The Early Years


 

Croatians throughout the world have strived to preserve their ethnic identity, whether in their native homeland or as immigrants in their newly adopted homelands. In the decade prior to the first world war, Croats migrated from New York to Ontario in search of work and established a permanent settlement in the Niagara Peninsula. However, according to the records of the Audit Committee of the Croatian National Home, only five or six Croatian families had settled in Hamilton by 1918. By 1928, a large wave of Croats moved to Hamilton, ultimately settling in the neighbourhood surrounding Beach Road. Eighty percent of these settlers were male, either single or with wives and children temporarily left behind in Croatia. A strong and urgent desire grew among these men for a place where they could congregate and socialize. Although these early immigrants founded Croatian Fraternal Union (CFU) Lodge 644, a tambura orchestra and other community groups, they did not have a location to call home. Therefore, they decided to build a community centre which later became the Croatian National Home (Hrvatski narodni dom), affectionately known as the "Dom" or the "Hall".

 

In March, 1928, a committee was chosen and in a matter of a few days, collected approximately $1,000.00. The committee acquired two building lots situated at 171 and 173 Beach Road, priced at $550 and $425 respectively for a total value of $975. An appeal for financial support was issued through "Svijet", a Croatian-American newspaper which produced an impressive sum of $1,899.30. Contributions ranged from 50 to $52 from individuals and several CFU lodges in Canada and the United States. In addition, members who joined this endeavour were required to pay an initial fee of $2 and a subsequent 50 monthly fee.

 

This project galvanized and united the Croatian community and attracted considerable support from non-Croats as well. All involved knew what was at stake: the emergence of the very first Croatian National Home in Canada! The granting of a charter by the Ontario government in November of 1928 formalized all prior activities and ensured that the Croatian National Home (CNH) was a legal entity.

 

At a membership meeting held on August 3, 1930, it was unanimously decided to begin construction. A building committee was elected, and Matt Oreškovich from Lackawanna, New York took on the task of translator with the contractors since he was fully bilingual in Croatian and English. As a token of appreciation for his efforts, Matt Oreškovich was awarded an honorary CNH membership. Construction progressed rapidly and members were able to hold their very first meeting in the long awaited Dom on October 26, 1930. A proud moment!

 

Opening ceremonies were held on November 29, 1930, with five hundred banquet tickets ordered. Matt Oreškovich served as Master of Ceremonies and Mayor John Peebles attended the festivities. Guests arrived from Toronto, Welland, Chippawa, Winnipeg, Buffalo, Lackawanna and Niagara Falls, New York. A German brass band, Steve Divinski's accordion orchestra and three tamburitza groups from Hamilton, Toronto and Welland provided musical entertainment for the guests. Members and guests proceeded to outbid each other for several honours and the results were as follows:

  1.  "Kum": Mr. K. Jurak, from Winnipeg, Manitoba

  2. Key: Mr. Frank Vukman, CNH president, for $25

  3. Turning on the lights: Dr. Malin, Toronto, Ontario

  4. First Dance: Mr. P. Polich, from Stratford, Ontario for $26

Monsignor J.W. Englert from St. Ann's Church in Hamilton blessed the facility.

 

Construction costs totalled $9,250.09 and the total value of the building, lot and assets, was $10,650.09. Opening ceremonies netted a profit of $1,331.05, and the membership list stood at 162.

 

In 1931, the Dom had an outstanding mortgage of $5,900 and the membership devised ways to reduce this debt. The first profitable endeavour was the establishment of a confectionery store within the premises. Another fundraising project was the presentation of plays by the Croatian drama club "Gaj", usually every Sunday. In addition, dances were a very popular and regular feature on weekends.

 

However, difficulties arose in 1932 as members experienced the full effects of the Depression. Many began to leave town in pursuit of jobs while those who remained were unemployed. There were difficulties in paying dues and in order to alleviate this problem, arrangements were made whereby members who were unable to pay were obliged to attend monthly meetings in order to retain their active membership. Financial struggles continued and members who had loaned money towards the structure were now demanding loan repayments to supplement their own falling incomes. As a result, hall rental prices were lowered simply because money was a scarce commodity.

 

Despite of the lack of funds, an interest in preserving Croatian musical culture arose and somehow money was obtained to purchase a set of Farkaš tamburas. In 1934, the first Croatian National Home tambura orchestra was founded under the direction of Steve Koprich. The group consisted of 18 men and 2 ladies. By 1937, the economy had improved and there was a clearer focus to retain our traditional tamburitza culture. As a result, Charles Golesich from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario was hired as a full-time instructor for our two groups "Zagreb" and "Veselo Srce". Upon his arrival, Srijemski tamburas were purchased in June 1938, for $400. Ultimately, the tambura orchestra and folklore ensemle proved to be the true basis and purpose for our existence.

 

 

The Fighting Forties >