Centre d'Interprétation Multiethnique
''A Dream Comes True...''
Rawdon's wonderful ethnic diversity, with over 40 ethnic groups living on such a small territory, makes it a very wonderful and unique place. The Centre d'Interprétation Multiethnique is recipient of a number of awards such as the prestigious ''Prix Jacques Couture'', an award that recognizes exceptional achievements in matters of openness towards ethnic cultural diversity and the sharing of common values.
The Great Adventure...
I t all began in the basement of St-Patrick's Catholic Church on Queen Street in Rawdon. In the summer of 1987, representatives of various ethnic groups were invited to organize a display of costumes and other items from their countries of origin.
This event brought the different groups together and was a great success. A larger scale exhibition followed at the ski lodge of Mont-Pontbriand, with officials from the federal, provincial and municipal governments in attendance. In order to promote a multiethnic center, the federal provincial governments pledged their support with subsidies totalling well over $ 100,000.
Starting April 17th 1987, on the initiative of the Rawdon Chamber of Commerce, meetings with representatives of various ethnic groups began to take place. Mrs. Clare Roberge of the Chamber of Commerce conducted these ''get-togethers''. A total of 19 meetings were held mostly attended by Mr. William Siemienski (Poland), Mr. Jan Trzcinski (Poland), Mrs. Daniela Agopsowicz (Poland), Mrs. T. Hanjenkoff (Russia), Mrs. Maria Levtchouk (Russia), Mrs. D. Marsh (Sweden), Mrs. E. Bendesi (Romania), Mrs. W. Rozestraten (Holland), Mr. George Bambach (Hungary) and Mr. Jarka Loffelmann (Czechoslovakia). These people were at the core of our beginning.
In the autumn of 1988, our present home at 3588 Metcalfe Street was purchased. We opened our doors with a Christmas exhibition featuring Christmas trees, various decorations and customs from Poland, Russia, Germany, Romania, Ukraine, Czechoslovakia, Sweden, Hungary, Holland to name but a few. This was the birth of the ''Centre d'Intreprétation Multiethnique'' also known as the C.I.M.
The Center's Beginnings
A t the time, the administration of the Center was Completely in the hands of the Chamber of Commerce. Mr. Benoit Tetrault was the Chambers' president and Mrs. Claire Roberge its general director.
A number of renovation projects were undertaken including the addition of a concert hall. Interesting exhibitions were organized such as: the origin of music, African art, Easter eggs etc. However, the ethnic communities were not asked to participate in these events and consequently felt used and ignored. These feelings were voiced at a meeting in August 1990 during which a new governing board was elected including: Mr. William Siemienski as president and a number of administrating members such as Huguette Guilbault, Lyne Lalande, Maria Levtchouk, Jan Trzcinski, George Bambach, Robert Desrosiers, Wilhelmina Rozestraten, Elizabeth Bendesi and Mr. Jarka Loffelmann. This administration had a very short duration as in November 1990, Mr. Siemienski resigned due to heath reasons. Mrs. Gilbault assumed the duties as interim president.
At the following general meeting on January 10th 1991, after two other people declined nominations for president, Mrs. Maria Levtchouk was elected as the new president. Mr. Boulard was elected as the first vice-president, Mr. George Bambach as the second vice-president and Lyne Lalande as secretary-treasurer. additional board members included: William Siemienski, Jan Trzcinski, M.A. Girard and Mr. Pierre Lebeau (the representatives from the city council).
On February 25th 1991, at a Chamber of Commerce meeting presided over by P. Melancon, it was decided to suspend all personnel services to the Multiethnic Center due to a different financial situation. The mortgage and renovation loan were consolidated totalling $ 110,000. To this was added an amount of $ 1,100 in miscellaneous debts. The Center was emptied of all its contents.
Shortly after, a federal meeting took place in those empty rooms between Mr. Lane, who was the mayor at the time, Mrs. Maris Levtchouk and Mr. William Siemienski. The future looked pretty grim but Mr. Siemienski and Mrs. Levtchouk still believed in the need for the Center and decided that day to carry on. Thirty plus years later, C.I.M. has become a vital part of the Rawdon community.
Faith Moves Mountains
A new phase would now begin and was the birth of the C.I.M. as we know it today. On April 18th 1991, the ownership of the property was transferred from the Rawdon Chambre Commerce to the Corporation of the Center d'Interprétation Multiethnique. The signatories on the deed were: Mrs. Wilhelmina Rozestraten, Jan Trzcinski and Maria Levtchouk. Voulenteers would now run the Center.
