According to some estimates, there are around 650,000 Croatians living in North America, with the majority living in the United States of America, as opposed to Canada. They come from all over Croatia, and they began inhabiting the continent at the end of the 19th century; this migration has never waned nor stopped since. Therefore, the Croatian language is still somewhat preserved here, as there are still those who were born in Croatian around to keep it alive.
There is just over 100,000 Croatians living in Canada, and they are concentrated in major cities like Toronto and Vancouver, and their vicinities. They are also present in Alberta, where they came in large numbers after the Patriotic War. The majority of Croatians living in Toronto come from Herzegovina and the Croatian north, followed by Dalmatia, although Dalmatians are more common in Vancouver, where they often work as sailors or fishermen, in keeping with tradition.
One of the notable individuals among Canada’s Croats is the minister of economic diversity for Western Canada, Lynne Yelich, maiden name Zdunich. She was born in 1953, in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Minister Yelich belongs to the third generation of Canadian Croats, and her family is originally from Lovinac in Lika. She has been a representative in the Canadian parliament since 2000, and is the first minister of Croatian descent in a North American government.
From left to right: Branka Bezić Filipović, John Marion, president of Baka Communications and the Canadian-Croatian Chamber of Commerce, and minister Lynn Yelich
Waterloo University is located in the vicinity of Toronto, and it has an active Department of Croatian Language and Literature, which was founded based on an agreement between the University and the Croatian community. It was officially unveiled on September 28th, 1989, by the rector of the University of Zagreb at the time, Zvonimir Šeparović. Thanks should be extended to every financial contributor for the department, as the University required a down-payment of half a million dollars for the project. There was a large number of donators, such as Ivica Zdunić, Pavle Horvat, Jure Balan, Jakov Krpan, Neda and Lazar Hristovski, Franko Katana, Janko Herak, Dušan Bezić, Anton Kikaš, and many others. The board of the Croatian Studies Foundation that pushed for the department was made up of Ljubo Krasić, Anton Kikaš, Gojko Šušak, Zlatko Bobešić, Dušan Bezić, Jerko Nekić and Zoran Pejović. Vinko Grubišić was the head of the department for 20 years, and is now emeritus. The following professors from Split’s Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences have taught there: Gordan Matas (for one year), Helena Burić (for five years), and recently Ivana Petrović. From its very inception, there has been a correspondence course for Croatian available at the University, and as of 2006, as the first of its kind in the world, there is a study of the Croatian language on the internet, as part of the Angel program.
Professor Helena Burić with professors Vinko Grubišić, on the left, and Anton Kikaš, on the right.
In Toronto, there is a Croatia Street, which used to be called Awde. It got its original name in 1908, after Robert Awde (1838 – 1928), who owned the land in that area, and worked as a sanitation inspector for the city for many years. Thanks to a colossal effort by the local Croatians at the time, the Croatian Church of Our Lady, Queen of the Croatians was built in Awde Street, and it currently resides at number seven. This was the reason that the Croatian community submitted a request to the city council to have the street renamed from Awde to Croatia, which was accepted by the city’s board in 1981. A memorial plate was placed on a concrete block in the area, in order to commemorate and chronicle this historical tale.
Toronto, Croatian church in Croatia Street
Croatians have received the largest number of commendations from the Canadian government thanks to achievements in sports. The Toronto Metros-Croatia soccer club was inducted into the Canadian soccer Hall of Fame. The town of Vaughn contains the Ontario Soccer Center building, which itself contains the Hall of Fame Museum.
Vaughn, Hall of Fame Museum
Soccer is more than just a game or a means to unwind for Croatians in Canada; they used it to express national sentiment and a sense of belonging to the Croatian people. Most soccer clubs were created in 1949 and onwards. The Croatia Toronto soccer club was founded in 1956. It won the national championship in 1972, as well as the Canada Cup and the Croatian-American tournament, that same year. However, it slowly accrued financial issues, thus leading to negotiations of a merger with the owners of Toronto Metros, which played in the North-American pro-league. Board members Nikola Rukavina and Dušan Bezić negotiated on behalf of Croatia, and in 1975, the Toronto Metro-Croatia soccer club was founded. This merger wasn’t well received on neither the Canadian nor the Croatian side. The media complained that the team was no longer Canadian, but ethnic. On the other hand, the merger itself had divided the Croatian community as well. However, in 1976, the well-known Eusebio joined the starting lineup, and they won first place in the North-American pro-league. Toronto Metros-Croatia was ultimately sold to the Global TV broadcasting station in 1978.
Thirty four years after winning the Canadian and North-American championships, on June 5th, 2010, the Metros-Croatia club was inducted into the Canadian soccer Hall of Fame. At the official banquet in the Liberty Grand hall, with around three hundred athletes and sports workers, it fell upon Dušan Bezić to, on behalf of the club, thank the Executive Board of the Canadian Soccer Association and the director of the Hall of Fame, Les Jones, for the honor bestowed on them. Bezić, who was the club’s managing director from 1975 until 1978, noted the following in his book:
With this prize, the name ‘Toronto Metros-Croatia’ has been carved in gold letters into the annals of Canadian soccer, where it will stay forever, and be the honor and pride of not only those who achieved it, through their hard work and sacrifice, but for future generations of Croatians as well.
Dušan Bezić and the Toronto Metros-Croatia trophy, in the Hall of Fame Museum
However, this isn’t the only contribution that the Bezić family has made to Canadian sports. Dušan’s children, his daughter Sandra (1956) and son Val (1952), were five time senior Canadian ice-skating champions. They placed ninth at the Winter Olympics in Sapporo, in 1972. They were also the top western team at five world championships, and were fifth on the world standings, behind Russian and East-German pairs. Val Bezić left ice-skating behind when he was 30. Sandra stopped competing after an injury in her 18th year, but she stayed active in the sport, and became one of the top choreographers in the world. She produced the Stars on Ice show. She is a three time winner of the Gemini prize, the highest award of the Canadian Film and Television Academy. Sandra Bezić was inducted into the Skate Canada Hall of Fame in 2010.
The Canadian post office has published a stamp and commemorative envelope with a silhouette of an ice-skating couple, the Bezić brother and sister, in 1972.
Alongside ice-skating, it is natural for hockey to be the most popular sport in Canada. One of the greatest Canadian hockey players was Joseph Steven Sakic, born in the town of Burnaby, British Columbia, in 1969. His parents came from Croatia: his mother, Slavica, comes from Lika, and his father, Marijan Šakić, is from Imotski. Since he only spoke Croatian in his youth, the language barrier served to define him, and he became known as the leader who leads by example. Joe Sakic is considered to be one of the best attackers of all time. He played in the Quebec Nordiques from 1988 until 1995, when he joined the American Colorado Avalanche club, where he stayed until retiring in 2009. He is the bearer of two silver and four golden medals, one of which is a junior medal, and another from the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics. He was inducted in the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2012, and the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame in 2013.
Joe Sakic during his active career (photo from Free Domain, by Hakan Dahlstrom)
The brothers Peter and Frank Mahovlich were also Canadian hockey players. They were born in Timmins, Ontario, to Croatian parents. Peter was born in 1946, and was known as Little M, while Frank was born in 1938, and was known as Big M. Frank played hockey from 1957 to 1979, as the left wing player, in a team that was a six time Stanley Cup winner. After leaving his sports career, he went into politics and served as a senator from the Liberal party, in Ottawa, from 1998 until 2013. He was inducted into the Canadian Hockey Hall of Fame in 1981.
Frank Mahovlich, Big M, in a hockey jersey (photo from Free Domain)
A large contribution to Canadian sports was made by boxer George Chuvalo, born in Toronto, in 1937, to Croatian parents, Stipe and Katica. He had started boxing as a college student, and became the amateur heavy-weight champion in 1955. He joined the professional circuit next year. He was never knocked out in his career, which lasted until 1979, and had included 93 fights. He was the Canadian champion, and made two attempts at the World Championship title. His best known fights include the one with Muhammad Ali, who Chuvalo had described as one of the toughest opponents of his career. George Chuvalo was inducted into the Canadian Hall of Fame, and the World Boxing Hall of Fame, and was awarded the Member of the Order of Canada medal in 1998, and a star on the Canadian Walk of Fame in 2005.
George Chuvalo (Flicker upload bot, Free Domain) and his star (by Tabercil, Free Domain)
 Bezić, Dušan.2011 . Šoltanin na tankom ledu. Publishing center Rijeka. Rijeka. Pg. 280.
 Bezić Filipović, Branka. 2009. Šport u životu iseljenika. Bošković Publishing. Split. Pg. 105.
 Bezić, Dušan. 2011. Šoltanin na tankom ledu. Publishing Center Rijeka. Rijeka. Pg. 332.
 See 19. Pg. 107.
 See 21. Pg. 108.