Romanian Immigration to Alberta
Romania lies on the Black Sea, squeezed between Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary, Ukraine, and Moldova. Its history with its neighbours is one of occupation, conflict, and, more recently, attempted co-operation. Its location has meant empires from Roman to Austro-Hungarian have claimed the land as their own. After World War II, the Soviet Union’s Red Army installed a Communist government led by Nicolae Ceausescu. His rule was to last from 1947 until 1989 when he and his wife were executed at the end of a violent uprising. His dictatorship was one of repression and fear, one from which Romania is still recovering. The post-communist years have been marked by changes of leadership and slow economic growth. However, the country joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 2004. Accession of Romania to the European Union (EU) took place January 1, 2007.
Romania’s turbulent past has meant many have left it searching for a better life in Canada. The earliest immigrants began arriving in the late 1890s. These people, like many others in Eastern Europe, were leaving because there were too many people and not enough land. Years of passing land down from one generation to the next meant that once-suitable lands had been divided and re-divided until many people were left with not even enough land to feed themselves. To make matters worse, there were no industries to which these unemployed labourers could turn as an alternative; instead, they immigrated to Canada. Some of these immigrants were encouraged by the Dominion Lands Act of 1872 which stated that ownership of 160 acres of land could be had for the sum of $10 and the building of a house and working of the land.
This first wave of immigrants came from a region known as Bukovina and established farms on land east of Alberta, where many Ukrainian settlements existed. These Romanian and Ukrainian settlements co-existed closely. One such notable Romanian town was that of Boivan.
In addition to farming, some Romanians became miners in and around Lethbridge. The mining jobs were dangerous and the best jobs were reserved for Anglo-Saxons, but many Romanians chose to take them because of the decent, steady wages.
The outbreak of World War I meant a temporary halt to Romanian immigration. It also meant that Romanians were classified as alien enemies and that restrictions were placed on them. It also meant that Romanians were to turn in their guns and register with police. While other members of the Austro-Hungarian Empire were interned during this period, many Romanians escaped such a fate: as farmers, their food production was crucial to the war effort. However, as part of the Wartime Elections Act of 1918, Romanians who arrived in Canada after 1902 were disenfranchised.
Immigration resumed in 1920 with the second wave of Romanians’ entering Canada. This wave was about half the size of the previous wave and consisted mostly of people related to those who had immigrated as part of the first wave. The newcomers were absorbed by the resident Romanians, joining already established communities. Many single men married pioneers’ daughters. The second wave lasted until the beginning of the Great Depression when Canada all but halted immigration. At the beginning of the 1940s, many Romanians began moving to the cities as part of the larger urbanization movement.
Romanian immigration remained slow until the conclusion of World War II. Then, as had happened in other Eastern European countries, Romanians left their homeland and came to Canada as displaced persons (DPs). These people tended to be urban professionals rather than farmers, and they settled not on farms but in the larger centres of Montreal and Toronto. Many of these immigrants were leaving not only the destruction caused by the war, but also a Romania that had fallen under the power of the Communist Party.
The 1970s saw the final wave of Romanian immigration. This was a small wave, consisting mostly of young professionals coming to Canada as political refugees fleeing the brutal regime of Nicolae Ceausescu.
The 1970s also saw the strengthening of Romanian culture in Alberta. This can be seen through the establishment of such organizations as the Romanian folk dance ensemble, Balada, in 1975 and the founding of the Canadian-Romanian Society of Alberta in 1978. These organizations, among others, remain strong supporters of Romanian culture and heritage in Alberta.
Palmer, Howard, and Tamara Palmer, eds. Peoples of Alberta: Portraits of Cultural Diversity. Saskatoon: Western Producer Prairie Books, 1985.
Zawadiuk, Dorene (Kucheran), et al, eds. Romanians in Alberta. Edmonton: Canadian Romanian Society of Alberta, 1998.