Slovenes in Canada
by Cvetka Kocjancic
Canadians of Slovene origin come from one of the newest
and smallest states in Europe. Slovenia, with a population of
just over two million people, is a largely mountainous country
tucked in between Austria in the north, Croatia to the south,
and Italy to the west. Over 90 percent of the population are
Slovenes, who speak a South Slavic language and are predominantly
Roman Catholic in religion. There are also small groups of Slovenes
who live immediately across the border in southern Austria (the
Klagenfurt region), in far northeastern Italy, and in southwestern
Hungary (where they have traditionally been known as Wends).
Despite their lack, until recently, of independent statehood,
Slovenes have nonetheless managed to preserve their distinctive
Slovenes came to their present-day homeland in the sixth century,
during the great migration of Slavic peoples into the Balkan
peninsula. In the course of the eighth century, several tribes
united into a state formation known as Karantania that included
the territories of present-day Slovenia, southeast Austria,
and western Hungary and that was headed by democratically elected
dukes. It was also during this era that the Slovene tribes accepted
Christianity. From the ninth century, when Karantania ceased
to exist, until the close of World War I in 1918, Slovene territory
was ruled briefly by Bavaria and then for nearly eight centuries
by Austria’s Habsburg Empire. Under its new rulers, Germanic
settlers pushed the Slavic tribes farther southward, so that
by the fifteenth century, Slovenes were mainly concentrated
in Austria’s provinces of Carniola and southern Styria.
It was during the Reformation that Slovenes first began to
develop a sense of national self-awareness. Between 1550 and
1560, Protestant reformers printed over fifty books in the Slovene
language, including the first translation of the Bible. This
cultural and religious revival was short-lived, however, and,
during the Counter-Reformation that began in earnest during
the early seventeenth century, Habsburg Austria helped to return
almost all of Slovenia’s inhabitants to the fold of the
Catholic Church. Because German was the language of the state
administration and Latin the language of the church, the status
of the Slovene language and culture declined.
During the nineteenth century, the status of Slovenes and
their culture began to change. A national revival was initiated
by writers, teachers, and other intellectuals, who during the
revolution against Habsburg rule in 1848 also formulated a political
program demanding the unification into one province of all lands
where Slovenes lived. Although their demands were not met, Slovene
political and cultural awareness remained strong for the rest
of the century. After the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy
in 1918, Slovenes joined other South Slavs to form the Kingdom
of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, which was subsequently called
the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Not all Slovenes came under Yugoslav
rule, however, since about 510,000 (an estimated 40 percent
of the Slovene population at the time) were incorporated into
Austria, Italy, and Hungary.
With the outbreak of World War II and the fall of Yugoslavia
in 1941, Slovenia was divided between Germany, Italy, and Hungary.
In response to the occupying regimes, the Slovenes organized
a Home Guard and some also joined the Communist Partisans under
the leadership of Josip Broz Tito. It was not long before the
resistance movements were fighting as much among themselves
as against the foreign occupiers. In the closing months of the
war, approximately 30,000 Slovenes – many former members
in the non-Communist Home Guard – sought refuge in neighbouring
Austria and Italy. Although some eventually emigrated to countries
abroad, ten thousand or more were returned to Communist-ruled
Yugoslavia, where they were executed or died under harsh circumstances.
In the new post-war Yugoslavia led by Marshal Tito, Slovenia
was raised to the status of one of the country’s six constituent
republics. The centralization of political authority often worked
to the disadvantage of Slovenia, however. For instance, although
Slovenes represented only 8 percent of Yugoslavia’s population,
their republic produced almost 25 percent of all Yugoslav exports.
Nevertheless, much of the income from those exports went to
support economically less developed republics in Yugoslavia.
At the same time, the Slovene language was threatened by subtle
manipulation in favour of Serbo-Croatian. The resultant discontent
prompted Slovene intellectuals to start a movement for democratic
reforms during the 1980s.
By 1989, Communist rule had come to an end throughout most
of east-central Europe, and the following year the first post-war
democratic elections were held in Slovenia. The Communist Party
lost its previous dominant position, and negotiations were undertaken
with the federal government of Yugoslavia to transform the country
into a confederation of independent states. When those talks
failed, Slovenes voted in a plebiscite for secession from Yugoslavia.
On 25 June 1991, Slovenia declared its independence. The new
country was met with resistance by the Yugoslav army in what
has come to be known as the ten-day war. Before the year was
over Slovenia had a new constitution, and within a few months
it was recognized by most countries and admitted to the United
Nations, the Council of Europe, and other international organizations.
