Margaret Dvorsky, a great Slovak and a pillar of the Slovak Canadian community for many decades, passed away on March 19. She is burried in Holy Cross Cemetery, 8361 Yonge St. in Thornhill.
She talked about her life with Kanadský Slovák in 2008:
Margaret A. Shavrnoch-Dvorsky - was born on October 13th, 1933, with the help of a midwife, on Sanguinet St., Montreal, Quebec, to Peter Shavrnoch and Margita Murin (who immigrated to Canada from Lúčky Kúpele, Okres Ružomberok, Slovakia). I was one of 6 children, older sister Irene, twin brothers Peter & Louis (both died of pneumonia at the age of 6 months), older brother Felix, and younger brother Emil. I was baptized by Father Urban Koval, a Franciscan priest from the U.S.A., in the Slovak Mission on St. Catherine St., Montreal, Quebec.
Early recollections from age 4 yrs: These were tough times, it was depression, work was scarce, immigrants had to rely on coupons from family aide and consider taking in boarders. So they decided to move to larger quarters on Marie Louise St. on the 3rd floor, a side street from Sanguinet St. Mother would cook and wash and this would help with the rent. Across the street was École St. Jacques, where my sister and brother and other Slovak boys & girls went to school.. Slovak Sisters in beautiful white and blue Habits taught and were kind, and male teacher Frank Kvetan became a role model for the youth.
Below us lived the Makars, of Hungarian origin. They had an only daughter Bezi, who became my best friend and we adopted each other as sisters. Because of Bezi’s loneliness, her parents always included me in their outings. Visiting Santa at Dupuis Frères (a department store) was one of them. I remember because I received a doll dressed in a nun's habit, replica of Marguerite Bourgeouise, and that has stayed with me till this day.
Even then I was a very inquisitive child always thirsty for knowledge. Mother could not keep me at home, as soon as her back was turned, I would run down the stairs, press my nose against the chain link fence and watch the children in the school yard and cried because I could not go to school. The sisters were patient and would try to console me by saying, ”neboj sa aj ty pôjdeš do školy” (don’t be afraid, soon you too will able to come to school). I have a permanent marker from those days, one day sitting on the curb, focusing on the school children a bicycle passed by and its pedal cut my eyebrow and everyone came running. It was only a skin cut but it bled a lot so everyone was concerned. After that I was only allowed to watch through the window.
Another thing I remember is getting pneumonia at the age of four, just before Easter. My father and my Godfather carried me to the Children’s Hospital, it was quite a distance. I was bundled in a perinka, a large feathered pillow, I thought I would smoother. At that time everyone with pneumonia had to be put under quarantine, so I spent a lot of lonely hours crying. I remember my father coming and looking at me through pane glassed windows, bringing little live chicks, ducks and bunny rabbits for me to see, but this only made me cry more because I couldn’t touch or hold them. Later he brought chocolate ones. I was so glad to come home, mostly to be held by my mother and siblings who could not do enough for me. They too missed me.
Home was a happy place. We were relatively poor, but so was everyone else, so we didn’t know the difference. Everyone was family, they stuck together encouraging each other and looked to Sundays when they would meet at the church, visit different homes and share what little they had. But there always was a variety, especially in sweets. Pot luck was the course, when friends and krajanja (compatriots) would come over, everyone bringing something.They would reminisce, share their week’s expexpriences, play cards, have a drink or two, sing and tell stories It was on such a day, that my sister’s Godfather, Jozef Sulik, sat me on his knee near the kitchen table and told me about his cousin, Msgr. Andrej Hlinka who had died. He said "remember his name, he was a great man and father for our Nation", and his wife, Godmother Maria added "and a great card player, just like you". So my interest in Slovak History had began.
