Lithuanians

Lithuania is a small country on the southeastern coast of the Baltic Sea. Lithuania was annexed by the USSR in 1940 but on 11 March 1990 it declared independence from the former Soviet Union and was recognized as an independent country in 1991. In 2004 it joined both NATO and the European Union.

The first recorded Lithuanian immigrants to Canada were soldiers serving in the British army in the early 19th century. At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, many Lithuanians (mostly unskilled workers), fleeing Tsarist police or in an attempt to improve their livelihoods, immigrated to Canada and settled in Nova Scotia, Ontario and western Canada. The 1921 census recorded 1970 people of Lithuanian origin in Canada; another 5000 emigrated in the 1920s and 1930s. Most of these early Lithuanian immigrants found work on farms and the railways and in coal mines and factories in Toronto and Montréal.

The largest number arrived after WORLD WAR II, when thousands of Lithuanians, fleeing Soviet occupation, fled westward and found themselves in displaced persons' camps. Calling themselves Dievo Paukstai ("God's birds"), almost 20 000 of these refugee Lithuanians, many of whom were well-educated professionals, craftsmen and artists, made their way to Canada. Balts, mostly ESTONIANS, LATVIANS, and Lithuanians, were among the first displaced persons selected by Canadian immigration during World War II.

Lithuania was the first Soviet republic to declare its independence; Soviet officials did not recognize this proclamation until September of 1991, and it was 1993 before the last Russian troops withdrew from Lithuania. The 1990-91 immigration of Lithuanians to Canada reflected the pro-independence struggle in Lithuania. In the 2006 census it was estimated that there were 46 690 persons in Canada of Lithuanian ancestry (single and multiple response). Most Lithuanian Canadians reside in Ontario, but substantial numbers are settled in Québec, Alberta and BC.

Social and Cultural Life

Lithuanians have integrated easily into Canadian society but have maintained a strong sense of their former identity through a variety of clubs and singing and dancing groups. They have preserved many folk-song traditions such as sutartine and still use musical instruments such as skudicani and kankles. Several mutual aid societies and community organizations were founded in the 1900s. In 2008 the Lithuanian Canadian Community (LCC), established in 1952, had 17 chapters across Canada; its National Council in Toronto maintains links with the Lithuanian World Federation and publish the biweekly newspaper Independent Lithuania (Québec) and the weekly Lights of Homeland (Ontario). The community also offers classes in Lithuanian language, history, religion and folklore. The Lithuanian language belongs to the Baltic group of languages, and in the 2006 census Statistics Canada reported 8 595 people in Canada who declared Lithuanian as their mother tongue (first language learned). Lithuanians are predominantly Roman Catholic and there are Lithuanian churches throughout Canada as well as numerous church groups and organizations.