Romanians came to Canada from several historic lands in east-central Europe, including Walachia, Moldavia, Transylvania, Bessarabia, Bukovina, and the Banat. Until 1918, only two of these lands – Walachia and Moldavia – were part of a Romanian state. The rest were ruled by either Austria-Hungary or the Russian Empire. Even today, not all Romanian-inhabited territories are within Romania, and significant minorities are found in neighbouring Moldavia, Ukraine, and Yugoslavia.
Romanians traditionally trace their origins to the Geto-Dacian tribes that inhabited the Roman imperial province of Dacia, which during the second and third centuries C.E. covered a large part of what is today central and southwestern Romania (historic Transylvania and western Walachia). When the Roman legions left, the Geto-Dacian tribes, who may have intermarried with the Roman military, took refuge in the Carpathian Mountains where they survived largely as pastoral herders and came to be known by several names – Vlachs, Arumanians, and Macedo-Romanians, among others. They were distinguished from other peoples in the Balkan peninsula primarily by their language. Romanian is a Romance language distantly related to Italian, and at least since the nineteenth century it has been written in the Roman alphabet.
It was not until the late thirteenth century that distinct state structures were formed in Romanian-inhabited lands, in particular Walachia and Moldavia. Transylvania, meanwhile, which was inhabited by Romanians as well as Hungarians (Magyars) and Germans (Transylvanian Saxons), functioned as a distinct administrative entity within the Kingdom of Hungary. By the early sixteenth century, Walachia and Moldavia were incorporated into the Ottoman Empire. Transylvania, too, came initially under Ottoman hegemony, although it later functioned as an independent principality before it was reincorporated into Habsburg-ruled Hungary in the early eighteenth century.
Like many other Balkan peoples, the Romanians experienced a national revival during the nineteenth century, which had as its goal liberation from Ottoman rule. Walachia and Moldavia (minus Bukovina and Bessarabia) first were united to form a single state (1862) which eventually was transformed into an independent kingdom (1878). Since this was the first sovereign Romanian state entity in modern times, it was later often referred to as the Old Kingdom.
The boundaries of Romania’s Old Kingdom expanded considerably at the close of World War I, when the country acquired Bessarabia from the Russian Empire as well as Transylvania, Bukovina, and the eastern Banat from Austria-Hungary. At the same time, Romanians in the western Banat found themselves within the borders of the new state of Yugoslavia. Inter-war Romania began as a constitutional monarchy but by the late 1930s was transformed into a fascist-style dictatorship. As an ally of Nazi Germany during World War II, Romania was able to survive as a state, although its borders changed radically. In the west it lost territory to Hungary (northern Transylvania), and in the east it acquired a large block of land from the Soviet Union (Transnistria).
When World War II ended, Romania’s pre-war western border was restored, but it lost Bessarabia, Transnistria, and northern Bukovina to the Soviet Union. Aside from border changes, Romania’s king was deposed and replaced by a Communist-led socialist republic that after 1945 was closely allied to the Soviet Union. Under Communist rule, Romania experienced a modest improvement in its economy, although this was accompanied by a totalitarian political regime that tried with much success to repress all means of expression that were not in full accord with Communist Party guidelines. By the 1980s, the centralized command economy was in rapid decline and Romania had become one of the poorest countries in Europe. When Communist rule disintegrated throughout the region in the course of 1989, at the very end of that year, Romania’s Communist head of state since 1965, Nicolae Ceauçescu, was killed in a bloody coup and replaced by a democratically elected government. Since that time, Romania has been trying to adopt a multi-party system of government and free-market economy. With the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, a second independent “Romanian” state came into existence. This was the former Soviet Socialist Republic of Moldavia, renamed Moldova, which covers most of historic eastern Moldavia, the former Russian province of Bessarabia.
Romanian culture has been strongly influenced by the various religious traditions that have evolved in different Romanian-inhabited territories. Romanians first accepted Christianity according to the Orthodox Eastern-rite that derived from Byzantium. By the fifteenth century, Moldavia and Walachia had their own Orthodox metropolitans (archbishops), although the church remained under the jurisdiction of the ecumenical patriarch in Constantinople. On the other hand, the Romanian church and Romanian culture were influenced by their Slavic Orthodox neighbours so that the first Romanian books used the Cyrillic alphabet, a practice that did not die out until the nineteenth century. Finally, in 1885, a self-governing Romanian Orthodox Church with its own patriarch came into being.
Among Romanians living in Transylvania, another church was established when, between 1697 and 1700, several Orthodox bishops accepted the jurisdiction of the pope in Rome. The result was a Romanian Uniate/ Greek Catholic Church which continued to maintain Orthodox ritual but recognized the authority of the pope. Since Transylvania was under Hungarian rule until 1918, the Romanian Greek Catholic Church played an important role during the nineteenth century defending the Romanian language and culture at a time when the government promoted efforts to assimilate minority populations in Hungary. Because the Uniate/Greek Catholics were associated with the Vatican, when the Communists came to power in Romania after World War II, they forcibly liquidated the Greek Catholic Church. It has been revived only since the revolution of 1989.
