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Russians in Montreal

About the life of the Russian community in the largest city of French-speaking Canada

Russians in Montreal
Photo: Alexander Plakhov

According to the 2006 census, in Canada there were more than half a million inhabitants who call Russian their first or second language. It is obvious that over the past eight years the number of Russian-speaking immigrants from Russia and the countries of the former USSR has grown. Once they are in a new society, they must integrate into the economic and social life and at the same time solve the most difficult question of national self-determination for themselves and their children. The Russian community in Montreal was one of the first to find the answer and set an example of successful synthesis of two cultures.

It should immediately be noted that Russians in Canada are understood as all immigrants from the territory of the former Russian Empire or the USSR, who communicate in Russian, regardless of nationality. Ukrainians, Moldovans, Jews, Belarusians, representatives of the Central Asian and Caucasian republics are called "Russians". Although Russian emigration to Canada has never been as massive as emigration to European countries and the United States, it can be conditionally divided into several “waves”.

In the 1870th century, immigration from Russia to Canada was mainly of a religious nature. Several thousand Russian-German Mennonites were among the first to move across the ocean, and in the 1898s they settled on the territory of what is now the province of Saskatchewan. The next major group of settlers arrived in Canada at the end of the 1899th century. These were representatives of the Dukhobor community, a Christian denomination that was persecuted by the authorities in Russia. Financial support for their move was provided by L.N. Tolstoy, who donated for these purposes the fee for the novel "Resurrection". In 8-XNUMX, about XNUMX thousand Dukhobors settled in what is now the province of Saskatchewan. Subsequently, they had to move again - further west, to the province of British Columbia. In the XNUMXth and early XNUMXth centuries, a significant number of immigrants from Poland and Finland, which were then part of the Russian Empire, also arrived in Canada. For example, the famous actress and Playboy star Pamela Anderson has Finnish roots and Russian ancestors on the mother's side.

A truly massive immigration began after the 1917 revolution. She was also compelled. Originally they were representatives of the intelligentsia, military, nobility - all who did not agree with the coming to power of the Communists. They founded the first Russian communities in Canadian cities, mainly in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. A prominent representative of this wave was the distinguished Canadian diplomat Georgy Pavlovich Ignatiev, the son of Count P.N. Ignatieff and Princess Natalia Meshcherskaya. The family left Russia when he was 5 years old. Subsequently, he served as Canada's ambassador to Yugoslavia, the country's permanent representative to NATO and the United Nations. The descendants of these emigrants carefully preserve the literary Russian language and culture, but at the same time avoid contacts with representatives of later waves of Soviet emigration.

The next influx of Russian-speaking immigrants occurred in the 1940-s. After the war, former prisoners of war, who were afraid to return to the USSR and fled from Europe, went to Canada, as well as a wide class of those who under Stalin were considered "enemies of the people", including real war criminals who collaborated in the fascists. Most of the visitors wanted to quickly dissolve in the new society and forget their past. However, not everyone can do this. Thus, in 2008, Canada issued Italy to the Nazi criminal Michael Seifert. The military court in Verona sentenced the 84-year-old SS to life imprisonment. In 2012, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, engaged in the search for Nazi criminals around the world, announced that one of the suspects in the massacre of the village of Khatyn lives near Montreal. However, the case of his extradition did not receive a move because of a lack of evidence.

The next wave of immigration 1970-80-x consisted of dissidents, human rights activists and those few who could illegally cross the border. For example, in 1980 during the transfer to the airport in Canada, the Soviet chess grandmaster Igor Ivanov fled. The bulk of immigrants of the era of stagnation are intelligent people, mostly of Jewish origin, since only Jews had the right to leave the Soviet Union. They quickly integrated into a strong Jewish community, but continue to communicate among themselves in Russian.

The modern and probably the most massive stage of immigration of native speakers of Russian language and culture to Canada began with the collapse of the USSR. Sometimes it is also divided into several periods. First of all, Russians from the former Soviet republics began to leave for Canada, faced with the discriminatory policies of the new national governments and unable to get to Russia. Among them were immigrants from Moldova, Kazakhstan, the Baltic countries and Ukraine. According to their stories, many rode at random, not knowing the language and not having an idea about the Canadian society. Since the end of 1990, a wave of new, "economic" migration has begun. Business people and qualified specialists with sufficient funds and knowledge of foreign languages ​​go to Canada. Their choice is motivated not by political reasons, but by more comfortable working and living conditions in Canada, security and a good education for children. Thanks to the development of communications, they do not lose contact with Russia, retain Russian citizenship and often travel between the two countries. For business people, immigration to Canada is one of the most accessible ways to obtain a passport, which enables unimpeded access to most countries of the world.

Russian community and Russian language in Montreal

Montreal is a unique example for North America where a large Russian-speaking community exists in a bilingual environment. The official language of the province of Quebec, where the city is located, is French, but up to 20% of the inhabitants of Montreal still speak English. According to various sources, the Russian diaspora here has thousands of people from 60 to 80, so Russian is regularly heard on the streets. The city has many businesses: from driving schools to hairdressers, whose owners are Russian-speaking Canadians. For example, in Montreal there are almost two dozen stores that sell products familiar to Russia: from Red October candy and gingerbread to salted cucumbers and buckwheat. And many products are manufactured in America at the enterprises of immigrants from the countries of the former USSR. There are several Russian-language newspapers in the city, a Russian-language television channel and radio. On New Year's Eve on local French-speaking television, you can easily stumble upon a program where a Russian chef tells you how to cook a traditional kulebyaka.

