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Slovenian Profile provided courtesy of the 1984 Alberta People Kit

  Present-day Slovenia was first settled in the 6th century. Most of the country's 1,73,000 Slovenes reside within the borders of the independent country, although many can be found in Europe, North America and in bordering countries. They are linguistically and culturally distinct from the neighbouring Croats, Italians, Hungarians and German-speaking Austrians. In the 7th century, the Slovenes joined the Slavic Empire of King Samo (627-658) to defend themselves against the warlike Avars. The empire, which consisted of an alliance of Slovenes, Bohemians and Slovaks, was successful in defending the territory but collapsed after Samo's death.

Until the middle of the 8th century, Slovenians retained their political independence in the free state of Carantania, where they practiced an early form of democracy. The Duke ruling Carantania was elected, and at his installation pledged to the people that he would promote peace and justice, and support the state's widows and orphans. In 874, the Slovenes came under Germanic rule and remained so without interruption until 1918 when the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (later renamed Yugoslavia) was formed. Slovenian culture flourished under the regime and enjoyed the highest standard of living of the three national groups in the country. In 1941, the Axis powers invaded the region, and Yugoslavia was divided up among Germany, Italy and Hungary. Following the Allied victory in 1945, Slovenia became the northern most republic in the Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia.

Despite centuries of alien domination, the Slovenian people managed to preserve their religion, culture and language. Most Slovenians are Roman Catholic, but there is also a Protestant minority, as well as a small number of atheists and agnostics. The Slovenian language uses the Latin alphabet and many Slovenians are multilingual. Slovenians are proud of the high rate of literacy in their country, demonstrated by the numerous statues of poets, dramatists and other writers that adorn the landscape.

One of the first Slovenes to come to Canada was the Reverend Frederick Baraga, who arrived as an envoy of the Jesuit Brotherhood in 1830. Reverend Baraga worked with the Aboriginal Peoples of the Lake Superior region where he became an authority on the language of the Ottawa and Chippewa peoples. He published the Theoretical and Practical Grammar of the Otchipwe Language, which is still used by linguists today. Reverend Baraga's presence in Canada inspired many other Slovenes to immigrate to Canada, especially during the latter decades of the 19th century.

Between 1900 and 1915 several thousand Slovenians moved to Canada. Most went to Ontario, but Slovenia communities also formed in the Alberta towns of Canmore, Barrhead, Coleman, Banff, Botha and Evergreen. A majority of the Slovenes in Alberta became farmers, while others worked in the province's coalmines. Many of the Slovenian immigrants came from the area along the River Drava or from the region near the Austro-Hungarian border, where high population density coupled with economic difficulties encouraged emigration.

During the 1920s and 1930s, approximately 4,000 more Slovenians came to Canada, although relatively few settled in Alberta. Those who did chose the prairies moved to Calgary, Edmonton or the Crow's Nest Pass area. Slovenes who arrived prior to World War II came primarily for economic reasons, but beginning in 1948, many were political refugees opposed to the communist regime in Yugoslavia. Modern Slovenian is a country in transition. Following the collapse of Yugoslavia in 1991, Slovenia became a sovereign state. They gained a democratic parliament and a new constitution. 

However, economic hardships have accompanied independence, as the state-owned companies disappeared and production decreased. Over two-thirds of the country's exports has been redirected to the European Union, and the country is slowly regaining prosperity after years of unemployment and stagnation.

Today there are substantial Slovenian communities in Edmonton, Calgary and Lethbridge. A Slovenian-Canadian Association can be found in Calgary and Edmonton where both Slovenian communities celebrate a cultural day each year in which the folk art and traditions of Slovenia are put on display for the greater community. The centre of cultural activities in the two cities is the Slovenian cultural hall, which is used for banquets, social and other functions. Founded in 1990, the Canadian Slovenian Congress promotes ties between organizations nationally and internationally and takes on many research and charitable projects.

The Edmonton branch of the Slovenian-Canadian Cultural Society has established a choir, dance group and dance bands which perform on a regular basis. The Slovenian communities hold picnics during the summer and organize sleigh rides for children in the winter. Many of the Slovenian facilities are open to the general public and are used by local youth groups. During Edmonton's Heritage Days, Slovenian Canadians perform traditional dances and songs, and offer delicacies from Slovenian kitchens.

At present there are 29,000 people of Slovenian decent in Canada, of whom 2,600 live in Alberta. Although Slovenians are a numerically small ethnic group in Alberta, the tenacity with which they and their fore-bearers have maintained their cultural traditions throughout their long and difficult history is an inspiration to all groups in the province.
 


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