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Intergroup Relations and Ethnic Commitment

From: The Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples/Slovaks/

Slovaks constitute a small ethnic group in Canada, and generally they have settled in close proximity to central, eastern, and southern Europeans such as Carpatho-Rusyns, Italians, Magyars, Poles, and Ukrainians. In the 1920s Slovak immigrants tended to establish contact mainly with other groups of Slavic origin. Initially, some Czech Canadians spoke on behalf of Slovak Canadians, even though Slovaks stressed the ethnic and cultural differences between them, but, as we have seen, the two communities became divided, and alienation between Slovaks and Czechs in Canada persists to this day. The Anglo-Canadian attitude towards Slovaks was at first largely negative, even though Ottawa regarded them as desirable immigrants who provided a welcome source of cheap labour. However, the response to the Slovaks on the part of mainstream Canadians softened in the 1930s, as contact between the two groups increased.

As a rule, only the first generation of Slovak-Canadian immigrants have not assimilated. By the 1920s and 1930s those who arrived as sojourners had generally adapted so successfully that many decided not to return to their homeland. Nevertheless, some settlers tended to remain within the community because they found learning English and adapting to Canadian life difficult. In the first generation marriages took place within the group, but, in the second and subsequent generations, intermarriage became more common and use of the Slovak language diminished. Changes in the material culture of Slovak Canadians have been rapid because of the higher standard of living in Canada. Yet, despite these factors, the Slovak-Canadian community has generally maintained important elements of its group identity. Although Slovak Canadians are dispersed throughout Canada, they have retained the Slovak language to some degree, their organizations are still active, they still have a Slovak-language press, and they strive to maintain the essential elements of their traditional culture, language, and religion. Slovak-Canadian cultural life has also been enriched as a result of the influx of Slovak immigrants who came to Canada after 1945 and in 1968–69.

Concern about the position of Slovaks in the homeland has strengthened the ethnic commitment of Slovak Canadians. The first wave of immigrants kept in touch with their families in Slovakia. The second wave of immigrants worried about the problems of the homeland and maintained an extraordinary level of interest in Slovakia during World War II. Their political concerns shaped their complex community life in Canada. The Slovak-Canadian community was revitalized by the immigrants who arrived at the end of World War II and the small group of political refugees who arrived in 1968– 69, but it was impossible for Canadian Slovaks to stay in touch with Slovaks in the homeland during the long period of the Cold War. However, the overthrow of communism in November 1989 has made it possible for Slovak Canadians to re-establish contact with Slovaks and Slovakia once again.