Both municipal governments (Village and Township) offered their support with a monthly subsidy of $ 800 to help the C.I.M. meet its financial obligations and the upper floor was rented out to the Chambre of Commerce. This income allowed the Center to somewhat function. Extra revenue was earned through the sales of memberships and by visitors who came to see the exhibits. However, this was not enough and the administration had to think of other ways to bring in money. To make the C.I.M. a ''home'', ''a gathering place'' for the numerous ethnic groups it was decided to start organizing dinners and concerts.
Dinners and Concerts
T he First dinner was planned for September 28th 1991. It was an ''Open House -- Shish kebab''. Although the hall could seat approximately 80 people, there was no kitchen, no sink, no dishes, no tables or chairs. M. P. Ostrovski, the warden of St-Seraphim Russian Orthodox Church readily agreed to build some tables, free of charge. A visit to Mr. Joly of the Tournesol Restaurant also proved to be fruitful as he donated 72 dinner plates. Cutlery and chairs were purchased at flea markets around the region. Mr. and Mrs. Levtchouk purchased a new B.B.Q. on which the shish kebabs could be prepared. Mr. Ole Mortensen provided plastic containers in which the plates could be stored.
The first dinner attracted 63 people. It was a very happy and successful beginning. In spite of all the difficulties, there was a great feeling of enthusiasm and determination. An exceptionally generous and hardworking group of volunteers made it all possible.
It was wonderful to see members of all the different ethnic groups: Russians, Poles, Germans, Hungarians, Czechs and Romanians enjoying a lovely meal and speaking their native tongues in ''Our Home''.
The first concert was held on October 18th 1991. Since the C.I.M. had no musical instruments, Mrs. Maria Levtchouk generously offeredto lend her own piano. It was transported to the Center where it remained untill March 1991.
On November 23rd 1991, the first Christmas dinner was held. It was a buffet during which a number of traditional dishes were served representing some of the communities divers backgrounds. All of these dishes were prepared by volunteers at their homes and, for the most part, were donated. This event, as well as the eleven other dinners that followed, were served without the use of a functional kitchen.
All these first tentative steps proved to be bounteous in its success and financially rewarding, remaining so until this very day.
Choosing the Advisers
M rs. Levtchouk often remembered her father's words: ''Catherine the Great was not really that smart but she was very smart in picking her advisers''. With that in mind and award of her inexperience in so many matters, she set out to find these advisers and helpers.
Mr. Ole Mortensen, a prominent local businessman and friend was her first challenge. He finally agreed to join the administration on the condition that he would be named the first vice-president and would preside over the meetings. These conditions were gladly accepted.
Thus at the next general meeting, on January 30th 1992, the following people were elected to the administrative board: Maria Levtchouk, President; Ole Mortensen, first vice-president; William Siemienski, second vice-president; Marcel Bohemier, treasurer; Denis Popov, secretary. As well as, G. Brady, E. Bendesi, G. Prozmovski, G. Levtchouk and S. Gerasimov completed the group.
this was a very strong team. Marcel Bohemier, a retiree from Rockwell Co. was truly competent and a very valuable treasurer at this critical time. Other aspects of the operation were carried out equally well and the C.I.M. was ''on a roll''.
The different rooms now held traditional exhibits from 18 different countries and visitors were welcomed by well-versed and pleasant administrators and volunteers.
I n February 1993, discussions began concerning the building of new additions: a foyer, a kitchen and washrooms. In the following June, Ole Mortensen was instrumental in obtaining a government grant of $ 21,000 and set up a building committee. An additional grant of $ 43,000 was also obtained from the MRC Matawinie through the efforts of Brenda Purcell who was the municipal council representative on the board.
Viktor Zukowski, an architect and member of the board of administration, drew up the plans. These were submitted to three different companies for quotes. In February 1994 a quote for $ 92,000 was finally accepted.
The grants totalled $ 64,000. The balance would be provided by the C.I.M.. Some savings were used as well as an increase in the mortgage. The work began in that September and was completed in January 1995. Finally, the C.I.M. had a functional kitchen, an elegant foyer and a finished basement. It seemed such a luxury to have such comfort.
Ole Mortensen oversaw this project and the C.I.M. is very grateful for his great contribution. Not to be forgotten are Brenda Purcell and Viktor Zukowski for the hard work that they put into this project as well as many others. A number of anonymous persons also merit our sincere and heartfelt thanks!
