October 13th, 2007

[URBAN NOTE] Changing Hungarian-Canadians in a Changing Toronto

The recent fatal shooting of a teenage boy, Keegan Allen, at a talent contest held at the Hungarian-Canadian Cultural Centre near Bathurst and St. Clair streets, in midtown Toronto prompted an interesting article in The Globe and Mail about the HCCC's history (Peter Cheney's "On St. Clair West, an echo in the hall"). The Hungarian-Canadian community, as The Canadian Encyclopedia observes, is of relatively recent vintage.

Hungarians came to Canada in 4 major waves. In the period before 1914 about 8000 immigrated; from 1925 to 1930 about 26 000; between 1948 and 1952 some 12 000 postwar displaced persons arrived; and between 1956 and 1957 about 37 000 Hungarian refugees came to Canada after the collapse of the 1956 uprising against Soviet authority. Since then several hundred Hungarians have immigrated to Canada annually.

Most of the pre-1914 settlers were peasants; in general they were disappointed transmigrants from the industrial slums of the US. The interwar arrivals were a somewhat more mixed lot socially, while many of the post-WWII immigrants were from Hungary's dispossessed middle and upper classes. Young adult males predominated in all but the last wave of immigrants.

This last migration, as Cheney writes, is the migration that produced the HCCC and kept it a vibrant organization for decades after its founding, only to start to falter as the Hungarian-Canadians became an increasingly suburbanized population and as the assimilation of younger generations began.

Set on St. Clair Avenue near Oakwood, the Hungarian-Canadian Cultural Centre is an elegant shrine to a lifestyle that has its roots in the late 1950s, when more than 30,000 Hungarians arrived in Canada after fleeing their homeland in the wake of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. About 10,000 came to Toronto, which soon had the country's most active Hungarian community.

A Hungarian club on College Street near Bathurst rapidly developed into a little Budapest. There was a bar, a dining room that served traditional Hungarian dishes, folk dancing and card games. By the 1970s, the club was bursting at the seams and flush with money. In 1978, it bought the building (a former synagogue) on St. Clair for about $500,000.

Over the next decade or so, HCCC boomed. The club added a 25,000-book Hungarian library, a wood-panelled dining room and a Hungarian-language school. There were posters of the old country and portraits of Hungarian heroes like composer Franz Liszt. The club was busy most nights. In the Arpad Hall, a giant Crown of St. Stephen was hung from the ceiling, a glittering symbol of Hungarian pride.

By the 1990s, demographic shifts had eroded the club's membership. Rising housing costs drove many younger Hungarians to the Toronto suburbs, and the children of the original émigrés were (in most cases) less interested in the old country and its traditions than their parents were.

With the slow evaporation of most of the HCCC's local user base, and the changing ethnic composition of the neighbourhood, the HCCC opened its facilities to non-Hungarian users. Some anonymous Hungarian-Canadians quoted in the article have questioned the sense of this in the aftermath of the shooting, but in the absence of a strong local Hungarian-Canadian community it's open to question whether the HCCC would be economically viable.

[BRIEF NOTE] The Souris-Port Hood ferry: Why?

Via Facebook, I've discovered that there's a small movement afoot in the Maritime provinces of Canada to create a new ferry route between Souris, a fishing village in eastern Prince Edward Island, and Port Hood, Souris' analogue on the west coast of the Nova Scotia's Cape Breton Island.

Interest in establishing a ferry link between Souris and Cape Breton has surfaced once again with renewed vigour on both sides of the Northumberland Strait.

On the Cape Breton side, residents believe a ferry between the two localities would inject millions of dollars into the local economy to create jobs, and stem some of the out-migration of local families and young people to Alberta.

"It has been said that one of the stumbling blocks has been the lack of infrastructure in place on the Cape Breton side to carry out such a project, but why not turn this perceived negative into a positive and use that as a catalyst to start the whole project?" said Glace Bay resident Kevin MacDonald.

In Souris, Mayor Joanne Reid is very interested in such a project. Reid said the idea of communication and transportation between Souris and Port Hood has always appealed to her.

"The composition of both areas is very similar in terms of people, industry, history and culture. And we are both in areas where water transportation is easy and land transportation is not," she said.

"Given the fact that Souris already has a ferry terminal and a great port, another ferry into our realm would work wonders for our economy and add to the service we already have."

Another article in The Guardian of Charlottetown reports that advocates of this new ferry route have taken their campaign to Facebook, incidentally emphasizing the economic incentives.

"Growing up in Cape Breton and having had to move away like most people I know, it is hard to see the island suffering a slow and painful death. This includes the exodus of most of our young people, along with the fisheries and many businesses that are either closed or hanging on by a thread," said [Cape Breton ferry advocate Michael McDaniel.

He believes that the new ferry link could be a start to getting Cape Breton back on its feet.

"I am quite sure I could say the same for our neighbours in P.E.I. which seem to suffer from a lot of the same issues," he said.

I'd be more than willing to make the case that eastern Prince Edward Island and Cape Breton Island are among the more relatively deprived areas of Canada. As this ACOA report (PDF format) outlines, Souris and all of Eastern Prince Edward Island constitute a region marked by lagging growth, as the old agrarian and fishing sectors decline with no replacements in sight and out-migration of the young increases. Cape Breton is in rather worse stead, with the slow collapse of the primary sectors being accompanied by post-industrial decay thanks to the structural lack of competitiveness of the coal and steel industries at the heart of the Industrial Cape Breton conurbation's economy.

So why not create a ferry route to help bring two relatively deprived regions together and hopefully create some sort of positive synergy? The main reason that I can think of is that there is already a ferry route linking Prince Edward Island with Nova Scotia, a seasonal route that runs from Wood Islands in eastern Prince Edward Island to Caribou in north-central Nova Scotia no more than a couple of hours from Cape Breton. (There was once another ferry route to the mainland, connecting western Prince Edward Island with southeastern New Brunswick, but that was replaced by the Confederation Bridge.) Creating a ferry link to connect two relatively underpopulated and absolutely declining regions with relatively little to exchange, especially in the context of an existing ferry link that already provides most of the services wished for by the proponents of a Souris-Port Hood link, would be economic nonsense. If eastern Prince Edward Island and Cape Breton Island are to pull out of their nasty declines, some other route--intensified tourism, maybe? aquaculture?--has to be taken.