Byelorussian Canadians | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Byelorussian Canadians

Byelorussian Canadians (Byelarussians, Belarusians) originate from Belarus and are considered an eastern Slavic people. In 2016, 20,710 Canadians reported themselves as being mainly or partly Byelorussian.

Immigration History

At the beginning of the 20th century, Byelorussians immigrated to Canada in large numbers from the Russian Empire. The majority of the immigrants were peasants and were considered as being Russian by officials. After WWI, western Byelorussia was temporarily under Polish rule. It may be assumed that Polish immigrants to Canada in 1927 included 3,500 Byelorussians; in 1928, 3,800; in 1929, 5,100; and in 1930, 4,200.

Among the first Byelorussians to immigrate to Canada after WWII were soldiers from the Polish Second Command who were recruited by Canadian agriculturalists as "agricultural workers." Of the 2,800 recruited, 2,200 were probably Byelorussians; in 1947 some 800 more Byelorussians arrived in Canada. It is estimated that Byelorussians comprised 60 per cent of Polish immigrants between 1948 to 1956, and it is probable that as many as 48,000 Byelorussians immigrated between 1946 and 1971. (See also Immigration in Canada; Immigration Policy in Canada.)

The Byelorussians who immigrated in the postwar period varied in age and in socioeconomic, cultural, and political background. Although Byelorussians were not recognized as a distinct ethnic group by Canadian officials, many Byelorussians possessed a distinct sense of national identity. It was not until 1971 that Byelorussians were listed in the census as a separate ethnic group. The 1996 census reported 4,060 Canadians of Byelorussian origin. By 2016, this number had risen to 20,710.

Settlement and Economic Life

Byelorussians who arrived in Canada before WWI settled primarily in industrial cities, particularly in northern Ontario, where they worked as labourers. Many immigrants who arrived between the wars settled on the Prairies. In 1927, a group moved to Saskatchewan where they cleared the land and settled there.

The postwar immigrants (peasants, labourers, skilled workers, technicians, and professionals) enjoyed better economic status and were geographically more mobile. Many Byelorussians are represented in medicine, engineering, broadcasting, and academia. According to estimates, the majority of Byelorussians are in Ontario, followed by Alberta, British Columbia, Quebec, and Manitoba.

Religious and Cultural Life

The majority of Byelorussians belong to the Roman Catholic or Greek Orthodox churches. Some however adhere to the United Church, Anglican, and Baptist faiths, among others.

After WWII, nationality-conscious Byelorussians in Canada established various organizations, including the Byelorussian Canadian Alliance (1948) in Toronto, the Byelorussian National Committee (1950) in Winnipeg and the Alliance of Byelorussians (1952) in Montreal, and several monthly newsletters have been published. "Byelorussian Week," first held in 1974, is now a tradition in Toronto.

After the 1986 disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, about 70 per cent of radioactive fallout in the former Soviet Union landed on the territory of Byelorussia. As a result, Byelorussians organizations in Canada became very active in the relief efforts. This was particularly the case for the Children of Chernobyl Committee based in Ontario, which hosted Byelorussian children on a regular basis during summer vacations.

Further Reading

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