Wednesday, November 24, 2010

# 13 ~ Toronto's Imperial Russian Connections, Then and Now

Fifty years ago today, 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.

Many people may not make a connection with the court of Imperial Russia that existed before the First World War, and a modern city like Toronto.  The popular image that we have of Russian immigrants to the New World may be that of poorer, somewhat threadbare emigres.  We tend not to think of the Royal members of Tsarist Russia as good candidates for refugees.  However, Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna of Russia, the youngest child of Emperor Alexander III of Russia, and the second sister of Tsar Nicholas II, escaped the revolution that took place at the end of the First World War.  She lived for a time in Denmark, but between 1948 and her death in 1960, she lived in and around the Toronto area.  Following her death fifty years ago today, on November 24th, 1960, she was buried in Toronto's York Cemetery, just to the west of Mel Lastman Square.

Her story was one of riches to rags, a sort of modern Cinderella, tragically told in reverse.  Instead of rising from poverty, her life began surrounded by almost unimagineable wealth, only to end in relative fortunelessness.  She saw her family murdered and persecuted, her nation ruined, and her way of life destroyed.  She went from being a member of what was certainly one of the wealthiest families on earth, spending each year moving from palace to palace, until she ultimately passed away in a small flat situated over a beauty parlour on Gerrard Street, in Toronto's east end.

Grand Duchess Olga, or О́льга Алекса́ндровна Рома́нова in Russian, was born on June 13, 1882, and was raised in Gatchina Palace outside of St. Petersburg.  The palace at Gotchina, which had hundreds of rooms, was just one of the properties that were owned by the Romanovs, the Russian Royal Family.  The Romanovs ruled Russia for over 300 years, from 1613 until the Communist Revolution of 1917.  They took advantage of three centuries of absolute power, and amassed great wealth and power.  By the time that Grand Duchess Olga's brother, Nicholas II, became Tsar, the family's worth was estimated to be about $30-billion, and they controlled 10% of the word's landmass.  By comparison, the Canadian monarchy of today would seem almost like "poor relations".  Last year, Forbes Magazine estimated the net worth of Queen Elizabeth II at about $450-million, but a report issued by Buckingham Palace in 1993 said that an appraisal of even £100 million would be an overestimate.  Today, the Queen does not personally own most of what she enjoys the benefits of.  Residences like Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle, along with all that artwork and jewellery, are not owned by the Queen ~ she cannot sell them ~ but are instead technically owned by the people.  By contrast, the Romanovs of a century ago lived as autocrats, in a world of wealth and priviledge that is almost impossible for even the weatlhiest among us to comprehend.  Certainly, by the middle of the nineteenth century, when Queen Victoria reigned over both Canada and the United Kingdom, her powers were curtailed, and she was subject to constitutional law.  In the early 1900s, the Romanovs enjoyed much more absolute power than all the other monarchies of Europe; theirs was the last Royal House to be seen as ruling by "Divine Appointment", annointed by the very Hand of God ~ something that went out in England by the end of the 1600s.

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.  Grand Duchess Olga, the last remnant of the ruling family of Romanov, died in Toronto in 1960 and was buried in York Cemetery.

Such was the caste that Grand Duchess Olga was born into.  She was the youngest child of Tsar Alexander III, and the only one of his children to be "born in the purple", while her father was reigning as Tsar.  All of her older brothers and sisters had been born before Alexander III came to the throne.  Olga's mother was the Empress Marie, the daughter of King Christian IX of Denmark, and the sister to Queen Alexandra, the wife of King Edward VII.  Grand Duchess Olga did not enjoy a close relationship with her mother, but apparently was much closer with her father, the Tsar. 

THEN : Grand Duchess Olga with her father, Tsar Alexander III.  Behind are, from left to right, Grand Duke Michael, Olga's mother, the Empress Marie, Grand Duke Nicholas (later, Tsar Nicholas II), Grand Duchess Xenia, and Grand Duke George.  Grand Duchess Olga had a somewhat distant relationship with her mother, but was said to be her father's favourite child.

