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Alberta Online Encyclopedia

Spanish Profile provided courtesy of the 1984 Alberta People Kit

  Spain has had an interest in what is now Canada for over 400 years. Spanish journeys to Canada's west coast between 1542 and 1792 have left a legacy of Spanish place names such as Alberni, Laredo Strait, Carmelo Strait, Mazarredo Sound, Mount Bodega, Texada and Valdes Islands, Narvaez Bay and several others. At one time Vancouver Island was called "Quadra and Vancouver Island" in honour of the close friendship between Captain Juan Bodega y Quadra, a Spanish explorer, and Captain George Vancouver. Similarly, the fishing banks off the coast of Newfoundland were visited by Basque ships in the early 1600s and names such as Port aux Basques, Newfoundland and lie aux Basques in the Gulf of St. Lawrence attest to the early Spanish presence.

Substantial Spanish immigration to Canada did not begin until the 20th century because most early Spanish emigrants chose to re-settle in Spanish colonies in Central and South America. It was not until 1913 that Spaniards first arrived in Canada in significant numbers, with about 2,000 arriving in the years 1913-1914. Spanish immigration remained moderate up until 1950, by which time only 4,000 Spanish immigrants had entered the country.

Between 1956 and 1967 another 11,000 Spaniards came to Canada. Due to the general economic downturn and the devaluation of the Spanish peseta in 1957, many people left Spain in the 1950s and early 1960s. The Spanish economy picked up in the mid-1960s and 1970s, reducing emigration considerably. Census statistics indicate that there were about 213,100 persons of Spanish origin in Canada in 2001, approximately 75 percent living in Ontario or Quebec. Today, Alberta is home to approximately 19,300 Spanish-Canadians.

Spaniards in Alberta have been active in many cultural activities. In Edmonton the Edmonton Hispanic Bilingual Association holds Spanish and English classes. Other organizations such as the Spanish Canadian Association hosts benefit dances and ethnic dinners, and has participated in the city's Heritage Day Celebrations for several years. A number of dancing groups, such as the Edmonton Groupo de Flamenco Pedron Guasp, Conchita Depechetel Spanish Dancers and Sylvia's Spanish Dancers attract both Spanish and non-Spanish members, several of whom have gone on to pursue professional careers in dancing. Other Spanish speaking cultural organizations in Edmonton include the Ibero-American Cultural Society and the Edmonton Spanish Centre Cultural Society.

In Calgary, Our Lady of Guadalupe Church is the centre of the Catholic Hispanic Community of Calgary. Calgary Spanish dancing groups such as the Carmen Flamenco School of Dance and Studio Flamenco provide a social and cultural meeting place for Spanish and non-Spanish community members alike.

In recent years, the Spanish community has become involved in the media. Spanish radio programs exist in both Edmonton and Calgary, broadcast from CKER and CJSW respectively. Alberta's Access Network includes a Spanish show in their programming. El Latino, the Hispanic newspaper of Alberta is published in Calgary.

The Spanish Albertan community is so keen on preserving and maintaining their culture here in their new home that they organized a program to present to the provincial government. In 1998, the Albertan and Spanish governments signed an initiative to promote the study of Spanish and English languages and cultures.

Spanish Canadians in Alberta have entered skilled trades, the business community and the professions. Their many cultural organizations pay tribute to the Spanish customs and traditions and add colour to Alberta's cultural mosaic.



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