the Slovenian
glasilo magazine
radio glas
info centre
who we are

Slovenian Immigration to Canada
by Peter Urbanc and Eleanor Toutel

The chronology of Slovenian immigration to Canada falls into three distinct periods: from 1924 to 1930, from 1947 to 1951, and from 1957 to 1970. Before World War I, practically all overseas emigration from Slovenia moved in the direction of the United States. The country was quite well known in Slovenia, whereas little, if anything, was known of Canada. However, there was some indirect emigration from the United States to Canada. It is known, for example, that a small number of Slovenian miners settled in British Columbia and some farm labourers took up residence in other parts of Western Canada. The pay for seasonal farm work in Canada was considered satisfactory four dollars per day, including room and board. Records show that many of the Slovenian emigrants living in Canada were members of the Slovenian National Benefit Society of Chicago or of the Krainer Slovenian Catholic Union of Cleveland (Krarjska Slovenska Katoliska Jednota K.S.K.J.), known since 1966 as the American Slovenian Catholic Union. Because Slovenia was then part of the Austro Hungarian Empire, and since Canadian registration showed only immigrants' citizenship, there are no official records of Slovenians in Canada before the First World War.

1924 to 1930
New American immigration laws in 1924 effectively stopped massive immigration to the United States, and significant numbers of Slovenian emigres arrived in Canada between 1924 and 1930. A prospective Canadian immigrant would contact a travel agent in Ljubljana, buy his passage to Canada, and travel to the New World with just twenty five dollars in pocket money. However, passports of that time indicate that specific Canadian immigration requirements had to be met before embarkation was permitted. This process eliminated the possibility of rejection on arrival in Canada. A prospective immigrant who failed to meet the criteria had only to pay his return railway fare from the embarkation point back to Slovenia. Canada accepted any Slovenian who was in good health, free of military obligation in his own country, without a criminal record, and who would accept employment as a labourer or farmer. Those with relatives in the United States were not eligible. Doors to Canada were closed to unlimited immigration only with the onset of the economic Depression in 1930.
The contracts of most immigrants required them to settle the land along Canadian National and Canadian Pacific Railway lines. They received assistance in the form of tools and food, which was given for a limited time only. If during this time, an emigre settled and became self sufficient, 160 acres of land were sold to him for ten dollars. It was also possible to purchase land commercially for fifty cents an acre. Those who preferred not to settle, accepted contracts to work on farms for three dollars a day plus board and lodging. After the initial contract was completed, some moved to mines in northern Ontario and Quebec, where they earned four dollars a day. Industrial workers received twenty six cents an hour and worked for ten hours a day. Forest industry and railway workers received two dollars a day plus board and lodging, and worked twelve hours daily. Forestry, railway, and farming work was only available seasonally.
It is believed that approximately three hundred Slovenians settled in Trail, B.C. in 1928 and began working in lead mines or on farms. These immigrants were mainly from Dolerjsko (Lower Carniola), Notranjsko (Inner Carniola), Bela Krajina (White Carniola), and Prekmurqe (the region beyond the Mura). It was originally their intention to earn sufficient money to pay debts in Slovenia and then return to their native land. However, most decided to stay in this country. The families or fiances of many of this group joined them at a later date, anticipating a better life in Canada than in Yugoslavia. Due to wartime conditions, some families were not reunited until after the Second World War.
During the late nineteen thirties there was a move of Slovenian workers away from the mines of Northern Ontario and Western Quebec. Although their remuneration was such that they could accumulate some capital, their jobs were not secure. The whole country was affected by the economic Depression of North America and Western Europe, which lasted from 1929 to 1939. Besides, their work was often difficult and dangerous and a hardship for those who had come from farming environments in the Old Country. As a result, a great number of the miners moved to the Ontario fruit belt between Hamilton and St.Catharines. The Ontario Government offered favourable loans at four percent to encourage them to develop fruit farms. Many immigrants had previous experience in fruit tree cultivation in their homeland, so this was a fitting opportunity.
During the Second World War, the Canadian Yugoslav Federation was organized among the emigrants from Yugoslavia. Its main purpose was to support the new government of that country. There was opposition to it from people who saw a leftist dictatorship in postwar Yugoslavia. However, Communist propaganda in favour of the new regime resulted in the return to their homeland of about two hundred Slovenians. On arrival they changed their Canadian savings into Yugoslav currency only to discover a considerable financial loss. Tractors, brought from Canada for individual use, were confiscated by customs officials for communal fanning. Some of the disillusioned people later returned unobtrusively to Canada.

