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The First Wave of International Immigration

Black-and-white photograph of several rudimentary buildings made of wooden planks or timbers. One of them is a steam bath, identified as such on a sign.

Vantage point of the city where you can see a Scandinavian sauna.

According to Canada’s 1931 Census, Rouyn and Noranda were the second most cosmopolitan cities of the province, right after Montréal. In the Rouyn township, there were numerous people of Polish, Russian, Ukrainian, Finnish, German and Austrian descent, as well as some Jews and Chinese.

At the very beginning, however, the first workers of the mining company were English-speaking people from Northern Ontario. Most of them were skilled workers who dug shafts and built the smelter and other buildings.

Black-and-white photograph of several women and children before a building whose sign reads, A. Niemen Ruckala Board & Rooms.

A group of people in front of A. Niemen boarding house.

As soon as the mines started operating, a large and diversified group of workers from Eastern and Central Europe joined them. At that time, these new workers were virtually the only ones willing to accept the harsh working conditions in mines. French Canadians would call them “Fros”, a contraction of the word “foreigner”.

Black-and-white photograph of a three-story brick building. On the middle of its front, you can read Princess Hotel and on the left, you can see a door apparently leading to a basement.

The German Club then located on 8th Street in Noranda.

These international immigrants gathered mostly in community halls. In Noranda, there was the Croatian Hall, shared by Serbians and Slovenians, and in Rouyn, there were the Finnish Hall, the Polish Hall, the Ukrainian Hall and the Russian Hall. As some communities were too small to have their own hall, the Slovakians for instance, they would often use those from other communities or meet each other at the Moose Hall.

Black-and-white photograph of a gravel road where a car and a carriage are driving. People are walking on the boardwalks. The buildings have boomtown-styled fronts. A sign reads, Chong Lee Laundry Buanderie.

The Chong Lee Laundromat located on Principale Street, circa 1928–1930.

For more details :

Odette Vincent, dir., Histoire de l’Abitibi-Témiscamingue, Québec, IQRC, 1995, p. 305.

Benoit-Beaudry Gourd, Les immigrants à Rouyn-Noranda : Étude d’interprétation historique de l’église orthodoxe russe Saint-Georges de Rouyn-Noranda, Rouyn-Noranda, Production Abitibi-Témiscamingue inc, 1994, p. 73 to 79.