Serbs are South Slavs. It is commonly believed that they migrated to the Balkans during the 6th and 7th centuries, where they constituted several independent south Slav states. United into an empire in the 1340s, these states flourished until the Turkish Conquest of the Balkans in the 14th century. From 1804, when the Serbs initiated their struggle for national independence, to 1918, the principality (later kingdom) of Serbia evolved into a constitutional and democratic state.

In 1918 Serbia and Montenegro, along with other south Slav territories, united to form the kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, which became Yugoslavia in 1929. After the 1991 dissolution of Yugoslavia, the new independent states of the provinces of Serbia and Montenegro were established and in 1992 the republics of Serbia and Montenegro formed the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY). After a referendum on independence, Montenegro severed its ties with Serbia and the two became independent nations in 2006.

The first immigrants to the US and Canada started arriving in the middle of the 19th century. Before the 1900s the Canadian census wrongly classified Serbs into other national groups such as AUSTRIANS, HUNGARIANS and TURKS. This confusion was because of a complex classification system used at that time and because Serbs lived under several foreign sovereignties. In 1901 the term "Serbian" appeared in the census, although in succeeding years this group was again unlisted, reappearing eventually in official statistics as Serbo-Croats (see CROATIANS) or YUGOSLAVS. The 2006 census recorded over 72 690 Canadians of Serbian descent (single and multiple response).

Migration and Settlement

In the 1850s the first Serbs to immigrate to Canada (probably from Boka Kotorska on the southern Adriatic coast) settled in BC along the Fraser River and in Vancouver. Most of them were young, single men who worked in the mining and forest industries. The second wave arrived in the 1870s. By 1900 Serbs began to migrate to other provinces, particularly Saskatchewan, where a sizable number were from the plains of Vojvodina. The Serbian community in Regina dates from this time. Between 1907 and 1908 many Serbs migrated to Canada from the US, working in coal mines around Lethbridge, Alta, building roads and working on the railway. Before WWI, Serbian communities were founded in Toronto, Hamilton and Niagara Falls, Ont. The third wave of immigration occurred between the wars, particularly 1924-29 and 1934-39. Most of these immigrants settled in industrial centres of Ontario. Of the fourth wave of immigrants (1947-53), many were highly educated. After 1955, the fifth group (generally university educated) were mainly sponsored by family or friends. Since 1992, after the eruption of the bloody inter-ethnic conflict in the former Yugoslavia, some Serbs have entered Canada as refugees in addition to the independent or family class immigrants. (See IMMIGRATION.)

Social and Cultural Life

Serbian voluntary associations and organizations were established to ease the economic hardships of new immigrants and to help them adjust to Canadian society. Serbian organizations in Canada today include the Serbian Brothers' Help; 2 chapters of the Serbian National Defence, one of which dates back to 1916; and the Serbian National Heritage Academy, which has been active in inviting prominent Serbian writers and historians from Yugoslavia and other countries to Canada for public lectures. Other Serbian organizations include cultural and historical societies: "Njegos,""Karadjordje" and "Tesla Memorial Society", and several youth folklore organizations, eg, "Oplenac" and "Hajduk Veljko" dance groups of Toronto. Those Serbs talented in creative writing have joined other Yugoslav Canadians in Toronto and formed 2 literature appreciation clubs.

Several newspapers and journals have been created and published by Canadian Serbs and by Serbs who participated in other Canadian-Yugoslav organizations. These publications were intended for the Serbs in the US as well. The first Serbian newspaper in Canada (1916), Kanadski Glasnik (Canadian Herald) was published in Welland, Ont, and was followed by Serbian Herald and several others. With the latest influx of Serbian immigrants, ethnic enclaves have been created in Canadian cities in the West. The Serbian newspaper KISOBRAN (Umbrella) has been published in Vancouver since 1997. As well, various publications put out by the Church, congregations, women, youth, students and business-professional groups, etc., play important roles in Serbian communities in Canada. By now, many old documents have been donated to the provincial and federal archives for public use.

The first Serbian Day was held in Canada in 1946, and annual festivals featuring singers and dancers are sponsored by Serbian and other Yugoslav organizations. Several radio programs are available to Serbians in the metro areas of the provinces. In sports, Serbians are known for their success in organizing soccer clubs.

Many Serbs in Canada have maintained the Serbian language and the 2006 census showed that 52 705 people reported Serbian as their mother tongue (first language learned). Many Serbs adhere to the Serbian Orthodox Church and the most recent survey of religion observation in Canada (2001) recorded 20 520 people belonging to the Serbian ORTHODOX CHURCH. They have built some 15 churches and cultural centres across Canada. The first Serbian Orthodox Church built in Canada was Svete Trojice in Regina in 1916. Those in Toronto, Hamilton, Windsor, Niagara Falls, Kitchener and Sudbury are noteworthy for their Byzantine architectural design. It was not until 14 Oct 1984 that Canadian Serbs acquired their own bishop. On that day, Bishop Georgije arrived from Belgrade to become the first head of the newly created Canadian Diocese (Eparchy) and to lead and administer Serbian congregations in 13 cities. The Serbian Orthodox Church is an autocephalous (self-governing) part of the Universal ORTHODOX CHURCH (The Churches of the Ancient East). Serbia's rich folkloric tradition has been retained mainly through the activities organized by the Serbian Orthodox Church. In many Canadian cities there are traditional music and dance groups, theatre, and sport groups, and some churches organize Serbian language instruction.