Slovakia is located in central Europe and borders the Czech Republic and Austria to the west, Poland to the north, Ukraine to the east and Hungary along its southern border. After the collapse of Soviet Union in 1989 Slovakia and Czechoslovakia remained affiliated but were freed from the Soviet authority and in 1993 the two countries agreed to separate and become fully independent nations.
The first known Slovak immigrant to Canada was Joseph Bellon, who landed in 1878 in Toronto and started a wireworks factory. There are no exact statistics on the number of Canadians of Slovak origin. According to the 1981 census, the first to ask the question of ethnic origin, some 40 000 Canadians declared themselves as Slovak; in the 2006 census, the number increased to 64 145 (20 970 single- and 43 180 multiple response). Slovaks are generally a deeply religious people; they are proud of their origin and were always quick to correct those who, until Czechoslovakia broke up in 1993, referred to them as CZECHS or Czechoslovaks.
Migration and Settlement
There have been 4 main waves of Slovak immigrants, inspired mainly by economic and political conditions in their homeland. The majority of early immigrants were manual workers from the US.
Immigrants of the first wave (1885-1914) settled on farmland in the West. Later groups went to work in Alberta and BC mines, and for the CPR.
The second wave, estimated at 30 000, took place during the interwar years. Many were young skilled workers who emigrated to earn good wages in order to buy land in Slovakia. Others, however, sent for their families and went either to farming settlements in the West or to Ontario and Québec mining towns. The declaration of Slovakia's independence in 1939 created divisions in the community; those supporting it were denounced by Czechoslovak diplomats in Canada.
The third wave of some 20 000 arrived after WWII and included war refugees as well as those fleeing the communist takeover of 1948. Many were former government officials who gave new impetus to Slovak organizations. Most settled in the major urban centres.
The fourth wave was sparked by the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. These refugees (some 13 000) were among the best educated to leave their homeland. Settling in urban centres, they contributed to the growth of Slovak organizations and found their place in Canadian economic, political and cultural life.
Social and Cultural Life
Social stratification among Slovak Canadians is determined by date of arrival in Canada, the position held in Slovakia, the success achieved in Canada and the willingness to participate actively in Slovak organizations. The early immigrants created benefit societies because of difficult economic conditions and lack of state-supported welfare measures. Today these societies also perform important social functions, along with other institutions created during and since WWII. The Canadian Slovak League is the most important Slovak organization. It publishes Kanadský Slovák
(The Canadian Slovak
), and helps to maintain Slovak traditions. Literary works are fostered through Slovak publications in the Western world and in Slovakia. Slovak Canadian publications, especially newspapers, have in fact played an important role in assisting immigrants, but they have also reflected the political and economic divisions in the community. In the 2006 census, 19 450 people reported Slovakian as their mother tongue (first language learned).
The Catholic and Protestant clergy have played an important role as spiritual and community leaders, and Slovak parishioners of all denominations have helped immigrants to overcome linguistic and cultural differences. Parish life, especially for the first 3 waves, and Slovak organizations have helped to foster the Slovak language and enhance family cohesion. A notable example of the importance of parish life was the consecration of the Slovak Cathedral of the Transfiguration in Unionville, Ont, on 15 September 1984 by Pope John Paul II during his visit to Canada.
The political fate of the Slovaks in their homeland has been the main factor in preserving the group's consciousness and cohesion in Canada. Since Slovakia achieved independence in 1993, the focus of most Slovak Canadians is on their homeland and through various organizations and newspapers they keep abreast of events there.
STANISLAV J. KIRSCHBAUM
Links to Other Sites
Canadian Multiculturalism Day
Canadian Heritage's guide to celebrating Canadian Multiculturalism Day.
Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples
The website for the "Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples." Click on the links for feature articles about Canada's many multicultural communities, access to their extensive digital archives collection, learning modules, and much more. From "Multicultural Canada."
Ethnocultural Portrait of Canada
This website offers Canadian population data (2006) by ethnic origin. Also, find information for individual provinces and territories by clicking the "Select a view" window above the chart. For more information, click on the "Ethnocultural Portrait of Canada" link at the top of the page. From the website for Statistics Canada.