The story of Father Nicholas Salamis, a Greek Orthodox priest, is also the story of Greek Canadians themselves starting from the time the first immigrants set foot on the land up to today; over time, 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 build a new life and find solace in a land 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 there.
Salamis settled into the Greek community of Montreal in 1919 and returned to Greece for five years in the 1930s, marrying Efrosini Vergou in 1938. He 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 occasionally arose 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 Greeks in town, both old and new, to bond together and build a robust community which later integrated to become part of 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 above and beyond his religious obligations, shepherding the children of immigrants as they became naturalized Canadian citizens. He assisted them in the challenges of learning English and French and getting the education their parents wished for them.
In addition to constant spiritual help, Father Salamis supported adult Greek immigrants in landing jobs and finding accommodations. He was the quiet force curbing political conflict between Greek immigrants and established Greek-Canadian citizens.
Father Salamis retired at ninety; however, he never ceased to assist Greek Canadian parishioners in need. He passed away at the incredible age of 108 on October 15, 2005.
Film director Stavros C. Stavrides created a documentary in commemoration of Father Salamis, the Orthodox priest who—with unceasing devotion—stood ready to support his countrymen throughout his life in Montreal. Titled “Century Man: The Father Nicholas Salamis Story,” it celebrates the impressive life of the Greek-Canadian shepherd who was the rock of the Greek community for over four generations.