Finally, Romania has been a home to Jews. In fact, until World War II, northern Moldavia and Bessarabia had some of the highest concentrations of Ashkenazic Jews anywhere in east-central Europe. During World War II, most Romanian Jews perished as a result of persecutions carried out by the fascist-led government of Romania.
There have been two main groups of Romanian immigration, and each has produced distinctive settlements. First, Bukovinian and Transylvanian peasants arriving after 1895 homesteaded in the Northwest Territories, in what is now Saskatchewan and Alberta; in 1919 and 1920 families joined husbands and fathers, and secondary immigration occurred from the United States. Second, better-educated urbanites from Romania settled in Montreal and four Ontario communities after World War II; immigration continues in small numbers to the present.
Before the first major wave of Romanian immigration to Canada, a few pioneers from what is now Romania settled in the west between 1870 and 1895. Most were Jews from Austrian-occupied Bukovina, Russian-controlled Bessarabia, or Romanian Moldavia. They left their homeland to escape poverty and religious prejudice and persecution. They laid the foundations for several colonies of homesteaders in Saskatchewan. Hirsch, Hoffer, and Lipton, in Saskatchewan, had colonies of Romanian Jewish homesteaders brought to Canada by Baron de Hirsch’s Jewish Colonization Society around 1905. The largest and longest-lasting was at Lipton. The settlers had travelled by train from Bukovina to Germany, by ship to eastern Canada, and by train to Fort Qu’Appelle. Over two hundred people arrived between 1901 and 1908 and settled on forty homestead farm units.
After 1895 Romanian Orthodox Christians began leaving Transylvania and Bukovina in large numbers for North America. Smaller numbers of Romanians or Vlachs came from Ottoman Turkey (Macedonia and Albania), Bulgaria, and Greece. The peasant properties of the Romanian Orthodox Christians were decreased by the policies of Austria-Hungary, so that most holdings were smaller than two hectares. The resulting population crunch forced many landless sons to emigrate and also led to a peasant uprising in Walachia and Moldavia in 1907. In Transylvania, enforced Magyarization required the Romanian peasants to speak Hungarian in schools and public transactions; there was also some attempt to convert the Orthodox to Roman Catholicism. Conscription called the men into the Austro-Hungarian army, which did not represent Romanian ethnic aspirations.
Early census figures for Romanians in Canada were confused and often inaccurate. This entry considers all who called themselves Romanian, including Jews, Protestants, Roman Catholics, and Uniates/Greek Catholics. Of Romanian immigrants to Canada to 1920, only about 5 percent had come from the Old Kingdom; 85 percent were from Transylvania, Bukovina, and the Banat; and the remainder were from Macedonia, Greece, Thrace, Serbia, and Bulgaria. Thus most were counted in Canada as Austrians, Hungarians, Russians, or some other nationality, even though they were ethnic Romanians and spoke Romanian. Some Hungarians coming from Romanian-ruled territory, especially Transylvania after 1920, were counted as Romanian. In addition, there were Romanian-speaking (though often multilingual) Jews from Romanian territories.
The trip to North America was complicated. Bremen, Hanover, and Trieste were the primary points of embarkation for Romanians, who often travelled by wagon to the closest town and then west by train to the docks. Vessels of the Austro-American Line from Trieste carried thousands of Canadian-bound Romanians to New York in cramped third-class quarters. The voyage by ship was difficult; some immigrants died on the way. Fear of being turned back was common; about 2 percent of immigrants were deported by Canadian and U.S. immigration officials. Countrymen met the arrivals and assisted them with transcontinental train travel, sometimes via Chicago and Minneapolis to Winnipeg and farther west. German vessels also carried steerage and third-class Romanian passengers from Bremen and Hanover directly to Halifax, Saint John, and Montreal, whence trains conveyed them to the prairie provinces.
The majority of early Romanian immigrants to Canada were men aged eighteen to forty-five. Most were married, with children, whose families remained at home. Word began to filter back that North America offered opportunities: factory work in Ohio and Michigan, construction jobs in Regina, and cheap or free homesteading land in Saskatchewan and Alberta. Many of the newcomers wanted to set aside a nest egg and then return – mia i drumul : a thousand dollars and home again. Most men, however, did not return but instead sent for their families, and much of the immigration after 1900 was that of women and children joining husbands and fathers.
The first group arrived on the prairies around 1895, alone or in small groups – most of them uneducated, unskilled peasant farmers. Many were still wearing their leather vests, sheepskin coats, and astrakhan hats. They settled in a number of communities across Saskatchewan and Alberta; the first Romanian Orthodox church in North America, St Nicholas, was founded in Regina in 1902.
By 1914 there were 8,301 Romanians living in Canada, perhaps two-thirds of them men; by 1921 there were 29,056, including many wives and children. As well, more unattached men were migrating, and single men in Canada married and had children, who were usually identified as Romanian.