At another occasion, we woke up to mother’s crying, she was very worried because father had not come home. Father went to cut wood at night in the park, so we could have heat, and had not returned. Mother was frantic, but could not do anything except wait, because they didn’t know the language and didn’t know where to turn. He and some others were caught and put in jail for a night, they were released with a warning, but this made my parents decide to move to a little farm where they could at least have wood for the fires, grow food, raise animals for milk and meat, poultry and eggs. They had heard that there was farm land available and a group of Slovaks were planning to settle there, with the intent to help each other, build homes and farm. So my parents decided to go with them.
In 1938 our family relocated to a small farming colony made up of Slav immigrants, in the Paroise de Ste. Laurent, a French rural area approximately 27 miles outside of Montreal. We as children loved it. It was great! Father had renovated a shell of a house, with crude 2x4 partitions that made five small rooms. Two bedrooms, a living room/bedroom, a kitchen and a small pantry. Even the outhouse presented no problems. Soon a small Barn and Pig Pen were built. Animals were added, piglets, a calf, chickens, ducks, and geese. There was a stream for the ducks and geese to enjoy, and during the winter we skated on it.
We had plenty of room to run and play. but it also presented some hardships. It was a two mile hike to the village, where there was a church, convents, schools, a hospital. A grocery store, a bakery, a butcher shop and a hardware store. However, it took us two hours to get downtown by street car, to the Slovak Mission or the Slovak Community. Father had three hour hike to work, left in the dark and most of the time arrived in the dark, especially in winter. It was only a twenty minute walk to the CNR train, but only 2 trains per day, not convenient.
Mother mostly maintained the farm during the week and Dad worked from dawn to dusk on the weekends. We the children worked along with them. We enjoyed it, everything was exciting. Our front lawn was a flower garden, the back yard was a vegetable garden.
As children we were encouraged by our parents to speak only English and French. Father’s encouragement “deti učte sa reči aby vás nepredali” (Kids, learn the languages so you won't be sold off). At the age of 11 years, Margaret realized that to combat discrimination and stereotyping one had to be true to oneself, therefore she set out to learn the Slovak language, and was determined to constantly remind, correct, inform and educating those around her that she was not Polish, Czech or Ukrainian, but Slovak. Her unique Slovak identity and heritage was important to her for it credited her parents.
When she was thirteen, they moved to Hamilton, ON where their father and their uncle Cyril were going to buy a hotel – they sold everything in St. Laurent and moved to Hamilton. We stayed only 2-1/2 years and returned to St. Laurent – because the climate was not good for her father, who suffered with Asthma and Celicosis.
Education: Limited – because at that time, the belief was, that education was not necessary for girls, since they would be homemakers. – She truly resented that – however she accepted the inevitable and continued whenever possible.
Elementary school – Ecole Ste. Alfred – Ste. Laurent
High School – Ecole Ste. Germain – Ste. Laurent, Quebec, Educators were Sisters of the Holy Cross
Graduated, Commercial High school – Hamilton, Ontario
Graduated, Designing & Dressmaking, Comptoir Capponi, Montreal, Quebec
Continuing Education; Outremont Business college, & University de Montreal
Career: 1949 – Bell Telephone Co. of Canada – Long distance operator
Canadian National Railway – Controller for movement of Railway cars
Canadian Industries Limited – Assistant office Manager – Accounting
1954 – Home Maker with private shop in Design & Dressmaking.
1968 – 1970 Interpreter Canada Manpower & Immigration
1969 accepted seasonal work as Curator of the Ethic Mosaic Pavilion – Man & His World World's Fair at Isle Ste Helen. Montreal, Quebec.
1970 – 1971 Curator of Pavilion – 20 Nations – 20 Cultures – M&HW, Isle Ste Helen
1973 – 1975 Office Manager – Dunn Carbon and Ribbon Co., Ste. Laurent, Quebec
1976 – 1982 Administrator, Canadian Slovak Bldg. Ltd., Montreal, Quebec
1983 – 1985 Administrator, La Maison Slovaque Inc., Montreal, Quebec
1985 – 1988 Administrator and Office Manager, Janovski Counter Tops, Markham,ON
1999 – Part time Museu Manager, Georgina Pioneer Village, Georgina, ON
Church, Family, Community: With no formal Slovak language education available, at the age of 16, she joined the Slovak Theatre Group “Slovensko” to perfect what little she learnt in the home, among Slovak relations and friends. Because of distance, the family attended the Slovak Church and community event, on the average of once a month and therefore she sought to participate in all available Slovak cultural celebrations and recreational activities.
