1889 - 1966 Slovak Settlement of British Columbia

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Settlement of Slovaks in Canada had its own specific development. While groups of Slovak emigrants were coming directly from Europe into the United States of America and their migration advanced from the east through to the interior, in the case of Canada it was the opposite, from the west to the east. Numerous Slovak groups, coming from the adjacent United States of America, started to settle in the vast province of British Columbia, which was known for its enormous mineral wealth. Thus at the beginning the mining settlements prevailed (1).

The oldest Slovak community settled in the mining town of Ladysmith on Vancouver Island in the year 1889 (2). Years later, around 1898, when in the town of Fernie, not far from the Alberta boarder, coal mines opened (3), about one hundred Slovak miners from Pennsylvania arrived and settled there. Later more Slovaks settled in the now non-existing mining towns of Michel and Natal. In the forties and sixties of the 20th century following the closure of mines these settlements began declining, therefore the Slovaks chose to look for new livelihood opportunities (4).

 

Not everyone that hears the term "Canadian Lumberjack" realizes what it really means. On this photograph from 1939 on the left is Jozef OtroÅ¡ina, one of the founding members of the parish. The lumberjack on the right is unidentified.


From the beginning of the 20th century the Slovaks began settling also in other places in British Columbia. They worked primarily in logging, at mills, in construction, the steel industry and a great number in agriculture as farmers. Their settlements were based mostly on the west coast of the Pacific Ocean and then along the Fraser River Valley: Vancouver, New Westminster, Burnaby, Port Moody, Surrey, Richmond, Queensborough, Cloverdale, Langley, Pitt Meadows, Haney, Chilliwack, Whonnok and Agassiz.

Numerous Slovak groups also began appearing in the eastern areas of British Columbia, like Osoyoos, Kelowna, Rutland, Grand Forks, Trail and Nakusp. According to the 1951 British Columbia Census 2,606 people reported their nationality as Slovak. Most of them lived in the cities of Vancouver, New Westminster and Victoria. The city of New Westminster, in the second half of the 20th century, became the most important center of community and national cultural life of Slovaks in British Columbia (5).

The only person, who is known on this picture, is Mr. Lunter, the last row, the 1st from the right. Do you know anybody else? Let us know using "Kontakt".

 

Community Life

In the initial stages of the colonization of British Columbia, in the years 1891 - 1903, associations were created in mining locations as branches of the U.S. National Slovak Society, which had its headquarters in Pennsylvania (6). In 1935 a group of Slovaks in New Westminster established the Independent Slovak Support Association - NSPS. About three years later the members of this association built the Slovak Tatra Hall in Queensborough a suburb of the city of New Westminster, where they performed theater plays and held dances as well as other functions. This hall was sold in 1966 (7).

On the photograph from the late 40's are Slovaks that belong to the Canadian Slovak League. Their meetings were held on a farm in New Westminster that belonged to the Vitkaj family. The photo falls in the time when the Canadian Slovak League was first organized in Vancouver and most likely one of the very first meetings. Standing from the left: Paul Nociar, Milan Vitkaj, Emil Nociar, John Segec, and Jozef Vitkaj Jr. Sitting from the left: John Kapralik, John Kikta, Paul Segec, Jozef Vitkaj Sr., and Michael Petrencik, Driver of the truck is Anna Vitkaj.

The next organization, Canadian Slovak League – KSL, was created on July 15, 1944, as Chapter 47 KSL based in Vancouver (8). Much of the credit for the opening of this chapter goes to John Kapralik, who also participated in the formation of chapters in the cities of Haney and Cloverdale. In 1951 he was established the III District Council KSL, based in New Westminster, due to the more efficient organization of KSL in British Columbia (9). The main focus of this society on the Pacific Coast in cooperation with the Independent Slovak Support Association, was to organize Slovak Days, dances, picnics, amateur theater plays and many other activities (10).

In 1952 another Slovak association, the First Catholic Slovak Union ( I.KSJ), was formed in the city of New Westminster. Members organized various parties, celebrations, picnics, Slovak Days, Christmas parties, theatre plays and the like. Among other things, they supported Catholic institutions andr individuals. On the initiative of members of this association in 1960 the Slovak parish of Sts. Cyril and Methodius in New Westminster was founded (11).

Information for this article was gathered by Maria Vrabcekova from the sources mentioned bollow.

Translation from Slovak language by Bertha Palko.

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(1) An unspecified source that was found at the parish in New Westminster. Probably: BOTIK, Jan: Slovaks on the West Coast of the USA and Canada. Author of the source: E. JAKESOVA: The emigration of Slovaks to Canada. Bratislava 1981, p. 39
(2) Ibid. The first Slovak in British Columbia was allegedly Karol Hvorecky, who was a member of the review team involved in the alignment for the transcontinental railway in 1874.
(3) KOREM, A: The footsteps of the first Slovaks in British Columbia, In: Canadian Slovak. Issue No. 46 / 14 November, 1970.
(4) BOTIK, Jan: Slovaks on the West Coast of the USA and Canada.
(5) Ibid. Author of the source: KIRCHBAUM, J.M.: Slovaks in Canada, Toronto 1967, p. 146.
(6) Ibid. KOREM, A.: The footsteps of the first Slovaks in British Columbia. In: Canadian Slovak. Issue No. 46 / 14 November 1970
(7) KOREM, A: Independent Support Association. In: Canadian Slovak. Issue No. 46 / 14 November 1970.
(8) In 1954 the registered office of this chapter was transferred to New Westminster. The chapter based in Vancouver then became Chapter 66 KSL. KAPRALIK, J.: How we began organizing KSL in B.C. In: Canadian Slovak. Issue No. 46 / 14 November 1970
(9) Ibid
(10) RADZO, S. Sr.: Chapter 47 KSL in New Westminster. In: Canadian Slovak. Issue No. 46 / 14 November 1970.
(11) LACKO, V.: About the First Catholic Slovak Union I.KSJ in New Westminster. In: Canadian Slovak. Issue No. 46 / 14 November 1970.