Deter­mined Na­tion


Canada's History - - CONTENTS - By Cyn­thia Levine-Rasky

De­spite racism and per­se­cu­tion, the Roma have per­se­vered in Canada.

IN SEPTEM­BER 1919, IN SYD­NEY, NOVA SCO­TIA, a po­lice of­fi­cer en­coun­tered a group of set­tlers who had not been seen be­fore — a group of twenty-one Roma who had re­cently ar­rived in the Cape Bre­ton Is­land town. The plain­clothes of­fi­cer charged the men in the group with rob­bery, de­spite their claim of hav­ing no knowl­edge of the crime. Their brief stay in the county jail was fol­lowed by bail, re­lease, and an ar­raign­ment. The po­lice con­fis­cated the group’s horses.

Six­teen years later, Cape Bre­ton was the site of another in­ci­dent in­volv­ing a group of Roma, but the out­come could not have been more dif­fer­ent. In early June 1935, a “Gypsy” camp was set up in the small town of Re­serve, near Glace Bay. Some Ro­mani women set up a busi­ness telling for­tunes at the camp and from a store­front in Glace Bay. As skilled me­chan­ics, the men sought odd jobs. The group en­coun­tered some mi­nor an­noy­ances with towns­peo­ple, but noth­ing that could have led them to an­tic­i­pate what was to hap­pen to them one week later.

Shortly af­ter three o’clock in the morn­ing, five drunk min­ers at­tacked the camp with a bar­rage of stones, sticks, and bot­tles. A news­pa­per re­porter wrote that “hardly a mem­ber of the band es­caped in the carnage that fol­lowed.” The min­ers pulled two girls, Bessie and Mil­lie Demetro, from their tent with the in­tent of rap­ing them. To scare off the in­vaders, Ro­mani el­der Frank Demetro fired a warn­ing gun­shot into the air; he was also sus­pected of fir­ing another shot that killed one of the min­ers, Vin­cent McNeil. Demetro

re­quired care at a lo­cal hospi­tal for the in­juries he sus­tained in the at­tack. He was placed un­der RCMP guard. Cana­dian Roma com­mem­o­rate the event in a song named for Demetro’s plea to his wife, Kezha, for help af­ter the min­ers’ as­sault, “Kezha, de ma

ki ka­trinsa te kosav o rat pa mande” (Kezha, give me your apron to wipe the blood from me).

The coro­ner’s hear­ing into McNeil’s death heard from many wit­nesses, in­clud­ing four Ro­mani girls and one man. Demetro’s brother Rus­sel, fear­ing that Demetro, a di­a­betic, would not sur­vive a jail term, ad­mit­ted to shoot­ing McNeil. Rus­sel Demetro was tried and ac­quit­ted on a plea of self-de­fence.

The 1935 case in Cape Bre­ton is the most dra­matic and vi­o­lent of all doc­u­mented in­ci­dents against Cana­dian Roma. In gen­eral the Roma made their way through Canada and peace­fully set­tled here, just like so many other im­mi­grant groups. Provin­cial ar­chives and lo­cal his­tor­i­cal so­ci­ety records re­veal that Roma trav­elled through al­most ev­ery re­gion of the coun­try as early as 1880. Men made their liv­ing as horse traders and as cop­per­smiths, while women worked as for­tune tellers, mid­wives, and herbal­ists. Many Roma later worked in trav­el­ling car­ni­vals.

Like other eth­nic groups who mi­grated here long ago, the Roma worked to es­tab­lish homes and to sus­tain them­selves eco­nom­i­cally, of­ten trav­el­ling as itin­er­ant trades­peo­ple or crafts­peo­ple. Also like other groups, the Roma have of­ten been mis­un­der­stood or re­garded with sus­pi­cion. But, un­like with peo­ple of other eth­nic­i­ties, the myth of the Gypsy trav­elled along­side the Roma wher­ever they went.

