History of the Armenian Cultural Association of Ottawa (ACAO)

The Census of Canada publications have established that Armenians lived in this part of Canada at the time of Confederation.  During the 50’s and the 60’s Armenians in the Ottawa-Hull area met socially and informally, at each other’s home and sometimes in a local church at the occasion of the visit of Armenian clerics, to celebrate Mass.

An initiative in the late 60’s to compile a list of people with Armenian roots was started by a small group.  They went through the local phone directory and identified people with Armenian names.  This led to bringing these people together for social gatherings and helped initiate the creation of a non-denominational, independent cultural association to bring together the region’s Armenians and provide help and advice to newcomers. This group eventually drafted the first Constitution and issued an invitation to the list to elect an executive committee based on the terms of that first constitution.  The Association became a non-profit body, with an elected executive in 1971.

Activities concentrated on culture (music, sculpture, painting, food and folklore).  Gatherings were held in different Community canters and in the “party-rooms” of new high-rise apartment buildings.  The Annual budget of the Association averaged around $ 3000.

In 1972 the first school of Armenian language for adults were held in a classroom at Ottawa University.

In 1973 an application was made to the Secretary of State for a grant to teach Armenian dances to the local Armenian.  The grant was approved and an Armenian dance teacher from California came to teach the local Armenian community together with an even larger group of local non-Armenians interested in Armenian folklore.

In 1974, the first school for Armenian children was organized by local volunteers on Sundays, again in different community centers.  The Armenian classes grew and shrunk with the community and the school is still run by volunteers.  It even offered with the Ottawa School Board officially sanctioned OAC courses. These culminated in a graduating OAC class in 1996, which put on an impressive cultural show to the delight of the Community and the managers of the Ottawa Board of Education’s Heritage Languages Program.

The ACAO fully participated in promoting and making known Armenian culture to the Ottawa-Hull Community at large.  Particular participation was instituted during annual July 1st celebrations with the National Capital Commission.  During these celebrations ACAO volunteers organized Backgammon and Chess competitions and sponsored and organized Armenian dance troops on stage in Ottawa parks. In 1984 the ACAO helped bring the National Song and Dance Ensemble of Armenia to Ottawa for a performance at the National Arts Center.

The Community always considered building its own permanent building.  In 1977 the ACAO adjusted its Constitution and applied to Revenue Canada to become a “Charitable Organization” recognized under the Income Tax Act. It also requested the authorization to accumulate funds in order to build or acquire a community building.  The request was granted.  The Annual budget of the Association was around $ 4000 by then.

The ACAO membership grew considerably in the eighties.  In December 1988, disaster struck in Soviet Armenia.  The ACAO joined hands with the Canadian Red Cross in collaboration with other Armenian and non-Armenian organizations and collected and channeled emergency aid to the earthquake victims.  Much of the money set aside for the Community building was diverted to help the earthquake victims.  In collaboration with the Civic Hospital, the ACAO sponsored 2 child amputee victims of the earthquake and helped get them to Ottawa to fit them with artificial limbs.  These children are now a Director of music in Yerevan Armenia and a successful medical doctor in Armenia.

In the 90’s, the ACAO continued to maintain its programs and welcomed a new wave of refugees from Karabagh, where war had broken-out within Azerbaijan during the disintegration of the Soviet Union.  We also received many Former Soviet Artists (Moscow chamber orchestra) and donated the proceeds to other charities such as the Ottawa Food Bank.  With the advent of the Internet, more news is available concerning Armenian culture and related issues, and the ACAO has developed a capacity to inform and mobilize its members through the Internet.