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Czech-Slovak Profile provided courtesy of the 1984 Alberta People Kit

 
 
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T
he former Czechoslovakia was comprised of two major national groups-the Czechs and the Slovaks. They formed politically distinct Czech and Slovak Republics after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the tear-down of the Berlin Wall in the early 1990s. The two groups speak closely related languages and share a common ancestry rooted in the Great Moravian Kingdom of the 9th century, but since the beginning of the 10th century, the Czechs and the Slovaks have followed different paths in their historical and cultural development.

After the Magyars destroyed the Great Moravian Kingdom, Slovakia became part of Hungary, while the Czechs created their own kingdom that flourished until the 17th century when it fell under the control of the Austrian monarchy. It was not until 1918 that the Czechs and Slovaks were joined in a common independent country, the Czechoslovak Republic. During World War II, the country was occupied by Germany, but liberated by Allied forces at the war's end. 

Czech-Slovak immigration into Canada dates back to the second half of the 19th century. Exact numbers are unavailable since Czechs were classified by Canadian authorities as "Austrians" and Slovaks as "Hungarians" until 1918. There were a variety of settlements founded during that time. The first was Kolin in Saskatchewan in 1884, while the hamlet Prague in Alberta (a name retained for a school district near Viking, Alberta) was founded by second-generation, Czech-Americans from the United States.

The first Slovak settlements in Canada were founded in 1885 at a place called "Hun's Valley" in present-day Manitoba and also in Lethbridge, Alberta. Lethbridge soon became a major Slovak centre and the location of early Slovak church and community organizations. Early Czech and Slovak settlements in Alberta were also established at Taber, Pincher Creek, Nordegg and Blairmore. At Lethbridge and in the Crowsnest Pass, Czech and Slovak pioneers were coalminers, while in other areas they settled farms.

After World War I, the United States adopted an immigration quota system that limited the number of immigrants allowed into the country. As a result Slovak and Czech immigration to Canada increased significantly. From 1921 to 1931 the number of Slovak and Czechs in Alberta more than doubled, rising from 2,500 to 6,400.

Most Czech and Slovak immigrants who arrived in Alberta in the interwar years were farmers. Some were attracted to the sugar beet fields of Raymond and Taber. Many Slovaks arriving in this period worked in coalmines at Blairmore, Coleman and Frank. 

Immigration numbers during and after World War II reflect the political events which took place in Czechoslovakia. New immigrants were primarily political refugees, and the largest numbers occurred after the communist coup d'etat in 1948 and the Soviet invasion in 1968. The newcomers in these years were mostly skilled workers and college or university graduates who integrated well into Albertan society. In the mid 1980s, Czechs and Slovaks formed the 12th largest ethnic group in Alberta.

There are several Czech and Slovak organizations in Calgary, Edmonton and Lethbridge. The Czech and Slovak National Association of Canada (CSNAC), formed by both Czechs and Slovaks, has branches in Calgary and Edmonton. At the national level, the association is primarily concerned with keeping the Canadian government informed about political events in the Czech and Slovak Republics. At the local level, the CSNAC holds language classes, arranges lectures and concerts featuring prominent Czechs and Slovaks, stages film presentations and sponsors other cultural and social events. 

Other Calgary organizations include the Canadian Slovak League and the Slovak Cultural and Social Club. The Czechoslovak-Canadian Cultural Society of Southern Alberta, located in Lethbridge, is involved in many cultural activities including a Czech language school. Slovaks in Canada is a project which has brought many of these organizations together to work collaboratively.

The first Slovak newspaper in Canada, Slovenske Slovo (Slovak Word), was published in Blairmore but was short lived. The two major Slovak newspapers in Canada, Kanadsky Slovak (Canadian Slovak) and the Slovak World News are published in Toronto. There are two major Czech language papers in Canada, Novy Domov (New Homeland) published in Montreal, and Nase HIasy (Our Voices) published in Toronto. A monthly magazine Zapad (The West) is also published in Toronto with subscribers not only in Canada, but all around the world. Publishers 68, Canada's only publishing house for Czech and Slovak literature, is located in Toronto.

Czechs and Slovaks helped to develop the young Alberta, particularly in mining and agriculture. Today they provide the province with many valuable contributions in a great number of fields.
 


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