This myth, which si­mul­ta­ne­ously sees the Roma as ro­man­tic wan­der­ers and as swindlers to be feared, served to jus­tify their mis­treat­ment. When we learn of their his­tor­i­cal tra­vails, how­ever, be­lief in the Gypsy myth is chal­lenged, just as it is when we en­counter the Roma in Canada to­day — a dy­namic and plu­ral­is­tic com­mu­nity num­ber­ing about one hun­dred thou­sand and en­com­pass­ing cit­i­zens of many faiths, oc­cu­pa­tions, and sta­tuses.

The Roma have been in Canada for more than a cen­tury as part of a di­as­pora af­fect­ing all Ro­mani sub­groups. De­spite their lack of iden­ti­fi­ca­tion with a national home­land, all Roma share an ori­gin dat­ing most likely to the eleventh cen­tury in Pun­jab, Ra­jasthan, and Sindh in north­west­ern In­dia. They also share the Ro­mani lan­guage, which is most sim­i­lar to Urdu but also shares San­skrit ori­gins with Hindi, Pun­jabi, and Ben­gali.

Among Roma who came to Canada, the most com­mon sub­groups in­clude the Kalderash, from what is now Ro­ma­nia; the Ro­manichal, from the United King­dom; Gi­tano and Sinti (or Manouche), from cen­tral and western Europe; and var­i­ous di­vi­sions of Ro­mungro, who dwell mainly in Hun­gary.

Tra­di­tion­ally, the Roma nei­ther used sur­names nor iden­ti­fied them­selves as Roma but in­stead re­ferred to them­selves as Rus­sians, Ukraini­ans, Bri­tish, and so on. This fact — to­gether with English ap­prox­i­ma­tions of their Eu­ro­pean names, spell­ing variations, and their of­ten hav­ing more than one pre­ferred name — cre­ates for­mi­da­ble chal­lenges in iden­ti­fy­ing fam­ily groups in land grant records.

The ear­li­est ac­count of the Roma land­ing in Canada is found in the 1895 His­tory of the County of Lunen­burg. The en­try for Septem­ber 14, 1862, reads: “Gyp­sies ar­rived at Lunen­burg (it was said for the first time), and pitched their tents in Mr. N. Kaulbach’s pas­ture.” Where this early group of vis­i­tors to Nova Sco­tia came from and who they were is un­known.

Au­thor Matt Salo claims that groups of Roma (the sub­group known as Ro­manichals) ar­rived from the United King­dom in the 1870s and that a group of Lu­dari Roma em­i­grated from Bos­nia to Canada in the 1890s. Salo’s en­try on “Gyp­sies/Rom” in the 1979 edi­tion of the En­cy­clo­pe­dia of Canada’s Peo­ples in­forms read­ers that “pas­sen­ger lists record Rom ar­riv­ing at New York in 1899, 1900, and 1901 who claimed ei­ther to have been in Canada or to be headed here….”

Ro­mani-Cana­dian au­thor and ex­pert on the di­as­pora Ronald Lee chron­i­cles Ro­mani set­tle­ments in what be­came Al­berta

start­ing around 1902. These early set­tlers were de­scen­dants of Ro­mani slaves in the Ro­ma­nian prin­ci­pal­i­ties of Wal­lachia and Mol­davia. (The en­slave­ment of the Eu­ro­pean Roma be­gan with their ar­rival in the re­gion in 1385 and con­tin­ued un­til the 1860s.) Mi­grat­ing to Rus­sia, Ser­bia, Ukraine, Bul­garia, and other coun­tries, and then on to Ar­gentina, Mexico, and Cen­tral Amer­ica, these Ro­mani fam­i­lies en­tered the United States be­fore ar­riv­ing in Canada.

In­ter­ac­tions be­tween lo­cal res­i­dents and Roma trav­el­ling in small fam­ily groups oc­curred in al­most ev­ery province. In his­tor­i­cal al­manacs, most en­coun­ters are dis­cussed only fleet­ingly, such as in the re­port of the “Gypsy show put on in Kam­loops” in 1898, or in a de­scrip­tion of vis­i­tors who dressed “like Gyp­sies,” or in the nu­mer­ous sight­ings of nearby camp­sites. While it is im­pos­si­ble to ver­ify that these en­coun­ters were in­deed with Ro­mani fam­i­lies, the na­ture of the mi­grants’ activities — danc­ing, for­tune-telling, the sale of hand­i­crafts, and horse-trad­ing, for in­stance — do cor­re­spond to Ro­mani tra­di­tions at the time.

