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History of immigration in Sudbury

The first permanent European settlement in the Sudbury region was established by railway workers, lumbermen and their managers in 1883. Among these men and women were many who had either immigrated to Canada, or whose parents had. These included people who would lay the foundations of Sudbury’s most vibrant ethnic communities including Finns, Poles, Ukrainians, Italians and Croatians. No ‘local’ Sudburian, looking back on those days from 2016 could deny that our city has arisen through the efforts of ‘outsiders’ from the moment of its founding.

‘Settlers’ vs. ‘Immigrants’

From the perspective of Aboriginal communities who have lived and commuted along Sudbury’s plentiful lakes and rivers for thousands of years, virtually all of Sudbury’s current residents are immigrants, and recent ones at that. Although many histories of Sudbury begin with the railway and Europeans settlement, the intervening 133 years between the first permanent settlement in Sudbury in 1883 and today (2016) would barely appear in a book which gave proportional space to our city’s aboriginal past.

Until approximately 11,000 years ago the Sudbury region lay under several kilometers of slowly melting ice. Almost as soon as the ice had melted the ancestors of Sudbury’s First Nations established themselves in an area which at that time bore a greater resemblance to Canada’s arctic than modern-day Northern Ontario.

Stone tools have been found in Whitefish and near the shore of Long Lake dated to 10,400 years ago. We do not know much more about these people than that they were there. Whatever their exact relationship with aboriginal peoples living in Sudbury today, we do know that there were still people living in both locations when the first Europeans arrived to cut surveyor-lines through this ancient landscape 150 years ago.

When we think about settlers and immigrants and refugees in Sudbury it is helpful to remember that our city is young enough that some of our eldest residents can still remember childhood conversations with the Elders of Sudbury’s First Nations community who could themselves recall a time before the arrival of Europeans. What would they think of us: settlers, immigrants, refugees?

Settlers

In 1901 the population of Sudbury was 2, 027. A majority were English, but this figure also includes Finns, Poles, Ukrainians, Italians and Croatians and one Chinese-Canadian.

These original settlers laid the foundation for successive groups of immigrants from their former European homelands who arrived in Sudbury to work in the booming mining and resource sectors over the next fifty years. Their legacy lives on in buildings such as the Caruso Club and Ukrainian Hall.

Finland

The Finnish population of Sudbury increased from several hundred to over a thousand following the Finnish Civil War of 1918-1921. Initially the United States was their favoured destination, however there was concern over an influx of poor ‘economic migrants’ from Finland into states such as Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan, so a quota was imposed by the U.S. Government leading many Finns to settle across the border in Canada. By the 1930s, when the following editorial was published in the Sudbury Star, Finns had become Sudbury’s largest minority group:

“Some of the best miners, most progressive farmers and finest citizens ... whose contribution to the develop... [of] Sudbury can hardly be measured.”

We do not know the context of this editorial but it may have been in defense of Finns whose ‘socialism’ and activism and mobilization for the rights of workers was a cause for concern among management in the mining sector, and even within the Finnish community itself. During the Great Depression several of its leaders were jailed because of their alleged Communist sympathies.

Poland

Polish families were the original settlers of the town later called Hanmer. Poles also founded the community of Blezard Valley. At the turn of the century Creighton was called “Polack Town”. During the Great Depression INCO management described Poles as “productive... and good, efficient and conscientious” workers. Following World War Two Canadian Immigration Officials actively recruited Polish refugees from camps throughout Europe, directing them to Sudbury’s booming mining sector on two year contracts. By 1961 there was an active, civically engaged population of 2,100 people claiming Polish descent in Sudbury. One of Laurentian University’s early exchange agreements was with the Catholic University of Lublin, agreed to in 1979.

