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Title: Address to the Commemoration in Winnipeg of the 50th Anniversary of the Hungarian Uprising: 22 October 2006  •  Size: 39747
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Introduction     History     Recollections    



In October 2006 the Hungarian Canadian Cultural Society of Winnipeg organized an event to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution and the arrival of a large number of Hungarian refugees to Winnipeg. At this event Dr Emőke Szathmáry, Anthropologist, geneticist;
President and Vice Chancellor of the University of Manitoba 1996-2008, gave a keynote address about the history of Hungarians in the Province of Manitoba. In this address she notes that the first Hungarian settlement in Canada (in 1885, a couple of years earlier than the ones usually cited as the first in Saskatchewan) was near Neepawa in what was then called Hungarian Valley and later became known as Hun's Valley – which became its official name in 1977 and is still listed as such in Geographical Names of Manitoba (2000, University of Manitoba Press).


We are grateful to Dr Szathmáry for giving us permission to publish her speech here. A shorter version of the presentation appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press in 2006.



Address to the Commemoration in Winnipeg of the 50th Anniversary of the Hungarian Uprising: 22 October 2006


Emőke J. E. Szathmáry

Distinguished guests, kedves honfitársaim, friends....


It is a pleasure to speak to you about Hungarians in Canada, bearing in mind that many of you came here as a consequence of the 1956 Hungarian revolution. I have lived in Winnipeg for only 10 years, however, and I do not share your memories.


What was it like when you arrived?


Was your experience different than the experience of those who came before?


In what manner has the situation for Hungarian immigrants in Canada changed since your arrival?

To answer such questions, I must begin at the beginning. I should note that the first Hungarian to set foot on what is now Canadian soil was Stephen Parmenius, who had studied at Oxford, and recorded the travel of Sir Humphrey Gilbert to the New World in 1583. The ship reached Newfoundland, and after a short stay sailed further south. Sadly, off Sable Island Sir Gilbert's ship was wrecked, and Parmenius drowned along with some 100 others. Almost 300 years was to pass after that first visit before Hungarian settlement occurred in Canada.


Manitoba occupies a pride of place in that move, back in 1885 in the Rosedale Municipality 16 miles northwest of Neepawa, in a region that was first called Hungarian Valley, and later became known colloquially as Hun's Valley. The first Hungarian Roman Catholic congregation in Manitoba formed St. Elizabeth of Hungary parish there, which remains part of the Archdiocese of Winnipeg today. The record shows, however, that only some of the settlers who had followed Paul Oscar Esterházy, and the agronomist, Géza St. de Dory, from Pennsylvania** to Manitoba were actually of Hungarian ethnicity3.


In 1887 de Dory wrote the Minister of Agriculture in Ottawa that he was expecting another 10 families to augment the 30 he had already settled in "Hunsvalley". All were doing well and seemed to feel at home. He noted too that the harvest in Manitoba was excellent that year, with an acre of his own land yielding 75 bushels of oats. Wheat, oat and barley yields were also excellent, so that the railroads carried three times as much freight as in previous years. Nevertheless, the settlers' lives were hard, for most were not farmers by trade. To find funds to purchase necessary farm animals, such as oxen or horses, for example, they often had to hire themselves out in towns along the railway, or work for English-speaking settlers in nearby districts. Hungarian expansion in Manitoba therefore was slow, especially in comparison to the growth of Hungarian colonies in Saskatchewan, to which Esterházy and others subsequently brought settlers directly from Hungary rather than from the United States only. Nevertheless by 1903 St. Elizabeth's acquired its first resident Hungarian priest, Fr. Ernest Kistorz5. Neepawa's museum records also that these Eastern Europeans, primarily Hungarian and Polish in ancestry, overcame the cold and the language barriers, and their descendants continue to live in the Hun's Valley - Polonia area.


