A Scattering of Seeds: The Creation of Canada
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General History


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. 10

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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