The Church has always played an important role in her life. Her faith guided her in all undertakings, working with the Religious, the Clergy and the Bishops in promoting Christianity and Catholicism. She strongly believed in the fullness of Catholicity. She continues to be heavily involved in Pastoral services, organizing and coordinating spiritual and social events. As a parishioner of the Slovak Cathedral of Transfiguration, Markham, ON, she was the Eparchial coordinator for Days in the Diocese - World Youth Day in 2002. The Eparchy and the Latin Rite Parish of St. Cyril & Methodius, welcomed, housed and nourished approximately 300 youth pilgrims from Slovakia.
It was through the Theatre Group and the Slovak Athletic Club “KRIVAN” that she met John Dvorsky and together in 1951 they joined the first Folk Dance Group in Montreal, under the direction of Mr. & Mrs. Jan Vrablec, post 2nd world war immigrants..
They were married in 1953 and together they had three Sons – Peter John, Michael Anthony and George Phillip. John deeply entrenched in the Community with leadership qualities drew her deeper into the community, encouraging her interest and involvement.
From 1954 to 1985 she held many positions on the Executive of the Canadian Slovak League, Ladies branch #4 in Montreal organizing events complementing the community.
Founder and President of the Ladies Auxiliary of the Slovak Cultural Centre Inc., which focused on initiating programs for children in the Cultural Centre, such as Slovak Language classes, Folk dance, traditional and civic celebrations, fundraising etc., all that would help develop the Centre and benefit the Community.
In addition, she initiated an outreach program, in an effort to introduce and promote the Slovak Identity through mainstream organizations and groups. As a liaison for the Slovak Community she involved herself in the activities of the Quebec Ethnic Folk Arts Council (attaining Vice presidency) the Quebec Multicultural Theatre Association, and the Montreal Citizenship Council where later she became President.
In 1966 she initiated and coordinated the First National Slovak Festival, with participants from across Canada. Over 350 performers and over 5,000 spectators, were present to celebrate Slovak Day, on August 27th 1967, at La Palestre, Isle Ste. Helen, Montreal, Quebec.
In 1969she was appointed by the Quebec Ethnic Folk Art Council as a Curator of the Ethnic Mosaic Pavilion at Man & His World for 1 year, and subsequently for 2 years as Curator of the “20 Nations 20 Cultures” pavilion. The pavilions housed a seasonal exhibit and a weekly changeable exhibit, giving different cultures the opportunity to introduce their identity and heritage, present their customs and traditions. Yearly she coordinated Slovak Days at Place de Nations, Isle Ste. Helen. In addition she organized performances by “Lipa” Canadian Slovak Folk Ensemble, at Place de Nations, and the Bandshell on Isle Ste. Helene. Fluent in three languages, as MC for these programs, she introduced and promoted the Identity and history of Slovakia, and the existence of the Slovak Community in Quebec and Canada.
Teaching children and youth, the Slovak language through song and dances from 1956 was gratifying. In 1966, Margaret co-founded “LIPA” Canadian Slovak Folk Ensemble. With borders closed to ancestral land, it left her nor other course except to research through available books, (very limited source) information passed on by the elders, she went on to choreograph dances, design costumes according to tradition and customs of the seasons, and search for suitable music according to regions. A tedious job, but it was necessary due to closed borders of Europe, one had to depend on the elders knowledge and guidance.
In 1972 with “LIPA” they set out to tour Canada and to encourage community members in Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta and British Columbia. For 41 days they traveled by bus, 5 women and 41 teenagers, introducing and promoting Slovak Identity and Cultural Heritage. Endorsed and financially supported by the Federal Government, welcomed by the Provincial and Municipal Governments, hosted by Slovak Communities across Canada they presented 2 hour performances of music song and dance in major cities. The successful 21 performances were very well received and appreciated by the public.