Most of the post-World War II immigrants settled, in contrast, in central Canada. These so-called Forty-Eighters and the Noi Veniţi, or newly arrived, were industrial workers and professionals; almost all had finished high school, and some were highly educated professionals. Most had no plans to return to Communist Romania. The Forty-Eighters, victims of the war, arrived in Canada from refugee camps in Europe; other newcomers of that period had illegally left Romania. Most had secondary-school education but had to work at labouring jobs at first. About 10 percent were professionals, such as engineers and physicians, who found similar jobs in Canada, though often with a difficult transition. Almost all of the Forty-Eighters were strongly anti-Communist.
Then came the newly arrived. About 20 percent of them were professionals, such as doctors, pharmacists, and architects. About half were rural or town proletarians from Romania and Yugoslavia and are now members of the working class in Canada. Many are Banaţeni – Romanians from Yugoslavia’s Vojvodina region. About one-third were educated youths who were unemployed or underemployed in Romania; some have had difficulties adjusting to life in Canada. Almost all the post-war immigrants have remained in Canada. Some immigrants of the 1980s, fleeing the repressive Ceauçescu regime, hoped eventually to return, but recent visits to the homeland disillusioned them.
In 1991 the census recorded 28,665 single-origin and 45,405 multiple-origin Romanians in Canada, for a total of 74,060. The largest number were in Ontario (27,620), followed by Alberta (13,440), British Columbia (11,245), Quebec (9,015), Saskatchewan (8,475), and Manitoba (3,285). In all, 33,790 people had been born in Romania, with at least a third of these probably ethnic Hungarians, Germans, and Gypsies.
Among the early immigrants on the prairies, unskilled work and lack of education initially would have put many among the working poor, or the upper lower class. But upward social mobility occurred within a few years, spurred by the immigrants’ perceptions of themselves as achievers. At present, except for a very few unemployed immigrant youths, almost all Romanian Canadians are in the middle class.
Early male immigrants on the prairies became homesteaders or unskilled labourers. In what became Saskatchewan, about 80 percent of the newcomers homesteaded, usually with their families, while 15 percent helped to build the sewer system and streets for Regina and 5 percent set up small businesses. In Alberta 90 percent homesteaded in the Boian District and about 10 percent worked as labourers in Edmonton and Calgary. A few started businesses.
Men and women on farms used many skills learned in the homeland, although the farms in Canada were much bigger and the potential for mechanization was greater. Most of the early women settlers in urban areas were homemakers, and about half earned extra money in cottage industries such as dressmaking. Entry into the workplace gradually brought about increasing equality, even if the woman made less money and still had to perform traditional female chores at home. In Ontario and Quebec, post-war and more recent immigrants left a relatively egalitarian, socialist society and started here in the lower middle class; many moved up quickly within the middle class, especially if they were or became professionals. The public sector, business, skilled labour, and the professions have been standard routes to success.
Entry employment for post-1945 immigrants in Ontario and Quebec was varied, depending on education and skills. Most of the Forty-Eighters started out in labouring jobs; about 90 percent eventually became skilled labourers or clerks, and the rest later moved into such professions as architecture, medicine, and engineering. About half the Noi Veniţi are also skilled labourers: 15 percent have clerical positions, some as civil servants; 15 percent own small businesses; 20 percent are professionals in such fields as pharmacy, medicine, chemistry, and engineering; and a few are teachers or university professors. Perhaps 5 percent of the working-class members under age thirty are unemployed and have had difficulty adjusting to Canadian life. Today professionals make up about 20 percent of the Romanian-Canadian population and include teachers, professors, civil servants, a member of provincial parliament (MPP), nutritionists, nurses, dentists, doctors, lawyers, and authors.
While most Romanian women in the first settlements in the west were farm wives, today at least two-thirds of Romanian-Canadian women in the region work outside the home in positions ranging from factory worker to lawyer and university professor. Women arriving in central Canada after 1945 had extensive education, were used to being employed as clerks, technicians, and professionals, and expected to find similar work in their new country, which many did. Today at least 80 percent work outside the home, and half of them in the professions.
The early communities in western Canada had some Romanian-owned businesses – grocery stores, bars, insurance companies, candy stores, barbershops, coffee shops, restaurants, and shoeshine parlours – developed between 1905 and 1920 by about 5 percent of the immigrants. In Quebec and Ontario today, approximately 10 percent of Romanians own businesses.
Romanians have experienced virtually no ethnic barriers to economic opportunity. In the post-World War II era, most immigrants had a modest to good background in English and a thorough preparation in French, the second language of educated Romanians.
Romanians in Canada have set up a number of voluntary associations. They founded mutual-aid societies in western cities such as Regina and Edmonton early in the century; similar organizations emerged in Toronto and Montreal in the 1950s. The ethnic-based societies served as credit unions, banks, insurance companies, and sometimes burial societies. Some Romanians also joined American societies, especially in Detroit and Cleveland.
