A Brief History of Hungarians in Canada
Hungarians have lived in Canada for over 120 years. The first Hungarian immigrants were farmers and most of them came to Canada during the 1880s and 1890s from the United States. The majority settled in what today is the Province of Saskatchewan and formed a number of small communities, including Békevár, Kaposvár, Esterházy and Otthon. Paul Oscar Esterházy (born Johannes Packh) played a key role in encouraging the first Hungarians to immigrate to Canada. The first settlers arrived in 1886, when Esterházy helped 35 families settle land located south of Esterházy. This original settlement became known as Kaposvár. While most of these settlements have disappeared over the decades, Esterhazy has grown to a town of over 2600 residents, albeit the majority of the population does not have Hungarian roots. All that is left of Kaposvár is a large stone church, built in 1906, which has become a place of pilgrimage for some Roman Catholics. The church today forms part of the Kaposvar Historical Site, which also includes the local Hungarian community’s one-room school house and a number of log buildings.
The town of Kipling, in southeast Saskatchewan, was also the site of early Hungarian settlers. Kipling is located in what was once called the Békevár District. The Hungarian community, comprised primarily of Protestants, and with a sizeable Baptist population, constructed their own church in 1912 and based its architectural design on the Great Church in the Hungarian city of Debrecen. This church remains one of the few symbols of the area’s historic Hungarian community and it has been declared a heritage site by Kipling’s municipal government.
The arrival of a much larger waves of Hungarians during the twentieth century makes it easy to forget that the Hungarian presence in Canada extends to the last decades of the nineteenth century. Nevertheless, a small handful of historic sites, as well as essays and scholarly works, provide a glimpse into the history of Canada’s first Hungarians. For example, the National Film Board of Canada produced a documentary film on Saskatchewan’s Hungarian settlers entitled „Bekevar Jubilee.” Directed by Albert Kish in 1977, the film was created on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the establishment of the homestead. Additionally, newspapers such as the Canadai Magyar Farmer (1910-1918) and the Kanadai Magyar Újság (1924-1976), based in Winnipeg, provide valuable historical information on these western communities.
The Early Twentieth Century
The beginning of the twentieth century, and especially the period following World War War I, saw the development of Hungarian communities in Ontario and Québec, especially in Toronto, Montreal and Hamilton, and throughout small towns in Ontario’s tobacco belt. The majority of community halls and churches located in Toronto and Montreal were established during the 1920s and these communities grew significantly during the interwar period, following the arrival of nearly 30,000 Hungarian immigrants. The most detailed study of this period is a book written by Carmela Patrias, a social historian at Brock University, entitled Patriots and Proletarians: Politicizing Hungarian Immigrants in Interwar Canada. Patrias examined the way in which Hungarians communities were infused with politics, often reflecting the same political and ideological divisions that existed in Hungary.
The early twentieth century also saw the establishment of Canada’s first Hungarian Jewish community, in Montreal. According to McCord Museum’s records, the Austrian-Hungarian Synagogue served Jewish immigrants from the Habsburg lands between 1901 and 1910.
1956 – The Transformation of Canada’s Hungarian Communities
The arrival of over 38,000 refugees following the suppression of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution transformed Canada’s Hungarian communities. A large number of Canadian families opened their homes to the thousands of new arrivals—mainly young couples and young single men--who frequently made the long voyage to Canada and arrived without money, adequate winter clothing, food or shelter. The arrival of such a large number of Hungarians strained Hungarian communities requiring many to move out of old churches, which had become cramped, and build new structures to house key institutions. The post-1956 period also saw the establishment of Canada’s largest Hungarian Jewish community in Montreal, with its own synagogue, a Hungarian rabbi, as well as women’s groups, balls, cultural associations and stores.
The arrival of Hungarians in 1956-57 left a mark on Canada’s largest cities. An array of Hungarian-owned restaurants and bistros dotted downtown Montreal’s Stanley Street and these attracted not only a Hungarian clientele, but a wide cross-section of Canadians, including many students and professors from the nearby Sir George University, as well as from McGill University.
Hungarian immigrants also changed the face of Canada’s educational institutions and none more so than the University of British Columbia. The arrival of nearly the entire Sopron Forestry School in 1957, including 200 students and 14 professors, led to the establishment of the Sopron Division of the Faculty of Forestry at UBC. The division remained in operation until the last students graduated in May 1961.
Hungarians were also well represented at other institutions of higher education, including the Chair in Hungarian Studies at the University of Toronto—which was founded in 1978—as well as a series of courses offered in Hungarian studies at Montreal’s Loyola College during the 1960s and 1970s.
Hungarians continued to immigrate to Canada even after 1956 and in many cases the new arrivals were sponsored by family members who had arrived after the revolution. Following Hungary’s return to parliamentary democracy in 1989-90, the number of immigrants declined, but were in part replaced by smaller waves of Hungarian immigrants from neighbouring countries in East Central Europe, including the former Yugoslavia and Romania.
Despite the overall decline in immigration, as well as the effects of integration and assimmilation over the decades, there are 267,255 Canadians with Hungarian origin, according to the 2001 Census. More than 46,790 Hungarian-Canadians live in Toronto, over 20,230 in Vancouver, 16,075 in Calgary and 12,925 in Hamilton. Active Hungarian communities exist in all of these cities, as well as in Ottawa, Montreal, Winnipeg and in many other towns and cities across Canada.