Slovenes

The Slovenians are a Slavic people whose main homeland was recognized in 1991 as the independent Republic of Slovenia. However, large indigenous ethnic minorities of Slovenians still live in Austria, Italy and Hungary. The exact number of Slovenians in Canada cannot be determined, since no records of their emigration were kept and no reasonable data were obtained by the Canadian census. According to one estimate, approximately 40 000 Slovenians of first, second and third generation live in Canada. The 2006 census reported more than 36 000 Slovenes in Canada.

Migration and Settlement

Before 1920 only a few Slovenians settled in Canada, and even they came here via the United States. Among them was missionary Frederic BARAGA (1797-1868), who in 1857 became the first bishop of Sault Ste Marie. The first wave of Slovenian immigration to Canada was organized by travel agencies which were actively seeking healthy young men to work on farms in Manitoba and Saskatchewan and on railways in British Columbia. As soon as they fulfilled their obligation, they moved to towns, where Slovenians began to concentrate. Before WWII an estimated 4600 Slovenians lived in Canada. The most vibrant Slovenian community was in Kirkland Lake, Ont, where in 1933 the first independent Slovenian benefit society (Bled Mutual Benefit Society, named after one of Slovenia's picturesque Alpine lakes) was established.

The geographical distribution of Slovenians changed drastically during and after WWII, partly due to the resettlement of Slovenians from the mining towns of northern Ontario to farms in the Beamsville and St Catharines area. Also, between 1947-51, a large number of political refugees arrived and after a year of obligatory work began to settle mainly in urban areas, especially Toronto and Hamilton. The third wave of Slovenian immigrants came to Canada between 1951-60, mostly family members of pre- and postwar immigrants, as well as young men and women who were unable to find employment in their homeland. Between 1960-70, many more Slovenians came to Canada for economic reasons. Most of them settled in Ontario. At the present time, over half of Canadian Slovenians are settled in Ontario, mostly in Toronto, Mississauga, Hamilton, St Catharines, Kitchener, London, Windsor, Ottawa, Thunder Bay and Oshawa. There are also vibrant Slovenian communities in Montréal, Vancouver, Victoria, Port Alberni, Kelowna, Prince George, Calgary, Edmonton, Lethbridge and Winnipeg.

Social and Cultural Life

With the growth of Slovenian communities, social and economic structure began to develop. By 1945 the Bled Mutual Benefit Society had 13 branches throughout Canada. In the 1950s 2 Slovenian credit unions were established in Toronto. Skilled craftsmen founded their own businesses, mainly in residential construction. Likewise, Slovenian professionals established their private practices to cater to the various needs of their people. Cultural associations were founded in all major Slovenian settlements. Slovenian national homes and summer camps were built. While in smaller towns, a single club served the needs of local Slovenian community, in Toronto different social, cultural and political associations began to emerge. The Vincentian Fathers, arriving in 1949, began to publish a religious monthly magazine, Bozja beseda (The Word of God), which still serves to unite Canadian Slovenians who are predominantly Roman Catholic. In 1954 the first Slovenian church was built in Toronto, followed by these in Etobicoke, Hamilton, Montréal and Winnipeg. The parishes became the centre of religious, cultural and educational activity.

Slovenians' pride in their culture is shown in choral singing, folklore dancing, polka music, theatre, as well as writing and fine arts. In sports, soccer, volleyball, lawn bowling and hunting predominate. Slovenians support various charitable projects in Canada and abroad, among them being Slovenian old-age homes in Toronto and Hamilton. Respect for education is part of Slovenian culture. This is reflected in the high achievements of immigrants of Slovenian descent who can be found among engineers and managers in well-known Canadian firms, among doctors in Canadian hospitals and among professors at universities.

The All-Slovenian Cultural Committee (founded in 1990 in Toronto) represents the majority of Slovenian organizations in southern Ontario and co-ordinates various Slovenian activities nationwide. The Canadian Slovenian Congress (founded 1989) is a member of the World Slovenian Congress and its aim is to promote the interests and aspirations of Slovenians in Canada and around the world. The Slovenian Canadian Council represents a few cultural and political organizations founded by the political immigrants, including the Slovenian National Federation which publishes the monthly newspaper Slovenska drzava (Slovenian State). The establishment of full diplomatic relations between Canada and the Republic of Slovenia marks a new beginning for the Slovenian community in Canada.