There have also been Romanian clubs. The Bok-O-Ria Romanian Restaurant and Social Club (Bok-O-Ria is the phonetic spelling of bucurie, or pleasure) was founded in Regina in 1928. Edmonton had a similar club, which lasted until the 1960s. Toronto has the Dacia Romanian Cultural Association, the Romanian Canadian Association, and the Dacia Dance Ensemble, all founded about 1960. Hamilton, Ontario, has the Nae Ionescu Romanian Cultural Centre, launched in 1988. Such clubs and associations have existed in the past also in Calgary, Kitchener, Windsor, and Montreal.
There have been some informal neighbourhood organizations of Romanians in several Canadian cities, especially Regina, Toronto, and Montreal. Women’s auxiliary groups in the churches prepared food and organized festivals celebrating events in the church calendar – most notably, the Asociaú ia Reuniunilor Femeilor Orthodoxe (Romanian Orthodox Women’s Auxiliaries in America, or ARFORA). Such groups are on the decline as older members die and younger ones abstain from such roles.
In early Romanian-Canadian communities the parish priest might play a limited role in guiding and assisting the new immigrants. As communities were formed, association presidents became community leaders, as did heads of the women’s auxiliaries. Their primacy has declined with assimilation and secularization. First-generation immigrant leaders had little contact with the larger society; those of the second generation began to interact. Few such leaders have arisen since, given the weakening of Romanian identity.
While early immigrants tried to gather the extended family under one roof or close together, such patterns broke down rather quickly. Male immigrants sent home for wives, who came alone, leaving other family members in Romania. With the second generation, extended families weakened under the pressure of geographic mobility, education, and upward social mobility. Today’s second- through fourth-generation Romanians live in nuclear families. Even the most recent immigrants have not been able to bring their whole families, thus further eroding the extended family.
Following the same trends, the father may have dominated some immigrant families but quickly lost that influence. Women moved rather rapidly, often because of their paid work, from subservience to greater equality. Youths became less obedient in the Canadian setting, and second-generation families were characterized by much more generational equality. Kinship ties remained important, but rapid assimilation gradually weakened them.
Ethnic boundaries eroded rather quickly in Canada. The first generation tended to be endogamous, but children much less so, and the grandchildren have high rates of exogamy and assimilation. There was some initial intermarriage with Ukrainian co-religionists in Alberta, and much wider exogamy appeared later.
The family and the church were long the pillars of community life. Traditionally Romanians have been protective towards children, but such beliefs and practices have eroded over time. In the early years of settlement, acceptance of all ages in social settings under the extended-family system reduced intergenerational tension. Some generational conflict has been standard between Romanian immigrants and their children, but such conflict has decreased markedly with the next generation. Formal rites of passage included baptism, confirmation, marriage, and burial; informal rites included male and female parties about the time of weddings and other related ethnic festivals. Few such practices continue today, except via the churches, which attract smaller numbers and display less vitality with the loss of the culture.
The church has discouraged divorce, and individuals have sought it less than those in the larger society, but this too is changing with time. The elderly tend to be respected and cared for, the single pitied, and the handicapped and disadvantaged given family and group care. There is much more tolerance for the single person at present than there was in the past.
If language retention is a criterion for maintenance of ethnic identity, the Romanians of the prairies are well on their way towards losing such identity, while those in Quebec and Ontario are holding their own as new immigrants replace those who become assimilated. For example, census data in 1971 and 1981 indicated that about 6 percent of Romanians in Saskatchewan spoke Romanian most often at home; figures were similar for Alberta. Throughout Canada, 19,985 single-response Romanians in 1991 listed Romanian as their mother tongue, while 11,620 cited it as their home language.
For those who use Romanian, oral expression is the most common, although many of those educated in Romania can write it. The language is most often maintained by homeland-born Romanian Canadians. It is used in church ceremonies in the Canadian west about half of the time; in central Canada services are held usually in Romanian but occasionally in English to accommodate spouses or young people who do not speak the language.
Romania is rich in folk and literary traditions. Some folkways were brought by the early immigrants, including remedies for illness, ways to exorcise the devil, and methods to predict the future. Celebrations included New Year, godparenthood, and other ceremonies connected with the church calendar and rites of passage; except for Christmas and Easter, most have declined. Some early immigrants brought Bukovinian peasant costumes, and a few second- and third-generation members still possess such clothing and wear it at festivals. Romanian dishes are prepared in homes and in Romanian clubs, restaurants, and parish halls. Homeland icons take pride of place in churches and homes, as do painted eggs and folk paintings and drawings. Most Romanians who settled in western Canada were from Bukovina and Transylvania; those in Ontario and Quebec, from various parts of Romania. Most found themselves in places with Romanians from different states and did not view any of their own regional differences as significant in the Canadian context.
