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Lithuanian Profile provided courtesy of the 1984 Alberta People Kit

  Lithuania is located north of Poland on the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea. Its origins date back to the 13th century when a number of Baltic tribes in the region united.

In the 1300s, a close association began between Lithuania and Poland. Near the end of the century, Lithuanian Grand Duke Jogaila married the heiress to the Polish throne and became Ladislaus II, King of Poland. The marriage signified the beginning of the Lithuanian-Polish Commonwealth, which was known as Rzeczpospolita. It lasted until 1795 when the territory became part of the Russian Empire.

Lithuania remained under Csarist rule until a 1915 invasion by German troops. Independence was achieved in 1918, but lasted only until 1940 when the country was occupied by Soviet troops. Late in the war, Lithuania fell under Axis control, but by the summer of 1944, it was again under Soviet dominance. Even after over 50 years under the Soviets, the Lithuanian desire for independence remained strong. March 11th, 1990, Lithuania proclaimed their independence.

The first known Lithuanian immigrants to come to Canada were soldiers in the British army who fought against the United States in the War of 1812. Substantial Lithuanian immigration began in the 1890s when agricultural workers faced with hard economic times and conscription into the Russian army left their native country for Canada, the United States, Great Britain and other areas. Unlike most eastern European immigrants arriving in Canada at this time, many Lithuanians settled in urban areas where they gained employment in industrial labour. Toronto, Montreal, Winnipeg, Calgary and Vancouver became centres of this immigration.

In 1904, Lithuanian immigrants began to arrive in the Crowsnest Pass region of Alberta where they were employed as miners. In subsequent decades, Lithuanians in the province engaged in farming or worked for the Canadian Pacific Railway. By 1941, Approximately 8,000 people of Lithuanian descent lived in Canada.

After the Soviet occupation of Lithuania in 1944, thousands fled the country for Sweden or Germany. Roughly 20,000 of these displaced Lithuanians eventually came to Canada. By 1971, 24,535 persons of Lithuanian ancestry lived in Canada and of these, 1,845 were in Alberta. Today, 36,485 Lithuanian-Canadians live in this country, 3,665 in Alberta. Many of the post war Lithuanian immigrants in Alberta were highly skilled white-collar workers and professionals. Despite this, a great number had difficulty finding employment in their previous occupations. 

The Lethbridge division of the Canadian Lithuanian Association, which has since dissolved, formed in 1949 and sought support for an independent Lithuania, which was ultimately achieved in 1990. September 17th, 1991, Lithuania won international recognition and was admitted to the United Nations. In 1993, Lithuanian citizens turned out to vote for their first directly elected president.

Most of the Lithuanian Associations in Alberta today are cultural or social in nature. The Lithuanian Canadian Community, a national organization that counts all Lithuanian Canadians as members, coordinates Lithuanian cultural activities in various Canadian locales, maintains links with Lithuanian organizations in other countries and sponsors a variety of cultural programs. There are chapters of this organization in Calgary and Edmonton.

 

 


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