Between the neighborhoods Parkwoods and Pleasant View in Toronto, right beside the Ontario Highway 401 stands the Armenian Church of Saint Maria, the Armenian community center of Toronto, as well as the Sara Corning Armenian Genocide Research Center.
The Sara Corning Armenian Genocide Research Center is an educational center dedicated to human rights, as well as the Armenian Genocide. It was named in honor of Sara Corning (March 16, 1872 – May 5, 1969), a Canadian nurse and humanitarian who saved 5,000 Armenian orphans during the 1922 Smyrna massacres. The salvation of Armenian children was her most significant albeit not the only deed.
Sara Corning was born in southeastern Canada on March 16, 1872. She graduated from a nursery school in the US and joined the US Red Cross in the years of WWI.
She learned about the Armenian Genocide and its terrifying aftermath from Canadian newspapers. “Her compassion was always combined with her serious approach to the problem,” later recalled one of her distant relatives.
In 1921, Corning arrived in Turkey to head an orphanage at the foothill of Mount Ararat. The next year, the Turkish troops seized the city-port of Smyrna situated in a disputable territory and drove out the local Greeks and Armenians sheltered in the city. Corning decided to volunteer to the organization Near East Relief and boarded an American battleship heading towards the besieged city.
Upon arrival, she along with two other volunteers set up a clinic for the sick and wounded. However, it would be shortly closed down by the Turkish troops. The second clinic set up by Corning would be shut down as well. The military situation in the city was escalating.
“Then, the city was pillaged, and then began the arsons,” wrote Corning years later. Thousands of people died in the fire. Relief foundations, including Near East Relief, organized the evacuation of Smyrna’s population by sea. Corning rushed to the orphanage she used to head, gathered the children, and led them through the fire and chaos towards the American ship. Corning would save nearly 5,000 children.
Corning accompanied the children to Greece. There, she would establish a new orphanage and become engaged in the education of the orphans. She taught them reading with a Bible, examining the text of the Second Message to the Corinthians:
“We don’t want you in the dark, friends, about how hard it was when all this came down on us in Asia province. It was so bad we didn’t think we were going to make it.”
In 1923, King George II of Greece invited Sara Corning to his palace to award her the Order of the Redeemer, the highest decoration of Greece. The next year, showing her approach and the absence of prejudgment, Corning departed for Turkey to work as a teacher until retirement. She then returned to Canada, to the home she had lived in during her childhood, and stayed there until passing away in 1969 at the age of 97.
On her most famous photo, Sara Corning has a lovely appearance, wearing the immaculate uniform of a nurse. With a slight smile on her face, she watches the viewer with a calm sight, which quite clearly shows her decisive and courageous character.