The 1885 migration to Manitoba was the onset of the first of four waves of Hungarian immigration to Canada. Prior to the onset of World War I, most growth occurred in Saskatchewan. Around 1900, however, the city of Winnipeg began to draw Hungarian immigrants. The community was several hundred strong in a few short years so that by1906 a Hungarian Presbyterian parish had been established, with its first resident minister educated in Hungary. The first Hungarian newspaper, Kanadai Magyarság ('Canadian Hungarians'), flourished in Winnipeg between 1905-1910. But trouble was on the horizon, and the first wave of immigration ended with the onset of war in 1914, during which period some Hungarian immigrants, as those of other ethnicities from the Austro-Hungarian empire were interned as enemy aliens. The most severe setback, however, occurred in 1917, when Hungarians were disenfranchised, and many mutual-aid societies, established to provide financial aid in the absence of state-provided social insurance failed. Between 1918 - 1924 almost no Hungarian clubs were active in the city of Winnipeg8. By 1920 there were only 13,181 Hungarians in Canada, mostly in Saskatchewan, some in Ontario, Manitoba and a few in British Columbia.


The second wave of Hungarian immigration occurred in the inter-war years, after 1923, spurred by Hungary's loss of almost 2/3 of her territory and 3/5 of her population as a consequence of the Treaty of Trianon, which gave land and people to the adjacent countries of Czechoslovakia, Romania, and Yugoslavia. Some 2/3 of the new wave of immigrants were male farm labourers from the severed parts of Hungary as well as a a very small fraction (< 7%) with educated former civil servants7. Most were anxious to earn savings, intending to move to Hungary when their circumstances allowed.


The entry to the Canadian west was through Winnipeg, and though most immigrants were intended to pass through the city, some remained and joined the Hungarians already there. The influx of immigrants in 1924 led to the formation of new Roman Catholic and Protestant parishes and stimulated the revitalization of a key sick-benefit society as well as the establishment of new clubs and a newspaper (Kanadai Magyar Ujság ['Canadian Hungarian News']). Accordingly, for over a decade Winnipeg's influence among immigrant Hungarian communities remained disproportionately large compared to its relatively small size, because of its central geographic location, its immigrant press, and the presence of a Hungarian consulate, which opened there in 1927. Nevertheless, life for immigrants was hard. Concentrated in the city's north end, they faced enormous social and economic hardships in the time leading up to the Great Depression as detailed in John Marlyn's novel, Under the Ribs of Death.


Some 30,000 Hungarians came to Canada in the inter-war years, most under the terms of the "Railways Agreement," which permitted the Canadian Pacific Railway and Canadian National Railway to recruit agricultural immigrants6, primarily labourers. The policies of the Canadian government at that time classified Hungarians as "non-preferred" immigrants, and thus those who did arrive were nevertheless challenged to find employment. Agricultural labour was seasonal, as was work in construction and lumbering, and the latter, along with mining, were dangerous. The women who were admitted were believed suitable for work mainly as domestics. As the Great Depression arose and grew, Hungarian immigrants became increasingly migratory, seeking employment, but preference was growing for native-born or naturalized Canadians. Foreign residents and transients were ineligible for state aid. By 1930 some 65% of Hungarians in Canada were unemployed. By June of that year, "Winnipeg's city council began insisting that unemployed with less than a year's residence should be expelled from the city and that non-citizens on welfare should be deported from Canada".


Labour problems of the inter-war years, the discrimination associated with low social status, and the relatively low educational attainment of the majority made Hungarian immigrants fodder for the clash of left-wing and right wing ideologies of that time. The right-wing Horthy regime of Hungary, for example, assisted Hungarian immigrants through the Immigrant Aid Bureau in Winnipeg, and also provided support to Winnipeg's Kanadai Magyar Ujság ('Canadian Hungarian News'), which had the largest circulation of any Hungarian newspaper in Canada. Those sympathetic to this faction also had a great deal of concern about partitioned Hungary, and wanted to see it become whole again. At the same time, the Communist Party in the US sent Hungarians to Canada not only to organize immigrants, but also to edit the Kanadai Magyar Munkás ('Canadian Hungarian Worker'), first published in Hamilton. They sought to break the traditional tie between Hungarian communities and their churches, so that they could work with the Canadian Communist Party's Central Committee to establish secular rather than church-associated cultural and mutual aid societies. Associations led by Communists provided a different explanation for the social and economic misery faced by immigrants and by dismembered Hungary itself. They believed that, to have a better life significant change in the social order was necessary, and this required instilling class consciousness and radicalizing Hungarian immigrants. Many workers became convinced that job security and reduction of ethnic discrimination lay with Communist-led unions rather than with other unions, which often remained hostile to immigrants.


