The first known Slovak immigrant to Canada was Joseph Bellon, who landed in 1878 in Toronto and started a wireworks factory. There are no exact statistics on the number of Canadians of Slovak origin. According to the 1981 census, the first to ask the question of ethnic origin, some 40 000 Canadians declared it as Slovak; in the 1996 census, the number increased to around 45 000 (20 000 single- and 25 000 multiple response). In fact it can be assumed that there are about 100 000 Canadians of Slovak origin. Slovaks are generally a deeply religious people; they are proud of their origin and were always quick to correct those who, until Czechoslovakia broke up in 1993, referred to them as Czechs or Czechoslovaks.
source: The Canadian Encyclopedia
Migration and Settlement
There have been 4 main waves of Slovak immigrants, inspired mainly by economic and political conditions in their homeland. The majority of early immigrants were manual workers from the US.
Immigrants of the first wave (1885-1914) settled on farmland in the West. Later groups went to work in Alberta and BC mines, and for the CPR.
The second wave, estimated at 30 000, took place during the interwar years. Many were young skilled workers who emigrated to earn good wages in order to buy land in Slovakia. Others, however, sent for their families and went either to farming settlements in the West or to Ontario and Québec mining towns. The declaration of Slovakia's independence in 1939 created divisions in the community; those supporting it were denounced by Czechoslovak diplomats in Canada.
The third wave of some 20 000 arrived after WWII and included war refugees as well as those fleeing the communist takeover of 1948. Many were former government officials who gave new impetus to Slovak organizations. Most settled in the major urban centres.
Social and Cultural Life
Social stratification among Slovak Canadians today is determined by date of arrival in Canada, the position held in Slovakia, the success achieved in Canada and the willingness to participate actively in Slovak organizations. The early immigrants created benefit societies because of difficult economic conditions and lack of state-supported welfare measures. Today these societies also perform important social functions, along with other institutions created during and since WWII. The Canadian Slovak League is the most important Slovak organization. It publishes Kanadský Slovák (The Canadian Slovak), and helps to maintain Slovak traditions. Literary works are fostered through Slovak publications in the Western world and in Slovakia. Slovak Canadian publications, especially newspapers, have in fact played an important role in assisting immigrants, but they have also reflected the political and economic divisions in the community.
The Catholic and Protestant clergy have played an important role as spiritual and community leaders, and Slovak parishioners of all denominations have helped immigrants to overcome linguistic and cultural differences. Parish life, especially for the first 3 waves, and Slovak organizations have helped to foster the Slovak language and enhance family cohesion.
The earliest Slovak immigrants to Canada initially established branches of Slovak-American fraternal societies. Thus, the first Slovak-Canadian fraternal-benefit society was Assembly 52 of the National Slovak Society, founded in 1891 in the coal-mining town of Ladysmith, British Columbia (on Vancouver Island).
Before World War I, Slovak immigrants also established branches of the National Slovak Society, the First Catholic Slovak Union, and the Slovak Catholic Sokol in Lethbridge, Canmore, Blairmore, Coleman, and Frank in Alberta; in Fernie, Natal, Trail, and Corbin in British Columbia; and in Fort William, Ontario. After the war, these same societies established new branches in Timmins, Montreal, Toronto, Windsor, and elsewhere, but by this time they had to compete with the first Canadian branches of the First Catholic Slovak Ladies’ Union, the Slovak Evangelical Union, and the Slovak Workers’ Society, among others, in the major Canadian Slovak settlements. By 1934 over 100 branches of Slovak-American fraternal societies existed in Canada.
The post-war immigrants also helped to solve another problem that Slovak parishes faced – a shortage of clergy. The small Slovak-Canadian community had great difficulty in finding Slovak priests and pastors to staff its parishes. Until the 1950s, many of the clergy came from the larger Slovak community in the United States: Lutheran pastors largely from the conservative Missouri Synod, Catholic priests from the Slovak-American Benedictine Order in Cleveland or the Conventual Franciscans, while Greek Catholics relied upon Ukrainian priests to serve them.
This was not an ideal situation, because many Canadian bishops resented the presence of American priests in their dioceses, especially those from religious orders who were not under their control. Therefore, the arrival of about a dozen refugee priests from Slovakia, along with the relocation of the Slovak Jesuit Order from Slovakia to Galt, Ontario, in 1952 (the Communists suppressed all religious orders in 1950), solved the problem of finding Slovak priests to staff Slovak parishes. There were now Slovak-Canadian priests in all of Canada’s Roman- and Greek-Catholic Slovak parishes, except for the Roman Catholic parish of Montreal, which continued to be served by the American-based Franciscans.