Every June on Czech and Slovak Day, Sokol Exercises take place at Masaryktown, a Czech and Slovak cultural and social centre in Scar -borough. Sokol Exercises are designed to emulate the qualities of the Sokol (falcon), a bird admired for its strength, intelligence, and self-discipline. Young Czechs and Slovaks engage in physically challenging calisthenics, gymnastics, and track and field events, while the older generation displays its patriotism by watching soccer games or attending memorial services. The first Toronto Sokol unit was established in 1931. Jan Waldauf, a member of the unit and one-time president of the world-wide organization, made significant contributions to the development of physical fitness in Ontario.
The first Czechs in Canada were Moravians from the United States, who settled Ontario’s Moraviatown around 1791. A wave of Czech immigration began in the 1880s as farmers, miners, artisans, and labourers came seeking opportunities in the Canadian West. In the 1920s, Czechs who had arrived in Ontario moved into farming communities and cities such as Hamilton, Windsor, and Oshawa, where many found work as auto mechanics and skilled tradesmen. In Toronto, the community settled in Parkdale around Queen Street West. Prior to the Second World War, Czech entrepreneur Thomas Bata established his world-renowned shoe company, helping many Czechs skilled in the shoe trade to immigrate to Canada. Political refugees fled Czechoslovakia after the Munich Surrender in 1938 and again in 1948 following the Com munist takeover. A third wave left with the Soviet invasion of 1968.
One of the first organizations of Czechs and Slovaks was the Czech -oslovak National Association of Canada, formed in response to the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia. The organization, now called the Czech and Slovak Association of Canada, promotes Czech and Slovak culture and assists new comers. In 1988, the organization arranged a celebration to mark the 70th anniversary of the proclamation of the Indepen dent Republic of Czechos lovakia. In 1992, it co-sponsored a celebration of the 400th anniversary of the birth of Jan Amos Komensky, a great theologian and scholar, proclaimed by UNESCO as a “world person.”
In the 1940s, Masaryk Hall in Parkdale became a gathering place for community cultural and social events. The building was later sold to the City of Toronto. The Masaryk Memorial Institute transformed farm property it owned in Scarborough into a park called Masaryktown; a portion of the lands are protected by the conservation authority. Children of Czech and Slovak origin have spent many summers at camp at Masaryktown. On Czech and Slovak day, celebrations at Masaryktown honour the founders of the Republic of Czechoslovakia and pay tribute to the community’s new homeland.
Toronto’s Czech community is the largest in the country and has made important contributions to the city’s cultural life. The rich musical and literary traditions of Czech and Slovak culture are exemplified by artists such as opera singer Jan Rubes; composer and pianist Oskar Morawetz; pianist Antonin Kubalek; Walter Susskind and Karel Ancerl, former conductors of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra; Milan Ichniovsky, interpreter of Slovak folk songs; Professor Josef Vaclav Skvorecky, winner of the Governor General’s Award and the City of Toronto Book Award.
BIRTHDAY OF TOMAS G. MASARYK (1850–1937), March 7, celebrates the renowned philosopher and founding president of the Czechoslovak Republic, established in 1918. The Masaryk Memorial Institute organizes speeches and concerts on the nearest weekend to the day.
MEMORIAL DAY, on the third weekend in April, sees a commemorative service in honour of those who died fighting for freedom in Czechoslovakia.
DEATH OF GENERAL MILAN STEFANIK, May 4, commemorates the Slovak astronomer and soldier who was one of the founders of the Independent Democratic Republic of Czechoslovakia. The former minister of defence was killed in an airplane crash in 1919.
ST. CYRIL AND ST. METHODIUS are honoured on July 5. Czechs hold church services to remember the Apostles of the Slavs who influenced the religious and cultural development of the Slavic people in the ninth century. The two were responsible for creating a new Slavonic alphabet and were named saints of the Roman Catholic Church.
DAY OF SHAME. On August 20 and 21, the invasion of Czecho slovakia in 1968 by military forces under Soviet leadership is commemorated. Prior to the fall of communism, this day was held in conjunction with Black Ribbon Day on August 23.
INDEPENDENCE DAY, held on the nearest weekend to October 28, celebrates the day Czechoslovakia attained independence in 1918. The Masaryk Institute and the Czech and Slovak Association of Canada organize speeches, seminars, and concerts with dancing and singing.
Teaching children gymnastics is part of Czech tradition.
GATEWAY TO EUROPEAN MARKETS (quarterly), (Tel. 416-929-3432, 909 Bay St., Suite 1006). Editor: Lubomir Novotny.
KANADSKÉ LISTY (CANADIAN LETTERS), (Tel. 905-278-4116, 388 Atwater Ave., Mississauga). Published monthly in Czech and English. Editor/Publisher: M. Janecek. Mike Janecek & Jana Janeckova-Bayerova.
NOVY DOMOV (NEW HOMELAND), (Tel. 416-439-9557, 450 Scarborough Golf Club Rd). A bi-weekly newspaper. President: Gerry Formanek. Editor: Vera M. Roller.
NOVA VIZE CZECH, television program on OMNI 1 every Saturday at 10 a.m., repeated on Tuesday at 7:30 a.m. Producer: Marketa Slepcik.
SLOVENSKY SVET SLOVAK, television program on OMNI 1.
SATELLITE, (P.O. Box 176, Station E). Publisher and Editor: Ales Brezina.
CZECH AND SLOVAK ASSOCIATION OF CANADA, (Tel. 416-925-2241, 3044 Bloor St. W., P.O. Box 564). Formerly the Czechoslovak National Alliance, it was established in 1939 to promote Czech and Slovak culture, language, history, and educational activities. Also helps refugees integrate into Canadian society. President: Milos Slichma. Toronto Branch President: Ms. Radmila Locher.
CANADIAN FUND FOR CZECH AND SLOVAK UNIVERSITIES, (Tel. 416-446-2168, fax 416-446-2187, 59 Wynford Dr). President: Tibor Gregor.
CANADA-CZECH REPUBLIC CHAMBER OF COMMERCE, (Tel. 416-929-3432, 909 Bay St., Suite 1006). President: Lubomir Novotny.
CZECHOSLOVAK LEGION, (Tel. 416-964-7030, 30 Hillsboro, #1807). An organization of Czechs and Slovaks who served in the two World Wars. President: B.J. Moravec.
MASARYK MEMORIAL INSTITUTE, (Tel. 416-439-4354, 450 Scarborough Golf Club Rd). Holds dances and bazaars throughout the year. President: Frantisek Jecmen.
SOKOL GYMNASTICS ASSOCIATION OF TORONTO, (Tel. 416-762-6846, 24 Vanda Ave). Promotes physical fitness and moral education. Member of gymnastics in the province. Has weekly exercise and volleyball classes, organizes bazaars and dances and participates at slets, which are gymnastic festivals. Participants are aged 3 to 80+. President: Ms. Hana Jurasek.
WOMEN’S COUNCIL OF THE CZECH AND SLOVAK ASSOCIATION OF CANADA, (Tel. 416-239-2456, 22 Reid Manor). Formed in 1960; performs charitable work and assists newcomers. Published a cookbook of national dishes in 1965. President: Blanca Rohn.