A 1909 ac­count in Cal­gary de­scribes one Jann Mitchell, a pros­per­ous farmer said to be of “gypsy” ances­try who lived about eigh­teen miles east of High River, Al­berta. On Oc­to­ber 19, vis­i­tors from Van­cou­ver sup­ple­mented his al­ready large ex­tended fam­ily and set up an im­pres­sive tent vil­lage on his prop­erty. About one year later in Eas­tend, Saskatchewan, Alice Freel writes in the book Range Rid­ers and “sod­busters,” pub­lished by the lo­cal his­tory so­ci­ety, that the RCMP were work­ing to keep the “gyp­sies” on the move.

In her book Gyp­sies, Preach­ers and Big White Bears, Clau­dia Smith de­scribes “gyp­sies” mov­ing through La­nark County in eastern On­tario be­tween 1890 and 1930. Their ar­rival was met with anx­i­ety be­cause, Smith ex­plains, “peo­ple were du­bi­ous of these for­eign look­ing folk and tales of treach­ery, though not of vi­o­lence, pre­ceded them. Signs bar­ring them from cer­tain build­ings and ar­eas of town were not un­com­mon.” The Roma went from door to door sell­ing hand­i­work or mak­ing trades for gar­den pro­duce, meat, or used chil­dren’s cloth­ing. And the new­com­ers had valu­able skills: They used wild plants to treat ail­ments in horses, bur­dock and net­tles for hair growth, bram­bles for skin le­sions, and cowslip and hops to quiet ner­vous or ex­citable an­i­mals. Per­haps be­cause of the Roma’s ex­per­tise, or be­cause of the chance to get a prob­lem off their hands, “peo­ple of­ten saved un­ruly horses that balked, bit or kicked to trade to the gyp­sies,” Smith writes.

An ac­count from around 1905 in Saint-Jean-sur-Riche­lieu, Que­bec, men­tions a group of Roma. Trans­lated into English, it de­scribes “bo­hemi­ans that the lo­cal peo­ple called gyp­sies,” who stopped their car­a­vans to trade horses or to sell rus­tic fur­ni­ture made of twigs and branches. Still far­ther east, we learn of a 1928 visit by three fam­i­lies of “Gypsy Cop­per­smiths” to Saint John, New Brunswick. In a 1929 is­sue of the Jour­nal

of the Gypsy Lore So­ci­ety, au­thor J.R. Mo­ri­arty ex­plains that the fam­i­lies re­mained for about two months and re­turned to Mon­treal when op­por­tu­ni­ties for lo­cal work ended. Read­ers learn that the men’s work­shop was in an old ru­ined cel­lar at the back of the camp and that it con­tained all the tools of their trade. The women told for­tunes while dressed in “the usual cos­tume of these Gyp­sies, with long, braided hair, coins and neck­laces.”

Nu­mer­ous sto­ries of Ro­mani set­tle­ment ex­ist as oral his­tory. In his book God­dam Gypsy, first pub­lished in 1971 and later reti­tled E Zhivindi Yag: The Liv­ing Fire, Ronald Lee tells of one Wil­liam Stan­ton, also known as Wil­liam Evans, an Amer­i­can­born Ro­mani man of the Kalderash group whose fa­ther was born in Canada and whose grand­fa­ther had ar­rived from Europe. Stan­ton planned to raise horses on a prop­erty near High River, but when he dis­cov­ered that the wa­ter was con­tam­i­nated

with pe­tro­leum he sold the land and be­gan buy­ing horses from lo­cals, in­clud­ing In­dige­nous peo­ple, and ship­ping the horses back east to rel­a­tives.

