Latvian

Latvian

Subtitle
The Latvian Community

Every five years, Toronto becomes the scene of a melodious cultural celebration that originated in Latvia in the 19th century. For one week in July, thousands of voices and hands join together to perform Dainas, beautiful rhythmic folksongs central to the Latvian tradition. Symphony concerts, recitals, displays of fine arts and handicrafts, theatre performances, and folk dancing are part of the festivities. The festival was transplanted to Toronto in 1952, when the first Latvian Song Festival was held at Massey Hall.
Latvian Canadians have not only introduced Torontonians to their own culture but have enriched the city’s artistic scene with accomplished composers, artists, and musicians. With 10,000 members—the largest concentration of Latvians in Canada—the Toronto community has become the centre for almost all Latvian cultural, social, and political life in the country.
Latvia was an independent Baltic state from 1918 to 1940, when it was annexed by the USSR, and is once again independent after the fall of the Soviet Union. The first Latvian settlers in Canada were farmers who arrived in the 1890s and settled in Western Canada, gradually moving east to find jobs in the cities.
During the Second World War, more than 110,000 Latvians fled their occupied homeland. Of this group, some 15,000 emigrated to Canada. In Toronto, the early community was scattered throughout the city, with higher concentrations in the High Park area, along Broadview Avenue, and in the suburbs of Willowdale and Weston. One of the earliest community groups was the First Evangelical Lutheran Congregation, established in 1949. Its temporary premises were replaced in 1951 when the group joined with the Estonian congregation and purchased the old St. Andrew’s Church at Jarvis and Carlton Streets. The church was later named St. Andrew Evangelical Lutheran Congregation. In the 1950s, the large building housed a Sunday school, choirs, drama groups, and youth and senior citizen groups.
Today, other visible signs of the Latvian community include a memorial to the late president of Latvia, Dr. Karlis Ulmanis, located in Willowdale’s York Cemetery. Latvian culture is fostered in the city at Latvian House on College Street, and at the impressive modern complex of the Latvian Canadian Cultural Centre in Toronto.

Languages
Publications