The political, social, and economic conditions prevailing in the Russian lands during the early twentieth cenrury encouraged the emigration of good peasant folk – Russians proper – as well as Russian Jews and other subjects from the western territories of the Empire including Belarus, Lithuania. Ukraine, and Moldova. The political, social, and economic conditions prevailing in the Russian lands during the early twentieth cenrury encouraged the emigration of good peasant folk – Russians proper – as well as Russian Jews and other subjects from the western territories of the Empire including Belarus, Lithuania. Ukraine, and Moldova.
The majority of these early immigrants were attracted to such Canadian cities at Montreal, Toronto, Windsor, Timmins, Winnipeg, Vancouver, and Victoria.
Many found employment in industry, for it was factory jobs that guaranteed the community’s income.
Emigration to Canada was halted by the Russian Revolution of 1917 in which the Tsarist regime was overthrown and replaced by Bolshevik rule and then by the outbreak of the Russian Civil War of 1918-21.
This conflict, which led to the defeat of the counter-revolutionary White Russians by members of the Bolshevik Red Army, resulted in thousands of refugees having to leek safety and new lives in France, Britain, Switzerland, China, and other countries for a number of years before eventually coming to Canada.
Russians also came to Canada after the Second World War as part of the great mass migration of people which followed the Allied victory.
Russian immigrants of the inter- and postwar periods represented a broader movement of professionals, people of education and culture with experience and training in many different fields.
Because of their privileged position, these newcomers were able to integrate with relative ease into Canadian society.
Among them were such individuals as Leonid I. Strakhovsky, who helped create a Slavic Studies Department at the University Toronto; physician Boris P. Babkin, a gastroenterologisi at Dalhousie and McCill universities; and the talented clan of Count Paul Ignatieff, the last minister of education under Tsar Nicholas II.
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During the 1920s some immigrants, offered important posts in Canada because of their skills were trapped into more menial, sub-professional jobs because of changing circumstances and/or the devastating depresstion afflicting employment in the 1930s.
An example it the Diakonoff family who moved to Vancouver, B.C., in 1921, when the Hudson Bay Company, in search of new fur sources, arrived at Petropavlovtk on the Kamchatka Peninsula of Siberia and hired Gurey Diakonoff.
As manager of the Churin Company’s trading compound at Petropavlovtk, since 1915, Gurey was an expert fur trader with Siberian natives, but he jumped at the chance of leaving a war-torn Russia as a result of the Bolshevik Revolution.
Gurey, with his wife Olgu, children Nina, eight, Olga, six, Igor, four, and their grandmother, Anna Kostinsky arrived aboard the Casco in Vancouver, November 1921, where, for several years, Diakonoff played a key role in organizing an annual Hudson Bay Company expedition, each Spring, and sailing with it to the Kamchatka Peninsula to buy furs.
But in the mid 1920s. Russia closed its borders to trade and that, coupled with the Great Depression, changed what had been a comfortable life in Vancouver, to one of hard times.
Siberian-born Dialumoff, unable to speak English fluently, was demoted to a menial post in the Hudson Bay fur storage department; his wife who had never worked and was used to household help, ironed clothes for a dry-cleaner; the children found jobs after leaving high school to augment the family income.
The older members of the family continued to speak Russian and enjoy the Russian Orthodox Church which they later helped establish in Vancouver, but their children, as students of Vancouver’s public school system and sent to St. Mark’s Anglican Sunday School for religious and social activities before the Orthodox Church was established, were quicky assimilated into Vancouver social life.
The sisters, Nina Donnelly and Olga Morris, now in their 80s (thown in this view with their mother before leaving Petropalovsk), now live in Toronto and Guelph, Ontario, where they retain fond memories of their Siberian-born parents and life in the Churin Company compound along the Kamchatka coast.
They are also proud of their Canadian-born children, five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.