From the 1910s on, Romanian bands played popular music at church halls and Romanian clubs. Some Ukrainian bands learned Romanian songs for Romanian audiences. In the 1920s a recording of the Yiddish song “Der Freilicher Roumania” evoked a romanticized homeland. Folk dancing and music continued with vitality into the 1940s and 1950s in western Canada and still are performed by several groups. In Regina second-generation Romanian Canadians formed the Eminescu Roumanian Dance Group in 1965, which now has about sixty members, twenty of whom go on tour, and it has performed throughout North America, supervised by Romanian-trained choreographers. Several bands in western and central Canada play at Romanian festivals. Since 1988 a cultural and folklore festival called Romfest has been held biennially across North America; it took place in Hamilton in 1992. Romania evolved from a folk culture to an industrial state in the 1970s and 1980s; hence recent immigrants have brought few folk beliefs and customs with them. Even though Romania’s long tradition of theatre did not accompany immigrants to Canada, in 1993 a troupe of actors from the homeland performed at several locations in Ontario.
Generally, particularly in western Canada, the first generation perpetuated the culture; the second disavowed it in its rush to acculturate; some members of the third worked on ethnic revival; and the fourth has become largely assimilated. Central Canadian communities have been less ethnic-based because of higher levels of education, better knowledge of French and English, and a desire to shed the cultural baggage of a Communist society. Women have tended to perpetuate the Romanian heritage more assiduously than men and have been more involved in the life of the churches, where elements of the culture have survived.
The earliest Romanian newspapers in North America were religious in orientation. The first was Românul (Romanian; Cleveland, 1905–30s), founded by a Uniate priest. The first in Canada was Tribuna Româná (Romanian Tribune; Toronto, 1920s and 1930s). New political refugees in the 1970s have revived the press: Cuvântul Românesc (Romanian Word; Hamilton, Ont., 1976– ) is conservative and has the largest circulation (5,000) of any Romanian-language newspaper outside Romania. Other papers are Observatorul (Observer; Toronto, 1989– ), Luceafárul (The Evening Star; Montreal, 1987– ), and Ecouri Româneşti (Romanian Echoes; Toronto, 1962– 84). Several Romanian-American papers are popular as well. There are Romanian-language radio programs in Toronto, Montreal, and Kitchener, and television shows in Toronto and Montreal.
Romania has fostered a high culture in this century, and a Romanian-Canadian intelligentsia has emerged in church and academe, including professors in Edmonton, Montreal, and Toronto.
Even though early immigrants had little schooling, they expected much more for their children, and the better-educated post-World War II immigrants were even more demanding. Second-generation Romanian Canadians in western Canada generally completed at least high school, and some attended university or technical school, and the third and fourth generations in Ontario and Quebec have accomplished more, as have the children of the newer immigrants. There is virtually no illiteracy among Romanian Canadians.
The Romanian Orthodox Church in North America has offered encouragement and scholarships for its students to attend university. There were a few Romanian-language schools in the early churches held after public school; church schools taught language and religion. The first and second generations may have relegated many women to the home, but for the last few decades access to education has been about the same for males and females.
Most Romanians in Canada (90 percent) are Romanian Orthodox, with Uniate (Greek Catholic), Protestant, and Jewish adherents each numbering in the hundreds.
The Romanian Orthodox Church based in Bucharest was established in the 1870s, and its autocephaly (independence) was recognized by the ecumenical patriarch in 1885. The Orthodox Church, with its long history and traditions, gradually became a national church, perpetuating the national culture. With formation of the patriarchy, Bucharest became the source of most priests sent to Saskatchewan and Alberta. Romanian Orthodox congregations have emerged throughout western and central Canada.
The Romanian Orthodox community at Dysart, Saskatchewan, dates from the 1890s; St George’s Church was built there in 1907. St Nicholas Church was built in Regina in 1902, and a small Romanian neighbourhood grew on the east side of town. Kayville had Romanian homesteaders from 1905 on, and Sts Peter and Paul Romanian Orthodox Church was built there in 1906. In 1915 there was an internal split of the membership, and a dissident group built St Mary’s. Flintoft was a centre of Romanian community life in southern Saskatchewan until the 1950s; Sts Peter and Paul Romanian Orthodox Church, built there in 1911, has the finest iconostasis (altar screen) of any Romanian church in Canada, made probably at the Romanian Monastery at Mount Athos in Greece. At Wood Mountain, Holy Transfiguration Church was built in 1929.
Canora, 240 kilometres northeast of Regina, had early Romanian immigrants who became wheat farmers and founded the Church of Sts Peter and Paul in 1920. Elm Springs hosted Romanian homesteaders who built sod houses around 1905, as well as the Church of the Ascension of Our Lord in 1926. At Assiniboia a number of farming families settled in the 1930s and built the Church of the Holy Ghost in 1958.
In 1898 Uikim Yurko, a Ukrainian-Romanian immigrant from Bukovina, settled in east-central Alberta near Willingdon, where scores of friends and family joined him over the next decade. Most came from Boian (now Cernauú i) and they named their new settlement Boian. The district was the only place in North America with homeland-style Romanian peasant domestic architecture, seen in Bukovinian homes, barns, sheds, and outbuildings. Some ten of these remain today. St Mary Romanian Orthodox Church was completed in Boian in 1905, and a Romanian school in 1908. The Church of the Holy Cross was constructed in Malin, Alberta, in 1916, and Descent of the Holy Ghost Church at Hamlin in 1916. There has long been considerable intermarriage with Orthodox Ukrainians from Bukovina.
