Russian Canadian History and Settlement

As of the 2016 census, there are over 622,000 Canadians claiming full or partial Russian ancestry. The parts of Canada with the highest percentage of Canadians with Russian ancestry are the Prairie provinces, though the single largest Russian Canadian population is found in Ontario, where over 220,000 Ontarians claim full or partial Russian ancestry. Cities with large Russian Canadian populations include Toronto, Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Montreal, Winnipeg, Ottawa and Saskatoon. In the 2016 census, 195,915 Canadians reported Russian as their mother tongue.

Igor Gouzenko

January 01, 1874


Russians Immigrate to Canada

Throughout much of the 19th century, Canadian and Russian policies restricted immigration to Canada. The first large group of immigrants to come from Russia weren’t ethnically Russian at all, but German Mennonites. Approximately 7,000 emigrated to Canada, settling in Manitoba over the course of the 1870s.

January 01, 1882


Jews Immigrate from Russia

Jews were persecuted in Russia. They were regularly subjected to pogroms and harsh treatment. Jewish communities first established themselves mainly in urban areas of Canada, namely in Montreal and Toronto. One of the earliest waves of Russian Jewish immigration to Canada occurred in the 1880s.

January 01, 1889


Bronfman Family Arrives in Canada

One of the most influential Canadian families from Russia, the Bronfmans, fled anti-Jewish pogroms in late 19th-century Imperial Russia. Though the family was from modern-day Moldova, Samuel Bronfman was born as the family fled Russia. Initially establishing themselves in the Prairies, the Bronfman family emerged from poverty to become successful hotel owners and operators. Samuel Bronfman later moved to Montreal and started his distillery empire, Seagram’s.

January 01, 1897


First Russian Orthodox Church in Canada

What is likely the very first Russian Orthodox church in Canada was established in the settlement of Stary Wostok in Alberta. This small settlement was composed of Russians who had emigrated from Western Ukraine. The church’s establishment dates back to 1897 when the land was applied for.

January 01, 1899


7,500 Doukhobors Settle in Canada

Doukhobors were a persecuted religious minority in Russia. They were pacifists and also rejected the Tsarist government and the Orthodox Church. Doukhobor immigration to Canada was assisted by people who opposed the persecution they faced. British and American Quakers, anarchists, Canadian interior minister Clifford Sifton and even Leo Tolstoy all played a role in assisting about 7,500 Doukhobors to emigrate to Canada around the turn of the 20th century. Many settled in Saskatchewan.

January 01, 1908

Peter Verigin and the Doukhobors


Peter Verigin establishes Doukhobor community in BC

When they first immigrated to Canada, Russian Doukhobors lived communally in Saskatchewan. However, in the early 1900s, the Canadian government changed homesteading regulations. No longer were the Doukhobors allowed to collectively own their land. In addition, when asked to pledge an oath of allegiance to the Crown — a condition for the final granting of homestead titles — the Doukhobors refused and their homestead entries were cancelled. As a result, in 1908, 5,000 to 6,000 Doukhobors followed their leader, Peter Verigin, to southern British Columbia. Here they lived on land held under Verigin’s name.

January 01, 1917


Russians Immigrate after the Russian Revolution

In 1917, the Russian Revolution overthrew the Tsarist government. The revolution was followed by a bitter civil war that lasted for many years. The country was devastated. It is estimated that about 1 million Russians immigrated to Canada as a consequence of these events. Though many of these immigrants traditionally worked in agriculture or industry, Canada’s resource economy required them to try new professions, such as mining and logging.

March 11, 1922


Russian Canadians Return to the Soviet Union

In the 1920s, hundreds of Ukrainian and Russian immigrant workers, including many Doukhobors, returned home. In March 1922, a group made the journey back home from New York. They were answering a call from the communist government to support the new nation. Some were members of agricultural communes who were recruited in Canada to help kick-start the Soviet Union’s economy.

January 01, 1924


Boris Babkin Appointed Professor at Dalhousie University

Like many Russian intellectuals and academics, Boris Babkin (1877–1950) fled his home after the revolution and subsequent civil war. Babkin notably resumed his career in gastroenterology (medicine of the digestive system) at Dalhousie and McGill universities. Though there were concerns about spreading communism, Russian intellectuals contributed important work in many professional and academic fields.

October 29, 1924


Peter Verigin Assassinated

Doukhobor leader, Peter Verigin, died along with several others in a mysterious train explosion. Many believe it was a targeted assassination.

January 01, 1928


George Ignatieff arrives in Canada

Count Paul Ignatieff was the last education minister in the government of Tsar Nicholas II. His four sons, including George Ignatieff, arrived in Canada in 1928. George would later become an important Canadian diplomat, acting as Canadian ambassador to the United Nations and to the UN Security Council.

January 01, 1931


Paraskeva Clark Immigrates

Paraskeva Clark lived through the Russian Revolution and subsequent civil war before she left for Paris. There, she met a Canadian accountant and eventually immigrated to Canada in 1931. Like many artists who moved to Canada, her upbringing and artistic tradition helped transform Canadian arts and culture. Clark rejected the landscapes that had become popularized in Canada thanks to the Group of Seven. Instead, early on, she pursued portraits and still lifes, often featuring strong women.

