Multiculturalism in Canada: A Slovak Perspective (1)

Article excerpt

The Canadian federal government's multiculturalism policies have been controversial since their implementation. (2) I propose to show their impact on one of Canada's smaller ethnic groups, the Slovaks, principally in the Province of Ontario, where more than half reside. (3) Slovak individuals and communities in Canada have been avid supporters of the federal government's multiculturalism policies from their inception to the present, although funding for Slovak projects seems to have dried up after the year 2000.

In response to Quebec's "Quiet Revolution," when that province began to demand more home-rule, Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson established the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism in 1963. (4) The intent was clear--to define Canada as a bilingual (English and French) and bicultural (English and French) society. Alarmed Slovak leaders hastened to testify before the commission. Dr. Joseph Kirschbaum, one of the intellectual leaders of the Canadian Slovak community, even addressed the commission in French when it met in Toronto. (5) Kirschbaum and his colleagues from the Canadian Slovak League spoke in favour of bilingualism, but not of biculturalism, as did leaders of the Ukrainian, Polish, and other Eastern European communities. Instead, they stressed that Canada was a multicultural society. (6) After Book IV of the Bilingualism and Biculturalism Commission, which echoed this sentiment, was published, Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau proclaimed in October of 1971 that henceforth the Government of Canada would promote a policy of bilingualism and multiculturalism. (7) Indeed, the government then appointed the first Minister of State for Multiculturalism in Canada, the Polish-Canadian Stanley Haidasz (1972-1974). Under his direction some of the sixteen recommendations from Book IV of the Bilingualism and Biculturalism Commission were initiated. (8)

The following recommendations were most relevant to Slovak communities: the teaching of languages and cultures other than English or French in public schools, high schools, and universities; the broadcasting of radio and television programmes in languages other than English and French; the production of films by the National Film Board of Canada on subjects and in languages other than English or French; the encouragement of federal, provincial, and municipal agencies to provide financial support for the above programmes; and the encouragement and financial support of the National Museum of Man (today's Canadian Museum of Civilization) to engage in collecting, researching, and displaying the cultural artifacts of all ethnic groups in Canada, not just those of the English and French. (9)

Generally speaking, Slovak communities benefited from Canada's multicultural policies. The National Library, the National Archives, and the National Museum of Man started to vigorously collect books, archives, and artifacts of all ethnic groups in Canada in the 1970s. Indeed, I was employed as a Historical Researcher by the Museum of Man in 1977-1978 and in this capacity travelled all across Canada conducting oral history interviews and collecting books, archives, and artifacts that documented the Slovak experience. Furthermore, I was given the resources to produce a film on Slovak Christmas customs in Canada. This is, I believe, the only film on a Slovak subject produced by the Museum of Man and distributed by the National Film Board of Canada. (10)

In the meantime, the federal government persuaded various provincial governments (but not Quebec) and municipalities to also fund multicultural programmes at their levels. For example, in Ontario the provincial government, through a large one-time grant from its WINTARIO lottery, enabled historian Robert F. Harney of the University of Toronto to establish the Multicultural History Society of Ontario in 1976. (11) Once these funds were exhausted, the province provided annual operating grants to the Society until 1996. …