Alexander III only become heir to the Russian throne following the unexpected death of his older brother in 1865.  His father, Alexander II, was a liberal ruler, who actually worked to reform Russia and emancipate the serfs.  Russian rule at the time was like something out of the Dark Ages.  At a time when the Royal Courts of Europe were modernizing, Russia was still an autocratic nation, devoid of liberty, but Alexander II worked to change that.  Nonetheless, he was still the target of numerous assassination attempts.  The revolutionaries of Russia finally had their way in March of 1881.  On that Sunday morning, Alexander II, Olga's grandfather, was travelling through the streets of Saint Petersburg to review troops.  An assassin threw a bomb at the carriage in which Alexander II was travelling, killing one guard and severely wounding the Tsar's driver and several innocent bystanders.  The Tsar, uninjured, stepped out of the carriage, only to be attacked by a second bomber.  A second bomb landed right at the feet of Alexander II, mortally wounding him.  He was taken up in a sleigh to the Winter Palace, where nearly twenty years to the day before his assassination, Alexander II had signed a law freeing the serfs of Russia.  The Tsar was bleeding to death.  His face was disfigured, his stomach was ripped open, and his legs had been blown off.  Various members of the Romanov Dynasty gathered at his deathbed, including Olga's brother, Nicholas II, who would become the last Tsar of all the Russians.  What must Nicholas have thought, as he looked at the mangled body of his grandfather, the victim of assasins, and watched him die?  This act of violence would set in motion two generations of violence and reprisal, which would ultimately end in the Revolution of 1917, which ended Russia's Imperial history.

NOW : Saint Petersburg's "Church of the Saviour on the Spilled Blood", built on the site where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated in 1881.  The church was built between 1883 and 1907.  Among other features, the church contains over 7,500 square metres of mosaic tiles, more mosaic than any other church in the world.

After the death of her grandfather, both Olga's father, Alexander III, and her brother, Nicholas II, would become more autocratic.  After all, Alexander II had tried in vain to make concession to revolutionaries, and his reward had been murder.  They decided to rule with an iron fist.  The bomb thrown by the revolutionary that killed Alexander II also ended any hopes for Russian democracy.  As soon as Alexander III came to the throne, he reversed several of the reforms that had been begun by his murdered father.  Further, as soon as he came to power, he made it clear that he had no plan to diminish the autocratic and absolute power that had been handed down to him through his Romanov forebearers.  Faced with the growing number of revolutionaries in Russia, Alexander III felt that the way to deal with them lay not in giving out liberal concessions, but rather in imposing a harsher regime than his father.  Alexander III felt that his father had been too liberal, and decided to make amends.  He enforced the traditions of autocracy instead of allowing for freedom of assembly, and helped to steady the old aristocracy and the Russian Orthodox church.

In 1881, at the start of the reign of Alexander III, state sponsored persecution of certain minorities took place, and there was a rise in Anti-Semitism in Russia.  Both Alexander III and Nicholas II would impose severe restrictions on Russia's Jewish population, and openly encouraged them to leave the country.  It was at this time that a large number of Russian Jews began to come to the west, and in fact here in Toronto many Jewish people began to settle around "the Ward", where Nathan Phillips Square is today (see my article posted September 30th, 2010 for more information and historic photographs of this part of Toronto's history).  Canada's first census, takein in 1871, there were only 1,115 Jewish people living in Canada.  409 of these lived in Montreal, 157 lived in Toronto, 131 lived in Hamilton, and the rest were spread out through small communities up and down the Saint Lawrence River.  However, with the persecution of Jewish people in Russia, and the rise of Anti-Semitism in Europe, the Jewish population of Canada grew to over 150,000 between 1880 and 1930.  According to the Canadian census of 2001, there were over 325,000 Jewish people living in major Canadian urban centres, with the largest population ~ approximately half of that ~ living here in Toronto.  Canada has the fourth largest Jewish population of any nation in the world, after the United States, Israel and France, with a large population of them still of Russian origin, 130 years after the Anti-Semitic policies of Olga's father, Alexander III.

