About Slovaks and Slovak Immigration
The first significant emigration from Slovakia (then situated within the framework of the Kingdom of Hungary) occurred in the early 1870s and was the direct result of the numerous work opportunities to be found in the coal mines, steel mills, and oil refineries of the United States. Almost a decade later, many of these same immigrants moved from the United States into western Canada. Some were attracted by the heady prospect of obtaining free homesteads while others hoped to earn a better living in the coal fields of Alberta in the Crow’s Nest Pass area near Blairmore and at Lethbridge. In 1885, immigration agent Paul Esterhazy brought a group of Slovaks and Hungarians from Pennsylvania to settle the Minnedosa district in Manitoba and, in 1886, the area north of the Qu’Appelle River in Saskatchewan. In time, many began the trek eastward to Fort William and other small urban communities in northern Ontario. The end of the First World War and the founding of the Czechoslovak state brought many changes to the Czech and Slovak peoples, but the immigration of both groups continued.
After the Nazi occupation of the Czechoslovak state in 1938, many refugees fled the country and settled in Canada. In 1939, businessman Thomas J. Bata relocated staff from the Bata shoe factories in Moravia to Canada, thereby establishing a safe haven and the town of Batawa near Frankford, Ontario. With “liberation” in 1945 and a Moscow-dominated regime, free exit from Czechoslovakia ended but not until thousands of Czech and Slovak exiles and refugees had settled in Canada between 1947 and 1958. This well-educated group of immigrant professionals chose to settle in cities, especially those in Ontario and Quebec. An exodus of Czechs and Slovaks to Canada began again after the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, an invasion that came to be known as “Prague Spring.” This group of young professionals settled in central Canada as well as in Edmonton, Calgary, and Vancouver. Their economic and social integration has been successful. The 1996 census figures, based on self-declared ethnic origin rather than place of birth, recorded a total of 71,915 Czechs (single and multiple response), 45,230 Slovaks and even 39,185 persons who were content to be labelled Czechoslovakian. Czechs and Slovaks have formed a multitude of ethnocommunity organizations in Canada. Some are fraternal and mutual benefit societies, others are cultural, political or social groups. Organizational homes or halls, the meeting place of choice for both communities, soon dotted the Canadian rural and urban land-scapes. Events celebrated include religious, historical, and patriotic anniversaries and special days.
Czechs and Slovaks have contributed in many different fields in Canada. Many Czechs have been attracted to business and industry. A relatively large group have established factories of their own, thus introducing new products and methods and providing many employment opportunities. The Bata family’s shoemaking empire, for instance, made and sold one million pairs of shoes per day during the 1960s. Slovak immigrants have also played a significant role in the life of Canada as businessmen, political figures, professionals of all walks, and sporting and cultural figures. Stephen B. Roman achieved meteoric success as the owner of the richest uranium mine in the world (Denison Mines). An outstanding Catholic layman, Roman was greatly responsible for the building of the Cathedral of the Transfiguration near his estate in Unionville, Ontario. Notables in journalism include George Gross, former sports editor, Toronto Sun, and Robert Reguly, former writer for The Toronto Star. Both Stan Mikita and Elmer Vasko of St. Catharines played hockey for the Chicago Blackhawks during the Golden Era when the National Hockey League consisted of only six teams. Slovaks have also taken their place on the Canadian political stage. Politicians of note include William A. Kovach, who sat as a Social Credit member in the Alberta legislature from 1948 to 1966. In Ontario, Toronto alderman George Ben was elected as a Liberal member in the Ontario Legislature in 1965. He was followed by Peter Kormos, who was first elected to the legislature in 1987 as a member of the New Democratic Party. Finally, in the federal arena, Anthony Roman was elected to the House of Commons as an independent in 1986 and Paul Szabo was elected as a Liberal to the House of Commons in Ottawa in 1993.
Source: Canada Digital Collection
Bohemians/Czechs and Slovaks
Czechs and Slovaks were part of the Austro-Hungarian empire in the 1800s. By the mid to late 1800s, changes in boundaries and laws were again giving the Czechs and Slovaks in the Austrian sector some control over the use of their language and some voting rights. But, by the turn of the century, conditions were not much improved, and in some areas they had even worsened.
The Hungarian Empire was not as liberal with the Slovaks. In 1874 the Prime Minister had stated, "There is no Slovak nation"(1) and they closed the Slovak schools so children could not be educated in their mother tongue.
Few Czechs and Slovaks came to America before the 1800s but notable among the early settlers were the Moravians. They settled in Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Georgia. By the 1860s however, more were beginning to make the voyage and Chicago was the main centre for Czechs (Bohemians). Many of the early settlers to Canada came via the United States.
The Canadian Pacific Railway started to colonize their lands in the west in 1881 and Czechs and Slovaks made their way west. They settled at Kolin, in the District of Assiniboia (part of the province of Saskatchewan today). Others were recruited from various parts of the United States by Paul Esterhazy. On July 30, 1885 a party of mostly Slovaks was sent to Winnipeg, via Toronto from Hazelton, PA, where they had been miners. These people were sent to "Huns Valley," Manitoba.
In 1886 another party from the United States was sent to settle the lands on the Qu'Appelle River in present day Saskatchewan. The settlement was called Esterhazy after the man who had recruited them. Other settlements were started at Lethbridge, (today in the province of Alberta); Stair, Manitoba; Crow's Nest Camp, British Columbia (renamed Fernie); Derby, BC; as well as in Bellevue and Frank, North-West Territories (later the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan).
Since the immigration agents of the times often referred to all of these people as Hungarians one must not overlook this fact when searching the records.
source: University of Waterloo
The former Czechoslovakia was comprised of two
major national groups—the Czechs and the Slovaks. They formed
politically distinct Czech and Slovak Republics after the collapse
of the Soviet Union and the tear-down of the Berlin Wall in the
early 1990s. The two groups speak closely related languages and
share a common ancestry rooted in the Great Moravian Kingdom of the
9th century, but since the beginning of the 10th century, the Czechs
and the Slovaks have followed different paths in their historical
and cultural development.
source: The Canadian Encyclopedia
Migration and Settlement
The Canadian Encyclopedia