A Scattering of Seeds: The Creation of Canada
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General History

IMMIGRATION HISTORY

The Boatswain's Radovan Gajic was born in 1953 in Knin, then a prominent Serbian city of Yugoslavia. In 1985 he followed his wife to Canada. They decided it was best to stay in Canada when war broke out in Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. Their native Yugoslavia, as a whole country, no longer existed.

In 1918, the southern Slavanian states of Serbia, Montenegro, Croatia, Slovenia, Albania and Macedonia united into a single kingdom, which in 1929 became the nation of Yugoslavia. Serbia was the largest of the six republics of Yugoslavia, making up 42% of the Yugoslavian population. But Yugoslavia as a whole was a nation of many diverse languages, cultures and religions -- a diversity that brought a history of divisiveness.

Even before the time of the Yugoslavian nation state, with its complex ethnic mix, the southern Slavanians had endured centuries of internal and external upheavals and economic hardship. As a result, southern Slavs began to migrate overseas in search of better opportunities as early as the first half of the 19th century.

The first Serbians to immigrate to Canada came in the 1850s. They settled in British Columbia in the areas of the Fraser River and Vancouver. Most were young, single men who found work in mining and forestry. More Serbs arrived in substantial numbers in the 1870s, and by 1900 they began to migrate to other provinces. Quite a number came from the plains of Vojvodina and settled in the somewhat familiar prairies of Saskatchewan. The Serbian community in Regina dates from that time.

Before the 1900s, Serbian immigrants to Canada were mistakenly classified as belonging to other national groups such as Austrians, Hungarians or Turks. This was a result of the complexity of the Canadian census classification system at the time. The Serbians then lived under several foreign sovereignties, which made determining their nation of origin a very confusing exercise. In 1901 the term "Serbian" was listed as a separate designation, although in years to come it was replaced by Serbo-Croat or Yugoslavian.

Between 1907 and 1908 many Serbians immigrated to Canada from the United States where they had held jobs working in coal mines, building roads and working on the railways. During WWI and WWII, Canada's industrial sectors expanded with war productions and many job opportunities opened up for immigrants. Waves of Yugoslavian immigrants over these periods usually settled where most of the war industry jobs were located, in the larger urban centres of Ontario such as Toronto, Hamilton and Niagara Falls. Serbian and Yugoslavian immigrants who arrived from 1947-53 were usually very well educated. And those who came from 1955 onward were often sponsored by friends and family.

A massive influx of Serbians, and southern Slavanians in general, fled to Canada as immigrants and refugees during the period of the war in Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. It was the war in their homeland that made Radovan Gajic and his wife Vesna decide to remain in Canada. Today, of the 250,000 Canadians who are of Yugoslavian ancestry, over 60,000 are of Serbian origin.

Footnotes:
The 1998 Canadian & World Encyclopedia
(McClelland and Stewart, Toronto, 1998).

Bosnia-Hercegovina: The International Response, by Vincent Rigby
(Library of Parliament, Political and Social Affairs Division, Ottawa, 1994).


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