A plaque dedicated to the Croatian community’s contributions to business, culture, and sports in Toronto is exhibited at the corner of Brock Avenue and Croatia Street. George Chuvalo, the former Canadian heavyweight boxing champion, Val and Sandra Bezic, former Olympic figure skaters, and Frank and Peter Mahovlich, former Toronto Maple Leaf hockey greats, are legends in Canadian sports and the Toronto Croatian community.
Croats come from what is today the Republic of Croatia and other republics in the former Yugoslavia. They have shared in the making of Canada’s history, and were among the first explorers; it is believed that two sailors from Dalmatia served as crew on the voyages of Jacques Cartier and that a Croatian miner accompanied explorer Samuel de Champlain. Croats also served in the Austrian military sent by the French government to help defend New France in 1758, and some sought their fortunes in the Cariboo and Yukon gold rushes of the late 1800s. Attracted to Toronto’s growing industries at the turn of the 20th century, the early Croatian settlers left farms in Southern Ontario to find work in the city.
During the Communist occupation following the Second World War, thousands of Croation refugees left Yugoslavia. Those who came to Canada generally settled in Toronto, finding work in industries, mining, and construction. Others worked in hospitals and public service, while some started their own businesses. From the 1950s to the 1970s, political and economic refugees continued to immigrate to Canada.
By 1951, the Croatian community had established its first parish and school, along with a number of social, business, and cultural organizations. Skilled Croatian construction workers were instrumental in building Toronto’s subway system and developing Mississauga and Woodbridge. The Metros-Croatia soccer team proudly represented Canada by winning the 1976 North American Soccer League Championship.
In 1981, many of Toronto’s 25,000 Croats enthusiastically poured into the streets of Parkdale to celebrate the renaming of Awde Street to Croatia Street. Our Lady Queen of Croatia Roman Catholic Church, at the top of Croatia Street, has been the religious, cultural, and educational pulse of the community for more than 50 years.
THE DEATH OF ALOISIUS CARDINAL STEPINAC, a Croatian spiritual leader who died in 1960 while imprisoned in Yugoslavia, is commemorated on February 10. Commemorative masses are held on the Sunday nearest to the date. He was beatified by the Pope in 1998.
THE NAMES OF PETAR ZRINSKI AND FRANC KRSTO FRANKOPAN are remembered in mass on April 30. They were 17th-century military heroes who fought bravely for the liberation of the Croatian People.
CROATIAN INDEPENDENCE DAY is recognized by the Croatian community on October 8 with religious masses and banquets.
A MEMORIAL DAY FOR THE BLEIBURG MASSACRE in 1945 occurs on the Victoria Day weekend in May. The day includes the joyous occasion of the annual Croatian Folklore Festival. When Toronto plays host to the events, Croatians from across Canada can be spotted wearing their traditional costumes in a parade down Dufferin Street to the Canadian National Exhibition.
REMEMBERANCE OF THE DEATH OF RADIC STJEPAN, the leader of the Croatian Peasant Movement, killed in 1928, is held on August 8. Speeches by the Croatian Peasant Political Party are held in honour of the Croatian leader who promoted unity through non-violence.
THE FOUNDATION OF THE CROATIAN PARISH is celebrated on October 22.
THE DAY OF ALL SOULS, November 2, sees the community visit a Croatian cemetery in Malton to honour deceased friends, relatives, and those who were killed in Croatia.
DOMOBRAN RADIO STATION, (Tel. 905-828-1350, 4021 Rolling Valley Drive., Mississauga). Contact: Mr. Jerko Granic.
HRVATSKA STRAZA, religious programs, CJMR Radio 1320. Sunday 3:00 pm to 4:00 pm. Has been on the air for over 15 years, delivering sermons from Ontario Croatian Catholic priests.
SOUNDS OF CROATIA RADIO, CHIN Radio 100.7, (Tel. 905-602-8900, 3045 Southcreek Rd, Unit 1, Mississauga). On the air for 43 years. Contact: Mr John Loncaric.
The churches are also centres for a number of cultural organizations.
OUR LADY QUEEN OF CROATIA, (Tel. 416-536-3669, 7 Croatia St), houses junior and senior Croatian Catholic Youth groups; two church choirs; a benevolent society set up for funeral expenses; and the Tamburitza Orchestra, a group that performs using a traditional instrument similar to the mandolin. Publishes a weekly bulletin called Zupni Vjesnik.
PARISH OF THE CROATIAN MARTYRS, (Tel. 905-826-8844, 4605 Mississauga Rd), houses the headquarters for the church choir; the Zupna Kolo Grupa Sljeme dance group; and Croatian Tamburitza.
CANADIAN CROATIAN ARTISTS SOCIETY INC., (380 Kribs St, Cambridge, Ont.)
CROATIAN CANADIAN STUDIES FOUNDATION, (Tel. 416-787-0303, Fax 416-787-8953, 168 Bridgeland Ave). President: Anton Kikas.
UNITED CROATS OF CANADA GENERAL COMMITTEE, (P.O. Box 1631, Station B, Mississauga). President: Anthony Markovic.
CROATIAN NATIONAL SOCCER FEDERATION, (Tel. 416-604-4477, 3009 Dundas St. W).
ZAGREB CROATIAN SOCCER CLUB OF TORONTO, (Tel. 416-766-5569, 3725 Dundas St. W., Suite 615). Contact: Mr. Martin Latincic.
CROATIAN CLUB “MEDJIMURJE,” Tel. 416-744-3955, 377 Burnamthorpe Rd. E., Unit 39, P.O. Box 29568, Mississauga). Contact: Franjo Gavez.
ALMAE MATRIS CROATICAE ALUMNI, (Tel. 416-487-9336, 4936 Yonge St., Suite 109, M2N 6S3). Contact: Mr. Nick Demarin.
CROATA INTERNATIONAL CROATIAN BUSINESS ASSOCIATION, (Tel. 905-629-8415, 3045 Southcreek Rd., Unit 4, Mississauga.) Contact: Mr. Kresimir Mayer.
DORA FOUNDATION, (Tel. 905-891-7115, 2192 Shawanaga Tr., Mississauga). Contact: Mr. Stanko Trtanj.
CANADIAN CROATIAN FOLKLORE ASSOCIATION, (Tel. 905-508-9344, 44 Woodstone Ave., Richmond Hill). Contact: Mr. Nikola Vrdoljak.
CROATIAN CLUB KARLOVAC, (Tel. 905-625-1229, 128 Queen St. S., P.O. Box 42286, Mississauga). Contact: Mr. Zvonko Dobrovoljac.
Our Lady Queen of Croatia Church, 7 Croatia St, Toronto