Urban migration brought about the formation of the Romanian Orthodox churches of the Virgin Mary in Calgary and of Saints Constantine and Elena in Edmonton. Some Romanians from the prairies and central Canada have moved to British Columbia and built Holy Trinity Church in Vancouver. Montreal is home to Feast of the Annunciation Romanian Orthodox Church, Windsor to St George, Kitchener to St John the Baptist, Hamilton to the Church of the Resurrection, and Toronto to St George. Hamilton also has a Romanian Baptist church.
Internecine feuding divided Canada’s Romanian Orthodox after World War II. As their church developed and expanded in North America, it was officially named, in 1925, the Romanian Orthodox Church of the United States and Canada, under the authority of the patriarch in Bucharest. In 1949 it changed its name to the Romanian Orthodox Missionary Episcopate of America. Its bishop at the time was Andrei Moldovan and its North American headquarters was in Detroit, Michigan. Most of its priests were trained in Romania, and it received some financial support from the patriarchy. Moldovan occasionally visited Romania, with the approval of the Communist regime, although virtually none of its adherents in Romanian supported the government.
This situation led to the establishment in 1952 of the virulently anti-Communist Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America, under Bishop Valerian Trifa, with headquarters in Grass Lake, Michigan. Canadian parishes chose one or the other episcopate, in roughly equal numbers; some larger cities had churches in each jurisdiction. Rivalry between the two reached a crisis that culminated in 1985 when Bishop Trifa resigned and moved to Europe under the threat of deportation by U.S. officials for lying about his alleged fascist activities in Romania during World War II. The rift continues, little diminished by political changes in the homeland.
Among the Romanian Orthodox in Canada, characteristic patterns of belief and practices range from occasional church attendance at religious holidays such as Christmas and Easter, to full involvement in weekly services, activity in parish social activities, and membership in parish and nationwide religious organizations.
Relations between clergy and laity are generally good, though there have been local movements against unpopular individual priests, especially in the early period, when many priests lacked full theological training. Most priests have had some theological training in Romania, at a seminary in Winnipeg, or in several Orthodox seminaries in the United States. Their salaries are not sufficient to support a family, so most also earn wages in various jobs. One priest recently worked as a butcher, and another as a bartender. Clergy are recruited by the bishops of the two episcopates directly from seminaries in Romania or North America or from other parishes.
Weekly communion and observance of sacraments and holy days still bring high participation rates, though with decreased activity among the third and fourth generations. Loss of the Romanian language has also forced churches in western Canada to offer at least half their services in English, to the distress of some of the older members. In Saskatchewan and Alberta, where such assimilation is nearly complete, most of the rural churches are closed. One priest said sadly, “I conduct more funerals than baptisms now.” More vitality exists in Ontario and Quebec, but such trends appear inevitable there, also, as the immigrants and their children become Canadianized.
Women have always played a vital and active role in the church, even though it has traditionally separated them from men in the services, denied them entry behind the altar screen, and relegated them to cooking and serving at social events and auxiliary status in organizations. At weekly services women often outnumber men, and they often are more active in the church.
The Uniate, or Greek Catholic Church, was created in Transylvania in 1697, uniting Orthodox Romanians in the region with the Holy See in Rome but allowing them to preserve their Byzantine liturgy and traditions. Only a few hundred immigrants from Romania in Canada claim Uniate affiliation. They have no parishes of their own and attend Ukrainian Greek Catholic or Roman Catholic churches.
Calvinism entered Transylvania in the late sixteenth century and has attracted many Romanians. There were not enough Protestants in the first wave of immigration to establish any such churches in the prairie provinces, but a small Romanian Baptist church was founded in Hamilton, Ontario, between the wars. A few hundred Romanian Baptists, Lutherans, Pentecostals, and Unitarians have joined non-Romanian congregations across the country.
Many Jewish immigrants from Romania, especially in the first wave, allied themselves with aspects of Romanian culture, spoke Romanian, and were friendly neighbours with Romanian Orthodox immigrants. The 1930s and 1940s saw massive out-migration from the Jewish settlements around Lipton, Saskatchewan. Most descendants of the settlers live in urban North America. The school has been razed, and the synagogue was destroyed by fire in 1975. All that is left is the Orthodox Jewish cemetery, surrounded by wheat fields, twenty kilometres north of Lipton.
Most of the Romanians emigrating to Canada opposed the governments under which they had lived. In Hungarian-ruled Transylvania, the conservative Magyar gentry exploited the Romanian peasants, forcing many to emigrate. Similar exploitation occurred in Austrian Bukovina, where the landlords were Romanian. Post-World War II emigrants left a war-torn and Communist Romania, in which life became increasingly difficult and totalitarian in the 1980s.