Relief, both economic and then social, came with the onset of the 1940s, with state-run unemployment insurance established in 1940, and legislation recognizing collective bargaining rights, in 1944. Though Hungarians were in the main, still not part of mainstream society, immigrant workers, as union members, were better protected from discrimination in employment. There were jobs to be had, including in the armed forces, in which close to 1,100 Hungarian-Canadians served1. The establishment in 1941 of the Nationalities Branch of the Department of National War Services was part of an organized effort to bridge the gap between the federal state and immigrant minorities, and build understanding between immigrants and other Canadians. Both sides of the Hungarian immigrant community, however, remained suspicious of federal government intentions.

The third wave of Hungarian immigration occurred between 1946-1956, and was the era of the Displaced Persons (DPs) - my generation. Some 12,000 Hungarians immigrated to Canada from a variety of European refugee camps in this wave7, over 62% going to the cities of southern Ontario, 17% to Quebec, 9% to Alberta, and the remainder split among the other provinces. Among western cities, only Winnipeg attracted more than 200 people. Over half were middle-class, urban and educated, but the majority came under a Sponsored Labour Scheme which set contracts between employers and DPs to work as farm labourers, miners, construction workers and domestics for specified periods of time7.


Until 1951 most immigrants could not bring their families, thus there were sometimes years of separation. After 1952, those who had not been able to reunite with their families were luckless, because under the Rákosi regime, Hungary closed its doors to emigration. Many Jewish Hungarians were even worse off because they had lost their families in the Holocaust. After finishing their contract work, DPs tended to move to cities, where a few were able to resume work for which they had been educated. Most did not, and for many the prejudice of the day against DPs remains a lingering bad memory. Though established Hungarian-Canadians did offer helping hands, the newcomers had little in common with them, and sometimes relations were strained between them. Nevertheless, in 1951 a re-vitalized Canadian Hungarian Federation was re-born, which spoke for Canadian Hungarians societies formed before and after World War II. The desire to work together was born of three elements - a mutual antipathy to communism that emerged after WWII and became stronger during the cold war, a commitment to cultural preservation, and recognition by the Canadian government of the day that, a united Hungarian immigrant community would be more helpful to government's stance against Hungary's communist government and that such unity would reduce dissent among immigrant Hungarian groups also.


The last wave of Hungarian immigration of course, is that of refugees who came to Canada in the aftermath of November 4, 1956. The Soviet Army's military might was stronger than Hungarian teenagers' Molotov cocktails, and some 200,000 people fled abroad, most through neighbouring Austria. Of these, thanks to the determination of Minister of Immigration Jack Pickersgill, around 37,500 people were admitted to Canada over a period of 10 months. Though it was unprecedented, the Canadian government bore the costs of transportation and provided support, until the refugees held jobs, or if unemployed, provided support for up to a year. With the provinces, the federal government shared the cost of receiving centres, from where volunteers worked to move individuals and families into Canadian society.


In Winnipeg, the Winnipeg Tribune, which is archived at the University of Manitoba, bears testimony of the effort made to receive and to assist Hungarian refugees. The paper is filled with photographs and supportive articles, as well as several editorials. For example an editorialon October 22 was prescient in asking if the cracks in the communist monolith might widen. Rebellious attitudes were manifest in Poland, and Hungarian students had been demanding freedom of the press, abolition of the death penalty, permission to travel to western countries and to import western literature. A week later, on October 29 the editorialcalled the uprising in Hungary a brave one, and asserted that "the use of Soviet troops and tanks to shoot down the Hungarian patriots has shown the hollowness of Russian protests about 'colonialism' and imperialism', and that the Communist pretense that there was freedom in the Kremlin sphere of influence." The articles I was able to access, however, were not all uniformly favourable to Hungarian refugees being admitted to Canada, or even to settle in Winnipeg1 There was a view that Germans, Poles, and Ukrainians, for example, were discouraged because their relatives were still stuck in refugee camps of Europe, and had to watch while gates swung open for Hungarian refugees.