Until the end of World War II Slovenia was mostly
agrarian, and overpopulation and a shortage of work had forced
many Slovenes to emigrate. Before 1920 they emigrated to Canada
through the United States. Canada became an especially attractive
destination after the United States set limits on immigration
in 1924. In 1925 Canada gave “preferred” status
to immigrants from the countries where Slovenes lived (Yugoslavia,
Austria, Italy, and Hungary). The number of Slovene immigrants
in this first wave grew: 613 in 1926, 704 in 1927, and 1,008
in 1928. When Canada closed its doors during the Depression,
Slovene immigration almost ceased, and returns to the homeland
increased until 1932, when 210 persons went back. Slovenes represented
14 percent of all Yugoslav immigrants to this country; scholars
have estimated that nearly 4,600 entered Canada between the
wars and over 1,200 returned home.
The second wave of Slovene immigration lasted from 1947 to
1951. Canada accepted only about 2,500 Slovene political refugees
from camps in Austria and Italy and favoured young, single workers.
About 52 percent of the newcomers were farmers. There were not
many intellectuals among them, except for those under forty
years of age and students.
The third wave, 6,000 strong, arrived between 1951 and 1970.
It included family members of pre- and postwar immigrants, as
well as young men and women who escaped and then waited in refugee
camps until their immigration was arranged. After 1960 the economic
situation compelled many more Slovenes to emigrate. Since the
Yugoslav borders were open, most settled in western Europe,
whence they could frequently visit home. Many later moved to
Canada and Australia to be with friends or relatives.
Women represented only 35 percent of all Slovene immigrants
to Canada. After 1960, however, there were more women than men,
as males already settled in Canada sponsored their wives or
fiancées. Three-quarters of all Slovene immigrants were
aged 15–29 years, nearly 16 percent were 30–44,
and only 2 percent were 45 or older.
In the 1991 census, 8,050 Canadians claimed exclusively Slovene
origin, and 3,465, partly Slovenian origin, for a total of 11,515.
Neither of the questions regarding “language spoken at
home” and “ethnic origin,” however, obtained
consistently accurate responses from Slovenes. Many identified
themselves as Yugoslav, and some even called their mother tongue
According to community estimates, approximately 25,000 first-
and second-generation Slovenes are actively involved in ethnic
organizations. In small towns, where Slovene organizations exist,
the self-estimate based on membership or attendance at club
functions is quite reliable. For cities, estimates are based
on membership in Slovene parishes: Toronto, 10,000; Hamilton,
4,000; Edmonton, 1,600; Winnipeg, 1,600; Montreal, 1,400; St
Catharines, 1,040; Thunder Bay, 420; Kitchener, 400; London,
400; Calgary, 250; and Ottawa, 240.
As well, some Slovenes of the first, second, and third generations
do not associate with Slovene churches and organizations, though
they understand the language and keep close ties with relatives
in Slovenia, and some live in places that lack Slovene clubs.
Adjusting for these factors would bring the total to between
35,000 and 40,000.
Arrival and Settlement
Most Slovene immigrants came to Canada
in three periods: 1920–39, 1947–51, and 1951–70.
The first and third groups had primarily economic motivations;
the second, political. Before 1920 the few Slovenes who entered
Canada did so from the United States, which already had thriving
Slovene communities. In the 1850s the missionary Frederick Baraga
laboured among the Indians on the north shore of Lake Superior.
Charles Planinshek arrived in Canada in 1910, lived among the
Inuit and Indians of northern Saskatchewan and Manitoba, and
in 1929–31 lectured about the Inuit in countless American
towns and cities. A group of Slovene immigrants from the United
States settled in Trail, British Columbia, around 1928 to work
in lead mines and on farms.
Between 1925 and 1930 Canada accepted only young, healthy
Slovenes who had no criminal record or military obligation and
were willing to work as labourers and farmers. Emigration was
organized by travel agents in Ljubljana. The prospective immigrant
had to pay passage to Canada and sign a contract to work on
a railway or farm for a certain period. Small groups destined
for farms in Saskatchewan and Manitoba or for railways in British
Columbia emigrated together. Many Slovenes were disappointed
with working conditions, and most felt lonely. When their contracts
expired, they began to concentrate in mining towns.
