Resources

Migration

From: The Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples/Macedonians/Lillian Petroff

As a people, Macedonians have continually moved beyond the confines of their villages. The profound and all-important intrusion of cash into the village economy had by the nineteenth century caused young men – bachelors or the recently married and childless – to take up sojourning in what became a never-ending search for capital. Money undermined the bartering system; gypsy pedlars, proprietors of humble village stores, Vlach town merchants, and Greek city entrepreneurs wished to be paid in cash for all goods and services. Village status and society also became dependent on cash. Dowry obligations had to be fulfilled in gold coins or currency, not in land or goods.

Macedonians also moved because of diminished landholdings, a shortage of arable land (most of which was in the hands of Turks and converts to Islam), and rising expectations. Although the majority owned small properties, the size of family holdings decreased with each generation since there was no primogeniture. These small households were increasingly difficult to maintain without seasonal work beyond the agricultural fields, and so rising expectations inevitably became uncomfortable norms. Men went to Greece, Romania, Serbia, and Bulgaria as artisans, apprentices, and labourers. They also worked as market gardeners and dairymen in Constantinople (Istanbul), usually returning at the end of one-, two-, or three-year migratory cycles. While men were away, their immediate and extended families watched over their interests.

As the mass migration of males became customary, life and roles in the villages changed for Macedonian women. Long accustomed to the responsibility of stockbreeding and working the fields by hand and with a hoe, women now undertook a greater role in supervising the family property. They did heavier labour; they ploughed or managed hired help. The turn of the century saw many of the experienced sojourners leave their families yet again as they joined the growing number of southeastern Europeans who went to “Upper and Lower America,” that is, Canada and the United States, in search of greater economic opportunity. The New World had finally been discovered as a lucrative stop for migrants. Pay packets that had been sent or brought back by the pioneers spread the news throughout Macedonia that in Canada one could earn more as an industrial labourer than in any other country. Toronto, the surrounding area, and, slightly later, the outlying regions of southern Ontario were to become key North American destinations in the aftermath of the Ilinden Uprising of 1903.

The sojourners who initially came to Canada hailed primarily from the provinces of Kostur (Kastoria) and Lerin (Florina), areas that were once important vilayets of the Ottoman Empire but that since 1913 are in northern Greece. Living frugally near their workplaces, these Macedonians were deeply committed to using their hard-earned income for the daily needs and rising expectations of their families in the Old World. Their undertaking to stay only temporarily in Canada was altered by the Balkan Wars of 1912–13. As a result of the hostilities, Macedonia was partitioned between Greece, Bulgaria, and Serbia. Residents of the districts that sent the most immigrants to Canada passed from Turkish oppression to the rigours of an assimilating Greek nationalist regime. This unhappy situation in the homeland convinced men abroad that their future and that of their families lay in the New World. As sojourners, the suitors, husbands, and fathers worried about the survival and well-being of their womenfolk and children left behind. As settlers, they continued to do so; their concern resulted in a decision to bring their families to Canada.

Many of the wives came to this country reluctantly in the aftermath of World War I. Sorry to leave friends and relatives behind, frightened at the prospect of living in intimacy with men they had not seen for almost a decade, they came because their culture required them do so or because they feared trying to survive without a mate. Some, however, simply refused to emigrate. Such women watched their children come of age and leave for Canada to marry and take on family obligations. For them, the migration system and the myth of the New World meant only loneliness and broken families. In other cases, husbands who chose to stay in Canada did not send for their wives in the villages. Some women made the decision to come in spite of their husbands. They mortgaged property or borrowed passage money from relatives and travelled to husbands in Canada who had perhaps become too fond of bachelorhood or had found other female companionship. Children born in the old country mirrored the reactions of their mothers in many ways. They regretted leaving behind all that was familiar and had little comprehension of the political and ethnic despair that was the cause of the decision to migrate for most adult Macedonians. Many young migrants feared meeting their fathers again or for the first time; the tradition of migration had made some men a fleeting presence or strangers to their children.

The exodus of Macedonians from northern Greece was to continue in the wake of World War II and the last phase of the Greek Civil War (1946–49). The 1950s witnessed the arrival of over 2,000 Macedonian refugee children. They formed only a small portion of the 28,000 who were evacuated to safety in Albania, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland, and the Soviet Union during the civil war. Immigration from Vardar Macedonia also began in the post–World War II period. This exodus from the districts of Bitola, Prespa, Prilep, Skopje, and Veles (Titov Veles) gained momentum in the 1960s and continues to the present.

Official statistics and population indices are not helpful in determining the size of the sojourner and settler communities in Canada because Macedonians fell under the general headings of the Ottoman Empire, Greece, Serbia (or Yugoslavia), and Bulgaria. Few Macedonians entered Canada in the years before 1903–4. Sources from within the community tallied the presence of 1,090 Macedonians in Toronto by the year 1910. Thirty years later, readers of various Macedonian almanacs were informed that there were upwards of 1,200 families in the city.

The most recent Canadian census (1991), which provides for self-declaration of ethnic origin, records 21,035 Macedonians in Canada, the sum total of individuals making single- or multiple-group responses; 17,150 of these people lived in the city of Toronto proper. Small clusters of Macedonians could also be found elsewhere in Ontario in Cambridge, Guelph, Hamilton, Kitchener-Waterloo, Markham, Mississauga, Newmarket, Niagara Falls, St Catharines, Thornhill, Thorold, and Windsor. Community spokespersons believe that there are actually 100,000–150,000 Macedonians in Metropolitan Toronto. Allowing for the flow of post–World War II arrivals from Aegean and Vardar Macedonia, it is possible to assume that there are between 100,000–125,000 Macedonian immigrants and their descendants in the area, making Metropolitan Toronto the largest Macedonian settlement outside the Balkans.