There were harsh words said at City Council, when Alderman David Orlikow, seconded by Alderman Peter Taraska proposed that the mayor assure the premier of the co-operation of the city in the reception and absorption into the Winnipeg community any of the Hungarian refugees who desired to come to Winnipeg. There was at least one question raised about who would cover the costs of settlement, and Alderman Jacob Penner, whose son Norman had resigned the week before in Toronto from the national communist executive over the events in Hungary, objected. Penner said he was not opposed to helping people, but he was opposed to the "political tone" of the motion - arguing that City Council's understanding of events in Hungary was one-sided. In fact, for all the concern about special treatment, for taking jobs away from Canadians, and fears that infectious diseases such as tuberculosis would arrive with the immigrants, Premier D.L. Campbell was outspoken in his support for the refugees. Further he readily agreed to participate in a conference that would focus on creating a new immigration policy that would be more humane than the one that then existed. The editorial support for the premier was strong, but it was one of the comments in it that particularly struck me, for it so reminds me of the Winnipeg I have come to know over the past decade:


"All the money that is coming into the Dominion to be invested in Canada's future is not fresh-minted, crisp and shining. Some of it is worn, and creased and slightly tattered. But it still has intrinsic value. All the immigrants that come to Canada cannot be young, vigorous and wealthy. Some will be tired and worn from years of struggle and frustration. But they still have the intrinsic worth of human dignity and determination and their acquired skills. They too have much to offer this country" .


After the Hungarian revolution, immigration policy changed in Canada, and even more importantly, attitudes towards immigrants changed enormously. And the people who were treated humanely and well, responded in kind virtually immediately.


Winnipeg has many accomplished people, including artists, authors, sculptors, businessmen, dentists, engineers, lawyers, medical scientists, mathematicians, physicians, professors and social workers among others, who are first generation Canadians, arriving here after the revolution. I know many of them through friends of the University of Manitoba, and some are current members of the University. Their adopted homeland matters to them, as does the country they left behind. In the new country, they acquired habits of mind, and ways of looking at the world that they had either not known in Hungary, or were mostly too young to be exposed to when they lived there. And over time, we - for I include myself among them - we came to appreciate the values we absorbed. We realized that though we started our lives as Hungarian immigrants to Canada, in fact over the years we had become Canadians of Hungarian ancestry.


How could one not grow to love Canada, the city of Winnipeg and its people? Hungarians have lived in this country for 121 years. Their fortunes were, in each wave of immigration, a clash of cultures, both between them and mainstream Canadian society, and among themselves, by political and social factions. It took the Canadian government's understanding that, to build a solid Canada it would have to invest in "new Canadians," to develop programs that assisted them to re-forge their identity if Canada hoped to gain the most from them, as each reached his or her potential to contribute to Canadian society. That understanding matured in the aftermath of October 23, 1956, and the manner in which Canada treats its immigrants has been enormously different ever since. All Canadians who were not born here and arrived after 1956 owe a debt of gratitude to the refugees of the 1956 Hungarian revolution. And all immigrants, regardless when we arrived, owe a debt to Canada for wanting us here, for helping us to adjust, for freeing us to be ourselves - to be what we want to be.


I am a Canadian because my parents chose Canada and Canada chose my family. I know where I have come from and that ethnic identity has shaped me, but my roots have sunk deep into Canadian soil and that soil has nurtured me. I would not be me without my Canadian identity.

Isten áldd meg a Magyart, és áldd meg Kanadát is, mert minket örökbefogadott és felnevelt.

God bless the Hungarians, and bless Canada too, because she adopted us and raised us to be good sons and daughters of our original and our adoptive lineages.



I am grateful to Ms. Carolynne Presser, Director of the University of Manitoba Libraries, for her help in obtaining books, archived documents, and local newspaper articles pertaining to the Hungarian revolution of 1956.




