Canadians of Czech ethnicity

Canadians of Czech ethnicity
Canadians of Czech ethnicity
Josef skvorecky.jpg
Notable Czech Canadian:
Josef Škvorecký
Total population
Regions with significant populations
Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario

Czech, Canadian English


Roman Catholicism, Judaism, Protestantism, Atheism

Related ethnic groups

Czechs, Czech Americans

According to the 2006 Canadian census, there are 98,090 Canadians of full or partial Czech descent.


Czech immigration to Canada can be divided into four phases: 1880–1914, 1919–39, 1945–89, and 1990-2008. The first two phases were dominated by strong economic incentives for immigration. In contrast, Czech immigrants who arrived in Canada between 1945 and 1989 were mostly political refugees, who left their homeland to avoid both the economic turmoil of post–World War II reconstruction and the subsequent the Communist regime which was established in 1948.

Prior to the 1880s, Czech immigrants to the New World settled primarily in the United States, where they established numerous settlements in Nebraska, Texas, Oklahoma, Minnesota, and Illinois. The city of Chicago, in particular, received a large number of Czech immigrants, including one Mayor, Anton Cermak.

The majority of the first Czech immigrants to Canada were farmers who settled in the prairie provinces. These early Czech pioneers tended to go first to settlements such as Esterhazy in southeastern Saskatchewan, where there were already a number of Slovaks and Hungarians. Newer Czech settlements radiated outwards from these established colonies wherever land was available.

After 1880 many Czechs, coming both from the Czech homelands as well as from the newer Czech settlements in the Midwestern United States, began immigrating to western Canada drawn by plentiful and inexpensive land. Many of the migrants from the Czech lands were recruited by various agencies offering resettlement plans. These plans appealed to families and large groups, who were invited to establish entire settlements. The Canadian government, in conjunction with the Canadian Pacific Railway, sponsored a number of similar colonization schemes, promising that upon arrival the immigrant could begin work on a selected piece of land. These colonization schemes usually involved partial payment for transport overseas and by rail across the continent, and offered attractive, but not obligatory, land-purchase plans. These initiatives often failed, with many immigrants having to working on others’ farms or in the railway and mining industries. As a result, many immigrants continued to work in their first field of employment in Canada, rather than becoming farmers. In time, many such migrants adapted to their new life and decided to stay in Canada, eventually arranging for their wives and children to join them in their new home.

By the turn of the century, several Czech communities had developed south of Esterhazy. The settlement at Kolin was established in 1884, followed by settlements at Derdard, Glenside, and Dovedale. Most of these communities were settled by Czechs from Europe. Others, however, such as Prague (Viching) in Alberta, which was founded in 1900, were settled initially by Czech Americans from the United States. There were also small Czech urban communities, particularly in Edmonton, which by 1900 boasted several Czech doctors, lawyers, and artisans.

As the availability of land diminished in the west, Czech communities were established progressively farther east. Between 1910 and 1912, a large group of Czech Baptists settled in the city of Winnipeg, Manitoba, which became the nucleus of the Czech community in Canada before World War I. Between 1927 and 1939, another colony of Czech Baptists settled among the German and Mennonite communities at Minitonas in the Swan River valley of central Manitoba.

There were also small groups of Czechs in Ontario, mostly miners, at Haileybury in the Temiskaming region, Kirkland Lake and Fort William. Before 1914, southern Ontario, which would subsequently become the major centre of Czech settlement in Canada, had only small communities in Windsor and Kingston. A few Czechs worked as industrial labourers, and others worked at odd jobs in Toronto while waiting to receive farm land. The entire pre–World War I immigration remained small; in 1911 the Canadian census recorded only 1,800 Czechs in Canada.

After World War I, there was a marked change in the profile of Czech immigrants. The relatively stable and industrialized economy of the new Czechoslovakia, especially in Bohemia, the availability of work, and a good standard of living made emigration less attractive. Those who did immigrate were often sojourners who found employment as factory workers, artisans or farm laborers, and were primarily interested in opportunities for personal economic improvement. The field of agriculture remained attractive to Czech immigrants. An arrangement between the Sugar Beet Grower’s Association of Canada and the Czech International Institute provided for the arrival and settlement of many sugar-beet farmers, mainly from Moravia, to help develop the industry in Canada. These new Czech arrivals, while not numerous, established communities in southern Alberta, particularly near Lethbridge, and around Chatham, Ontario. During this period, the number of Czechs immigrating to Canada increased dramatically in relation to those immigrating to the United States. This was due in part to several restrictive immigration laws passed in the United States during the 1920s that curtailed the growing influx of central and eastern European immigrants.

In the interim between the two World Wars, new Czech immigrants significantly altered the demographic distribution of Czechs in Canada. More Czech immigrants settled in urban communities, especially in Ontario and Quebec, such that Montreal and Toronto now became the primary Czech centers, in place of Winnipeg. As the principal port of entry, Montreal increased its Czech and Slovak population from virtually nothing to 3,700 during the 1920s, and similarly Toronto’s Czech and Slovak communities grew to about 2,500 during the same decade. Czechs also formed communities in the thriving Ontario cities of Hamilton, Kitchener, Oshawa, and Ottawa, and in Calgary, Alberta. After 1929 immigration from Czechoslovakia declined from several hundred to fewer than eighty a year, although increasing slightly just prior to World War II. According to the 1931 census, there were approximately 30,000 residents from Czechoslovakia in Canada.