The new immigrants have avoided politics, although subsequent generations and more advanced levels of education have eased this tendency. Gradually some Romanian Canadians have begun joining political parties, and a few have gained elected positions. Tony Ruprecht has been a member of the Ontario legislature. Most Romanians were attracted to Canadian parties that denounced communism. Many second-generation Romanians are relatively conservative, perhaps reflecting their hard-won status in Canada; their children tend to be slightly more liberal. Few internal political structures or group movements exist. Toronto is home to the press bureau of King Michael, pretender to Romania’s throne. Since the revolution of 1989 in Romania, a few immigrants have returned to take positions in the new post-Communist government.
Romanian Canadians are generally not part of the “power structure” of Canadian society, but neither are they alienated from it, and they interact positively on occasion as needed with those in power. Many feel some kinship with other Eastern Orthodox groups, such as Bulgarians, Greeks, Russians, Serbs, and Ukrainians. Some Ukrainians and Romanians on the prairies intermarried in the early years and attended the same Romanian Orthodox or Ukrainian Orthodox churches.
Romanians have often thought of their country as a “Latin island in a sea of Slavs.” They have generally not been friendly with the Hungarians, because of centuries-old animosity, with Hungary ruling Transylvania and discriminating against ethnic Romanians in the decades before World War I, and Romania controlling the region after the war, and similarly oppressing its Hungarian minority.
Minorities from Romania such as the Gypsies and Jews seem to have recently had strained relationships with their ethnic Romanian neighbours in Canada – a change from the situation earlier. For example, Romanian Orthodox Christians and Romanian Jews in Toronto have differed over anti-Semitism in Romania, even though the early Bukovinian Jews in Lipton, Saskatchewan, generally interacted well with Romanian Orthodox settlers, with whom they had a lot in common.
Accommodation with the larger society in Canada occurred early on the part of Romanian immigrants, and such patterns continue among the newly arrived. Postwar immigrants were conversant in French and often in English and wanted to acculturate, grateful to be free of homeland problems. Third- and fourth-generation Canadians of Romanian descent from a small town in Alberta may not seem very Romanian to a recent immigrant living among Romanians in Montreal but may well identify their ancestral heritage as Romanian.
For Romanians in Canada, ethnicity tends to be voluntary, pragmatic, functional, and situational. Many wear their ethnic identity only when it suits them or offers advantages, using ethnic institutions for help in adapting to Canadian culture, and moving in and out of church, club, or kinship ties as their own needs and aspirations dictate. Much of Romanian ethnicity in Canada is symbolic, with some of the rites of passage, folk dancing, holiday celebrations, and homeland food being re-created traditions. This is especially true for the third and fourth generations.
As measured by exogamy and loss of language, more than four-fifths of Romanians in Saskatchewan and Alberta have become assimilated, behaviourally and structurally. The second generation began to move out of the small rural communities in the 1930s, to Edmonton, Regina, Calgary, and elsewhere. Some settled in Romanian neighbourhoods, but most did not, losing their church and club ties. Church records and field work indicate that fewer than 20 percent of all Romanians in the west have married within the group and kept the language; about 6 percent of Romanians in Saskatchewan speak Romanian most often at home. Romanian churches and clubs continue, but are of importance to fewer and fewer in Saskatchewan and Alberta.
In Montreal and Ontario, post-World War II immigrants and newer arrivals have experienced considerable behavioral assimilation, and about half have married externally and lost their language, principally in the second generation. Field work in Ontario in the mid1990s also suggests gradual assimilation.
Among those Romanians in Canada who are keeping the culture, that culture is somewhat altered from homeland patterns. The prairie Romanians were isolated from the homeland, so dilution and alteration were inevitable. The Ontario and Quebec communities received new infusions of homeland culture with each new immigrant, but most of these people are refugees, glad to be away from a system they dislike, and the more successful may shed homeland culture quickly.
The religious, linguistic, ceremonial, and culinary adaptations of some Romanian immigrants constitute what could be termed a third culture, neither fully Romanian nor fully Canadian. That these patterns are embraced by fewer than one-fifth of Romanians on the prairies and by only about half of those in central Canada does not mean that Romanian-Canadian culture is inevitably being lost at present, although it has been seriously weakened in the west and may survive there in name only. Romanian culture is being moderately sustained in Montreal and the four Ontario cities, for, as the second and subsequent generations move towards assimilation, the new immigrants give the culture some life, even if they also eventually move away from it.
During the 400 years of Ottoman domination in the Balkans, the Orthodox Church preserved and perpetuated national heritages in Bulgaria, Greece, Romania, and Serbia. Generally, to be any of these nationalities was to be Orthodox, and the national heritage included the national language, in which religious services were conducted.
As soon as the earliest Romanian immigrants in Canada settled, they sent home for wives and priests and founded churches. The Romanian Orthodox Church has been the primary institution for Romanian Canadians and has struggled to maintain community boundaries, by defining Romanianness as being Orthodox, by using the language in the churches, by importing priests from Romania, and by defining and explaining traditional theological and ecclesiastical culture to the people. That the Orthodox Church is losing some of its vitality is a warning signal to conservators of Romanian culture in Canada: assimilative trends are inexorably at work, and the process is a threat to the perpetuation of the culture.