Before 1939 there were Slovene communities in Kirkland Lake
(500 members), Timmins (264), Toronto (113), and Thunder Bay
(75), Ontario, in Vancouver (200), and in Noranda (199) and
Val-d’Or, Quebec (69). Many Slovenes who had saved enough
money were leaving the mining towns of northern Ontario to settle
on fruit farms near St Catharines, where their descendants still
Political refugees arriving in the late 1940s often served
one year of contractual work on farms and railways after which
they sought jobs in cities, especially Toronto. Skilled craftsmen
went into business, mainly in residential construction. Those
with higher education upgraded their knowledge and later became
doctors, lawyers, and teachers.
Slovenes entering Canada in the 1960s and 1970s had a much
easier time. Many knew compatriots here who could help them.
Also, since the Yugoslav government no longer restricted emigration,
many left legally and could return home at will. This group
was better educated and could get jobs as skilled craftsmen,
which Canada badly needed. Most stayed in Ontario, where compatriots
helped them get work in factories and in construction.
Slovenes pride themselves on their industriousness.
Although starting out in Canada as manual labourers, miners,
or railway workers, they managed to support their families and
buy houses. Though men were the principal breadwinners, women
played an important role. Often urban families would take in
a few Slovene boarders. This arrangement provided extra income
for families, protected single men from loneliness and homesickness,
and helped keep Slovenes together. On farms women worked alongside
their husbands in vineyards and orchards. After the war, single
females became domestics or factory workers, while married women
stayed home, raising children and keeping a few boarders or
assisting their husbands in their enterprises. Females who arrived
after 1960 were better educated and better prepared to join
the paid workforce, since many had been employed in Slovenia.
With the growth of communities, especially in Toronto, an
economic infrastructure began to develop. In the 1950s J.E.
Krek’s Credit Union and the Slovenia Parishes Credit Union
were established in Toronto. Doctors and lawyers catered to
their countrymen, and craftsmen opened up businesses, most of
them still concentrated in Toronto. Construction firms predominate,
though there are quite a few real estate agents, travel agents,
butchers, and jewellers. Most enterprises are family-operated.
A few Slovene businesses have made their marks in the larger
Canadian economy – most notably, Marineland amusement
park in Niagara Falls, owned by John Holer.
Honesty and hard work are so highly valued within the ethnic
group that members of Kirkland Lake’s Vzajemna podporna
zveza Bled (Bled Mutual Benefit Society, or BMBS) have to pledge
“to earn their living honestly, and not to cause embarrassment
to their organization and to their ethnic community.”
Unemployment is low among Slovenes. While many belong to unions,
they could hardly ever be found among activists or on the picket
lines. Slovenes are three times less likely to be in the lower-income
brackets than the average Canadian. Few families rent apartments
or live in subsidized housing. Slovenes include foremen in steel
and automobile factories, lawyers in big corporations, computer
programmers, doctors, and professors. Many participate actively
in Canadian charitable organizations. Though most show little
interest in political careers, some have served on governmental
Most Slovene immigrants, even university graduates,
had to start in Canada at the bottom. Those who have succeeded
in business or in a profession have remained close to their
compatriots. In community life there is little differentiation
by class. It is understood that those who are better off can
contribute money; professionals, services; and others, volunteer
Social life is part of Slovene culture. Pioneers working on
farms or railways could not wait to escape to towns where other
Slovenes lived. Though simple, uneducated people, they wanted
to preserve their culture, especially singing.
Slovenes were also concerned about social security. Before
World War II many had joined the Slovenska narodna podporna
jednota (Slovenian National Benefit Society) of Chicago or Krajnska
slovenska katoliška jednota (Krainer Slovenian Catholic
Union) of Cleveland. In 1933, when Canada’s workers had
no social programs, the BMBS, based in Kirkland Lake, Ontario,
offered its members financial assistance in case of illness
or accident. The BMBS extended its operation and by 1943 had
thirteen branches throughout Canada. It is still active, though
in 1986 it transferred headquarters to Beamsville, Ontario,
since many Slovenes had moved to southern Ontario.
In most towns, a single club served local Slovenes. However,
with growth of the nationwide community after 1945, other associations
emerged, especially in Toronto, where several political associations
were founded, as well as the first Slovene parish. The priests
guided charitable, educational, cultural, and social activities
and helped unify factions of immigrants. Clubs and churches
set up Slovene schools, choirs, and folklore groups. In Toronto
social clubs corresponded to regions of origin in Slovenia,
as with the cultural associations Simon Gregorcic, from the
coastal region; Vecerni zvon (Evening Bell), from the Prekmurje
region; and Beloranjski sklad (Belokranjski Foundation), from
the Belakrajina region.
