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Czech and Slovak Immigration to Alberta

Czechs and Slovaks are two distinct Slavic groups who share a common ancestry. In the beginning of the 10th century, the two groups began to diverge although Czechs and Slovaks continue to speak a related language. The two groups lived in the Austro-Hungarian Empire until 1918; it was then that Czechoslovakia was created. As a result, Czechs and Slovaks who immigrated to Canada prior to 1918 were often simply considered to be Austrians or Hungarians.

The first Czechs and Slovaks to immigrate to Canada did so to escape poverty or conscription (mandatory military service). Some Czechs and Slovaks immigrated first to the United States and then to Alberta. One such group was the Slovaks who came to Lethbridge from Montana. During the 1880s and 1890s, most Czech and Slovak immigrants became coal miners and settled in areas such as Crowsnest Pass, Frank, Taber, Canmore, and Drumheller. A few Czech and Slovak immigrants were farmers and included the group of Czechs that started a farm settlement at Prague, near Viking in southern Alberta. In 1910, Canada's first Slovak newspaper was published in Blairmore.

Czechs and Slovaks experienced some discrimination during World War I — mainly because people thought they were Austrians. A few were also sent to internment camps, and many miners were forced to quit their jobs.

By 1921, the first year that the Czechs and Slovaks were not listed by immigrant officials as Hungarians or Austrians, there were 2,537 living in Alberta. That same year, the United States government restricted immigration, forcing Czechs and Slovaks to come to Canada. In the years between World War I and World War II, most of these immigrants were Slovaks who came to escape poverty. They tended to settle on farms, although some continued to find work in the coal mines. In 1925, the Railways Agreement Act came into effect and the Canadian Pacific Railway worked with the Sugar Beet Growers’ Association to bring Czechs and Slovaks to Canada and to establish them on the sugar beet farms near Raymond and Taber. By 1931, there were 6,400 Czechs and Slovaks in Alberta.

Many more Czechs and Slovaks came to Canada following World War II. Some came as war refugees and displaced persons. Others came in 1948 to escape Czechoslovakia's communist regime. Many of these immigrants were ex-government officials. Once Czechoslovakia was controlled by a communist dictatorship, no more people emigrated. However, in 1968, the Soviets invaded Czechoslovakia, causing another wave of people to immigrate to Canada. Immigrants arriving after World War II tended to be educated people from urban areas and many who arrived after 1968 were Czechs from Prague.

In the mid 1980s, Czechs and Slovaks made up the twelfth largest ethnic group in Alberta. Since then, however, more immigrants from other groups have steadily arrived in Alberta. As of the 2001 census, Czechs and Slovaks are no longer among the 30 largest ethnic groups in Alberta.

Sources

Palmer, Howard. Land of the Second Chance: A History of Ethnic Groups in Southern Alberta. Lethbridge: The Lethbridge Herald, 1972.

Palmer, Howard, and Tamara Palmer, eds. Peoples of Alberta: Portraits of Cultural Diversity. Saskatoon: Western Producer Prairie Books, 1985. pp. 21,22,31,33,42,251.

Albertans — Who Do They Think They Are: Czech-Slovak

Canadian Encyclopedia: Slovaks


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