The Grand Duchesses of Russia
Portrait of Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna
Compiled and Edited by Paul Gilbert
Portrait of Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna
Compiled and Edited by Paul Gilbert
Compiled and Edited by Paul Gilbert
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November 24th marks the 50th anniversary of the death of the Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna in Toronto, Canada. To this day, she remains one of the most respected and beloved members of the Russian Imperial family.
Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna spent much of her childhood at Gatchina Palace
Olga with her parents and siblings. (Standing left to right) Nikolai (the future Emperor
Grand Duchess Olga in happier times as a young girl in her beloved Russia
Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna & Duke Peter Alexandrovich, 1901
On November 14, 1916, she married Nikolai Kulikovsky in the Church of St. Nicholas in Kiev. As a result of marrying a commoner, Grand Duchess Olga's descendants from her marriage to Nikolai were excluded from succession to the Russian throne.
The following year, the political atmosphere went from bad to worse in Russia and her brother abdicated on March 2, 1917, making his successor his brother Michael. On August 12, 1917, Olga and Nikolai's first child, a son, Tihon, was born.
Less than a year later, on July 17, 1918, her brother, Nicholas and his family were brutally murdered by the Bolsheviks in the Ipatiev House at Ekaterinburg and the Romanov dynasty came to an end. The new regime headed by Vladimir Lenin placed a bounty on the heads of any surviving members of the Romanov family. Olga and Nikolai had to flee Russia shortly after their second son, Guri, was born on April 23, 1919.
Grand Duchess Olga, her husband, Nikolai Kulikovsky, and their two sons, Guri and Tihon
Olga and Nikolai at Knudsminde in the 1930s
Her second cousin King George VI enquired about their finding asylum in Canada. Arrangements were made through A.H. Creighton, president of the Canadian Pacific Railway and District Superintendant of the Department of Immigration and Agriculture Development, for relocation to Canada. The Agent General for Ontario, Canada, J.S. Armstrong, stationed in England, handled the arrangements for the departure of the Russian Grand Duchess and her family to depart for the safety of rural Canada. In May 1948, the Kulikovskys travelled to London by Danish troopship. They were housed in a “grace and favour” apartment at Hampton Court Palace while arrangements were made for their journey to Canada as agricultural immigrants. On 2 June 1948, Olga, Nikolai, Tihon and his Danish-born wife Agnete, Guri and his Danish-born wife Ruth, Guri and Ruth's two children, Xenia and Leonid, and Olga's devoted companion and former maid Emilia Tenso ("Mimka") departed Liverpool for Canada on board the Empress of Canada. of eight to sail on the Empress of Canada, for their new adopted homeland.
The Kulikovskys' arrive in Canada
After they were settled, Olga and her family became active members of the Toronto parish of the Russian Orthodox Church. They attended services at the Christ the Saviour Cathedral, which was then located at 4 Glen Morris Street [the cathedral moved to its present location at 823 Manning Avenue in the summer of 1966]. Together, Olga and Nikolai took a great interest in the well-being of both the church and its parish. Olga’s portrait hangs in the Cathedral, today, and her works as an artist embellish the beautiful interior iconostasis. She had created icons for the second level of iconostasis as well as the image of the Mother of God for the ancient (16th century) Greek “passage”, which was donated to the church by the management of Royal Ontario Museum. It was installed in the church on the right side from the altar (near the holy water tank). The main quality of Olga Alexandrovna was her attitude towards the people around her. Her unselfish kindness for everyone she met, her openness and welcoming heart were to leave a deep imprint in the memory of the parishioners of Christ the Saviour Cathedral. After her death in 1960, the parish school was named in her honour.
Grand Duchess Olga produced over 2,000 paintings in her life
By the end of 1951, Nikolai's health was failing and he could no longer manage the work the farm entailed. So they sold the farm to Wolfgang von Richthofen, a relative of the WWI German flying ace, the Red Baron. They moved to 2130 Camilla Road in Cooksville, a suburb of Toronto [now amalgamated into the city of Mississauga] in 1952. Neighbours and visitors to the region took interest in the rumours of the last surviving Romanov grand duchess living in Canada, and visited her often.
Grand Duchess Olga's modest home on Camilla Road still stands to this day
Princess Marina of Kent was not the only royal who visited Grand Duchess Olga at her Cooksville home. Other royal guests included Princess Tatiana Konstantinovna of Russia, His Highness Prince Vassily Alexandrovich, Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma, and his wife, Edwina Mountbatten, and Countess Mountbatten of Burma.
Grand Duchess Olga kept in touch with the Russian émigrés to the end of her life. Members of her old Akhtyrsky Hussar Regiment [she had been appointed honourary Commander-in-Chief of the 12th Akhtyrsky Hussar Regiment in 1901]. were now scattered all over the world, but she had not forgotten them. She had a remarkable memory and remembered many of the officers and men not only by their name and surname. In 1951, former officers and members of the famed Akhtyrsky Regiment gathered at her home to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the founding of the Royal Regiment. Thereafter, she became the patroness of the Association of Russian Cadets of Toronto.