Immigrants with special interests formed sports clubs (Planica
Hunting and Fishing Club, Slovenia Sports Club, Slovenian Athletic
Association, Slovenian Hunters and Anglers Club), social/cultural
clubs (Holiday Gardens, Slovenian National Home, Slovenian Summer
Camp), theatre clubs, and folklore groups. Most have between
100 and 200 members and own their own dance hall or an out-of-town
summer resort with clubhouse, swimming pool, sports facilities,
and campgrounds. They organize picnics, dances, and cultural
and sports activities in summer and banquets in winter. Most
were founded in the 1950s and 1960s. Leaders are elected by
members at annual meetings. Out of the common concern for the
elderly, the Slovenski starostni dom Lipa (Linden Old Age Home)
was built in 1987 by the Slovenian Linden Foundation, financed
entirely by the community.
The political situation in Slovenia in the early 1990s led
to several new organizations being formed in Toronto. The Kanadski
slovenski kongres (Canadian Slovenian Congress), founded in
1990, with branches in Quebec (Montreal), Ontario (Ottawa, Toronto,
Hamilton, Windsor, Thunder Bay), Manitoba (Winnipeg), and British
Columbia (Vancouver), has joined the World Slovenian Congress,
established in 1991. Its objective is to unite Slovenes in Canada
and around the world, to defend the rights of Slovenians in
their homeland and abroad, and to promote friendship between
Canada and Slovenia.
The Vseslovenski kulturni odbor (All-Slovenian Cultural Committee),
launched in 1990 in Toronto, represents the majority of Slovenian
clubs, organizations, and institutions in southern Ontario.
It coordinates activities and organizes collective action, such
as gathering information on Slovenia and distributing it to
immigrants in Canada, collecting information on Canadian Slovenes,
organizing tours of cultural groups from the homeland, and fund-raising.
The committee also has close ties with other Slovene clubs across
Canada. Operating within the committee are the radio club Glas
kanadskih Slovencev (Voice of Canadian Slovenians), the Slovenski
informacijski center (Slovenian Information Centre), and the
Slovenski sklad (Slovenia Relief Fund). As well, the Kanadski
slovenska gospodarska zbornica (Canadian Slovenian Chamber of
Commerce) was founded in 1991. Since 1997, the committee has
published the bimonthly magazine Glasilo Kanadskih Slovencev
(Voice of Canadian Slovenes).
The first Slovene organization in Hamilton, Ontario was the
Društvo svetega Joñefa (Slovenian Society of St
Joseph), set up in 1934; it helped establish St Gregory the
Great Slovene parish in the 1960s and the Villa Slovenia retirement
home in 1992. The parish offers a spiritual, cultural, recreational,
and social centre and operates a Slovene school, a choir, a
folklore group, a youth club, and a sports club within the Hamilton-Wentworth
Slovenian Cultural Society. The Slovenian Coordination Committee
represents these organizations as well as others in Ontario:
the Lipa Park Slovenian National Home in St Catharines, Bled-Planica
in Beamsville, Slovenski park (Slovenian Park) in Cambridge,
the Slovenian Cultural Association Sava in Kitchener, and the
Slovenian Cultural and Social Club Triglav in London. Ontario
also has Slovene clubs in Ottawa, Sudbury, Thunder Bay, and
Windsor. In Montreal’s thriving community, activity centres
around the Church of St Vladimir and Bishop Baraga’s Society.
In Winnipeg the Slovenian Club of Manitoba was founded in 1953
and the Slovenian Church of Our Lady of Lourdes in 1963. In
Alberta Slovenes are concentrated in Edmonton and Calgary. Many
Slovenians settled in Vancouver and Kelowna in the 1960s.
Slovenes were most active between mid-century and the late
1970s, during which time the first generation created an environment
in which their children could develop an interest in their ethnic
Family and Culture
An average Slovene family consists of mother,
father, and three children. It lives in its own house, in a
better-than-average part of town or in a suburb. When the children
grow up, they marry and move out into their own houses. According
to one study, 90 percent of Slovenes live in their own houses.
Within the first generation 76 percent married within the ethnic
group; half married or knew their spouses in Slovenia. Among
the second and third generations, however, only 19 percent married
within the group.
Elderly people like to stay in their homes and do things for
themselves. Only those with a serious illness or handicap, who
are left alone, would consider moving into an old age home.
