Lethbridge (many, many more out across the country). It was the scavenger’s responsibility to collect and remove the dead animals. They then had to be buried or burned. The said would dispose of the hides of the animals.

Eventually the job of dead animal scavenger would be separated from the job of “Night Soil Scavenger”. This rather intriguing job title belonged to the person who cleaned the outhouses around town. In September 1909 E.P. Mee was contracted at $25/week. The city would supply the lime.

Then, of course, all of those lucky people who had to clean out the bed pans and other indoor toilets. Lucky, lucky people.

If that doesn’t sound bad enough, think about how hard it can sometimes be to give your dog a bath. Now imagine have to bath a cow? Or thousands of cattle and other animals?

A typical cattle dip. Cattle are herded through a sluice containing a bath of mostly diluted sulphur or other like fungicide or pesticide.
A typical cattle dip. Cattle are herded through a sluice containing a bath of mostly diluted sulphur or other like fungicide or pesticide.

Mange is an external parasite on cattle (cattle can get mange, mites, lice, etc). In 1899 mange was noted in herds around the Little Bow and Lethbridge areas. People were aware that there was mange in the area earlier but by 1899 it was noted to be a real problem.

The way to get rid of mange was to run/swim cattle through a mange dip or large vat. The vat was commonly filled with items such as sulphur and lime that were heated together. Mange problems in the area caused returning problems in the area primarily between 1899 and 1908. In 1904 194 vats were built across southern Alberta and approximately a million cattle were run through the vats – 547,705 cattle were dipped initially and then later that year 422,805 were dipped a second time. In 1907, compulsory dips were required again. Imagine the smell of sulphur, lime and wet cattle? Imagine the work of buildings the vats/dips and getting the cattle to and through them? Probably not the greatest fun ever.

Laundry certainly had to be have been one of those horrible jobs. Also dangerous when you think of heating and moving large pots of hot water and working with hot irons. We have several reports of people dying at this time from accidentally pouring boiling water on themselves.

The horribleness of doing laundry was compounded if you had to make your own lye soap. There are a few methods for making lye soap but it involved mixing wood ash with water (hot water rather than cold because hot water makes your lye soap stronger). You will also want to add some quick lime to the mixture to make it even better. This takes a couple of days (and is a little more complicated than explained here) and one way that will show if this mixture is strong enough to make lye soap – if a chicken feather dissolves in it, you know you have it made to the right strength!

This caustic mixture then needs to be set out so the water evaporates and you are left with lye crystals which you can use in the soap making. Oh, and don’t forget some of the rendered animal fat you’ll need for the next step.

These were just some of the dirty/horribles jobs that came to us as we’ve been researching and reading. There are also many others. So please send in your ideas and if we get enough we’ll gladly do a 2nd article on horrible jobs of local history.

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My list of of interesting books about Canada (to date).


Fort “Whoop-Up”

Canada’s bad ole days…

The exterior of Fort "Whoop-Up" around 1873-4. Notice the trade flag flying above the turret.;
The exterior of Fort “Whoop-Up” around 1873-4. Notice the trade flag flying above the turret.;

Established by Montana fur traders in 1869, Fort Whoop-Up was a whiskey post founded  by a group of unscrupulous traders bringing the proud Blackfoot Indians to a state of degeneration, taking their furs and guns in exchange for a potent drink called “Whoop-Up bug juice.”  This was made by mixing a quart of whisky, a pound of chewing tobacco, a handful of red pepper, a bottle of Jamaica ginger and a quart of molasses; the mixture was then diluted with water and heated to make “fire water.”

fort Whoop-Up" reconstruction.
fort Whoop-Up” reconstruction.

There were terrible massacres among the Indians and the white traders.  One of the worst was a battle at Cypress Hills, in May 1873, between a party of “wolfer” and a tribe led by Chief Little Soldier.  The “wolfers” were men who killed animals for their furs by spreading strychnine poison over the ground.  They were hated by the Indians and the other white fur traders.

The battle was started when a “wolfer” accused Little Soldier’s band of stealing his horse.  Later it was found grazing on a hillside, having just strayed away.  The “wolfers” rushed the Indian camp, killed Little Soldier and cut off his head, which they mounted on a pole.   They then murdered the women and their children.

The 778-mile "Great March" undertaken by the North West Mounted Police in 1874.
The 778-mile “Great March” undertaken by the North West Mounted Police in 1874.

This prompted the fledgling Canadian government to pass a Bill in May, 1873, that sought to bring order to the frontier, encourage settlement, and to establish Canadian authority through the creation of the North West Mounted Police (NWMP). One of the NWMP’s first goals was to control the trade at Fort Whoop-Up, but after a arduous march from Fort Gary, Manitoba, to Alberta (778 miles, and including Samuel Steele)  they found that it had been essentially abandoned. After unsuccessfully trying to buy it, the NWMP rented accommodations at the fort until 1888, when fire destroyed a large portion of the structure. By the early 1900s, the fort had become uninhabitable, with many of the early buildings removed or destroyed by flood or human salvage. In 1946, a commemorative cairn and plaque were placed at the fort, and in 1967 a replica was built in Indian Battle Park, nine kilometres to the northwest of the original location.

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