*  The settlement's name was changed to Polonia in 1921 after an influx of Polish settlers. The name of the valley was formally changed to Hun's Valley in 1977 (Geographical Names of Manitoba. 2000. Winnipeg: Manitoba Conservation)


** The first Hungarian settlers to Canada actually came from Pennsylvania, to which they had emigrated from Hungary, and where they were working primarily as coal miners.



  1. Kirkconnell,;Watson 1985 Hungarian Helicon. Calgary, AB: Széchényi Society.

 2. Richards, I.L. 1953 The story of Beautiful Plains. Manitoba Historical and Scientific Society. III, 8:15-29.


 3. Kovacs, M.L.   1982 The Saskatchewan Era, 1885-1914. In: Struggle and Hope: The Hungarian-Canadian Experience. N.F. Dreisziger with M.L. Kovacs, Paul Bődy, Bennet Kovrig (eds). Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, pp. 61-93.


 4. de Dory, Geza S.1887 Report on the Hungarian Colony. In: Extracts From the Immigration Report of 1887 Pertaining to Settlement in the West. Sessional Papers of 51 Victoria (4) 1888, pp. 140-177.


 5. Neepawan.d.Neepawa Catholic Church History.


 6. Dreisziger, N.F 1982a Years of Growth and Change. In: Struggle and Hope: The Hungarian-Canadian Experience. N.F. Dreisziger with M.L. Kovacs, Paul Bődy, Bennet Kovrig (eds). Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, pp. 94-139.


 7. Patrias, Carmela  1999 The Hungarians in Canada. The Canadian Historical Association, Canada's Ethnic Group Series Booklet No. 27.


 8. Patrias, Carmela  1994 Patriots and Proletarians: Politizing Hungarian Immigrants in Interwar Canada. Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press.


 9. Marlyn, John  1957 Under the Ribs of Death. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart.


 10. Dreisziger, N.F.  1982b A Decade of Setbacks. . In: Struggle and Hope: The Hungarian-Canadian Experience. N.F. Dreisziger with M.L. Kovacs, Paul Bődy, Bennet Kovrig (eds). Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, pp. 139-168.


 11. Dreisziger, N.F.  1982c The End of an Era. In: Struggle and Hope: The Hungarian-Canadian Experience. N.F. Dreisziger with M.L. Kovacs, Paul Bődy, Bennet Kovrig (eds). Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, pp. 169-194.


 12. Dreisziger, N.F.  1982d Toward a Golden Age. In: Struggle and Hope: The Hungarian-Canadian Experience. N.F. Dreisziger with M.L. Kovacs, Paul Bődy, Bennet Kovrig (eds). Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, pp. 195-219.


 13. Dreisziger, N.F.  1993 The Refugee Experience in Canada and the Evolution of the Hungarian-Canadian Community. In: In: Breaking Ground: The 1956 Hungarian Refugee Movement to Canada. North York: York Lanes Press, pp. 65-86.


 14. Pickersgill, J.W.  1993 The Minister and the Hungarian Refugees. In: Breaking Ground: The 1956 Hungarian Refugee Movement to Canada. North York: York Lanes Press, pp. 47-52.


 15. Editorial  1956a Cracks in the Monolith. Winnipeg Tribune, October 22.


 16. Editorial  1956b Uprising in Hungary. Winnipeg Tribune, October 29.


 17. Halliwell, Harry  1956 Local Groups Protest. Winnipeg Tribune, December 19.


 18. Editorial  1956c Good for Mr. Campbell. Winnipeg Tribune, December 21.


 19.    Anonymous  1956 Penner Speach (sic) Jeered. Winnipeg Tribune, December 4.



Dr Emoke J.E. Szathmáry C.M. receives Order of Manitoba


Emoke J.E. SzathmaryWe are pleased to congratulate Dr Emoke J.E. Szathmáry, C.M., President Emeritus and Professor in the departments of Anthropology and Biochemistry/Genetics of the University of Manitoba on having been inducted into the Order of Manitoba in July 2009. Read more...


March 5th 2010






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