Early Days in Canada

The worker placement schemes could take DPs to far corners of the country – late 1940s editions of the newspaper “BrÄ«vais Latvietis” (Free Latvian) mentions Latvian clubs in places such as the Yukon. But through newspapers like this, they kept in touch, found lost friends and kept the community spirit alive. Early editions of this paper are available through the website Connecting Canadians. At some point during this time, though I’m unsure as to how it happened, my maternal grandmother came back into contact with her high school sweetheart, who had settled in the USA. They still keep up correspondence to this day.

After the contracts ended and DPs could move to anywhere they wanted, Latvians tended to congregate in larger cities – Toronto has the largest Latvian community in Canada, but there were also communities in Montreal, Saint Catharines, Ottawa and Hamilton. They set up Latvian Saturday schools for their children, organized singing and dancing clubs, created scout and guide troops, organized summer camps and established churches. A prevailing notion that inspired this flurry of activity right from the beginning was that Latvians in the Soviet Union would be systematically eliminated, so it was up to the exiles (“trimdinieki”) to maintain their identity, heritage and language.

Many of these same instutitions continue to exist today. My father and I both graduated from the same Latvian school in Toronto, which this year celebrates its 60th anniversary. The Latvian summer camp that I attended as a camper from 1993 to 1998, and as a counselor for five of the eight following years, has been operating for fifty-three years.

Now, since independence was regained, there has been a shift – children and grandchildren of exiles, who were born and grew up in the West, are increasingly moving to Latvia to live. Many of my childhood friends have done so, and it is my intention as well. How much of a trend this will be, and how much culture and identity is retained in the West by those who do not return, is yet to be seen.

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