Ukraine

Ukrainians have also been fixtures of Sudbury’s polyglot community from an early date in the city’s history. The Ukrainian population grew quickly through immigration prior to World War One. The Ukrainians in particular were well known for providing room and board to fellow countrymen; in 1910 fourteen neighbours on two streets in Copper Cliff – Elizabeth St. and Rink St. – provided accommodation for nearly 170 countrymen between them. Unfortunately, many of these Ukrainians came from villages in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, one of Canada’s enemies during World War One, and were required to register as enemy aliens.

They faced employment discrimination and lived in constant fear of arrest and detention in internment camps. The Magistrate of Sudbury recognized the unfortunate situation of these men and protected them until 1916 when the Canadian Government finally determined they did not pose a threat. Ukrainians continued to face discrimination by Sudbury’s Anglo-Saxon population, either for their ethnicity, culture and language or suspected Communist sympathies.

Following World War Two hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians faced forcible repatriation to the U.S.S.R. The matter of settling these refugees in Canada was raised in the House of Commons in 1946 but encountered strong opposition by those who feared allowing “Communists” to enter the country. The Government of Mackenzie King ultimately found in favour of the refugees (or D.P.s as they were known). Between 1946 and 1955, 35,000 Ukrainians formerly residing in Poland, Romania and the U.S.S.R. settled in Canada, several thousand in Sudbury.

Italy

Sudburians of Italian descent have been the nucleus of one of Sudbury’s most vibrant ethnic communities for nearly 150 years. One of the first books on Sudbury’s early history refers to Italian workers’ struggle to adapt to the harsh winter of 1883, “... [it] proved to be... very cold... with great quantities of snow and blustery storms. There were many Italians working on the road, many of them just out from their sunny Italy.” As Sudbury’s prosperity grew these early settlers encouraged family members from Italy to emigrate, creating a thriving, close-knit “Little Italy” in Copper Cliff, notable for its Old World ambiente. Unfortunately, this distinctiveness was partly the result of invisible barriers erected between Sudbury’s ethnic communities in the early days which only broke down over time.

Unfortunately, much of the progress came undone during World War Two. Like Ukrainian-Canadians before them, and Japanese-Canadians in western Canada at the same time, Italians in Sudbury came under suspicion after Mussolini declared war on the Allies in 1940. All Italians living in Sudbury were forced to register as enemy aliens and prohibited from owning firearms. The Italian Consul in Sudbury at the time spoke for many others when he said, “I don’t want to go back to Italy. I have lived 35 years in Canada, and all my interests are here. I am naturalized, and a loyal Canadian, so why should I want to go back to Italy? ... I can’t forget that I was born there, but Canada is my country.” Although much was forgiven and forgotten in the aftermath of the Second World War, having to prove their loyalty left a bitter legacy among longtime Italo-Canadian residents of Sudbury which took many years to dissipate.

Nevertheless, following the war Italian immigration to Sudbury took off again, contributing to the development of Sudbury, it’s business community and labour force – a tradition that continues to this day.

Croatia

During construction of the CPR in Northern Ontario, Croatians were sought out for their experience in railroad construction through equally rocky terrain in Croatia and Austria. A few returned to Sudbury to work in the mining sector once the railway was finished, joined by immigrants from the United States.

Croatians, like other former nationals of the Austro-Hungarian Empire were forced to register as enemy aliens following the outbreak of World War One. Canada also imposed restrictions on Croatians from entering Canada, which remained in place until the early 1920s. These were lifted in 1923, coinciding with the imposition of quotas on immigrants from eastern Europe by the United States, as well as unrest in Croatia itself, then part of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. This and the relative prosperity of Sudbury during the 1920s led many local Croatians to send for their family members.

By 1931 there were large Croatian communities in Worthington, Creighton, Levack and Sudbury itself, concentrated in the Donovan neighborhood along Frood, Bessie, Montague, Burton and Bloor Sts. These family and community networks were important for the many Croatians who immigrated during the 1930s to a decidedly more economically depressed Sudbury. Rearmament helped reinvigorate the mining sector in Sudbury which lasted throughout the war and these same Croatians, now established in both their local ethnical, and wider Sudbury communities would sponsor others living as refugees in camps in Europe.