In 1939, under the auspices of Moravian-born shoe magnate Thomas J. Bata, roughly one hundred Czechs, mostly personnel from the Bata shoe factories in Zlín, Moravia, established the town of Batawa near Frankford, Ontario. Responding to the threat of Nazi German annexation, the Bata corporation relocated some of its existing material and staff to Canada. It established a new shoe factory there, which became its corporate headquarters during the war.

The Munich Pact, followed by the rapid partition and subsequent annexation of Czech lands by Nazi Germany, caught many Czechs by surprise. Because the borders were closed once Nazi rule was imposed, direct Czech emigration from the homeland was virtually impossible between March 1939 and May 1945. When the war ended in 1945, Czech refugees began to come to Canada, some leaving their homeland because of difficult post-war economic circumstances, while others left in fear of the developing Communist influence in their newly reconstituted republic. In 1948 thousands of Czechs fled their homeland, some leaving spouses, families, and businesses behind, when the Communist state of Czechoslovakia was officially established.

Unlike previous immigrants who had sought financial gain, the post–World War II arrivals were mostly political refugees fleeing potential or actual persecution because they did not sympathize with the communist regime. Known as Displaced Persons (DPs), they first hastily built refugee camps in Germany and Austria. In 1948 Canada accepted over 1,400 of the estimated 4,000 predominantly Czech refugees, primarily from the camps near Nürnberg (Schwabach), Bad Orb (Wegscheid), and Regensburg (Dieburg). Overall, over 10,000 Czechoslovaks immigrated to Canada between 1948 and 1952, with the number of immigrants reaching an annual high of over 3,000 in 1951, following which the number of annual immigrants dropped to very low levels. The 1951 Canadian census recorded 63,959 Czechs and Slovaks in Canada.

The Czech refugees who arrived between 1948 and 1951 were predominantly white-collar and clerical workers, professionals in various fields, and students, all relatively well educated. They included doctors, legal secretaries, lawyers, artisans, and legislators. All displayed willingness to accept underemployment. Individuals with multiple university degrees became primary-school teachers or office clerks. Skilled workers and professionals found employment as farmers, and domestic servants, often working wherever available in order to enter and stay in Canada.

Underemployment had a particularly negative impact on Czech women. Many of them were equal in educational levels and skills to the immigrant men, but at best they found employment as domestic servants or semi-skilled food-service workers. Their rapid flight from Czechoslovakia often left these immigrants without educational and professional certification or work documents, and even those who did have such documentation often had trouble gaining equivalent standing or certification in Canada to what they had enjoyed at home. One reason for this was that most Czech immigrants had limited or no knowledge of the English language. Despite this, the high education levels of many of these immigrants often aided them to return to or exceed their former employment status at home, quickly acquiring language skills and work experience.

In order to help their countrymen, many Czech-owned businesses, particularly in Ontario, offered the new arrivals employment, sometimes with the assistance of the federal government through the Ministry of Labour, as well as the now-defunct Ministry of Mines and Resources. Notable among the Czech firms involved were Bata Shoes, Hamilton Carhart, the Czechoslovak National Alliance, Opal Manufacturing, Staruba Industrial Corporation, and Hesky Flax Products.

The situation for Czech immigrants who came to Canada after the Prague Spring in 1968, a devastating and extremely destructive surprise invasion by Soviet troops, was similar to that faced by the post-1948 group. An estimated 21,000 Czechs and Slovaks entered Canada as refugees between 1968 and 1969. Although they experienced employment and language problems, government-funded language classes and other programs for immigrants had become available, and this, combined with the now much larger Czech community in Canada, helped to help smooth the process of transition. Many of the post-1968 refugees were younger than the post-1945 immigrants, had been exposed to Western culture, and had some knowledge of English and sometimes French, which aided them in functioning within the larger urban centers where they predominantly settled.

In the 1991 Canadian census, 47,175 persons claimed that they were wholly (21,190 persons) or partially (25,985 persons) of Czech ethnicity. Nearly 80 percent of Canadian Czechs (single and multiple responses combined) live in the three Canadian provinces of Ontario (18,025), British Columbia (10,430), and Alberta (8,975). Within those provinces, Czechs live primarily in urban areas, with metropolitan Toronto (7,655), Vancouver (5,400), Edmonton (2,420), and Montreal (2,350) having the largest concentrations. In addition to persons who claimed Czech ethnicity (single and multiple responses) in 1991 there were another 54,030 persons who claimed that they were wholly (21,990) or partially (32,040) of “Czechoslovakian” ethnicity. Therefore, a reasonable estimate of the number of persons of Czech ancestry in Canada would be between 50,000 and 60,000.

Since the 1960s, Vancouver and Toronto have replaced Montreal as the primary destination for newly arriving Czechs. After 1968–69 only a few hundred Czechs have arrived each year, often enfranchised business people and young people looking for economic opportunities. More recently, some Czechs have chosen to return to their European homeland, in order to take advantage of new business opportunities, or to be reunited with their families and ancestral homes.

Notable Czech Canadians

See also

Original source Article from "Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples" -

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