Many Slovenes of the first generation helped their brothers
or sisters immigrate to Canada. Many support their relatives
back home, especially ailing parents. Slovenes are also as eager
to bring relatives over for a visit as they are to travel to
the homeland themselves.
Maintaining their culture is important to Slovenes. The first
Slovenian-Canadian cultural association, Lira (Lyre), founded
in 1927 in Windsor, had an active drama section and a choir
for a few years. In the 1930s the centre of cultural activity
was Kirkland Lake, Ontario, where the Slovensko pevsko in dramatsko
društvo Triglav (Slovenian Choral and Theatre Society Triglav)
was active until 1960; members produced concerts and plays in
their town, as well as in Timmins and Noranda.
After 1951 Toronto became the group’s cultural centre.
The Slovenian Cultural Association, led by Stanko Brunsek, produced
fourteen plays in six years, including comedies by Molière.
The Slovensko gledališce (Slovenian Theatre), founded in
1955 in Toronto by Vilko Cekuta, has staged over 140 performances
of forty plays by Slovene and other writers. Nei Cekuta-Elliot
started her theatrical career there and later performed in musicals
in Toronto and at Stratford, Ontario. In the early 1990s members
of the Lipa Park Club in St Catharines formed a drama section,
and Toronto’s Slovenska igralska skupina (Slovenian Theatre
Group) was founded in 1987.
Slovene church choirs often present folksongs and operettas.
Youth choirs, organized by churches or Slovene schools, also
participate in community functions. Each of Canada’s five
Slovene parishes have church choirs, and there are also choirs
that operate independently or within clubs. In the 1980s choral
music experienced a revival, as many new choirs were formed
in southern Ontario.
Slovenes enjoy polka music and social dancing, popular in
the homeland where almost every village had its own musician.
Among peasant men immigrating to Canada in the first half of
this century, many played the accordion. The tradition is kept
alive by the Lipa Park Button Box Club from St Catharines. Musicians
immigrating to Canada formed their own polka bands, linking
up with the second generation. There have been over fifty Slovene
polka bands in the past forty years, many short-lived. The bands
still perform at Slovene weddings, picnics, dances, banquets,
and, other functions. Many also play in German clubs. Walter
Ostanek, a son of Slovene immigrants, came, after thirty-five
years of playing, to be regarded as Canada’s polka king
and won Grammy awards three years running.
Folklore has become the most popular form of cultural expression
for Canada’s Slovenes. Folklore groups perform at club
functions and represent the community at multicultural festivals.
Usually children are enrolled in Slovene dance classes at an
early age and remain active until their mid-twenties. Folklore
groups keep Slovene youths together and promote friendships
within the second and third generations, who may not understand
the language but enjoy the traditions. Ciril Soršak, founder
and leader of Plesna skupina Nagelj (Folklore Group Nagelj),
set up in Toronto in 1959, has been a major influence in this
First-generation Slovenes place great emphasis on the Slovenian
language. They use it at home, with friends, at club meetings,
at Slovene functions, on radio, and in church. While many young
people can follow a conversation or a performance, they feel
more comfortable talking and writing in English. Not many had
the opportunity to attend Slovene schools, and even those who
did could not get enough practice. Slovenian immigrants tended
to live close to each other at first, but there is now no area
(not even a neighbourhood) where they predominate. (The greatest
concentration is in the Alderwood section of Etobicoke in Metropolitan
Toronto.) In the days before television, they spent more time
with their compatriots, providing their own entertainment. Furthermore,
many Slovene women have joined the paid workforce and thus have
much less time for their children and grandchildren.
Slovene Canadians do not have as much enthusiasm for books
and newspapers as their co-nationals back home, who are among
the world’s leaders in books read per capita. Nevertheless,
there have been numerous Slovene-language periodicals and bulletins
published, especially since 1945.
