Hungarian Canadians

Before 1914 Hungarians came to Canada from Austria-Hungary, along with numerous SLOVAKS, CROATIANS, GERMANS and other nationalities. Since WWI Hungarians emigrated from Hungary, or from Czechoslovakia, Romania or Yugoslavia, countries with substantial Hungarian minorities.

Hungarian Refugees
Hungarian refugees arriving in 1957 after the democratic revolt in Hungary was crushed by the Soviets (Archives of Ontario 476).

Hungarian Canadians

Hungarians Until the late 19th century, very few Hungarians came to Canada and even fewer stayed for more than a brief period. In the 1880s Hungarian immigrants to the US began migrating to Canada and, through the efforts of immigration agent Paul Oscar Esterhazy (see ESTERHAZY, Sask), they established colonies in the "old" North-West Territories. In time these pioneers were followed by about 100 000 other Hungarian immigrants. The 2006 census reported 315 510 Canadians of Hungarian descent (single and multiple response). More than 90% of all Canadians with Hungarian ancestry live in Ontario and the Prairie Provinces: Ontario (151 750 or 48%), BC (49 875 or 16%), Alberta (48 665 or 15%), Saskatchewan (27 395 or 9%) and Manitoba (9900 or 3%). They constitute a culturally and socially diverse group whose members live throughout most of the country and can be found in all walks of life.


Before 1914 Hungarians came to Canada from Austria-Hungary, along with numerous SLOVAKS, CROATIANS, GERMANS and other nationalities. Since WWI Hungarians emigrated from Hungary, or from Czechoslovakia, Romania or Yugoslavia, countries with substantial Hungarian minorities. Throughout most of the past 11 centuries, Hungary occupied the entire Middle Danube Basin and was the home of Hungarians as well as a few other nationalities.

Prior to WWI, uneven economic development, lack of agrarian reform, a nationality problem and other factors caused hundreds of thousands of Hungarians to emigrate. After the defeat of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Hungary was dismembered. The resulting economic and social malaise drove still more Hungarians to emigrate, while Hungarians who had been transferred to neighbouring states often chose immigration to Canada over life in a hostile political environment. WWII and the imposition of a communist dictatorship forced more Hungarians into exile.

Migration and Settlement

Hungarians came to Canada in 4 major waves. In the period before 1914 about 8000 immigrated; from 1925 to 1930 about 26 000; between 1948 and 1952 some 12 000 postwar displaced persons arrived; and between 1956 and 1957 about 37 000 Hungarian REFUGEES came to Canada after the collapse of the 1956 uprising against Soviet authority. Since then several hundred Hungarians have immigrated to Canada annually.

Most of the pre-1914 settlers were peasants; in general they were disappointed transmigrants from the industrial slums of the US. The interwar arrivals were a somewhat more mixed lot socially, while many of the post-WWII immigrants were from Hungary's dispossessed middle and upper classes. Young adult males predominated in all but the last wave of immigrants.

The first groups of Hungarian immigrants settled mainly on prairie homesteads (Saskatchewan was sometimes called "Little Hungary" before 1914), but later immigrants established themselves in towns and cities. Whether in rural or urban areas they usually congregated in their own residential groups.

From the 1920s onwards, more Hungarians settled in cities, especially in central Canada. The Great Depression interrupted these trends, but the shift to the cities, and especially to southern Ontario, resumed after WWII. Today, one out of every 2 people of Hungarian origin lives in Ontario, and 4 out of 5 live in a city, although residential concentrations have all but disappeared.

Economic Life

Most of the early Hungarian immigrants worked as homesteaders, miners, navvies and loggers. The post-1945 immigrants tended to be more skilled and better educated. In times of prosperity most Hungarians did well, in times of recession they were particularly hard hit. During the Depression most of them lost their jobs, farms or businesses. Today, many are economically comfortable and a few have become rich.

Social and Cultural Life

The majority of Hungarians are Roman Catholic. Others belong to various Protestant faiths; still others are Jewish or Eastern Rite Catholics. Many of their churches double as social and cultural centres and provide instruction in the Hungarian language for children. In the 2006 census 75 595 people in Canada reported Hungarian as their mother tongue (first language learned).

To smooth the effects of social isolation and to reduce economic instability, Hungarians have maintained various types of organizations since the establishment of their first settlements. Today, many of these clubs and churches are members of the Hungarian Canadian Federation, the national umbrella organization of Hungarians in Canada. Among the local, regional or professional organizations mention might be made of the Széchenyi Society of Calgary which had been instrumental in the establishment of a permanently endowed Hungarian studies program at the University of Toronto, the first of the so-called "ethnic studies chairs" in Canada.

In Toronto, the Hungarian Helikon Society has been active in cultural and social affairs since the 1950s. Also in Toronto, the Hungarian School Board co-ordinates several programs providing schooling in the Hungarian language at both the elementary and secondary level. The Hungarian Cultural Centre in the same city is one of the largest such centres outside Hungary. In recent years an increasingly important role has been played in the community life of major centres of Hungarian life in the country, such as Toronto, of Hungarian refugees from the Transylvanian districts of Rumania.

Hungarians began publishing Hungarian-language newspapers before 1914. Today, Toronto is the centre of Hungarian publishing activity in Canada; publications include Kanadai Magyarsàg (Canadian Hungarians), Magyar Élet (Hungarian Life) and many more specialized papers. Menorah Egyenlöség is the largest Hungarian-language Jewish newspaper in North America.

Group Maintenance

Adjustment to Canadian life tended to come first in the workplace and last in the family home. Hungarian women acquired greater influence as they gained more economic power. Hungarian customs and rites have gradually been abandoned, and the process of adjustment has often been followed by that of assimilation. Social and economic stratification among the immigrants has often hindered intra-ethnic unity and interaction and thereby has hastened the loss of the immigrant cultural heritage.

Although maintenance of the native culture was encouraged at home and within the immigrant community's institutions, the adjustment to Canadian conditions has been promoted through the schooling of children in regular English- or French-language schools. Some of the most remarkable contributions of Hungarians to Canadian culture have been in fields in which the immigrant heritage is compatible with the Canadian environment, eg, in arts, sciences and music.

Further Reading

  • G. Bisztray, Hungarian-Canadian Literature (1987); J. Kosa, Land of Choice: Hungarians in Canada (1957); N.F. Dreisziger et al, Struggle and Hope: The Hungarian-Canadian Experience (1982).

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