Ac­cord­ing to Lee, Stan­ton was part of a group of Cana­dian Roma who set­tled in Le­duc, Al­berta, around 1902. The area was on a spur line of the Cana­dian Pa­cific Rail­way, mak­ing it easy to ship horses from there. An ex­change was set up in which bro­ken mus­tang horses were shipped east, and draft horses were shipped west to sell to im­mi­grant farm­ers in what be­came Al­berta and in parts of the North-West Ter­ri­to­ries that are now in Saskatchewan and Man­i­toba. Lee also de­scribes how the Roma sent horses from Western Canada to Toronto and Mon­treal, where they were des­tined for the Cana­dian mil­i­tary and for use in the First World War.

In a se­ries of thir­teen ar­ti­cles pub­lished from June 21 to Au­gust 5, 1909, the Evening Ex­am­iner of Peter­bor­ough, On­tario, tells the story of a visit by a Ro­mani group. On June 21, a “band of gyp­sies” was rounded up. All of the sixty men, women, and chil­dren were jailed, the men put in cells and the women and chil­dren con­fined to the jail yard with all of their wag­ons. The men, one re­porter wrote, “are a vil­lain­ous look­ing lot and ap­pear fit to un­der­take any crime.”

On June 22, all of the Roma were charged with loi­ter­ing on the road­side, ob­struct­ing the high­way, and interfering with pas­sen­gers. The men re­ceived a jail sen­tence of one week, but the women and chil­dren were led to another site to look af­ter them­selves, since the cost of feed­ing the en­tire group would have been pro­hib­i­tive for the town. The women were joined

on June 23 by another group of Roma, whose lead­ers gave the names Rosie and Michael Ge­orge. As the Roma of­ten did, the pair went along with the ro­man­ti­cized image of their peo­ple and were soon re­ferred to by the au­thor­i­ties and in the press as “Rosie, the Gypsy Queen” and “Chief Michael Ge­orge.”

The peo­ple of Peter­bor­ough col­lected around the camp­site like tourists, such that “each fam­ily hearth was sur­rounded by a cir­cle of cu­ri­ous sight­seers, who watched with in­ter­est the culi­nary ar­range­ments of the gyp­sies.” At a trial held on June 28, the Roma pleaded not guilty to the charges. Af­ter the court ex­tracted a fine of $125 and a prom­ise to leave the city at once, the men were freed from jail, and fur­ther charges were dropped. The au­thor­i­ties dis­cov­ered that the Roma were “nat­u­ral­ized cit­i­zens of Canada hav­ing been here more than two years and there­fore can­not be de­ported.”

A twist in the story oc­curred on Wed­nes­day, June 30, when a Roma wedding took place in what was known as the Driv­ing Park. Of the event, a jour­nal­ist wrote, “the party is as gaudily dressed as an ex­cited crowd at a Mex­i­can bull fight or an Ori­en­tal pop­u­la­tion re­joic­ing over the as­cen­sion of a new Sul­tan.” The lo­cal 57th Reg­i­men­tal Band played. The groom was iden­ti­fied as J. Stoke and the bride as the daugh­ter of Chief Michael Ge­orge. In­quiries from a re­porter about the of­fi­ciant for the cer­e­mony went unan­swered.

Nearly a month later, on July 20, the “king” and “queen” re­turned to Peter­bor­ough from Ot­tawa to ac­quire ev­i­dence of the wedding. Rosie ex­plained that the bride’s fam­ily had charged Rosie’s band with kid­nap­ping the child bride and now re­quired proof of the le­git­i­macy of the wedding. By this time, the iden­ti­ties of the cou­ple had changed from ini­tial ac­counts. The bride was Ka­t­rina Miguel, aged twelve, a Bul­gar­ian-Ro­mani girl, and the groom was Spero Ster­rio, also twelve, son of Christo Ster­rio, a Mex­i­can-Ro­mani man. While no doubt shock­ing to many Cana­di­ans, the young age of the cou­ple re­flects Ro­mani cus­toms at the time.