The first Slovene-Canadian periodical was Edinost (Unity;
Toronto, 1942–48), published by the Canadian-Yugoslav
Federation, which supported Tito’s liberation forces in
Yugoslavia. At its height, it was a weekly paper with some 1,200
Among several short-lived periodicals the more important were
Vestnik (Bulletin; Toronto, 1960s), a monthly magazine published
for three years by Slovene university students of North America;
Slovenska misel (Slovenian Thought; Toronto, 1961–65),
produced by the Društvo Slovencev Baraga (Slovenian Baraga
Society); and Dnevnik (Diary; Toronto, 1976–79), a monthly
magazine edited by Ivan Dolenc. Publications still in existence
include Lovski vestnik (Hunters’ Yearbook; Toronto, 1979–
), published by the Slovenian Hunters and Anglers Club of Toronto;
Slovenska drava (Slovenian State; Chicago and Toronto,
1951– ), produced by the Slovenian National Federation
of Canada to promote the anti-Communist sentiments of post-World-War
II political immigrants; and Boja beseda (Word of God;
Toronto, 1950– ), a religious monthly launched by the
Slovenian Vincentian Fathers. Articles written by Slovene Canadians
have also appeared in Slovenian periodicals and newspapers in
Slovenia, Austria, the United States, and Argentina.
Most books written by Slovene Canadians were published in
Argentina and Austria, and they included religious, autobiographical,
and souvenir books; language manuals; and translations. The
Reverend Franc Sodja published eleven works, and the Reverend
Tone Zrnec, a language manual, a book of poems, and other works.
The Reverend Charles Ceglar is collecting everything written
by and about Bishop Baraga, a Slovene missionary to Ottawa and
the Chippewa Indians who is a candidate for beatification. John
Krizanc received the Governor General’s Literary Award
for his play Prague . Among other writers are Ted Kramolc, Ivan
Dolenc, Cvetka Kocjancic, Zdravko Jelincic, and Tom Loar.
Slovene radio programs have provided information on club activities,
promoted Slovene music, and helped preserve the language. In
1965 Frances Starchev started her daily program “Caravan
of Friendship,” on Toronto’s CHIN FM, aimed at immigrants
from Yugoslavia. After the disintegration of Yugoslavia in 1991,
she had a weekly program on the same station until December
1997, when she retired; the program was taken over by the All-Slovenian
Cultural Committee. Between 1977 and 1986 a weekly radio hour
sponsored and produced by Radio Club Slovene Evening focused
on news from Slovenia and communities in Canada, community announcements,
and ethnic heritage. Since 1991 the All-Slovenian Cultural Committee’s
“Voice of Canadian Slovenians” has done the same.
Among notable artists are Ted Kramolc and Tone Kobal. Andy
Stritof in 1925 became the first Slovene artist to settle in
Canada. Janko Cade has received the Wilderness Award for
his artistic animation in a film on the Canadian artist Emily
Education and Religion
Among pre-1939 immigrants peasant men
were predominant. Canadian immigration policy right after World
War II kept out many potential immigrants with higher education;
only declared farmers were accepted. As many as 36 percent of
the immigrants between 1947 and 1951 had not finished elementary
school. Between 1951 and 1960 tradesmen made up 40 percent of
all Slovene immigrants. Since then, 27 percent of Slovenians
have upgraded, or completed, their education in Canada.
Slovene Canadians value education highly. Many children of
Slovene farmers and miners have become professionals. Most go
to Catholic schools; churches and clubs provide supplementary
education in the Slovene language. In Montreal, Toronto, Hamilton,
and Winnipeg, parishes have run Slovene-language schools since
the parishes were founded. In other places, Slovene clubs staffed
and housed language schools when numbers justified. The peak
period for these schools was in the 1960s and 1970s. Since 1980
the declining number of immigrants, families moving to suburbs,
and women joining the paid workforce have reduced attendance.
Between 1961 and 1986, 900 children were students in the Slovene
school at Our Lady of Miraculous Medal in Toronto, and 222 completed
all seven grades. Slovene schools provide the basics in Slovenian
language, history, geography, and literature.
Most Slovenes are Roman Catholic. Slovene missionaries were
among the first immigrants to the New World. In 1853 the Reverend
Frederick Baraga, who ministered to the Indians around the western
Great Lakes, became the first bishop of Sault Ste Marie. Baraga
wrote prayerbooks in the Ottawa and Ojibwa (Chippewa) languages
and a grammar and dictionary of Ojibwa, which took him ten years
to complete. Father Francis Pirc, stationed in Sault Ste Marie,
Michigan, also made frequent trips to the Canadian side. The
present archbishop of Toronto, Aloysius Cardinal Ambroic,
came to Canada from Slovenia in 1948.