Alexander III would reign for less than fifteen years.  In 1894, he became ill, and died on November 1 at the Livadia Palace, in the Crimea.  Thus ended the reign of Olga's father, and her eldest brother, Nicholas II came to the throne in 1894.  For just over two decades, he would reign as Emperor and Autocrat of all the Russians.  When his father died at an unexpectedly young age, Nicholas found himself in a position of absolute power, and he was perhaps unprepared to reign.  However, he was determined to resist the desires of those who wished to develop Russia into a constitutional monarchy.  When he came to the throne, he issued a statement in which he concluded, "I want everyone one to know that I will devote my strength to maintain, for the good of the whole nation, the principle of absolute autocracy, as firmly and as strongly as my late lamented father."  These were the words of the Tsar, who coming to the throne in 1894, had watched had stood over the bomb mangled corpse of his grandfather, Alexander II, in 1881.

There were many disasters during the reign of Nicholas II.  At the time of his coronation in 1896, a crowd of thousands of peasants had gathered on a field in Moscow to receive the gifts that were handed out by the Tsar's officials, to mark the occasion.  According to some estimates, there were as many 500,000 people that gathered on Moscow's Khodynka Field to receive free food and other commemorations of the Tsar's coronation.  A panic ensued, and it turned into a riot.  Over 1,300 people were trampled to death and the same amount again were injured in what became a massive public brawl.  That night, Nicholas II was due to attend a ball in his own honour.  He hesitated at first, but several of his advisers convinced him to attend.  It damaged his reputation with the people to be seen as dancing the night away after the death of such a large number of people.  Nicholas II was also involved in the continued persecution of the Jewish peoples of Russia.  Thousands of Jews were attacked across Russia, and in some cases, the riots against the Jewish population was officially sanctioned by the Tsarist Regime.  In cases where the perpetrators were brought before the courts, they were usually granted clemency by Royal decree.

THEN : The aftermath of the riot that broke out in Moscow's Khodynka Field, following the Coronation of Nicholas II.

Between February of 1904 and September of 1905, Russia entered into a war with Japan.  The Japanese one, and shocked the world at their ability to beat an "advanced" European nation.  The Russian defeat brought not only humiliation but discontent at home.  In 1905 and 1906, Nicholas II faced revolution.  A general strike shut down the whole country, and people started to riot.  Nicholas' uncle, the Grand Duke Sergei, was assassinated by a bomber.  Nicholas himself began to fear for his life, his family and his throne.  Near the end of January, 1905, a large group of protestors marched through the steets and converged on the Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg.  By all accounts, it was a peaceful protest ~ they were even singing the Russian Imperial anthem ~ but when they arrived, the soldiers opened fire.  The official record states that 92 people were killed, and hundreds were injured.  The event became known as "Bloody Sunday" and Tsar Nicholass II was given the nickname "Bloody Nicholas".

THEN : Grand Duchess Olga's brother, Tsar Nicholas II, blesses Russian troops before battle.  At the start of the twentieth century, Russia's Royal Family were still seen as being sent by God, to rule with Divine Authority.

His reign would continue for another twelve years.  Consumed with the fighting of the First World War, Nicholas II and the Romanov Dynasty were faced with two revolutions at home, in 1917.  The February Revolution of 1917 brought about the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II, and the October Revolution of 1917 brought in Bolshevik rule, and started old Imperial Russia on the road down to the USSR.  The Tsar's reign was over, and his life, as well as the lives of his family and anyone who had been in authority during the Tsarist Regime, were endangered.  Various members of the extended Russian Royal Family did manage to escape.  Nicholas II wanted to take his immediate family ~ his wife, his son and heir, and his four daughters ~ to the United Kingdom.  Initial preparations for the escape to England were drawn up, but were eventually put to a stop.  Although there was no where near as strong a sense of revolution amongst the British as their had been among the Russians, there was still fear that the presence of the Romanovs in England may fuel an overthrow of the House of Windsor.

THEN : Tsar Nicholas II, left and King George V, right.  The two were practically identical, in terms of appearance.  George V denied Nicholas and his family refuge in England, as he feared that the exiled Romanovs may haved caused a British revolution.

