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Alberta Online Encyclopedia

Hungarian Immigration

Zoltán Székely

Szekely was born in Kocs, Hungary, on 8 December 1903. He studied violin and composition at the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest and at the age of eighteen began playing with Bela Bartok, considered one of the 20th century’s greatest composers. Szekely went on to become one of the best known concert violinists in Europe. In 1939, in Amsterdam he performed the world premiere of Bartok’s composition Violin Concerto which Bartok had written specifically for Szekely. Between 1937 and 1972, Szekely was the lead violinist for the renowned Hungarian String Quartet, which toured Europe, and of which recordings can still be purchased. In 1973, when the Quartet was disbanded, he moved to Canada to become artist-in-residence at the Banff Centre. In 1975 the Alberta government made Szekely violinist-in-residence for Alberta, a position that allowed him to tour the province, serving as a role model for Albertan musicians.

In 1981 Szekely was named honorary professor of the Franz Liszt Academy. In 1982 he won the Bartok Award and in 1983 the Kodaly Award and the Order of the Flag of Honour presented by the Hungarian Ambassador to Canada. In 2001 an award named in his honour from the Banff Centre was announced. Also in that year, Szekely passed away; he was ninety-seven.

Arpi Berdin (Hungary)

Arpad (Arpi) Berdin, a Hungarian immigrant, started a sheet metal shop in 1963 which has grown into Arpi’s Industries Ltd. When he first arrived in Alberta, in 1954 at the age of nineteen, his first job was on the oil rigs, but he quickly discovered he didn’t like the work. Instead, he ventured into tinsmithing. After working for a few companies learning the trade, he struck out on his own, setting up his own company in his garage. As the province boomed, so did Arpi’s. The company expanded to Edmonton and other western Canadian cities and began doing commercial and plumbing work.

Today, the mechanical contracting company is one of the largest in Alberta with over 400 staff. The company has played a part in the construction of the Eaton’s Centre in Calgary and West Edmonton Mall in Edmonton.

In addition to his business interests, Berdin has maintained a presence in the Hungarian community, including sponsoring and managing the Hungarian Soccer Club of Calgary. As well, with Berdin’s support, the University of Alberta began a five-year trial of Hungarian language instruction in 2003-04. The program, known as the Arpad Berdin Hungarian Language Initiative, is run through the Department of Modern Languages and Cultural Studies. In 1989, Berdin won the Pinnacle Award that honours Alberta’s top entrepreneurs.


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