"Slovakia has done a lot for us," Reverend Dušan Tóth, the former secretary general of the Slovak World Congress, told The Slovak Spectator. "It has given us the language and songs to express our moods and wishes, music, poets who opened a door for us to the world of knowledge, and a sense of responsibility, diligence and love. Slovakia made us the happy and thankful heirs of its spiritual heritage."
Though ready to sing such praises of his homeland, Tóth, a member of the large Slovak ex-patriate community in Canada, is also quick to voice his feelings of estrangement. Slovak ex-patriates have met many successes in the near century and a half they have lived in Canada, he said, but Slovakia has failed to tap this fertile resource. "Is it not a sin to waste such potential? Other nations use their ex-patriates for different kinds of lobbying. It seems to us that Slovakia does not care about the potential of our people."
The first significant emigration from Slovakia, when it was still part of the Kingdom of Hungary, occurred in the early 1870s as people sought to fill the numerous work opportunities to be found in the coalmines, steel mills, and oil refineries of the United States, says the official web page of the Canadian government.
Almost a decade later, many of these same immigrants moved from the United States into western Canada. Some were attracted by the heady prospect of obtaining free homesteads, while others hoped to earn a better living in the Alberta coalfields in the area of Crow's Nest Pass near Blairmore and at Lethbridge.
In 1885, immigration agent Paul Esterhazy brought a group of Slovaks and Hungarians from Pennsylvania to settle the Minnedosa district in Manitoba and, in 1886, the area north of the Qu'Appelle River in Saskatch-ewan.
In time, many began the trek eastward to Fort William and other small communities in northern Ontario. The end of World War I and the founding of Czechoslovakia brought many changes to the Czech and Slovak peoples, but the emigration of both groups continued.
"Since the start of emigration from beyond the Atlantic, small groups of Slovaks come directly to Canada, and were swelled by large emigration waves between 1922 - 1938, 1948 - 1951, and 1968 - 1969. At the beginning of the 20th century, about 5,000 Slovaks lived in Canada. Estimates show that 100,000 Slovaks should currently live there, but statistics register a smaller number of Canadian citizens that consider Slovak their mother tongue. However, Slovaks continue to emigrate to Canada, enlarging the community of Canadian ex-patriates," Mária Katarína Hrkľová, deputy director of the House of Foreign Slovaks, told The Slovak Spectator.
According to the web page of the Canadian government, 1996 census figures, based on self-declared ethnic origin rather than place of birth, recorded a total of 45,230 Slovaks and 39,185 people who were content with the label Czechoslovak.
"Slovaks in Canada live in Ontario, Alberta, British Colombia, Quebec, Manitoba, Saskatch-ewan, Nova Scotia, and even Yukon. Out of the cities, the largest communities live in Toronto, Thunder Bay, Montreal, Vancouver, Winsdor, and St Catherines," Hrkľvá said.
The Slovak community in Canada created two kinds of organisations. The first were self-supporting, fraternal companies that acted something like national insurance agencies, for example the Canadian Slovak League, Slovak-Canadian Support Association, Sokol, Slovak Evangelic Unity, and First Slovak Catholic Unity. On the other hand there were cultural, social, and political organisations such as the Slovak World Congress and the Slovak-Canadian National Council, to mention at least a few.
"The 1990 census assessed individual ethnic groups in terms of their success. Slovak men were fourth and Slovak women seventh out of 89 ethnic groups. Names such as Stefan B Roman in the uranium industry, Mr and Mrs Sirek in pharmaceutical research, Ady Strazovec in scenography (founder of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation - Scenographic Institute, and awarded a number of Emy Awards), Ali and Milo Kubik in animated films," said Tóth. We could also name many others either in visual arts, music, or photography. In the end, Slovaks living in Canada have achieved success in all areas of political and social life.
"Slovaks were and still are drawing attention to themselves. Mr Roman has had personal contacts with Canadian prime ministers. Thanks to his effort, in 1968 Prime Minister Trudeau pushed through an exception in parliament for Slovaks and Czechs to be granted political asylum in Canada. Members of Parliament Anthony Roman and John Szabo... never forgot to stress that they were Slovaks," Tóth said.
Canadians know Slovaks as hard-working and responsible people, and this is how they have achieved their successes and enjoy a good reputation in Canadian society, claimed Tóth.
"Slovaks in Canada have built their churches, including one of the biggest of them all in Unionville, Ontario, which was consecrated by Pope John Paul II. The cultural activities of Slovaks in Canada have grown in the area of folklore, theatre, literature, press, and visual arts. Instruction in the Slovak language has been carried out at the Slovak Parishes. Thanks to Canadian and American Slovaks, the Department of Slovak History and Literature was established at Ottawa University in 1992," Hrkľvá said.
"Commercial representation and the embassy in Ottawa, in their modest form and with an unbelievably [small] budget cannot provide everything that would be necessary; one third of the Slovak nation lives abroad," said Tóth.
"Until now, not a single representative of Slovakia that has visited us, and there have been many of them here, has invited us to become an integral part of building a new society," he continued. Canadian expatriates feel ignored, he said. During the past year, for example, all the new EU member countries opened tourist centres in Canada, apart from Slovakia. Toronto, which has become one of the largest cities in North America through the fusion of six cities, has no Slovak consular representation. Canadian Slovaks, according to Tóth, can offer Slovakia a huge potential in almost all spheres of social, cultural, and economic life.
"Slovakia faces many problems. I have read recently about problems with refugees. In Canada there are two judges of Slovak origin who were members of the Supreme Court and who are experts on this issue. They would certainly be glad to help as advisors. And I can give dozens of such examples. If only Slovakia would seriously consider how to use the potential which is offered to it in the form of foreign Slovaks," Tóth told The Slovak Spectator.
He said that Slovakia's Czech neighbours had once treated their ex-patriates like a stepmother as well. However, he said, a long time ago they found how necessary it was to invite their cooperation; they have started a necessary dialogue, which has begun to yield fruit.
16. Aug 2004 at 0:00 | Robert Valjent