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Alberta Online Encyclopedia

Austrian Profile provided courtesy of the 1984 Alberta People Kit

  A shortage of arable land, military conscription, and political and economic instability all contributed to the migration of Austrian immigrants to Canada at the end of the 19th century. However, Austria's connection to Canada goes back much farther, to the 17th century when Austrian soldiers contributed to the protection of New France. The first German-speaking immigrants in Canada arrived in 1887 and 1888 and were largely from Ukraine and the Polish province of Galacia. Younger members of Austrian families left their homeland to escape becoming part of the landless masses that a developing Austrian industry was unable to absorb. By 1890, German-speaking Austrian subjects were emigrating in large numbers.

Austria's legacy as a multinational European empire has traditionally led many different peoples living there to be designated as Austrians. Thus, many Croats, Serbs, Slovenes, Poles and Ukrainians were considered Austrian and designated as such upon their arrival to Canada. Away from the restrictions of an oppressive regime, however, many people began to redefine their cultural identities. Most new Austrian settlers in Alberta established themselves near Dunmore, southeast of Medicine Hat. Others settled near Edmonton, Josephsburg, Spruce Grove, Golden Spike, and Stony Plain. Virtually all were farmers, and most were of the Lutheran faith. 

While census data does not reveal precisely how many of the Austrian immigrants at the time were German-speaking, the 1916 census of the prairie provinces distinguished between Austrian, Galacian, Bukovynian and Hungarian immigrants and found that the majority of Austrian immigrants were settling in the Edmonton area or near Lethbridge.

Following the end of the World War I, Austria's borders shrank and her economy was hit hard by indemnity payments to the Allied powers. A 1921 census suggested that close to 20,000 people of Austrian origin were residing in Alberta. Most emigrants to arrive during this period were artisans or skilled labourers, attracted to Canada's urban centres where job opportunities were plentiful.

In addition, between 1926 and 1933, there was a steady flow of immigrants from the Austrian Republic. In 1938, Germany's "Anschluss" resulted in the arrival of numerous political refugees in Canada, many of them from the educated and professional classes. The end of World War II created another wave of immigration to Canada, this time because of a floundering economy, the massive destruction caused by the war in Europe and the 10 years of military occupation of the region by the British, Russians and Americans. 

Before World War II, many Austrians in Canada became members of associations serving German-speaking Canadians. With the onset of war, Austrian immigrants and refugees in Canada founded the Canadian Friends of Austria, which pressed for Austrian independence. A German language monthly called Donau Echo and a short-lived English language publication, Voice of Austria, appeared during this period. The activities of the Friends of Austria ceased with the end of the war in Europe in 1944.

In 1971, Canada's Austrian population exceeded 42,000 people. By 2001, this number had jumped to 148,000, with over 28,000 people of Austrian origin residing in Alberta. Most live in the Calgary and Edmonton regions, and have founded the Austrian Canadian Society, the Schuhplattler Verein Enzian of Calgary, Club Austria and the Johann Strauss Foundation of Edmonton.

The Austrian Canadian Society organizes social and cultural events of interest to Albertans. In addition to the monthly events, an annual picnic is held at Edworthy Park in Calgary. Many members attend in traditional dress and lederhosen. Another annual party is "Winzerfest," an Austrian grape harvest festival, while proceeds from the Society's annual "Night in Vienna" ball go to a scholarship for promising young musicians.

The Schuhplattler Verein Enzian is an Austrian folk dancing club that has existed for almost 50 years. The group consists of dancers and musicians and has travelled and performed as far away as Nova Scotia and Los Angeles, California. Comprised of talented amateur dancers, young and old, the group has remained together for the love of dancing and Austrian culture.

Club Austria of Edmonton was founded in 1965 to provide a means of contact for Albertans of Austrian descent. From the monthly social gatherings, came the annual "Grosser Heuriger" or wine tasting party and the elegant Vienna Opera Ball. Both are attended by a wide cross-section of Edmonton's population. A scholarship fund has assisted many students of music to study in Austria. In the past, Club Austria has arranged for several distinguished Austrians to visit Canada including artists and politicians, and even a 56-member choir that performed at Edmonton's Heritage Days.

The Johann Strauss Foundation of Edmonton supports musical education for talented Albertans. Established in 1975, the Foundation has provided scholarship money to Albertans for advanced music studies in Austria. The Foundation's most important fund-raising activity is the Johann Strauss Ball; it also organizes recitals of work by Albertan composers and musicians.

Austrian Canadians share their rich cultural heritage with the rest of Canada. They lay claim to a history steeped in the traditions of gracious living; its splendour has enhanced the cultural life of many Canadians. 

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