In 1934 Father Bernard Ambroic of Chicago first visited
Slovene communities in Ontario. In preparation for a Slovene
parish in Toronto, the Sodality of Mary Women’s Association
was founded in 1948, and the men’s Holy Name Society in
1949. Soon after his arrival in Toronto in 1948 the Reverend
Jakob Kolari began to publish the monthly Word of God. In 1954
Our Lady Help of Christians Church was completed in downtown
By the end of the 1950s many Slovenes had settled in the Toronto
suburb of Etobicoke, where in 1959 the parish of Our Lady of
Miraculous Medal was founded. Under the Reverend John Kopac
it soon became the largest and most active Slovene parish in
Canada. Assisting the parish are the Sisters of Mary of the
Miraculous Medal, who came to Canada in 1967 and live next to
the church. The Etobicoke church, with its large hall, is a
centre of religious, cultural, and educational activity in greater
Toronto; it operates the Catholic Women’s League, a choir,
a Slovene school, Boy Scouts and Girl Guides, the Youth Club,
the Slovenian Theatre Group, and the folklore groups Mladi glas
(Voice of Youth) and Planika (Edelweiss).
The Vincentian Fathers minister to Slovene communities in
Oshawa, Ottawa, Sudbury, Thunder Bay, and Windsor, Ontario,
as well as in Quebec and all four western provinces. They also
provide spiritual support to the residents of the Lipa Old Age
Home in Toronto. There are Slovene Roman Catholic parishes in
Montreal, Hamilton, and Winnipeg. Most priests in Slovene churches
have come directly from Slovenia; only a few have studied for
the priesthood elsewhere. Organized in the Catholic Women’s
League, women help the church and needy parishioners; they also
serve on parish councils, Sunday school boards, and on social
and cultural committees. The blessing of food at Easter, processions
on the feast of Corpus Christi, and pilgrimages to a shrine
of Mary attract even those not regularly attending church.
The churches in Canada maintain close ties with Slovenia.
Bishops from the homeland often visit Canada, complementing
tours by cultural groups from Slovenia.
For Slovene Canadians, political activity –
almost exclusively a male domain – has centred on the
homeland and divided the community. The first post-war immigrants
were very active. Some were anti-Communist fighters –
the Home Guards – who on arrival in Canada in 1952 allied
themselves with compatriots in Argentina and the United States
to form the Društvo slovenskih protiko-munisticnih borcev
tabor (Slovenian Anti-Communist Fighters Tabor), which has been
gathering information on Communist wartime crimes in Slovenia
and has published books on wartime events. In 1954 the Slovenian
National Federation of Canada, established four years earlier
in Toronto by Vladimir Mauko and Rudolf Cuješ, took over
the monthly Slovenska drava, which still appears. Its
anti-Communist approach and its strictly political content appeal
mostly to the post-World War II political immigrants. The Research
Centre for Slovene Culture has published a few books and several
issues of Razgovori in razgledi (Talks and Views; Toronto, 1954–57).
In 1987 former members of the Slovenian Christian Democratic
Party and of the Slovenian People’s Party, along with
some cultural groups and Slovene credit unions, organized the
Slovenski kanadski svet (SloveniaCanadian Council) in Toronto.
It organizes traditional functions on an annual Slovene day,
as well as lectures on Slovenian politics and economics throughout
The majority of immigrants arriving since 1950 may have empathized
with the suffering of their predecessors, but they did not share
the hatred of the Communist regime and felt that any political
change had to come from the people in Slovenia. However, when
Slovenes decided to create a democratic state, Slovene Canadians
united behind them. In the wake of the attack against Slovenia
by the Yugoslav army in June 1991, Slovenes in Canada raised
money for their homeland, staged massive protests, and organized
a lobby to secure Canadian recognition of the new republic.
As Slovene immigrants of the 1920s and
1930s scattered all over Canada, they often sought the company
of other Slavs whose language was similar, especially Croats
and Serbs. Through mutual Slavic friends they often met other
Slovenes. Mining towns with a strong Croatian community attracted
Slovenes as well. While friendships, especially between Slovenes
and Croats, were common, ethnic clubs were usually exclusive.
Slovenes in Canada were heavily influenced by their U.S. compatriots,
who had well-established religious, cultural, and social organizations
and publications, mainly Ameriška domovina (American Home)
and Prosveta (Enlightenment), that reached many Canadian Slovenes.
During World War II a common concern for the Yugoslav homeland
somewhat united Canadian Slovenes, Croats, and Serbs. The League
of Canadian South Slavs principally spread information and raised
assistance for war-torn Yugoslavia. Slovenes also participated
via their own branch – the Liga Kanadskih Slovencev (League
of Canadian Slovenes). The arrival of political refugees after
1947 and the installation of a Communist regime in Yugoslavia
transformed attitudes. Only a few pre-war immigrants remained
loyal to this pan-Yugoslav League, which later changed its name
to Bratstvo i jedinstvo (Brotherhood and Unity) and published
the newspaper Naše novine (Our Newspaper; Toronto, 1971–91),
with a small Slovene section.
