The two thousand Canadians of Latvian descent now living in Alberta trace their cultural heritage back to a small state on the eastern shore of the Baltic Sea. Latvia is situated south of Estonia; its eastern boundary touches Russia, Lithuania and Poland lying to the south-east.
Throughout its history, Latvia has fallen under the control of various German, Swedish, Polish and Russian empires. Imperial Russia ruled the country intermittently from 1772 until World War I. An independence movement that gained momentum around the turn of the century resulted in a revolution in 1905. The unsuccessful revolt was followed by fierce Russian repression that led to the emigration of many Latvians to North America.
World War I and the Russian Revolution of 1917 were two of the factors that precipitated the declaration of Latvian independence. Latvia became an independent state on November 18th, 1918, and remained so until 1940, when the Soviet army invaded and incorporated the region into the Soviet Union. A three-year period of Nazi occupation followed until the Soviets recaptured Latvia in 1944, transforming it once again into a Soviet socialist republic. Latvia regained its independence in
1990, however, it was in 1991 that Moscow's authority collapsed, ensuring that the Latvian people would maintain control over their governance.
Latvians settled on the Canadian prairies as early as the 1890s. Just before the turn of the century a small group of Latvians, many who had migrated north from the United States, formed a community near Josephburg east of Edmonton where in 1903 they built the first Latvian church in Canada.
A second period of Latvian settlement in Alberta occurred between 1900 and 1915, which brought the provincial Latvian population to approximately 150. This group of settlers included Latvians fleeing from the Russian repression that followed the 1905 Russian revolution. Charles Plavin was one refugee who later rose to prominence in the Edmonton area. A bachelor, he eventually donated his land to the University of Alberta as an endowment for scholarships.
In the late 1920s, a group of five Latvian families moved to the Edmonton area. Unlike others who came before them, they were mainly tradesmen, not farmers.
A third wave of Latvian immigration to Canada arrived after World War II. 110,000 Latvians were displaced persons in Europe following the war; 13,000 of these eventually made their way to Canada. In contrast to earlier Latvian immigrants, many of the post-war
emigrants came from urban backgrounds, a large number were engineers, doctors, teachers, lawyers, office workers or tradesmen. Most of those who came to Alberta settled in the cities.
The Latvian community in Edmonton formed the IMANTA society in
1947 and Latvians in Calgary formed the Daugava association shortly thereafter. While the IMANTA society has survived, the Daugava association is now defunct.
The Latvian organizations in Alberta are linked together via the Latvian National Federation of Canada (LNAK), an umbrella organization founded in 1950 that has branches in major cities across Canada. LNAK sponsors various cultural activities, including Latvian Saturday language schools. It also prepares textbooks and trains teachers as part of its program to preserve the Latvian heritage in Canada.
The Latvian community in Alberta subscribes to the newspaper Laiks (Time), established in Brooklyn in 1949, as well as
Latvija Amerika (Latvia in America), published in Toronto.
The Latvian church in Edmonton is called the St. John's Lutheran Church and in Calgary, the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran congregation serves the community.
In 2000, the Faculty of Environmental Design at the University of Calgary initiated a
six-month project in Riga, the Latvian Canadian Housing Cooperation Project, that aimed for the establishment of a more efficient market-based provision of housing in the city. The project was a success.
Although there are only about two thousand Latvian Canadians in Alberta according to the 2001 census, Latvian Canadians, like their forefathers, are visibly dedicated to the preservation of their culture.
This digital collection was
produced with financial assistance from Canada's Digital
Collections initiative, Industry Canada.