In 1979 Margaret arranged a European tour, for “LIPA” and their sister group the Slovak Dunaj Dancers, of Hamilton, Ontario. They toured Italy, Switzerland, Germany and Austria. Again endorsed and supported by the Canadian Government and sent out as true Ambassadors of the Canadian Multiculturalism Program, with performances in Rome and Milan, Zurich; Bazel; and Bern, Munich and Vienna. They wanted to perform in Slovakia, however because of the political situation, their request was denied.
As Chair of the Slovak World Congress Youth Committee from 1978 – 1984, she served on the organizational Committee, responsible for Canada Days at the
1st Slovak World Youth Festival in Walkriaburg, West Germany - 1980
2nd Slovak World Youth Festival in the Mount Airy Lodge, Poconos, Pa. U.S.A. - 1983
3rd Slovak World Youth Festival in Mount Airy Lodge, Poconos, Pa. U.S.A.- 1986
5th Slovak World Youth Festival in Martin, Slovakia - 1992
Her main responsibility was to organize and coordinate Canada Days and to mobilize youth participation from the USA and Canada.
Over the years she served on various executive positions in the Central Assembly of the Canadian Slovak League. In 1981 she was elected Supreme President and was responsible for the 50th Anniversary of the CSL Celebrations in 1982.
To celebrate this Jubilee, she organized an official visit to Government House in Ottawa. Here the Supreme Officers and Branch Presidents (50 in number) were officially received by the Governor General of Canada, His Excellency Ray Hnatyshyn.
In 1984 as Vice-President of the Slovak World Congress for the Territory of Canada, she was one of the founders of the Slovak Canadian National Council, (SCNC) which served as the Territorial Committee of the Slovak World Congress. Elected as President and convinced that the Slovak Community cannot live or survive in a vacuum, together with fellow officers they charted a course of action.
Under her stewardship the SCNC joined a mainstream, respected Canadian organization called the Canadian Ethnocultural Council, based in Ottawa. As the Slovak representative she served on the Executive as a Director, a Treasurer and later served as a member of the Board of Presidents.
The SCNC is also a member of the Canadian Citizenship Federation, which promotes good citizenship.
Objectives to unite and strengthen established Slovak Organizations, raise the profile of Slovakia and the Slovak Community in Canada and focus on major projects, in the mainstream of Canadianism, which cannot be implemented by any one organization, but need the support and cooperation of all. e.g.,
1981 – Slovak Heritage Day – Ontario Place Forum, Toronto, ON
1989 – 1990 - The 1st Canadian International Triennial of Slovak Art – Exhibits at National Library of Canada, Ottawa, ON and the Robarts Library, Toronto University, Toronto.
Erecting and placing markers in every province, validating Slovak presence and contribution, e.g.
1993 – Monument to trailblazers, Frank Slide Interpretive Centre, Crowsnest Pass, AB
1996 – Donation of a Slovak Creche to the Museum of Creches at Saint Joseph’s Oratory, Montreal.
2001 – Donating a Slovak Immigration Bench at Pier 21, Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Awards & Citations: Margaret Dvorsky received numerous awards and citations from Organizations, the Federal, Provincial and Municipal governments, including:
1967 – Outstanding Citizen Award - Mayor Jean Drapeau, City of Montreal
1971 – for unbelievable democratic spirit, and true Canadianism, Consul General of Latvia Mr. D. Tomsons
1972 – for the Visual and Practical expression of a true Canadian, Winnipeg Slovak Community
1972 – Genuine concern for her fellow-man, especially Youth & Elderly – Calgary Slovak Community
1978 – for Creating better understanding between Youth of Hamilton Toronto, Windsor & Montreal –
The Hamilton Builders Bonnet
1981 – Outstanding contribution in the development of the Slovak Community in Montreal and the Unity of all Groups and assistance to individuals, Canadian Slovak Professional & Businessmen’s Association
1982 – Recognition of support for the community’s involvement in Civic and Moral duties in Canadian Society, from Windsor Slovak day committee
1984 – Outstanding contribution to community and the promotion of Human Rights, Canadian Slovak League
1984 – Outstanding Contribution in support of Canada Day Celebrations, from the Secretary of State and Canada Day Committee, Ottawa
1984 – Outstanding Canadian from Mayor Steve Olynik, city of Greenfield Park, Quebec
1985 – For lifelong dedication and voluntarism to the Slovak Community in Canada from the Slovak community in Montreal, Quebec.