Activities at the Centre
A t that time, the Centre had the very good fortune of having Mrs. Liba Cigos as a member. Mrs. Cigos joined the C.I.M. in 1993. She was an excellent cook and hostess who, with her team, prepared wonderful meals and served them in a very elegant manner.
Throughout the years, Maria Levtchouk has been director of cultural events and has organized many excellent concerts. Internationally renowned artists have preformed at the C.I.M. to a very enthusiastic audience: I Musici de Montréal, Yuly Turovsky, Esfir Dyachkov, Sergei Trofanov and his Berneche, Luc Beausejour, Chantal Lambert, I. Gavrilove, Carmen Picculeata, Sylvie Dugas, Dariusz Monczak, Barbara Szarek, Z. Borowicz, Laura Dzubaniuk, Angela Chan and Irina Vorobieva and many more. Ms. Chan and Ms. Vorobieva Later went on to preform at Carnegie Hall. Many of these artists have graced the Centre's concert hall several times, some even returning year after year. In the early years, many of them also preformed ''free of charge'' to encourage the development of the Multiethnic Centre.
The folklore groups of singers and dancers from Russia, Poland, Mexico, Albania and others are especially popular. The most memorable one's to date were from Beslan Ossetia and Rousskiye Ouzory from Azerbaijan.
Local artists and artisans exhibit their paintings, sculptures, pottery and embroidery in the main hall. Daniela Agopsowicz, a very fine artist in her own right and one of the C.I.M.'s most devoted members, organized these expositions.
The permanent exhibits from countries Poland, Russia, Germany, Switzerland, Holland etc. can be found in the Centre's Different rooms.
B y 1998, thanks to a very efficient financial management, the C.I.M. was beginning to dream of purchasing a Grand piano. This would be a much more suitable instrument for the performers. This dream was realized on March 23rd 1999. With the help of our loyal, gererous friend and supporter, the Caisse Populaire de la Ouareau, a Yamaha Baby Grand piano was purchased for the sum of $ 12,450.
The Caisse Pop. donated $ 3,700 towards the purchase and provided an interest free loan for $ 6,200. The C.I.M.'s contribution was the remaining $2,550.
The new piano attracted Rawdon's Piano students for their year-end rentals and a new audience began to appear at the concerts. The C.I.M. also became the home for a new music school. This very positive development gives great satisfaction to the C.I.M. family.
The C.I.M. of Today
B y now our course of activities is established: dinners, concerts, expositions, welcoming tourist groups etc. All of these events are still taking place.
As the years passed, Maria Levtchouk felt that it was time for ''new blood'' and resigned from her post of presidency on January 31st 2001. William Siemienski was elected president and remained at the helm for one year. On January 26th 2002 Mr. Siemienshki resigned and Mrs. Huguette Bretschneider was elected president.
The C.I.M. continues its labour of love mainly through the arts: concerts, exhibitions, dinner parties ''with a multiethnic flavour'', music courses, conferences and tour groups. With the newly appointed president, the artistic and beautifully elegant Grazyna Mysliwska, elected on October 15th 2022, and an almost completely new board of administrators, we can expect some new and exciting projects going into the new year. The Centre is undergoing a few adjustments, with a refresh on the renovations as well as creating a presence on a multitude of social media platforms, C.I.M. is diving into the 21st century, becoming more modern and accessible to its community and the future generations to come.
A Dream Comes True
W ho could have predicted this outcome over 30 years ago, when ''Wilek'' (William Siemienski) and ''Maria'' (Maria Levtchouk) stood the the deserted rooms of 3588 Metcalfe Street and decided to carry on against all odds?
The C.I.M. is now considered the cultural center of Rawdon which is only thanks to the hard work, competence, generosity, devotion and above all optimism and perseverance of the Centre's administrators and volunteers: Daniela Agopsowicz, Sash Arleninov Ouimet, Serette Martel-Fontaine, Gaetan Gagnon, Grazyna Mysliwska-Mitchell, Marie-Michele Martinez, William Siemienski, Jan Van Gemeren, Dorothea Wender, Maria Levtchouk, Marek Pyzik as well as many others. Thank you to all who, throughout the years, have demonstrated their trust and support. To our faithful regulars, our members, our precious sponsors and collaborators. This honestly is a dream come true.
Written by Maria Levtchouk