On Sundays, the sound of the world’s largest triad of bells rises above the golden domes of the Cathedral of the Transfiguration at Woodbine Avenue and Major Mackenzie Road in Unionville. Built in 1984, the Slovak cathedral was blessed by Pope John Paul II the same year. Inside, a mammoth 60-foot by 40-foot mosaic made from five million pieces of glass and ceramic tiles towers above the altar of the Roman Catholic cathedral of the Byzantine Rite. The late Stephan B. Roman, a mining magnate often called the Uranium King, was benefactor of the cathedral. The prominent Torontonian immigrated to Canada in 1937 and established Denison Mines, one of the country’s leading uranium companies. Roman was also the founding President of the Slovak World Congress.
Toronto’s early community dates back to 1870, when Joseph Bellon arrived from Slovakia and set up a flower shop. The first known Slovak in Canada, Bellon served in the Canadian Expedition sent to quell the Riel Rebellion. He and his brother later established a wireworks factory.
Slovaks, who were first directed by the Canadian government to settle in Western Canada, eventually made the trek to Toronto, Hamilton, and the Niagara region. Following the First World War, Latin and Byzantine rite Roman Catholic and Lutheran Slovak parishes emerged in the downtown area. By 1927, the community was large enough to organize its own associations and branches of three main fraternal societies: the First Catholic Slovak Union, the Slovak Catholic Sokol, and Assembly 418 of the American Slovak League, which later became the Canadian Slovak League and Canadian Slovak Benefit Society.
Between 1934 and 1941, Latin Rite Roman Catholics held mass at the Jesuit Seminary on Wellington Street, now the site of the Globe and Mail. In 1941, a sod-turning ceremony at Robinson and Claremont streets marked the future location of the first Slovak Catholic church in Toronto. In 1942, Slovak Lutherans formed St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran parish, moving to their present quarters at 1444 Davenport Road in 1973. And by the 1950s, Byzantine rite Catholics owned their own church, St. Mary’s, on Shaw Street.
During the Second World War, Canadian Slovaks fought in the Canadian Armed Forces in Europe, while those at home lent their support through efforts such as providing ambulances for the Canadian Red Cross Society. A group of doctors, professors, engineers, and skilled tradesmen were among those fleeing the Communist takeover of Czechoslovakia in 1948. A similar wave occurred after the Soviet Union and its satellites invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968.
The growth of the Slovak population in the Greater Toronto area led to the construction of a new Sts. Cyril and Methodius Slovak Roman Catholic Church of the Latin Rite in Mississauga (near Highway 10 and Eglinton), to which the old parish moved from its downtown location.
Torontonians of Slovak origin were thrilled when Slovakia gained independence on January 1, 1993. For many, a life-long desire to have their own self-governing country had been realized.
Slovaks have contributed to Toronto in the fields of politics, business, and sports. Brothers Peter and Miroslav Ihnacak and Marian Stastny have all played for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Tennis professional Helen Kelesi, swimmer Marcel Gery, and rhythmic gymnast Jana Lazor have also brought honours to the city and community.
SLOVAK INDEPENDENCE DAY is celebrated on January 1.
FIRST SLOVAK REPUBLIC INDEPENDENCE DAY, on March 14, remembers the day in 1939 when the Slovak nation attained statehood.
SLOVAK AWARENESS DAY is June 21.
PILGRIMAGE. On the first Sunday in July, a pilgrimage to the Martyr’s Shrine near Midland is made by Latin rite Catholics.
SLOVAK DAY, the second Sunday in July, is held at various sites in Southern Ontario by the First District Assembly of the Canadian Slovak League.
ODPUST. On the first Sunday in August, Odpust is held at the Cathedral and on the second Sunday Family Day is sponsored by Jednota and Sts. Cyril and Methodius parish. On the first Sunday in September, Odpust is held at the Jesuits in Cambridge.
SLOVAK CONSTITUTION DAY is September 1.
OUR LADY OF SORROWS DAY is held in honour of the patron of Slovakia on September 15.
REFORMATION. On the last Sunday in October, Lutherans recognize Reformation Sunday.
CANADIAN SLOVAK, (Tel. 905-507-8004), weekly publication, published by the Canadian Slovak League.
FIRST CATHOLIC SLOVAK UNION (JEDNOTA), (Tel (416) 231-4006, 19 Tromley Dr). Director: Michael Dobis Jr.
SLOVAK CANADIAN WOMEN’S ASSOCIATION, (Tel. (519) 940-4603).
THE SLOVAK SINGERS OF TORONTO, (Tel. 905-712-1200, 5255 Thornwood Dr, Mississauga). Director: Miro Letko.