The Aurora Café on the east side of Gaetz Avenue, south of Ross Street, 1913. (Photo via Red Deer Archives)

The Aurora Café on the east side of Gaetz Avenue, south of Ross Street, 1913. (Photo via Red Deer Archives)

Michael Dawe: Armenians suffered horribly over the centuries

On Saturday, U.S. President Joe Biden officially recognized the century-old mass killings and deportations of Armenians, in the Middle East by the Ottoman Empire, as a genocide. The Canadian Parliament adopted a similar position in 2004. Once again, the Turkish government (the successor to the Ottoman regime) fiercely condemned the move.

The Armenians have often suffered horribly over the centuries, often because they belong to one of the oldest of the Christian churches, the Armenian Apostolic (Orthodox) Church.

This church’s roots go back to the apostles St. Bartholomew and St. Thaddeus (aka St. Jude of James). Its members suffered brutal persecution by the Roman emperors. However, it managed to become the world’s first state Christian church in 301 A.D., before Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity across the Roman Empire.

The Armenian Christians enjoyed some periods of toleration, followed by severe persecution, depending upon who had seized control of their homelands. Over time, many settled in Syria, as there was often reasonable toleration in such commercial centres as Damascus and Aleppo.

One Armenian Christian family, who made Damascus their home, were the Coudsi’s. Generally, they prospered as merchants and traders. However, by the turn of the last century, as the Ottoman Empire began to rapidly collapse, persecution escalated again.

Hence, in 1903, Alexander, Constantin and Cesar decided to emigrate to Canada, initially settling in Montreal. In the fall of 1912, Alexander, along with some fellow Armenian investors, decided to venture into cattle ranching in central Alberta. Consequently, they purchased 1440 acres (nine quarter sections) of land east of Red Deer in the Hillsdown/Valley Centre districts. The price paid was nearly $20,000, considered a very large sum of money at the time.

The ranch had been originally assembled by James Geissinger, who had moved to California. However, the property had become known as the Bar EP Ranch, after J.F. Edge-Partingdon, one of the original homesteaders on the property.

Meanwhile, the Coudsi’s also established the Café Aurora on the east side of Gaetz Avenue, south of Ross Street, in downtown Red Deer. They quickly developed a reputation for the high quality and diverse meals they served.

They also ran a profitable catering business for social and fundraising events. The Coudsi’s were strong supporters of arts and culture. Hence, they organized fundraising banquets in support of such groups as the Red Deer Theatrical Club.

Unfortunately, a sharp recession set in during 1913. Economic conditions worsened in the summer of 1914 with the outbreak of the First World War. The Café Aurora was closed. The Coudsi’s then bought the Commercial Café on Ross Street, which they later sold to George Moon and Charlie Chuck in 1916 (Chuck and Moon eventually started the famous Club Café).

In 1915, the widespread massacre of Armenians, in what is now Turkey, commenced. Although almost all local fundraising was directed to the war effort, the horrific stories about the massacres and forced deportations of the Armenian Christians prompted many to also donate to the Armenian Relief Fund. The congregation of Knox Presbyterian Church, in particular, became major supporters of the fund.

With the extreme conditions for the Armenians overseas, which cut off contacts and sources of new investment, together with the steep economic depression following the end of the war, Alexander moved back to Montreal for extended periods of time. He had Carim Jarjour, a fellow Armenian, manage the EP Ranch until 1927. Charles Sandquist (a non-Armenian) then took over.

Alexander continued to own the EP Ranch, but often found it difficult to pay for the management and taxes. Finally, in 1942, the ranch was sold to the Lawrence brothers of Pine Lake, with Coudsi retaining a small piece as a personal farm.

Alexander passed away in February 1950 in an Edmonton hospital. He was survived by his brother Cesar, and sisters Maria Basila in the United States and Rosa in Syria.

Red Deer historian Michael Dawe’s column appears Wednesdays.

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