Lithuanian immigrants to Canada in the first half of the twentieth
century were geographically mobile. A number returned to Lithuania
while many, in some years up to half, moved to the U.S.A. when jobs
dried up in Canada. The most substantial early immigration to Canada
directly from Lithuania occurred in the 1920s when the United States
closed its doors to them.
By the 1930s about 8,000-9,000 Lithuanians lived in Canada. Many were
widely scattered, finding jobs where they could. Willing to take the
toughest jobs in mining and lumber camps, many of the men were separated
from their families and lonesome for their countrymen. Others were
able to group together, finding factory jobs in Montreal, Toronto,
Sudbury, and Winnipeg, as well as in the farming community of Brooks,
Alberta. Living through the Depression, these Lithuanian Canadian
men and women were often unskilled or educated. Their toughness, rugged
determination and hard work kept them alive, yet they had little chance
to rise economically. 8
A new, more economically mobile generation of Lithuanians arrived
after the devastation of World War II to their homeland. The horrific
experiences of life as Displaced Persons (DPs) brought this new and
much larger wave of immigrants to Canada directly from the DP camps
in Europe. Though they had suffered tremendously from their experiences,
life in Canada held more promise for them than it did their predecessors.
Many came as professionals and artists, and in the post-war economic
boom here, their skills were welcomed. Once they had completed initial
labour contracts or took re-qualification examinations in their professions,
many succeeded in re-establishing themselves professionally.
As a group, Lithuanians, especially the most recent ones, say they
did not find it difficult to adapt to life in Canada. As Northern
Europeans, they were able to adjust easily to the climate and enjoy
Canadian activities like camping, boating, and cottage life, which
were familiar to them back home. But many of these highly educated
or artistic Lithuanian immigrants, like Elena Kudaba herself, were
forced to take menial jobs to support themselves until they could
get on their feet. Hamilton's steel mills was an early destination
for many Lithuanians, including Elena's husband.
Eventually, the 'old' and the 'new' Lithuanians had to come to terms
with one another in their new country of Canada. Often, the greatest
divisions in their communities were with each another, particularly
over politics. After the long years as Displaced Persons in refugee
camps, religion along with other elements in the DPs culture had turned
into a real flag-waving self-conscious patriotism. To them, the Lithuanian
parishes already established in Canada seemed old-fashioned institutions.
Without any bad intentions, the new immigrants took positions on committees
and tried to run meetings their own way, with their own customs and
priorities. Perhaps it did not help that many of the DPs were a generation
younger than the "old" Lithuanians , or that they were better
educated and more accustomed to making formal speeches and writing
formal expositions. Their very self assurance, born of recent experience
in creating Lithuanian worlds in the camps, often seemed arrogant
to the older immigrants. The older Lithuanians felt that the newcomers
did not fully appreciate how difficult the depression had been or
what sacrifices they had made to maintain their church and organizations.
They felt the DPs had an easy immigration with government agencies
ready to help them find jobs, and English courses offered free. 9
The new Lithuanians were somewhat impatient with the older immigrants'
fear of taking risks. With the habit of education firmly implanted
in them, they were prepared to retrain themselves and were not content
with the low?level jobs to which their sponsors steered them. They
also took advantage of opportunities to buy houses and cars, possessions
which many of the older Lithuanians had saved for over much longer
years. Here is what Elena had to say about the 'old' and the 'new':
"Many old immigrants were pro-communist and couldn't understand
why we would not return to the "paradise" of Soviet Lithuania.
We described what we'd seen - the Soviet deportations of our people
in particular - and managed to convert about half of them. The other
half stayed as they were - fanatics. But they were good to us: they
found us jobs and places to live. We were surprised at how beautifully
they spoke Lithuanian, even those that had been born in Canada."
The appearance of credit unions in the 1950s - one in Montreal and
Hamilton, and two in Toronto helped the new arrivals buy houses and
educate their children with the additional advantage that profits
from the credit union could be put back into Lithuanian activities.
Also, a day care centre run by the Lithuanian Sisters of the Immaculate
Conception served dual needs, allowing both husband and wife to work
at a time in Canada when most could not, and the children of the immigrants
would be taken care of in conditions that would reinforce their Lithuanianism.
It was this consciousness of their identify as Lithuanians and their
resistance to cultural assimilation, even while they were pulling
themselves up the economic ladder, that particularly distinguished
the Lithuanian DPs from earlier immigrants. With their tendency to
learn English quickly and to adapt readily, these immigrants found
easier acceptance than their predecessors. Besides, Canada was changing
under the weight of so many diverse immigrants. Toronto, in particular,
lost some of its Anglo?Saxon character and with that some of its intransigence
towards newcomers. Lithuanian DPs were conscious of flashes of prejudice;
more than once remembered being told to "Speak English"
on streetcars and sidewalks, but few had real cases of discrimination
to report. In comparison to the earlier Lithuanians, few of this group
felt it necessary to Anglicize their names. There were still limitations
to tolerance, to be sure. Lithuanian doctors for example had to start
again as interns, Lithuanian dentists as dentistry students.
Intermarriage with non-Lithuanians grew steadily. Elena was one of
the Lithuanians concerned about second generation cultural erosion,
and in an attempt to stave off the ravages of time, she and her daughter
formed the Theatre of Tomorrow, whose mandate was to share Lithuanian
theatre with an English-speaking audience.
Today, while much integrated into Canadian society, young second,
third, and fourth generation Lithuanian-Canadians are encouraged to
explore their ethnic roots, and a variety of summer camps, sports
events, and Saturday schools, choirs and folkloric dance ensembles
are available to them. 11
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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