Early Slovene political groups in Toronto had allies in anti-Communist
organizations of other eastern European ethnic groups. They
often joined Serbian or Croatian demonstrations in front of
the Yugoslav embassy. The Slovenian National Federation of Canada
belonged to the Canadian Ethnic Press Club.
Sport offers many opportunities for Canada’s Slovenes
to interact with other ethnic groups. Croat, Italian, Macedonian,
Portuguese, and Serbian soccer teams often compete at Slovene
tournaments. Quite a few individuals have made their way in
Canadian sports, including world figure-skating champion Elvis
Since the majority of Canadian Slovenes after 1950 were economic
immigrants who did not wish to take part in Yugoslav or anti-Yugoslav
politics, they formed their own cultural clubs. In multicultural
festivals, they display their culture, including souvenirs from
the homeland and culinary specialties.
Group Maintenance and Ethnic
The Roman Catholic
Church represents traditional Slovene values and rituals and
provides community support, as do Slovene schools, credit unions,
scout groups, choirs, and youth groups. Some organizations receive
federal or provincial grants to fund Slovene-language schools
or other special projects, but most regard maintenance of their
ethnic community as their own responsibility. Social clubs provide
“a small homeland away from home” where immigrants
and their descendants can meet relatives and friends, especially
on weekends, to talk in their own language, to eat familiar
foods, and to dance to their favourite music. Two or three hundred
people may attend a wedding or the funeral of a fellow Slovene.
Slovene refugees resented their Communist homeland; however,
more recent immigrants kept in touch with Slovenia and often
visited it while it was still part of Communist Yugoslavia.
In the 1970s and early 1980s the Canadian-Slovenian Cultural
Exchange Group organized tours of polka bands and choirs from
Slovenia; also, the athletes of Slovenia Sports Club and the
dancers of the Carnation and Voice of Youth folklore groups
visited Slovenia. The relationship with the homeland has dramatically
improved since 1991. Several agencies in Slovenia, such as Slovenska
izseljenska matica (Slovenian Immigrant Association), the World
Slovenian Congress, and the Slovenija v svetu (Slovenia Abroad),
The establishment of diplomatic relations between Ottawa and
Ljubljana has filled Canadian Slovenes with pride. In 1993 the
Slovenian embassy was opened in Ottawa, with Marijan Majcen
as ambassador. The recent political changes in Slovenia have
caused an outpouring of support from Canadian Slovenes for their
homeland, and many have taken Slovenian citizenship for their
children, mostly for sentimental and patriotic reasons. However,
not many have moved back – not even those who were most
eagerly awaiting democracy. The first generation has established
firm roots here, while the second and third consider Canada
their true home.
Information about Slovenia is available in:
Slovenian National Federation of Canada, This Is Slovenia (Toronto,
1958); Cankarjeva Zaloba, Discover Slovenia (Ljubljana,
Slovenia, 1992); Edward Gobetz, ed. with the assistance of Milena
Gobetz and Ruth Lakner, Slovenian Heritage (Willoughby Hills,
Ohio, 1980); The Case of Slovenia, Writer’s Journal Special
Edition (Ljubljana, 1991); and a quarterly magazine, Slovenia,
published in English by Slovenska izseljenska matica (Slovenian
Emigrant Association) in Ljubljana.
Data on Slovene Canadians is available in Peter Urbanc and
Eleanor Tourtel, Slovenians in Canada (Hamilton, Ont., 1984),
and Rado Genorio, Slovenci v Kanadi (Slovenes in Canada; Ljubljana,
Slovenia, 1989). More recent information on Slovene organizations
and institutions can be found in the booklet Slovenians in Canada:
Directory of Organizations and Institutions (Toronto, 1993),
prepared by Cvetka Kocjancic and published by the All-Slovenian
Committee. The struggle of a Slovene immigrant to adapt to life
in Canada is portrayed in Cvetka Kocjancic, Unhappy Rebel: The
Life and Times of Andy Stritof (Toronto, 1993).
Article abstracted from Encyclopedia
of Canada's Peoples originally created and published
in 1998 by The
Multicultural History Society of Ontario.