Nicholas II and his family were captured and held as prisoners.  Initially, in the late summer of 1917, they were imprisoned but in relative comfort, and were being held in a former Govenor's mansion.  But by October, the Bolsheviks had taken power across the country.  In the spring of 1918, Nicholas and his family were moved to the town of Yekaterinburg.  They were kept as captives in a two storey house that had belonged to Nikolay Ipatiev, a military engineer.  The house, which had been known simply as "Ipatiev House" began being referred to more ominously as the "house of special purpose".  Their provisions were reduced, and the family, especially Nicholas' daughters, were taunted by their guards.  The end came at about 2 o'clock in the morning of July 18, 1918.  The family were woken in the middle of the night, and gathered together in a room in the basement.  There, Nicholas II, his wife, his son, his four daughters, the family doctor, the Tsar's valet, and a maid were all executed by a squad of ten men.  This group of bloodthirsty assasins shot again and again, killing not only the tsar, but a group of innocent women and children.  Some of the victims were also bayoneted after having been shot.  After, their bodies were taken to an abandoned area outside town, where they were dumped down a well, and covered in acid, to make identification impossible.

THEN : Ipatiev House, "the house of special purpose", where Nicholas II and his immediate family were kept as prisoners until their execution in July of 1918.

THEN : The basement room where Russia's last Tsar, Nicholas II, was murdered with his family.  No one was spared, not even the Tsar's young children.  Even the staff that were with the family were killed ~ so much for Bolshevik equality and freedom.

But what had happened to the Tsar's youngest sister, Olga, in the years leading up to the revolutions that overthrew the Romanovs?  Unlike her brother, who was off ruling with an iron fist, she enjoyed a certain amount of lavish Royal obscurity.  Born in 1882, she was a young girl of only 12 when her brother became Tsar, and her first marriage took place in 1901, when she was not yet out of her teens.  This first marriage was to Duke Peter Alexandrovich of Oldenburg.  Her wedding dress was worth more than 50,000 roubles, and the rest of her wardrobe at the time that she was married was estimated at over 339,000 roubles.  In her diary, Olga complained of the weight of the diamond crown she was made to wear to her wedding ceremony.  Her dowry was said to have been one million roubles.  All of this was at a time when a farmer could buy a dozen cattle for less than 50 roubles, if only he could scrape together such a sum of money.  After the wedding in August of 1901, and subsequent honeymoon, they lived in a palatial home of 200 rooms in Saint Petersburg.  Peter was nearly 14 years older than Olga, though, and in historical retrospect, is believed to have been homosexual at a time when it would not have been outwardly acceptable.  According to some accounts the marriage was never consumated, and by 1914 the couple were living separate lives to such an extent that they were not even living under the same roof.  The couple remained married until 1916 when, in the middle of the First World War, the Grand Duchess Olga was given an annulment by her brother, the Tsar, and she was free to marry again. 

THEN : A portrait of Grand Duchess Olga, rendered in 1893.

As early as 1903, Grand Duchess Olga had met an officer in the Guards by the name of Nikolai Kulikovsky.  A passion developed between the two, and they saw one another as often as possible, and exchanged frequent letters.  More than a decade before the annulment of her first marriage in 1916, she had approached her first husband, and asked him for a divorce, but he would not acquiesce.  However, he did agree to take on Kulikovsky as an aide-de-camp, so his wife could be nearer to the man she really loved.  It seems strange that Olga's first husband would make such a strange suggestion, but perhaps in being denied at least a public sanction of his own desires, he could not stand in the way of Olga's happiness.  The affection between the Grand Duchess and Kulikovsky grew into a life long passion.  Their relationship was of course unknown to the general public, but it was a matter of gossip in the highest social circles.  Olga's family regarded Kulikovsky as a commner, and disapproved of the affair.  Nonetheless, the two were married at the end of 1916, with only Olga's mother, brother-in-law, and a few of Kulikovsky's fellow soldiers in attendance.  Olga had managed to convince her brother, the Tsar, to let things go ahead, by using the rational that the chaos of the First World War would distract the interests of the general public.

