The first Croatians who set foot on what is today Canada were two sailors; Ivan Malogrudic from the city of Senj and Marin Masalarada, from Dubrovnik. They were part of the crew on Jacques Cartier’s third voyage to New France in 1541-1542. There is evidence that a Croatian mineworker was part of the team that travelled with the explorer Samuel de Champlain in 1606. Croatian soldiers, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Army, were sent as enforcement for the French Army to defend New France, in the war against the British in 1758-1759. In the 1860’s, the Croatians started to participate in the fishing industry of British Columbia and took part in the Caribou Gold Rush and Klondike Gold Rush of the 1890’s. The first big wave of Croatians immigrated to the western part of Canada, at the beginning of the 20th century. The first chapter of the Croatian Fraternal Union in Canada, the largest Croatian association in North America, was established in Ladysmith B.C in 1903. In 1930, the Croatian Pasents Union was established. The Croatian Catholic Parish was established in Windsor, Ontario. After the collapse of the gold rush, only a few Croatian fishermen, mostly from the island of Lošinj remained in Ladner, BC. A few Croatian families also settled on Vancouver island, notably in the town of Nanaimo. They were employed in the coal mining industry.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the first agricultural settlements were established, mainly in the proximity of Kenaston, Saskatchewan. Those immigrants were almost exclusively from the Lika area of Lovinac. By the end of WW I., the Croatian population rose to 28.000 people. It should be noted that the ratio of Croatian returnees to Croatia was large, because the majority of the immigrants were young single men who worked in Canada for a few years and decided to go back to there Croatian homesteads. (every 4th Croatian moved back home).
The post WW II. immigrants were on average better educated and came from urban areas. This wave of Croatian immigrants, came to Canada for political reasons, as well as economic. Many of the immigrants had spent time in refugee camps in Austria, before getting an immigration visa to enter Canada. In the period between 1945 and 1956, on average 1,500 Croatians entered Canada per annum, almost all of them political immigrants. Between the years 1957 and 1961, the number jumped to 25,000, of which 8,000 were refugees.
However, on the other hand, some 2,000 Croatians decided to migrate back to Croatia after the establishment of a socialist Croatia. After experiencing the harsh reality of a socialist Croatia, 1/3 of these migrants immigrated back to Canada.
In the early years, Croatians were mainly farmers, fishermen and labourers in the lumber and mining industry. In accordance to this fact, many Croatians were engaged in the early stages of the union movement in Canada. Marko Vidulic was one of the founders of the Fishermen’s Union on the Fraser River in B.C., back in the 1900’s. Mike Čanić and Peter Pavelich were prominent individuals of the Workers Union during the 1930’s depression.
Early on self-help societies were established because of the dangerous working conditions and deaths in the workplace. In 1903, Bill Keserić established the first self-help society called the National Croatian Society St. Nicholas, in Ladysmith, B.C (he later died in a mining accident in 1915). After this, these societies were established in Trail and Grand Forks, BC, in 1907, Thorold, ON, in 1909 etc. The first lodge of the Croatian Fraternal Union (CFU) in Canada was established in Welland, ON, in 1923. By 1930, the CFU had 27 lodges throughout Canada with more than 2,000 members.
The postwar immigrants had very different job traits then their fellow compatriots from the first immigration wave. Only 2 % were employed in agriculture, and 5 % in the fishing and mining industry. The majority worked in blue-collar jobs (25 %) and in construction (ca. 13 %) in Canadian urban centers.
The first Croatian newspaper was Croatian Voice (later called Canadian Voice). Petar Stanković was the editor from 1929 to 1977, in Winnipeg, which was closely related to the Croatian Peasant Party. More left oriented Croatians read the short-lived newspaper „Struggle“(Toronto 1930. – 1936.) edited by Petar Žapkar. During the interwar period, many community halls were built, and some communities, such as Sudbury and Windsor, ON founded tamburica orchestras, choirs and women’s societies.
After WW II. the first sporting clubs were established, mainly soccer clubs- the great love of almost every Croatian. Adria Club from Sudbury was one of the first clubs founded in 1950. The Croatian National Soccer Club was founded in Toronto in 1956, in Hamilton in 1957. Toronto Croatia won the city title in 1959, the Ontario title in 1970, the national title from 1971 to 1974 consecutively. After the club merged with the Toronto Metros in 1974, into a new club the Toronto Metros-Croatia, the club won the North American title in 1976.
Canadians of Croatian heritage have greatly enriched Canadian sports history. To mention a few: brothers Frank and Peter Mahovlich and Joe Šakić in hockey, as well as George Chuvalo in boxing.
Croatians in Canada, like their fellow compatriots back home, are to a vast majority Roman Catholic. The first Croatian Catholic parish “Francis of Assisi “was established in Windsor in 1950. After that followed Sudbury and Hamilton in 1958, Nanaimo in 1960, Toronto in 1961 and 1965, Sault Ste. Marie in 1962, Montreal in 1964, Vancouver in 1968, Calgary in 1970, Winnipeg in 1974 and Thunder Bay in 1977.
Political Life in Canada
Many Croatians and their descendents became members of the Canadian political system. On the municipal level, Joseph Mavrinac served as the Mayor of Kirkland Lake, ON from 1967-1979. Frank Krznaric served four terms as a Timmins city councilor from 1981 to 1993. On the provincial level, Peter Sekulic was elected a liberal member of the legislative assembly of Alberta in 1993. John Sola was elected a member of the provincial parliament of Ontario in 1987. Anne Markovich-Hemingway was president of the New Democratic Party in Alberta in 1977. David Stupich was elected as a member of the legislative assembly of British Colombia in 1963. He served as a New Democratic Party Cabinet Minister from 1973 to 1975. He also was a member of parliament in 1988. On the federal level, other Canadian-Croatians who were elected as members of parliament in 1993 are Janko Peric from Cambridge, Ontario, Jan Brown from Calgary, Roseanne Skoke from Nova Scotia and Allan Kerpan from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan.