Note: In The Illusion of Peace Victoria Estes used this text as part of her research.
Lithuanians had settled in Winnipeg in the 1920s. They “lived through the Hungry Thirties when the government seemed largely indifferent to the fate of its citizens.” (Page 314.) They became known as the Old Lithuanians when Lithuanian Displaced Persons began arriving in 1947. (page ???)
My family was part of the 20,000 (page 248) Lithuanian Displaced Persons who immigrated to Canada between 1947 and 1950. With at least two generations of Lithuanians living in Winnipeg and at least one collateral line, this family may have been active in the Winnipeg Lithuanian community.
In lieu of specific information about their lives in Winnipeg, I relied on DP, Lithuanian immigration to Canada after the Second World War to understand any Lithuanian influence.
Miners were the second group of Displaced Persons to become contract laborers in Manitoba. Later contracts were signed for agricultural workers and workers in the garment industry.
Although “dispersal was never an officially sanctioned policy, people thought “that immigrants would be “Canadianized” more quickly if they did not socialize with others of their own nationality and language.“ In spite of this, one group of five who had become shipboard friends “were all sent to hospitals in Winnipeg.” (Page 142.)
Many DPS were educated people. One young actress who worked in the St. Boniface TB Sanitorium was treated kindly, but as a well-educated young woman, she wanted those around her to know that “we were a cultured people and could do a lot more.” (Page 146.)
Some of the Old Lithuanians were sympathetic to the Soviet Union. “Many… were church goers who were not pro-communist, but a large number and had sympathized with the Soviet Union during the war. “They did not believe that the relatives they were sponsoring were war criminals, but they (page 224) were uncertain about what these relatives had actually done to make them unwilling to return to Lithuania. (page 225.) “We just described what we had seen—the Soviets deportations of our people in particular.” (page 225.)
The Old Lithuanians had built a club decorated with a picture of Stalin and the Lithuanian flag. Some members “had been radicalized by the Depression.” (Page 225.) Both Old Lithuanians and the DPs went to the blub. “…the two groups got along better there than almost anywhere else….” (page 226.) However, in 1950 some DPs wanted to join the club and wanted to “clear the club of its “reds.” This led to differences that could not be resolved. (Page 227.)
Lithuanian Parishes in Winnipeg
Divisions also extended to the parishes. (page 292.) “Most Lithuanian priests were consecrated to serve Lithuanians. (page 293.) When construction of their church began in 1952, Father Justinas Bertasius worked there every day while members worked at their fulltime jobs. (page 295.)
Thirty Years Later
Lithuanian DPs were able the take advantage of “the new Canada of pensions and Health Insurance” which “seemed a miraculous gain.” (Page 314)
Even though Lithuania is in “a northerly” position,” it is more temperate than Canada. Lithuanian-Canadians thought of their new home in relative comparison when it came to the weather. Calgarians thought of Winnipeg as the city with the coldest winters. Winnipegers thought of Edmonton as the coldest place. (page 317)
By 1970 almost all the marriages were between Lithuanians and non-Lithuanians, were “mixed marriages.” (page 319)
Continuation of the Lithuanian language was of concern to whose who thought that younger generations had to learn the language to be Lithuanian. (Page 321.)
The parish priest believed that language retention was important but not essential.
Language is one of the principal things, but it is not the most fundamental. The essential part is to feel that background, to feel your origin is Lithuanian. The church helps a great deal—no other institution is as important—baptisms, weddings, funerals…. We have several Lithuanians here who don’t speak Lithuanian, who were born here, but they feel very Lithuanian. If you told them they weren’t Lithuanian, they’d be very angry. And what’d most important, they are not afraid to stand up and say they are Lithuanian. (Page 321)
In the early 1980s when the research for this book was being conducted, the perpetuation of “Lithuanianism” in another 30 years (2010), was discussed. (Page 323.)
Experts on Lithuanianism are pessimistic about its survival. “…all the Western communities with the possible exception of Winnipeg, were doomed to extinction within the near future.” (Page 322.)
2010 “represents the point at which most of the DPs who came to Canada as adults will be dead. Lithuanianism will have to be sustained by men and women born in Canada.” (page 323.) By 2010 the third and fourth generations will show that “they have chosen to enter Canadian life and must receive the full impact of the Canadian environment on their ethnic traditions.” (page 323)