2015 has significant meaning for the Slovak members of the Canadian Slovak League Branch 23 of Welland, Ontario. This year we will be celebrating our 75th anniversary as a branch.
During the years of political unrest in their home country, many Slovaks immigrated to Canada. The earliest Slovaks immigrated to Welland, Ontario in 1923, and by the 1930's, a substantial number of them lived there. At that time, industry in Welland was growing and the building of the Welland Canal had attracted many to come and settle in this area. The hardest obstacle they had to face was to learn the English language. They had gathered together for friendship and support in the comfort of their own language and customs.
On October 6, 1940, they organized the Canadian Slovak League Branch 23 of Welland. Traditions, heritage, language and love of their birthplace, had kept newly arrived groups of Slovaks united, and over the next several years, their membership grew. In 1944, they purchased their first hall which was located on the corner of King and Lincoln Streets. In 1951, they purchased a hall, naming it the Slovak Hall, at 162 Hagar Street. For over fifty years, the Slovaks of Branch 23 worked hard to keep their hall running and enjoyed many celebrations and performances there. It was enjoyed by all and was their place to come together and socialize, creating many wonderful memories. Over the years, the members enjoyed participating in Slovak plays, choirs, dance groups, Slovak school and a scholarship program for the youth and Slovak broadcasting on the radio. They had been involved in community functions such as the Rose Festival Parade, International Luncheons at the market square, multicultural Open Houses, and a display at the Welland Museum. They have been a large supporter of the Welland Hospital and for many of the local charities and sports teams, using the Slovak Hall as a means for fundraising, through bingo nights and hall rentals. The hall was later sold in December of 2004. This past summer, the City of Welland had created a beautiful floral bed for the commemoration of Branch 23's special milestone. It is located on the corner of Niagara and Riverbank Streets in Welland. On October 17, Branch 23 will be celebrating their anniversary with a banquet at the Croatian Church of St. Anthony's in Welland.
Even though our Slovak Hall was sold many years ago, traditions, heritage and friendship have still kept us united. Through the dedication and hard work of all its members over the years, the survival of Branch 23 for 75 years is something that we can be very proud of today.
President, Canadian Slovak League Branch 23