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Croatian and Serbian Settlements

People of Croatian origin began to settle in the kenaston area in 1904, concentrating in homesteads to the east of Hanley and Kenaston, and in the Smales district between Kenaston and Bladworth. These settlers had come from Lovinac and surrounding villages in a valley across the coastal mountain range to the east of the port city of Zadar, in Croatia. The first to arrive were the Pavelic(h)(k), Prpic(k), Masic(h), and Tomljenovic/Tomlenovich/Thompson families. In the next ten years they were joined by other families including Sekulic(h), Brkic(h), Vrkljan, Matevic(h), P(e)rsic(h), Sarich, Zdunich, K(e)rpan/Krypan, Rupcich, Stromatich, Yelich, and Obrigavi(t)ch. Already by 1914 Croatians occupied forty-one homesteads in the settlement. By the late 1920s, Croatian farmers had accumulated some 50,000 acres of land—a remarkable contrast with their recent background in the mountains of Croatia, where their families were poor illiterate farmers and family farms seldom exceeded forty acres (some were as small as one or two acres); the migrants had been forced to sell their shares of family farms to pay for their passage to North America. The first to leave were younger men escaping overcrowding on these small farms. In the mountain villages young men were accustomed to having to find physical work. In North America they took whatever manual Labour they could find: these first settlers around Kenaston had worked in railroad section gangs in Oklahoma, Kansas, Arkansas, and other midwestern states, and as coalminers in the Crowsnest Pass in Canada, before hearing of homesteads in the Prairies. So they initially arrived in Saskatchewan as single young men before being joined by wives and other family members; some temporarily returned to Croatia to find wives.

Typically, men in the mountain villages of Croatia were limited to only four years of formal Education; but they were used to hard work, and had come to Saskatchewan to develop farms their predecessors back in Croatia could hardly imagine. When they first settled they made their own hand-sewn clothing. Mixed subsistence Farming soon became large-scale grain farming. Farm buildings were concentrated, in keeping with the zadruga communal tradition, at the centre of four converging blocs of land in order to enhance mutual cooperation. Susjed—helpful neighbours—were highly valued: this co-operative tradition was reflected in strong support of the United Grain Growers, Saskatchewan Wheat Pool, and Co-operative Association. Country schoolhouses quickly familiarized Croatian Children with the English language; in turn, children assisted parents and even grandparents to learn some English. Within one generation English given names—and even an occasional surname—were adopted. Strong rural communal life was evident in the religious calendar (Kenaston had an active Roman Catholic parish which the Croatians shared with other Slavs), especially at Christmas and Easter, school concerts, various fairs, church bazaars and harvest suppers, homemakers meetings and sports events, as well as at the weddings, baptisms and funerals marking the passage of life. While the Kenaston area remained the best-defined Croatian settlement in Saskatchewan, smaller numbers of Croatians did settle in other areas such as near Leask and, together with their Serbian neighbours, also from Yugoslavia, in several other locations. Holy Trinity Serbian Orthodox Church, founded in Regina in 1916, was the first Serbian Orthodox parish in Canada.

Alan Anderson

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