Olga did not enjoy a close relationship with her mother, and much of Olga's early life was spent in an attempt to get free of her mother's influence.  She did, however, become close with her oldest brother Nicholas, the Tsar, and spent a great deal of time with his immediate family.  Olga doted on all four of Nicholas' daughters, but was especially close to his youngest daughter, the famed Anastasia.  Her devotion to Anastasia would be called upon after the Revolution and massacre of the Imperial Family, when a number of impersonators claimed to be Anastasia.  Olga would later be asked to identify whether any of these impersonators truly were survivors of the bloody assassination.

After Olga's brother, Tsar Nicholas II, was deposed in 1917, Grand Duchess Olga, her mother, and a few other relations fled to the Crimea.  There, they were put under house arrest.  It was while the Grand Duchess Olga and her husband Nikolai Kulikovsky were living under these conditions that Olga gave birth to their first child, a son, named Tikhon.  He was born on August 12, 1917.  Olga, her husband and son, and any members of the Romanov Dynasty who had fled to the Crimea were sentenced to death by the Yelta revolutionary council, but fortunately, the death penalty was not immediately carried out.  In March of 1918, German troops had advanced on the area, and they overthrew the revolutionary guards who were holding Olga and the others as prisoners.  In November of 1918, the First World War ended, the German soldiers withdrew, and were replaced by Allied troops who were sympathetic to letting the imprisoned Romanovs escape.  Olga's mother fled aboard to Denmark, along with other family and friends, but Olga and her husband decided to stay in Russia. 

Olga and Nikolai, along with their son Tikhon, lived for a while in the Caucasus, where the loyal White Army had cleared out the revolutionary Bolsheviks.  Here, in a farmhouse that had five rooms, Olga gave birth to her second son, Guri, on April 23, 1919.  However, by the end of 1919, Olga and her husband had given up hope that the Romanov Dynasty would be restored to Russia.  They accepted the conclusion that Olga's brother, Tsar Nicholas II, and his immediate family were dead.  The Bolsheviks were coming, and Olga and the others had to escape.  The family made a harrowing escape, taking shelter in the Danish consul before being shipped to a refugee camp near Istanbul, then heading to Belgrade before finally departing for Denmark.  The family joined Olga's mother in Copenhagen on Good Friday, 1920.  They were safe, at least for a while, but the Grand Duchess Olga, daughter and sister of Tsars, would never set foot in Russia again.

THEN : An undated photograph of Grand Duchess Olga.

 Grand Duchess Olga, her second husband Nikolai, and their two children would live in Denmark for nearly thirty years, from 1920 to 1948.  One of her visits abroad took place in 1925, when she travelled to Berlin to meet Anna Anderson, who claimed to be Olga's niece, the Grand Duchess Anastasia.  She claimed that she had survived the murder of her fellow family members, and fled through Bucharest to safety in Germany.  Anderson's claims would arouse both sympathy and scepticism for years, and it was just a few short years ago that DNA testing, along with other more recent forensic testing, has shown us that Anastasia did sadly perish with the rest of her family, in the "Ipatiev House", in the summer of 1918.  Those who had known Anastasia in life were called upon to meet Anna Anderson, and to make public their verdicts on whether or not she really was Anastasia.  Olga was not fooled for a moment, and though it would be over eighty years before modern science proved that she was correct, she said this, after meeting Anna Anderson :

"My beloved Anastasia was 15 when I saw her for the last time, in the summer of 1916.  She would have been 24 in 1925.  I thought Mrs. Anderson looked much older than that.  Of course, one had to make allowances for a very long illness.  All the same, my niece's features could not possibly have altered out of all recognition.  The nose, the mouth, the eyes, were all different ... I knew I was looking at a stranger ... I had left Denmar, with something of a hope in my heart.  I left Berlin with all hope extinguished."

