Croatian Canadians | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Croatian Canadians

Croatia is a country in southeastern Europe. It is bordered by Slovenia, Hungary, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro and the Adriatic Sea. The first Croatians to set foot on the land known today as Canada may have been two sailors from Dalmatia. One, serving as crew on Jacques Cartier’s third voyage (1541-42) and another, a miner who accompanied Samuel De Champlain in his explorations (1604-06). The 2016 census reported 133, 970 people of Croatian origin in Canada (55, 595 single and 78, 370 multiple responses).


Calculating numbers of Croatian immigrants to Canada over the years is a difficult task (see Immigration in Canada). This is because, since the 10th and 11th centuries, Croatia has been variously a part of the Hungarian dynasty, the Holy Roman Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire (to the First World War), the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (1918-29), the Kingdom of Yugoslavia (1929-41) and the Independent State of Croatia (1941- 45). From 1945 to 1992 Croatia constituted one of the republics of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. In 1992, Croatia became an independent nation.

Croatians were classified with Austrians and Hungarians before 1918, and as Yugoslavs after the formal establishment of Yugoslavia in 1929. It has been estimated that about two-thirds of the emigrants from the former Yugoslavia (which dissolved in 1992) have been Croatian (see also Canadian Peacekeepers in the Balkans; Battle of Medak Pocket). The number of Croatians who arrived as refugees from the conflict in 1991-93 is unclear.

In the 2006 census, 65 305 declared their ethnic origin to be Yugoslavia, however some may have been born in Croatia. The census reported 110 880 citizens who declared their ethnicity as Croatian (56 955 single response and 54 475 multiple response), which could also include Yugoslav, Balkan Slavs and other groups. A further 56 955 declared Croatian to be their mother tongue (first language learned) in the 2006 census, but it is assumed that many others who are in the second and third generations in Canada have classified themselves as English Canadians or may still have declared themselves Yugoslavs (see Immigrant Languages in Canada).

The Croatians were predominantly Roman Catholic peasants in the 19th and early 20th centuries, particularly those from the inland regions of Slavonia, Zumberak and Zagorje. The population of the Croatian littoral (Istria, Primorje and Dalmatia) on the Adriatic was somewhat more diverse, comprising some people of Muslim faith (see Islam) and a social mix of traders, sailors, fishermen, woodsmen and herders. Most of the immigration to Canada has been from this coastal region inland to the capital of Zagreb.

Migration and Settlement

Croatians served in Austrian military units sent by the French government to help defend New France (1758-59) and were involved in the early salmon fisheries of British Columbia, the Cariboo Gold Rush of the 1860s and the Klondike Gold Rush of the late 1890s.

Prior to the First World War (WWI), about 4000 Croatians immigrated to Canada. Over the main period of migration, which spanned the 20th century, approximately 80 000 Croatians immigrated to Canada. Between 1928 and 1939 some 12, 000 arrived. The third major group of immigrants who arrived after the Second World War (post-WWII) came in a wave of over 100 000 emigrants from Yugoslavia, the majority of whom were from Croatia. The main motive for immigration has been the search for a better life, but in the 1920s and after WWII many Croatians emigrated in protest of political conditions in their homeland. Many recent immigrants have been from an urban and professional class from the larger Croatian towns and cities, eg, Zagreb, Rijeka, Karlovac, Split and Zadar.

Of the 29 Croatian settlements established before WWI, 14 were in British Columbia. Other Croatians settled in Saskatchewan, Alberta and northern and southern Ontario. During the 1920s some 171 settlements were established in the mining towns and mill towns across Canada's mining, forest and agricultural frontier and in Windsor, Toronto and Montreal. The postwar immigrants have largely settled in major cities, particularly Toronto and Montreal. Most postwar foreign-born immigrants were part of the industrial labour force, while the majority of the Canadian-born have been employed in the professional, clerical and service sectors of the economy.

Social Life and Community

For the first and second group of immigrants, group life centered about kinship circles reminiscent of the familial and communal peasant zadruga. Fraternal and self-help organizations were established, eg, the American-based Croatian Fraternal Union, which opened its first Canadian lodge in Ladysmith, BC in 1903 and which had 10 000 members by 1971. Other networks were sponsored by political parties such as the Croatian Peasant Party of the 1920s, which founded the Croatian Peasant Society in 1930. Other social, cultural and political activities were promoted by the Communist Party and by the monarchist Yugoslav organizations in the 1930s. Since the war, organizations have proliferated, eg, the United Croats of Canada, the Federation of Croatian Societies in Canada and the Croatian Cultural Societies. More recently, Croatian folklore and dance groups have enjoyed a certain prominence within the multicultural festivals of urban ethnic communities.

With the breakup of the former Yugoslav Republic in 1992, Croatia was officially recognized as an independent state. In Canada, many Croats took considerable pride in the celebration of their long-sought independence.

Religion, Cultural Life and Education

The Roman Catholic Church, while unable to serve the isolated frontier communities of the 1920s and 1930s, has played a prominent role in Croatian Canadian life since 1950. This is the year the first Croatian Catholic parish was established in Windsor. Currently there are parishes and churches in all the major urban communities, in addition to the community halls and cultural centres sponsored by political and fraternal organizations. Croatians have also enjoyed an active press, broadly representative of political factions from far left to right (see also Newspapers in Canada). Examples include Hrvatski Glas (The Croatian Voice), est 1929 and sponsored by the Croatian Peasant Society, and the Communist Party's Borba (The Struggle), est 1930. The latter was published more recently as Jedinstvo (Unity) and then as Nase Novine (Our News). Other nationalist newspapers include Nas Put (Our Way), Hrvatski Put (The Croatian Way) and Nezavisna Drzava Hrvatska (The Independent State of Croatia). Several writers have also emerged from the émigré community, such as the poet Alan Horiç, who won recognition for his works L'Aube assassiné and Blessure au flanc du ciel. Others in the fields of ballet, classical music and the fine arts have also won acclaim. Notable Croatian Canadians include hockey players Frank and Peter Mahovlich and Joe Savic, figure skaters Val and Sandra Bezic and boxer George Chuvalo.


The Croatian language was generally maintained by the family until the 1950s when informal extracurricular schools began to be organized by community leaders. In the 1970s a network of Croatian-language schools established in the US spread into Canada, and a few courses on Croatian language and culture at the university level were introduced. In 1989, the University of Waterloo opened the first Canadian department to study Croatian language and culture. Several Canadian universities have Croatian Student Associations. Language skills and cultural traditions have been somewhat lost through assimilation, particularly in the small isolated communities of the 1920s and 1930s. However, because of the more recent and greater concentration of Croatians in larger cities, cultural maintenance has been more consciously pursued by community leaders. In the 2016 census, 51, 090 Canadians declared Croatian as their mother tongue language (first language learned). This represents 0.1 per cent of the total Canadian population.

Further Reading

External Links