A jour­nal­ist found noth­ing but con­fu­sion among the crowd who gath­ered to hear the de­tails, but he fi­nally ob­tained this in­for­ma­tion from an older woman of the group: There was a wedding “car­ried out in a church the same as the Cana­dian cer­e­mony, but they first had their own method or rite.” The Roma ex­plained to the court that nei­ther a con­tract nor the chil­dren’s con­sent were re­quired for a mar­riage, hence the dif­fi­culty in ob­tain­ing the proof sought by the bride’s fam­ily. The en­tire episode con­cluded on Au­gust 5 with the pre­sen­ta­tion to the court of a brass tray, a wine bot­tle cov­ered with a silken cloth, and a string of gold coins. Such ar­ti­facts are still used in some Ro­mani be­trothal cer­e­monies to­day, and they were then of­fered as proof that the wedding cer­e­mony took place that June.

Aseries of sto­ries in the Toronto Star, and one story in the

Toronto Globe in 1910, de­scribed a group of Roma who first ap­peared in the lo­ca­tion of what is now the in­ter­sec­tion of Toronto’s Eglin­ton and Bayview av­enues. This “band of wan­der­ers” was the first camp of “Gyp­sies” to be recorded in the city. The group was com­posed of four men, three women, three chil­dren, two bears (the Globe re­ports four bears), a ba­boon, some horses, and hens. The bears and ba­boon were kept as a street at­trac­tion for a pay­ing pub­lic. De­spite res­i­dents’ fears of theft from clothes­lines and milk de­liv­er­ies, no spe­cific complaints against the group were re­ported. “Per­fectly peace­ful, they have shown them­selves to be law-abid­ing cit­i­zens and peo­ple of wealth. They are no longer sus­pected of any­thing other than a too-vivid imag­i­na­tion when they tell for­tunes, and as far as the neigh­bours are con­cerned they may stay there for­ever,” the Star re­porter wrote.

The peace did not last. When au­thor­i­ties re­ceived complaints about the Roma as a “pub­lic nui­sance” who mis­treated their an­i­mals, they ig­nored the fact that the group had pur­chased the land on which its mem­bers were liv­ing. Po­lice broke up the camp on Fe­bru­ary 4, 1911, and placed the en­tire group and its an­i­mals in the liv­ery sta­ble at 77 King Street West. The Hu­mane So­ci­ety (and also the Chil­dren’s Aid So­ci­ety, ac­cord­ing to the Globe) car­ried out in­spec­tions.

While the provin­cial sec­re­tary’s depart­ment in Ot­tawa re­viewed the mat­ter, the dis­placed fam­ily set up camp with another group of Roma lo­cated west of the Hum­ber River near Mim­ico, On­tario. No fi­nal de­ci­sion about the Toronto group is re­ported, but the au­thor­i­ties’ hopes of de­port­ing them were dashed upon dis­cov­er­ing that, like the Peter­bor­ough vis­i­tors, the Roma had pass­ports au­tho­riz­ing their stay in Canada. The an­i­mals were sold to a group known as the Royal English Gyp­sies who held prop­erty on Queen Street.

Nine years later, the Star noted the ar­rival of eight fam­i­lies of “Ser­bian Gyp­sies” at York Mills, On­tario. These Roma were cop­per­smiths and, the news­pa­per re­ported, had “for­saken horse trad­ing” for cars. Since this group made its liv­ing not by horse­trad­ing but by mak­ing and fix­ing cop­per pots — as a pho­to­graph that ac­com­pa­nied the story shows — the re­porter likely meant that they had re­placed horse-drawn car­a­vans with cars. One group pho­to­graph shows at least six­teen peo­ple, half of whom are chil­dren. A sec­ond pho­to­graph shows three men, two women, and a child stand­ing with two large cop­per pots, the tra­di­tional trade of the Kalderash sub­group.

Another early ac­count of the Roma was a 1920 ad­dress de­liv­ered to the Cana­dian Club by a Bri­tish-born Ro­manichal.

