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.
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
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