A Scattering of Seeds: The Creation of Canada
Episodes Search Site Map The Series Partners White Pine White Pine Home

General History

The first Lithuanians settlers in Canada were soldiers in the British army who fought in the War of 1812. Afterwards, these men took homesteads along the Canada-USA border. Few other Lithuanians followed. It wasn't until the end of the nineteenth century that Lithuanians in any substantial g numbers came to Canada. Some were men evading forced recruitment into the Russian army (Lithuania was then part of the Czarist Empire), while others hoped to make money. Women came too, some with husbands, others lured by the promise of factory work. 1

By the early twentieth century, there were Lithuanian communities in Sydney Mines, Nova Scotia, Montreal, and Toronto. A Lithuanian mutual-benefit society was organized in Montreal in 1904 and the first parish, St. Casimir's (most Lithuanians were Roman Catholic), was founded in Toronto in 1907. 2

In 1921, the census recorded 1,970 people of Lithuanian origin in Canada. In the 1920s and 1930s, another 5000 emigrated. Most of these early Lithuanian immigrants found work on farms, railways, and in coal mines and factories of Toronto and Montreal. 3

The first large wave of Lithuanians arrived between 1900-1930. They were economic immigrants looking for a better life; some longing for enough money to buy land back home. Canadian immigration statistics listed Lithuanians as Russians until 1921, so there are problems determining when exactly the early Lithuanians began settling. It is the oral histories of Lithuanians that confirm 1900 as the beginning of their emigration. Many of these early immigrants didn't come directly from Lithuania, but via England, Scotland and the United States. 4

The Lithuanians here were democratic and had parishes - such as three in the Toronto area, two in Montreal, and others in Edmonton, Winnipeg, Ottawa, and London, Ontario - where Lithuanian culture was reinforced.

In contrast to this first wave of Lithuanian immigrants, it was a very desperate group of people who made up the second wave of Lithuanian immigrants to Canada. They were mainly political refugees, like Elena, who refused to return to a Soviet occupied Lithuania after the Second World War. World War II had brought an end to the brief freedom the Lithuanian Republic had enjoyed between (1918-40). As the allies divided up a post war Europe, Lithuania again fell under the control of Russia's Soviet Union. The same crushing Russian repression took hold. Thousands of people were deported to prison camps in Siberia. Refugees began to spill out of Lithuania; thousands fleeing to Germany and beyond. They became part of the million, post-war European refugees who refused to return to their countries. They were called DPs, Displaced Person, and lived in camps run by international relief agencies. 5

In the summer of 1947, Canada began to accept DPs as immigrants. Some came through family sponsorships, others under one-year labour contracts in fields like mining, lumbering, agriculture and domestic service. About 120,000 Lithuanians came to Canada at this time. The Lithuanian DPs quickly continued a majority of the Lithuanians living in large cities like Toronto, and their traditions and aims began to supersede the traditions of the older community. 6

The two waves of Lithuanian immigrants, commonly known as the "old" and the "new" Lithuanians, were very different from one another in backgrounds, aspirations and expectations When the "new" came to Canada, they rejected many of the churches and organizations already set up for Lithuanians, and started their own.

The new Lithuanian immigrants were very much a product of a more recent, short-lived Lithuanian republic. While it only had a few years of freedom, Lithuania had modernized and improved its standard of living. So many of the post war immigrants to Canada were a new class of professionals, administrators and clerical workers (as opposed to the labourers and factory workers who had come before them). In the displaced persons' camps, they had learned how to organize and run schools, choirs, dance groups and political and professional organization. They also had a heightened sense of national identity and were determined to keep up the struggle for the freedom of Lithuania. They came to Canada not so much as settlers (as the "old" did), but as ambassadors for their new homeland. Many still hoped that a new conflict between the USSR and the US would eventually enable them to return and to resume their lives that had been disrupted during the war.

The result was that the newer group of Lithuanians to Canada were better able to mix into a newly professional, post-war workforce - get hospital lab jobs and other professional positions. They were able to move out of the limited blue collar jobs which the earlier immigrants still remained in.

By the 1996 census, 35,835 Canadians claimed Lithuanian ancestry. Today, most Lithuanian Canadians reside in Ontario, but large numbers are also found in Quebec, Alberta and BC. 7

1,2,3,4 The Canadian and World Encyclopedia, Mclelland and Stewart, 2000

5,6,7,8,9,10,11 Danys, Milda, Lithuanian Parishes in Toronto, POLYPHONY, Toronto's People, Spring/Summer 1984 Vol. 6 No. 1

12,13 Citizenship and Immigration Canada, Online

Top of page.