This “band of wan­der­ers” was the first camp of “Gyp­sies” to be recorded in Toronto. The group was com­posed of four men, three women, three chil­dren, two bears (the Globe re­ports four bears), a ba­boon, some horses, and hens.

Not to be con­fused with the well-known Ro­mani preacher Rod­ney “Gypsy” Smith (1860–1947) who preached to Bri­tish and Amer­i­can au­di­ences, Cap­tain Pat “Gipsy” Smith was an evan­ge­list who served in the First World War and reached the rank of act­ing ma­jor. He spoke to his em­i­nent au­di­ence about tra­di­tional Roma life. Re­fer­ring to him­self as Ro­many in eth­nic­ity (a com­mon al­ter­nate spell­ing of Ro­mani), he in­formed mem­bers of the link be­tween the in­dige­nous lan­guage of Ro­many and Hin­dus­tan. Defin­ing the Roma as a dis­tinct peo­ple on the ba­sis of their tents, car­a­vans, up­bring­ing, and the lan­guage known to all authen­tic Roma through­out Europe, Smith called them the “aris­to­crats of the road.” Their self-ap­pointed sta­tus was, he claimed, su­pe­rior to that of all other peo­ple.

In more re­cent years, the Roma have come to at­ten­tion once again in Canada, but for dif­fer­ent rea­sons. The 1990s in cen­tral and eastern Europe meant new free­dom for many cit­i­zens of post-Com­mu­nist na­tions, but for the Roma times went from tol­er­a­ble to in­tol­er­a­ble. Dur­ing the Com­mu­nist era, they had work, a reg­u­lar in­come, hous­ing, and ed­u­ca­tion. These ben­e­fits came, how­ever, at the cost of los­ing their knowl­edge of tra­di­tional crafts as mak­ers of house­hold prod­ucts, foresters, black­smiths, and mu­si­cal per­form­ers. Sud­denly, many Roma were out of work, with no eco­nom­i­cally vi­able trade to which they could re­turn.

Hate crimes against the Roma in­creased in fre­quency as ex­trem­ist groups or­ga­nized them­selves and took vi­o­lent ac­tion against the eas­i­est of tar­gets: the “Gyp­sies,” who were blamed for var­i­ous states’ eco­nomic prob­lems. Even as the hu­man rights move­ment re­placed the term “Gypsy” with “Roma,” as a peo­ple they be­came ex­traor­di­nar­ily vul­ner­a­ble to vi­o­lence. Para­mil­i­tary groups in Hun­gary, the Czech Re­pub­lic, Slovakia, Bul­garia, Italy, Aus­tria, and Greece pro­moted anti-Roma be­liefs and of­ten took vi­o­lent actions against the Roma, the largest eth­nic mi­nor­ity group in Europe ac­cord­ing to the Eu­ro­pean Union Agency for Fun­da­men­tal Rights.

Like hun­dreds of thou­sands of other im­mi­grants and refugees be­fore them, the Roma saw in Canada a bet­ter way of life, free from per­se­cu­tion. Since the mid-1990s, they have been ar­riv­ing and claim­ing asy­lum here from coun­tries through­out cen­tral and eastern Europe. In 1998, for ex­am­ple, Canada re­ceived 204 refugee claims from Bul­gar­i­ans, 1,230 from Czechs, 294 from Hun­gar­i­ans, and 346 from Ro­ma­ni­ans. The large ma­jor­ity of these peo­ple are Roma, but their rel­a­tively small num­bers passed with­out no­tice.

How­ever, in 2010, 2011, and 2012, Hun­gary ranked first among all source coun­tries for asy­lum seek­ers in Canada, with a to­tal of 8,605 peo­ple ar­riv­ing in those three years — num­bers that did get the Roma no­ticed. Since 2013, the num­ber of Ro­mani asy­lum seek­ers from cen­tral and eastern Europe has di­min­ished con­sid­er­ably due to a host of re­stric­tive mea­sures im­ple­mented by the fed­eral government — these were aimed at ex­pe­dit­ing refugee claims for peo­ple from “des­ig­nated coun­tries of ori­gin.” The Ro­mani fam­i­lies who have been al­lowed to stay are, like hun­dreds of thou­sands of other im­mi­grants, mak­ing this coun­try their own.