By 1958, Nikolai was virtually paralysed, and on the morning of August 11, 1958, Olga woke to find that he had died in his sleep.
Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna and her beloved Nikolai
“Is the Grand Duchess at home?” he asked in Russian.
Prince Troubetzkoy visited the Grand Duchess several times that summer. It was during this time that the St. Lawrence Seaway was officially opened. The Royal Yacht Britannia brought Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip to Canada. Olga, along with Tihon were invited to a private luncheon on board the Britannia, which was docked in the Toronto Harbour. Olga was King George V’s first cousin, and thus a cousin to both Elizabeth, and her sister, Margaret. She knew both sisters well when they were small children.
The following day, Prince Troubetzkoy called on the Grand Duchess to find out how things went and what her impressions of the royal luncheon were.
“Ah”, she said, “it was a cosy evening, and it was great fun to have seen Elizabeth once again, after these many, many years”. Eyes glistening and bubbling with excitement, the Grand Duchess went on to tell the details of the evening and to give impressions of the now grown-up Elizabeth. She spoke of the two sisters as small girls and she carried vivid memories of them, one of whom she found “considerably less serious and playful” and the other “pensive and perhaps a bit less warm”. The Grand Duchess commented on a table which stood in one of the salons; it was taken from the Russian Imperial Yacht Standart and presented to King George V for the Royal Yacht. She remembered it.
What impressed Prince Troubetzkoy most of all was that Grand Duchess Olga had not been forgotten by the Queen. At the time of the Revolution, Olga together with her mother, the Empress, and sister, Xenia, found themselves safe in Denmark. The Empress died there in 1928 and Xenia settled in England at Hampton Court, living under the protection of King George V in a “grace and favour” residence. Olga’s life, however, evolved considerably less comfortably. She was married to a commoner and the couple made their way to Canada to begin life afresh as farmers. At the time of Prince Troubetzkoy’s visits, Olga was already a widow. In the years that lapsed between her visits with the child Elizabeth, no substantive contact had been maintained between the Court and the exiled Grand Duchess. But, despite the many years which had lapsed, it was family once more.
Grace Fraser Hancock also remembers Grand Duchess Olga. In 2004, she recalls, “I met Grand Duchess Olga shortly after she moved across the street from us in Cooksville. She was a very proud lady. I remember that she hated hats, and the year she was going to visit Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, she had to buy a hat. So I took her to Dixie Plaza and we bought a pale blue hat. When she got home, she told me that as she was leaving the royal yacht, she tossed her hat into the lake. She always wore pearls. She said that you had to wear them all the time because the pearls absorbed the oil from your skin and gave them a lustre. She took in stray dogs and always took them for walks and she wore rubber boots without socks and her feet used to get blue, so I bought her a pair of workmen’s socks to wear.”
The simple apartment in Toronto's east end, where Grand Duchess Olga died on
The body of Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna at the
After her death, her sons closed down her house on Camilla Road and sold it and all her possessions that she treasured from her days in Russia. Her estate was estimated to be worth around $200,000. The combined worth of the items that Olga managed to smuggle out of Russia in today's dollars would have been estimated at more than $1.2 million. Guri died in 1984 and Tihon in 1993.
Grand Duchess Olga's grave at York Cemetery in Toronto
During her life in exile, Grand Duchess Olga never lived with any delusions of grandeur or dreams of a Romanov return to power. She lived a remarkable life, enduring more than her share of personal heartaches. She experienced the death of her dear father in 1894, the death of her brother Georgy in 1899, a war between Russia and Japan between 1903-1905, an attempted assassination of her brother, Nicholas in 1905, adultery in 1906, a nervous breakdown in 1913, the death of her governess also in 1913, separation and divorce in 1916, serving as a nurse in an Army hospital in Kiev during World War I (1914-1918), an attempted assassination on her own life, a Revolution that brought an end not only to her brothers reign as Emperor, but also an end to the monarchy in her beloved homeland, exile from both Russia and Denmark, the murder of her brother Nicholas and his entire family in 1918, the death of her mother in 1928, and the death of her beloved husband, Nikolai in 1958. Her final tragedy was the cancer that took her life in 1960. Despite a lifetime of relentless tragedy that followed her during her 78 years, she endured each with noble fortitude. She was once and always, a Grand Duchess of Russia.
Olga Alexandrovna, once and always, a Grand Duchess of Russia.
Kulikovsky, Paul, et al. 25 Chapters of My Life: The Memoirs of Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna. Kinloss: Librario, 2009.
N/A: Cooksville: Country to City, Part Four 1950-2000, Russia’s Last Grand Duchess. Mississauga: Private Printing, 2005
Phenix, Patricia. Olga Romanov: Russia’s Last Grand Duchess. Toronto: Viking/Penguin, 1999.
Vorres, Ian. The Last Grand Duchess: Her Imperial Highness Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna. New York: Charles Scribner’s & Sons, 1964.