Voluntary associations also serve to maintain boundaries and, as they lose members, are bellwethers of the gradual loss of homeland culture. Recent multicultural legislation has encouraged ethnic diversity; some funds have aided Romanians. An example is the $135,000 provincial grant to assist in constructing a Romanian cultural centre at the Romanian Camp north of Hamilton, Ontario.
There is a major loss of language in the west, and there are similar but less severe declines in Quebec and Ontario. Exogamy is ever increasing. The religious institutions work the hardest to perpetuate the culture; there are no educational institutions; community life is decreasing; peer pressure for ethnic maintenance, especially among the young, has been largely lost.
Relations with the homeland, so often a positive source of cultural connection, have not been as much of a factor for Romanians as among some other groups in Canada. The prairie communities had a difficult time maintaining contacts with the homeland because ship travel was time-consuming and expensive. World War II almost completely severed connections, and the postwar Communist regime in Romania forbade emigration and severely controlled and limited communications, further exacerbating the physical and psychological distance. In addition, Romanians in Canada, having often lost contact with families and friends in Romania, felt little desire to make connections with a country whose government was an irritant and embarrassment. However, the repressive regime, especially under Ceauçescu, forced Romanians to flee, and a trickle of refugees flowed into Canada throughout the Cold War era, growing to a small stream in the 1980s and 1990s, infusing Ontario and Quebec’s communities with some new injections of homeland culture.
While the elderly and the newly arrived have some degree of commitment to ethnic viability, the majority of Canadians of Romanian descent, and even most of the recent immigrants, show less commitment to ethnic perpetuation than do many other ethnic groups in Canada. Most Romanians in this country are proud Canadians, relieved and glad to be here, and have little interest in returning to the country that they or their ancestors left. Romanians in Canada do not reject their Romanian heritage and indeed proudly celebrate it when it meets their needs, but neither do they mourn the passing of a culture that has been less sustaining and gratifying to them than many other immigrants have found their own heritage. They are becoming Canadian.
General works on Romania include R.W. Seton-Watson, A History of the Roumainians (Hamden, Conn., 1963); M. Shafir, Romania: Politics, Economics, and Society (Boulder, Colo., 1985); and Trond Gilberg, Nationalism and Communism in Romania (Boulder, Colo., 1990).
Introductory works on Romanians in the United States and Canada are: Serban Drutzu, Românii in America (The Romanians in America; Chicago, 1922); Christine A. Galitzi, A Study of Assimilation among the Roumanians of the United States (New York, 1929); and Gerald Bobango, The Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America: The First Half Century, 1929–79 (Jackson, Mich., 1979). General works on Romanians in Canada as a whole, and in individual provinces, include encyclopedia entries by George Nan in the Encyclopedia Canadiana (Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, 1972–77) and G. James Patterson in The Canadian Encyclopedia, 2nd ed. (Edmonton, 1988). Recent monographs are G. James Patterson, The Romanians of Saskatchewan: Four Generations of Adaptation (Ottawa, 1977) and Jean Tranu’s Présence roumaine au Canada (Montreal, 1986).
The two Romanian Orthodox episcopates have published annual church “calendars,” which contain information about cultural and religious events within each parish of the episcopate. Taken over time, they are a good source for information about Romanian culture in Canada.
In one of the church calendars, George Ursul published “The Old Church in the New World – A Study of Orthodoxy in Canada” (Romanian Orthodox Missionary Episcopate in America, Detroit, 1976), which outlines facts about the founding and membership of a number of the churches in Canada. Several church publications offer specific parish studies, such as Tom Banda and Larry Lascue, Sixtieth Anniversary, 1914–74, St George Romanian Orthodox Cathedral (Regina, 1974); and Gerald Gordey, “Boian Church,” Heritage, vol.2, nos. 9–14. The journal Ecouri românesti (Romanian Echoes; Toronto, 1962–84) carried articles and remembrances of various Romanian cultural and religious events in Canada. Other studies include: “A Romanian Boardinghouse,” Polyphony , vol.6 (1984), 222–23; and G. James Patterson, “The Persistence of Ethnicity in Canada: The Case of the Romanians,” East European Quarterly, vol.19 (1986), 493–500.
Two bibliographies, Andrew Gregorovich, Canadian Ethnic Groups Bibliography (Toronto, 1972), and Vladimir Wertsman, The Romanians in America and Canada (Detroit, 1980), cite several references on Romanians. An unpublished bibliography, “The Romanians in Canada,” by Aurel Sasu (1991), is available at the Multicultural History Society of Ontario (Toronto).
The most extensive archival source for Romanians in Canada is at the Immigration History Research Center at the University of Minnesota; other materials can be found at the Multicultural History Society of Ontario and at the Romanian Cultural Centres of Montreal, Hamilton, Regina, Edmonton, and Calgary. Some of these centres are housed in Romanian Orthodox churches, many of which have small libraries of Romanian materials.