1947 to 1951
The second phase of immigration began in 1947 and lasted until 1951. The number of immigrants to Canada at that time is estimated at 7,500 people. They were political refugees who fled to Austria and Italy in May, 1945, and did not want to return to a Communist Slovenia. It is thought that about 25,000 Slovenian political refugees emigrated to overseas countries during those years. Due to after effects of the Depression and postwar conditions, it was still difficult to procure a visa for immigration to Canada, hence many of the emigrants went to Argentina, Australia, and the United States. Since Canada accepted only young labourers and farmers in that period, many Slovenian students declared themselves as such to come to this country. The men were under contract to work for one year on farms, in forests, or as part of railway crews, while the women were engaged in domestic work. After a year they were free to leave their original positions. Most of them headed for Toronto, while smaller numbers went to Montreal, London, Kitchener, Hamilton, and St. Catharines. Many of the young men were married, but their wives and families remained in Europe due to the reluctance of the Yugoslav Government to grant leave for entire families. Most were eventually reunited in Canada.
The immigrants of the second phase arrived in the order chosen by the ad hoc commissions established by the Canadian Government in the refugee camps. For instance:
In October, 1947, the first group arrived from the camps and worked as lumbermen, mainly in Western Canada.
The second group arrived in January, 1948 young women who took employment as domestic and hospital workers. Most eventually settled in Toronto.
Groups of textile workers came to Canada at the end of March, 1948. Some were sent to Montreal and others went to Toronto. Among these people was the first group of families.
The month of April, 1948, saw the arrival of eighty two Slovenian men who worked on the railway. They were followed by farm and sugar cane workers for Alberta and British Columbia. A large group arrived at the end of September, 1948, consisting of young Slovenian women who were engaged in domestic work, mainly in the Ottawa area. After completing their initial contracts many of the workers found employment in London, Windsor, Ottawa, and Hamilton.
A considerable number among the political refugees were professional people who, after meeting Canadian requirements, continued to practise in Canada as doctors, lawyers, engineers, and high school teachers. Others who were craftsmen in Slovenia initiated home building enterprises and other construction projects, engaging immigrant employees. They were community conscious people who established ambitious building programs including Catholic churches, Slovenian clubs, and resorts for sports and social functions.

1957 to 1970
By 1957 socialized economic policies in Yugoslavia resulted in a great deal of unemployment. In order to avoid social unrest, the Yugoslav Government opened the borders for the departure of many of its unemployed or poorly paid citizens. Canada had an open door immigration policy at the time. Approximately 15,000 persons entered Canada during this phase of "economic" emigration from Slovenia. A good portion, especially at the beginning, were people from Prekmurje, a region with a strong emigration tradition. For the most part, they were people with good technical educations. They joined their predecessors in Canada, fortifing family businesses and other enterprises. Many were able to obtain positions in the Hamilton steel industry, in Toronto industries and trades, or with the Ford Motor Company and General Motors elsewhere in Ontario. By the end of 1970 approximately 1,200 immigrants had settled in the Hamilton area, 2,000 in St. Catharines, Kitchener, London, and Windsor combined, about 1,000 in Montreal, and several hundred more throughout the West and other parts of Canada.

(excerpted from "Slovenians In Canada" by Peter Urbanc and Eleanor Toutel (1984: Hamilton: Slovenian Heritage Festival Committee) ISBN: 0-919-357-41-5)