The Gypsy Lore So­ci­ety, founded in the United King­dom in 1888, is an in­ter­na­tional repos­i­tory of re­search and writ­ing on the Roma peo­ples and “anal­o­gous peri­patetic

cul­tures” world­wide. In a 1934 is­sue of the Jour­nal of the

Gypsy Lore So­ci­ety, au­thor An­drew March­bin in­cluded a foot­note de­scrib­ing one El­iz­a­beth Stan­ley, the spokesper­son of a Ro­mani group of about forty or fifty peo­ple who spent time in Mon­treal in 1882. The women sold wil­low and cane bas­kets from door to door, and the men traded in horses, mainly from the group’s prop­erty in Rhode Is­land.

De­fend­ing the un­de­servedly poor rep­u­ta­tion of her peo­ple, Stan­ley said, “You see, sir, there’s no swin­dling yere, but clear money, and we comes to Mon­treal and leaves more money than we ever takes away. We pays our debts, thank God, and are hon­est folks. Peo­ple says hard things of Gyp­sies, but not one of our folks was ever ar­rested. Never one of our folks killed his wife, sir, or any other per­son. We don’t do that, thank the Lord.”

March­bin writes wist­fully that “some­times to-day a pic­turesque wan­der­ing Gypsy car­a­van, on a busi­ness trip in one of the north­ern states of our south­ern neigh­bour, will cross the in­ter­na­tional bound­ary and visit us, camp­ing in some beau­ti­ful spot and mak­ing the for­est ring to the mu­sic of their melodies.” Un­like the United States, Canada hosted no per­ma­nent Ro­mani set­tle­ment in ei­ther the East or the West, March­bin con­tends. Canada was just an “oc­ca­sional mar­ket de­pend­ing on the sea­son.”

March­bin was wrong. The Roma have lived in Canada for more than a cen­tury. As in the pages of a trea­sured scrapbook, their his­tory reads like a col­lec­tion of dis­parate nar­ra­tives with its mix of oral his­to­ries, an­ti­quated schol­arly re­search, jour­nal­ism, and am­a­teur his­to­ri­ans’ ac­counts. At once the sub­jects of fear and fas­ci­na­tion, of tol­er­ance and dis­ap­proval, the Roma have long been a peo­ple whose sto­ries are typ­i­cally told for them. With the voices of Ronald Lee, Micheal Butch, and oth­ers like Gina Csanyi-Robah, direc­tor of the Cana­dian Ro­mani Al­liance, Da­fina Savic, direc­tor of the anti-dis­crim­i­na­tion or­ga­ni­za­tion Ro­ma­nipe, artist and writer Lynn Hutchin­son Lee, and Juno Award-win­ning mu­si­cian Robi Bo­tos, in­di­vid­u­als are now telling their own sto­ries.

As Ro­mani refugees from a dozen coun­tries join Cana­dian Roma, the col­lec­tive scrapbook will be en­riched with sto­ries writ­ten not for them but by them. Cana­dian Roma? Va, Rrom

Kanadácha! (Yes, Cana­dian Roma!)


Ro­mani chil­dren wash­ing at a camp on the Hum­ber River in Toronto’s west end, 1918.

A Ro­mani woman with her two chil­dren at a camp in Peter­bor­ough, 1909.

A Ro­mani camp in On­tario’s Muskoka district circa 1885 to 1895.

Right: Two Ro­mani women with their chil­dren and car­a­vans at a camp in Peter­bor­ough, 1909. Be­low: A Bul­gar­ian-Ro­mani woman and child at In­n­is­fail, Al­berta, in 1904. Be­low: An ar­ti­cle from the Toronto Daily Star dated Fe­bru­ary 4, 1911, de­scribes life...


A group of girls walk along a road near a Ro­mani camp at Lambton Mills, On­tario, in 1911.

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