In the Russian-speaking community of the city there are representatives of all the waves of Russian emigration, although most have arrived in Montreal over the past 20 years. In terms of their ethnic composition, they are mostly immigrants from Moldova, Ukraine, Belarus, Russians who left the republics of Central Asia, Jews who moved from Israel. Immigrants from Russia make up only a small part of the Russian-speaking community, but among them there are representatives of almost all regions of the Russian Federation.

After moving to another country and the first years necessary for settling in a new place, the issue of preserving one's cultural and national identity arises before Russian-speaking immigrants. On the one hand, many are on the path of full integration into Canadian society. This means a gradual, but inevitable break from Russian culture and the extinction of the native language. In such families, the process of assimilation is especially rapid in children who fully integrate into the French or English-speaking environment. To do this, it is enough to just leave the child for a short while without Russian-speaking communication. At the same time, French in Quebec is moving very aggressively - even at school changes students are required to speak only in the official language of the province.

As the statistics show, in 1951 the Russian language considered 188 thousands of Canadians native, in 1971 - about 160 thousand, and in 20 years - from 32 to 35 thousand people. This trend can be explained by the influence of a number of demographic factors, including the process of assimilation.

On the other hand, Russian immigrants, especially intelligent people, hold fast to their culture and always look for ways to preserve the language and instill in children a sense of pride for their native country. For believers, this possibility is given by the Russian Orthodox Church, which is relatively widely represented in Quebec. In a province with a population of 8 million people, there are six Orthodox parishes, half of which are in Montreal.

Russian school

If the church gives the community the opportunity for spiritual self-determination and the preservation of religious traditions, then the Russian-speaking school for immigrant children became the way of education of love for the native language, history and culture. "The people we work with are focused on preserving their group and ethnic identity, preserving everything that they brought with them," says Tatyana Kruglikova, director of the Saturday school in Russia "Gramota." 17 years ago, a graduate of the philological faculty of Moscow State University opened the first educational institution in Canada, oriented to the basic Russian education program. Today, it already has more than 500 children. "The craving for everything" their own "in the American continent is much more pronounced than in immigrants in Europe. Therefore, they want the child, in addition to local education, to receive a reliable and already well-known Russian education in mathematics, Russian language, literature, history of Russia and the world, geography, music culture, "she explains.

The 30 classes of the Russian school include early development groups, two preparatory levels, all elementary classes, middle and senior 6 classes, a Russian language class and a college preparation class. Children study according to the latest Russian textbooks and special didactic developments for the Russian school abroad, and some universities might envy the teaching staff. At school there are painting circles, Russian folk crafts, dances, choral and theater studios, a karate section.

Parents who have a Soviet or Russian education behind their backs usually do not like the program of the Canadian high school, which lags behind almost all subjects, especially in mathematics, physics, chemistry. Therefore, in the Russian school, students study not only language and literature, but also exact sciences. Thanks to this, French and English teachers of lyceums and colleges unanimously say that Russian students are very strong in mathematics. Children complain that they practically do not teach world history in Canada, but from year to year they are forced to study the chronicles of their provinces. This gap must be filled in the Russian school. Since 2001, the students of "Literacy" take part in the International Internet contest "Mother tongue, great sounds! ..", where their compositions regularly receive prizes.

Synthesis of two cultures

"The school is the most effective way to maintain Russian identity through the Russian environment, thanks to communication between Russian children and mainly thanks to the friendship that is tied up among Russian peers," notes Tatyana Kruglikova. Indeed, according to the observations of Russian immigrants - adults and adolescents, for North Americans, the phrase "there is no bond of fellowship!" Seems at least strange. Raised in an atmosphere of extreme individualism and pragmatism, Canadian teenagers do not allow close friendship, which means a too deep invasion of personal space. "They always stay at the distance, even school friends, with whom we communicated for five years and with whom we had very good relations," one of the graduates of the Russian school shares her impressions. As a result, real friendship in the Russian sense of this word, meaning the rejection of selfish interests in favor of the common, is possible only between Russian-speaking children.

Another distinguishing feature of children who live in Canadian society, but retain Russian cultural traditions, is a much broader horizon compared to their peers. They equally well master three languages: Russian, French and English, strive to get a prestigious education, to succeed in life, maintaining a clear national identity. They are open, educated, tolerant and feel themselves to be real citizens of the world. This is a unique phenomenon, which became possible due to the synthesis of Russian and Western cultures.

Finally, these children have learned in Canada to love Russia. "These guys are carriers of special patriotism. All of them undoubtedly feel themselves to be Russians and are ready to tell in detail, in their own way and quite distinctly, what is meant by this, "explains the director of the school" Gramota ". It may seem strange to the Russian reader, but many children who grew up in Canada even find it hard to believe that there is a country in the world where all people - in the street, in the metro, shops, schools, at playgrounds - speak Russian. They are proud of Russia and would very much like to visit it.

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