The story of Father Nicholas Salamis, a Greek Orthodox priest, is also the story of Greek Canadians themselves, from the time the first immigrants set foot on the land until today, where the Greek community has become an integral part of Canadian society.
Father Salamis personally witnessed the arrival of four generations of Greek immigrants to Canada, and helped them make a life and find solace in a land which was completely foreign to them.
During his lifetime of service as a Greek Orthodox priest in Montreal, he performed over 10,000 liturgies and other religious ceremonies, until finally retiring at ninety years of age.
Nicholas Salamis was born on Samos, Greece in 1897, the son of Constantinos and Marigo. Coming from a poor family, he was basically forced to leave his home at the age of seventeen and migrate to North America to join his older brother Vassilios, who was already there.
Salamis settled into the Greek community of Montreal in 1919. He returned to Greece for five years in the 1930s, marrying Efrosini Vergou in 1938, and was later ordained as a Greek Orthodox priest.
During World War II, Father Salamis served at St. George’s Greek Orthodox Church in Toronto, where their children Marika and Constantine were born.
Father Salamis moved back to Montreal in 1945, when the Greek community was greatly expanding. By the end of the 1940s, a total of over 100,000 Greeks had immigrated to Canada.
A major impetus for this exodus from Greece was its bloody civil war, which raged from 1946 to 1949. Most of the new arrivals from that time were uneducated, unskilled, and spoke neither of Canada’s two official languages, English and French.
It was then that Father Salamis felt especially moved to offer the Greek community his spiritual and religious services. Apart from baptisms, weddings, and funerals, he also eased the social frictions which sometimes occurred between the established Greek community and the new immigrants, who were considered “displaced persons.”
Over the next forty years, Fr. Salamis was a true father to his flock, helping all the Greeks in town, both old and new, to bond together and build a robust community which later integrated to become part of the wider Canadian society.
Greek priest helped all immigrants to Canada
As vital as a Greek Orthodox priest is to any Greek community, Fr. Salamis went over and above his religious obligations, shepherding the children of the immigrants as they became Canadian citizens. He assisted them as they confronted the difficulties of learning English and French, and getting the education that their parents so wanted them to have.
In addition to his constant spiritual help, Father Salamis helped the adult Greek immigrants land jobs and find apartments to rent. He was also the quiet force putting a lid on the infighting which cropped up as Greek immigrants and established Greek-Canadian citizens argued over politics.
Father Salamis retired at the age of 90; but in reality, he never stopped assisting any Greek Canadian parishioners who needed his help. He passed away at the incredible age of 108 on October 15, 2005.
Film director Stavros C. Stavrides made a documentary about the Orthodox priest who had helped so many of his countrymen. Titled “Century Man: The Father Nicholas Salamis Story,” it celebrates the amazing life of the Greek-Canadian shepherd who was the rock of the Greek community for over four generations.