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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