Global True Lithuania Encyclopedia of Lithuanian heritage worldwide

Vancouver, British Columbia

While currently, the Vancouver Lithuanian community is among the largest in Canada, it did not build its own Lithuanian church or Lithuanian home, or any monuments.

The community increased slowly over time. A few initial pre-WW2 immigrants were joined by their refugee relatives after World War 2 who fled Soviet-occupied Lithuania. However, their numbers in Vancouver were still small compared to eastern Canada, even if already larger than the Lithuanian communities of the Canadian prairied (Winnipeg, Edmonton). In 1961, Vancouver had 808 Lithuanians. More came over time from eastern Canada, especially Quebec, after the 1960s when the French-speaking nationalists gained power.

Lithuanian DPs who arrived after World War 2 from refugee camps in Germany often chose English as their language of integration even if they lived in Quebec. One reason for that immediately after immigration to Canada many of them had to work in government-designated towns that were often English-speaking (before being allowed to freely move). Another reason was that initially (~1950s) the choice of English over French seemed logical as the English language was more useful all over Canada and the world (English was already a third, fourth, or even fifth language to learn for many of them, after Lithuanian and Russian/Polish/German, therefore, learning two additional languages was difficult). However, after the French language became heavily promoted in Quebec in the 1960s, the life of such French-non-speakers became difficult, encouraging many to relocate westwards, where the prairies and Vancouver were among the growing provinces.

After 1990, many new immigrants from Lithuania came to Vancouver, however, more so than almost anywhere else, they are temporary, enjoying the benefits of temporary work in Canada while exploring and enjoying the impressive nature of the Vancouver area.

The community events typically take place in the Estonian Hall. 2016 census enumerated 3795 people of Lithuanian heritage in Vancouver and 7225 in British Colombia, but only up to a few hundred actively participate with many being ethnically mixed.

At least one Vancouver Lithuanian reached some fame and got commemorated in a museum there. Irene Macijauskas (Piotrowski) was inscribed into the British Colombia sports hall of fame that operates as a museum inside the BC Place stadium. In the Hall of Fame, she is described as a "Holder of numerous Canadian and world indoor sprint records, competing in the 1960s and 1970s". She was inducted into the hall of fame in 1993. She was born in Lithuania in 1941; her family fled the advancing Soviets in 1944 and ended up in Canada in 1948. Her plaque in the BC Hall of Fame, however, does not mention her origins or her Lithuanian premarital surname.

Irene Piotrowski plaque in the BC Sports Hall of Fame

Irene Piotrowski plaque in the BC Sports Hall of Fame

Some other Vancouver Lithuanians were instrumental in developing Lithuanian life abroad after the Soviet occupation led to the need to establish "a country without territory" abroad. Pranas Berneckas (1922-2000), who is buried in the Ocean View cemetery, was the leader of the organization of the first Lithuanian Games in 1978, which has since become a kind of amateur Olympics of diaspora Lithuanian amateur sports(wo)men.

Pranas Berneckas plaque on his grave in the columbarium of the Ocean View cemetery

Pranas Berneckas plaque on his grave in the columbarium of the Ocean View cemetery

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  1. This narrative offers a fascinating glimpse into the journey of the Lithuanian community in Vancouver, illustrating the challenges they faced and their contributions to Canadian society.

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