Czech Canadians

It is generally recognized that the Czechs and SLOVAKS make up one ethnic group composed of 2 closely connected but still distinct Slavic units. After the breakup of the Czechoslovakia federation 2 independent states, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, were established in January 1993. Until the 19th century they shared a common literary language, that of the 16th-century Czech translation of the scriptures, the Kràlice Bible. The spoken languages are still very similar.

In 1771 a lay religious community, the Moravian Brethren (which had emerged in Saxony in 1727 as a continuation of the old Hussite Fellowship of Brethren), arrived in Labrador to do missionary and social work among the Inuit. Not long afterwards a group of Moravian Brethren from the US led by David ZEISBERGER founded Fairfield, commonly known as Moraviantown, on the Thames River near present-day Thamesville, Ontario. The colony was razed during the WAR OF 1812, but the mission, rebuilt across the river, continued until 1903.

Czech immigration into Canada started in the mid-1880s (see IMMIGRATION POLICY). The first recorded Czech immigrants settled in Kolin, Saskatchewan, in 1884. In Alberta, Czechs founded Prague; in Manitoba, Moravian Brethren settled in the Mennonite community. The early immigrants included farmers, miners, artisans and labourers who came for economic reasons. After 1921, when the US introduced a quota system for immigration, many Czechs immigrated to Canada instead.

The 1921 census reported 8840 people of Czech origin in Canada; this figure jumped to 30 401 (1931), 42 912 (1941) and 57 840 (1971). Emigration increased in 1938-39 as a result of German occupation, and rose again in 1948 with the establishment of a communist regime, and in 1968 because of the Soviet invasion. In 2006, the last census year for which figures are available, there were 98 090 persons of Czech and 64 145 of Slovak origin in Canada.

The Czechs and Slovaks have as a rule had little difficulty integrating themselves into Canadian life, but they have also been rather successful in maintaining their cultural heritage. Their first newspaper, the Slovenské Slovo (Slovak Word), started publication in the coal-mining town of Blairmore, Alberta, in 1910. There are now several publications. The national association, the Czechoslovak National Alliance (established 1939 in Toronto), promotes Czech and Slovak cultural and educational activities and is also active in the social field.

Another Czech social and cultural organization is the Sokol ("Falcon") movement, patterned on an athletic and patriotic organization founded in the Czech lands in the 19th century. Although the majority of Czechs and Slovaks are Roman Catholic, it was not until larger Czech and Slovak communities were founded that Czech-language parishes were built. There are also some Greek-rite Catholics, predominantly from the eastern parts of Slovakia, as well as numerous Czech and Slovak Baptist congregations. Czechs and Slovaks have made important contributions to Canada's economic development and Canadian cultural life.

The most well-known of these include Thomas BATA, head of the worldwide Bata shoe-manufacturing and retailing enterprise; Stephen ROMAN, pioneer of uranium mining in Canada; the KOERNER brothers, leaders in BC's lumber industry; Oskar MORAWETZ, composer; Peter C. NEWMAN, author; the poet and novelist Pavel Javor; and writer Josef SKVORECKY.