January 01, 1937


Russian Canadians Join the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion

A small number of Russian Canadians joined more than 1,500 Canadians of diverse backgrounds who fought against Francisco Franco’s nationalist forces in the Spanish Civil War. From 1937 onwards, they fought together against fascism under the banner of the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion. Their fighting actions were not supported by the Canadian government.

January 01, 1942


Federation of Russian Canadians Established

Like many immigrant communities in Canada, Russian immigrants founded associations across Canada to provide communal support networks. Left-leaning Russian farmer-worker clubs were popular in Canada in the 1930s. These clubs drew the suspicion of the Canadian government, which eventually ordered them closed. After the Soviet Union joined the Allies to fight Hitler, the Federation of Russian Canadians reappeared in 1942. At its height, the group had its own national newspaper, 15 branches across the country and over 4,000 members.

September 05, 1945

Igor Gouzenko


Igor Gouzenko Defects to Canada

Igor Gouzenko was a Russian intelligence officer working at the Soviet Embassy in Ottawa. He knew that the Soviet embassy spied on its allies ― including Canada. Choosing to defect to Canada, he stole documents from the embassy. The evidence he provided proved the existence of a spy ring among Canadian communists. The Canadian government eventually took him in and moved him and his family to Camp X, a top-secret spy training school near Whitby, Ontario. Some claim Gouzenko’s defection marks the beginning of the Cold War.

May 30, 1946


Louis Slotin Dies from Radiation Poisoning

Louis Slotin was from a Russian Jewish family and grew up north of Winnipeg. He had a knack for chemistry and was hired by the University of Chicago. During the Second World War, he was one of several Canadian scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project, the secret wartime program to develop nuclear weapons. He died after an incident involving a plutonium core.

January 01, 1948


Russian Immigration Increases after Second World War

Russian immigration to Canada noticeably increased after the Second World War, though not from Russia directly. Many new Russian immigrants came from other European countries where they had settled after the Russian Revolution. They left for Canada looking for a better life after the Second World War. They were joined by Russian wartime prisoners enslaved by the Nazis.

June 10, 1948


Grand Duchess Olga Arrives in Montreal

One prominent Russian who came to Canada after the Second World War is Grand Duchess Olga, the sister of Tsar Nicholas II. Olga made her way to Canada on the Empress of Canada, a Canadian Pacific steamship. She eventually settled on a farm near Milton, Ontario, with her family, where she also painted watercolours.

January 01, 1950


Russian-Canadian Cultural Aid Society Established

The Russian-Canadian Cultural Aid Society was founded in Toronto in 1950. Unlike earlier Russian Canadian organizations, the RCCAS was vehemently anti-Communist. It reflected the politics of recent émigrés, as well as attitudes in Canada. The RCCAS sought to promote and preserve Russian culture and traditions in Canada. It also assisted Russian immigrants to integrate into Canadian society.

January 01, 1953


Sophie-Carmen Eckhardt-Gramatté Settles in Winnipeg

Sophie-Carmen Eckhardt-Gramatté was a Russian-born artistic luminary who left an important mark on Canadian culture and society. After leaving Russia and living in several European countries, she came to Winnipeg in 1953 with her husband. She created the Manitoba Symphony and the Symphony-Concerto for Piano and Orchestra to mark the respective centennials of Manitoba and Canada.

January 01, 1957


RCMP Removes Children from the Sons of Freedom Movement

The Sons of Freedom were an extreme sect of the Doukhobors. They refused any involvement with the state whatsoever, including registering births and deaths. They also resisted sending any of their children to school. In the mid-1950s, British Columbia took children away from the movement. Authorities sent them to a residential school. Children were harshly treated and prohibited from speaking Russian, the only language they knew. Years later, these children sought compensation for their treatment by the government.

January 01, 1969


Canadian Jews Fight to Support Refuseniks

In the 1970s and 1980s, Canadian Jews protested against Soviet officials’ ban on emigration. Canadian Jews organized efforts to support Jews in the Soviet Union who wished to leave. The latter were considered pariahs for trying to leave. Eventually, many Russian Jews who made it to Israel then migrated to Canada.

January 01, 1973


Old Believers Sect Immigrates to Alberta

The Old Believers are a sect of the Russian Orthodox community. They follow the ancient traditions and beliefs introduced to Rus (medieval Russia, Belarus and Ukraine) by the Greeks of Byzantium. Like the Doukhobors who came before them, the Old Believers sought refuge in Canada, fleeing persecution for their religious beliefs. They established small agricultural communities in Northern Alberta in the mid-1970s.

January 01, 1991

Collapse of the Soviet Union


Russian Jews Immigrate as Soviet Union Collapses

There was an effective ban on emigration from the Soviet Union beginning in the 1920s and lasting until the country’s dissolution in 1991. As the USSR began to collapse in the mid-1980s, emigration policies began to ease. Faced with anti-Semitism, Soviet Jews began to emigrate in large numbers to various countries, including Canada. By 1996, about 20,000 Jewish people from the former Soviet Union lived in Canada. They settled mainly in Montreal and Toronto, cities that had large Russian and Jewish populations.

December 10, 2008


Michael Ignatieff Becomes Liberal Party Leader

Michael Ignatieff, the grandson of Count Paul Ignatieff, who was the last education minister under Tsar Nicholas II, is one of the most prominent Russian Canadians of all time. He led the Liberal Party of Canada from 2008 to 2011, when it formed the official opposition. Ignatieff had a long and distinguished career across much of the English-speaking world as a history professor and journalist.

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