With a hope in her heart, indeed.  After just five years of exile in Denmark, it's heartbreaking to think of the kind of memories that would have gone through Olga's mind.  Her way of life had been lost, her brother, her nieces and nephew had been violently murdered.  It must have been heart wrenching for her to make that trip to Berlin, and even more painful to realize that Anna Anderson was, in fact, an impostor.

THEN : Anna Anderson, who claimed to be the niece of the Grand Duchess Olga.  Olga travelled to Berlin in 1925 to meet Anderson for herself, and declared Anderson a fraud.  Despite decades of speculation, Olga was eventually proven correct by modern science, just a few years ago.
THEN : The real Grand Duchess Anastasia, who was tragically murdered along with her parents, her sisters, and her brother.  It was only within the last few years that DNA testing has confirmed that the remains that were found were that of Anastasia.

Grand Duchess Olga and her family faced danger and uncertainty again, with the outbreak of the Second World War.  Denmark was invaded by the Germans in the spring of 1940, and was occupied for the remainder of the war.  Olga's two sons, Tikhon and Guri, were officers in the Danish Army, so they were made prisoners of war by the Germans.  Some Russians who had escaped the Communist Revolution, though, were eager to join the Germans just so they could fight against the Soviet Regime.  After the war, the Soviet government put pressure on the Danish government to repatriate all former Russian or Soviet citizens.  Many feared for their lives if they were to return, and fall under the power of the Soviets, and naturally, Olga and her family were no exception.  After nearly thirty years in Denmark, it was once again time to flee.  In the summer of 1948, they fled across the Atlantic to the safety of Canada.

Their trip to their new home in Canada included a stop over in London, where arrangements were made for them to travel across the Atlantic as agricultural immigrants.  Grand Duchess Olga's party sailed on the "Empress of Canada", departing from Liverpool on June 2, 1948.  Olga and her husband Nikolai Kulikovsky were joined by their older son Tikhon, his wife Agnete, their younger son, Guli and his wife Ruth, and the two children of the youngest couple.  They were also joined by Olga's devoted maid and companion, Emilia Tenso.  The crossing was a tough one, but they eventually arrived in Halifax.  They bought a 200-acre farm near Campbellville.  They lived simply, as farmers, having acquired some experience in this capacity by living and working as farmers during their last years in Denmark.

Within a few short years, though, the farm had become too much for Olga and Nikolai.  They were both more advanced in age, and Nikolai in particular was suffering from deteriorating health.  Their sons and grandchildren had moved away.  They sold the farm, and moved to 2130 Camilla Road, in what was then Cooksville, but what is now part of Mississauga.  Olga's long time companion, Emilia, known as "Mimka" to the family, suffered from a stroke, and died at the end of January, 1954.  Nikolai lived another four years, but his illness left him with nearly total paralysis, and he died in August of 1958, at the age of 76 years old.

Olga was devastated by the loss.  Theirs had been a marriage of passion that was nearly impossible or unattainable to someone born into her high standing.  At the start of the twentieth century, the sister of the last Tsar and the common born military man had struggled for years to be together, and faced great resistance and disapproval from Olga's family.  However, Olga was supported by friends and visitors of all ends of society's spectrum.  She became a focal point for the community of Russians who had escaped to live as emigres in Canada, but she was also visited by various Royal dignitaries, including Princess Marina, the Duchess of Kent, in 1954, and Louis Mountbatten and his wife, Edwina, an uncle and aunt of Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, who visited Olga in 1959.  In June of 1959, a little less than 18 months before the Grand Duchess Olga died, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, made a Royal Visit to Canada.  On a stop in Toronto, they hosted the Grand Duchess Olga aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia.

With her health quickly deteriorating, Olga was hospitalized in the spring of 1960, at Toronto General Hospital.  She was no longer able to take care of herself.  She went to stay with a Russian emigre couple who were friends, in a small flat above a beauty parlour on Gerrard Street East, just east of Broadview Avenue.  She fell into a coma on November 21, and died a few days later, on November 24, 1960.

THEN : Gerrard Street East, near Broadview Avenue, 1960.

THEN : Gerrard Street East, near Broadview Avenue, 1960.

THEN : The back lots behind Gerrard Street East, near what would become the final home of Grand Duchess Olga.

TODAY : Grand Duchess Olga died in a tiny apartment, upstairs, above this Beauty Salon on Gerrard Street East.  It is located just east of Broadview Avenue.  When I went to the house recently, to take a photograph, the entire building seemed abandoned, without any kind of sign of activity.  Both businesses on the ground floor seemed closed.  This small flat was a long way from the Imperial splendour that Olga would have known in her childhood and early years.

Her funeral was held on November 30, 1960, at Christ the Saviour Russian Orthodox Cathedral, in Toronto, on Manning Street, near Bathurst and Dupont.  The church was full of mourners.  She was buried in Toronto's York Cemetery.  Because of the large Russian community located near York Cemetery, the Grand Duchess Olga has been interred with a large number of fellow Russian emigres.

One wonders if, in the last few years of her life, there was anything about her Imperial life in the Court of the Romanovs that she missed.  Both in her early life, and in her later years, she gave no outward indication, and seemed happy to live in rather rustic conditions, both while an exile in Denmark and here in Canada.  Neighbours in both countries describe her as seeming happy just to live a simple life, and indeed, with her poor relationship with her mother, and her unhappiness in her first marriage, she seemed to have gone to great lengths to escape the trappings of Royal life.  There was every indication that she did not enjoy the ceremonial life at court that she was forced to endure as a younger woman.  Certainly, the terror and violence that she suffered at the hands of the Bolsheviks during those years of revolution must have been an overwhelmingly unhappy experience.  She lost so much ~ her riches, her country, her home and her family.  But she seemed to be a resilient woman, who took comfort where it was given to her.  She outlived the two great architects that had seen the overthrow of her family.  Lenin died in 1924, and Stalin, the Great Dicatator who put together the greatest genocide of twentieth century history, died in 1953.  In contrast to these mass murdering founders of the Communist Regime, Grand Duchess Olga's greatest legacies was her love of art.  From childhood, she loved to paint, and in the course of her life she produced about 2,000 paintings.  Some of them now reside in the collections of Queen Elizabeth II and also that of King Harald of Norway.  Ballerup Museum, in Denmark, owns about one hundred of her works.

According to a 2001 survey, Russian is the fourteenth most popular first language in Toronto, with 47,590 people claiming it as their mother tongue.  Today, there are thousands of stories to be found amongst Toronto's Russian population, just as there are in any of the cultures that make up Toronto's multicultural tapestry.  However, the story of Grand Duchess Olga, one of the last remnants of Russia's Imperial history is both a fascinating and overlooked part of Toronto's history.  Her story combines both the grandeur and tragedy of a grand Imperial history, the mystique and the exotic nature with which we, in the west, seem to view Russian history, and the impossible and Quixotic nature of one of the last, great powerful European dynasties that did not survive contact with the modern twentieth century.

NOW : The gravesite of Grand Duchess Olga and her husband at York Cemetery, Toronto.

NOW : The plaque at the base of Grand Duchess Olga's gravesite, that tells of her life.

NOW : Detail of the gravesite of Grand Duchess Olga and her husband, Colonel Kulikovsky.

NOW : Below the names of Grand Duchess Olga and her second husband is that of their son, Captain Tihon Kulikovsky Romanoff, who is buried along with them.


  1. Excellent post, Richard. I've always found that part of history interesting but didn't know too much about it. Thanks!

  2. Thank you for a fascinating post. Those generations who had to go through so much in the first half of the 20th century, experiencing war and revolutions, being forced to exile, escaping from the masses' cruelty, leaving behind their identity and family, as in this case, should become an example for us. Let's hope we have learned the lesson so that we won't have to repeat history...

  3. Thank you for this comprehensive review! I understand that when she lived on Camilla she would frequent the woods owned by the Hancock's across the street (now Woodland Nursery and soon to be gifted to the City of Mississauga for public parklands)... where she would stroll and paint. I am sad she had such a poor handle on her finances that she died so financially poor. Such is life, though, that she had many friends and people willing to look after her and so she died rich. Great write up.