1980 – Recipient of the Gold “Stefanik Pin” from the Slovak World Congress
1985- 1987 Appreciation from the Secretary of State of Canada for participation on the Canadian Multiculturalism Council
1982 - Awarded Knighthood in the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem and given the title of Lady Margaret A. Dvorsky, LHS.
1984 – Citation Government of Canada for her work in promoting good Citizenship within the framework of Multiculturalism.
1992 – The Canada 125 Medal from the Governor General of Canada
1996 – Noted for her Volunteerism in the Publication of Who’s Who of Canadian Women
1980 – Received the “Stefanik Pin” from Mr. S.B. Roman, President, Slovak World Congress, Walkraiburg, West Germany
1987 – Contribution to the Canadian Multiculturalism Council from the Secretary of State
1949 – Member of the Slovak Athletic Club Kriváň – Choir and Cultural Celebrations
1950 – 1985 Member of the Slovak Theatre Group “Slovensko”, Montreal
1951 – Member of the First Slovak Folk Dance Group – “Beseda”. In 1953 the group performed at the Chateau Laurier for Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent and presented him with flowers in a crocheted Basket made by herself.
1954 – 1985 – Coordinator of Community Slovak Cultural Activities for the Province of Quebec
1956 – 1985 Various elected positions, including Presidency, in the Canadian Slovak League Ladies Br. No.4, Montreal
1960 – Ladies Auxiliary Lakeshore General Hospital
1960 – 1985 Member of Sts. Cyril & Methodius Church Choir, Montreal
1961 – 1985 Vice president Quebec Ethnic folk Art Council
1963 – 1968 Director Promethean Society, Montreal, Quebec.
1966 – 1985 Founder & Director “LIPA Canadian Slovak Folk Ensemble
1968 – 1970 Founder, Coordinator – Slovak Refugee Action Committee, Montreal, Que
1972 –1973 Member of the “Uganda Action Committee” (Sept. 1972 – Feb. 1973
1976 – 1985 Vice president Quebec Multicultural Theatre Association
1978 – 1984 President of the Youth committee of the Slovak World Congress
1980 –1983 Executive Board Member Montreal Citizenship Council
1981 – 1983 Founding Member and Vice president Children for Peace movement – which made a
presentation at Parliament in Ottawa, Ontario and at the United Nations, USA
1981 – 1984 National President Canadian Slovak League
1982 – Youth director Canadian Citizenship Federation
1983 – 1985 President Montreal Citizenship Council
1984 – Continental Vice President for Canada – Slovak World Congress
1985 – Active participant in the Eparchy of Sts. Cyril & Methodius in Canada, Markham, ON
1986 – Active member in the Cathedral of Transfiguration, Markham, ON
Custodian of the SCNC – Slovak Canadian National Library and Curator of the Slovak Heritage
1985 – 2004 President Slovak Canadian National Council
Initiator of the “Slovak Villa” Canadian Slovak League Senior Residence, Cambridge, ON
2003 – Founder of the Slovak Canadian Heritage Museum with permanent exhibits in Markham, Oshawa and now in Mississauga, ON
1969 –Researched, coordinated & mounted Slovak Exhibit - Christian Pavilion @ Man & His World, Notre Dame Island
1970 – Researched, coordinated & mounted, Slovak Exhibit, Ethnic Mosaic Pavilion – M&HW, Isle Ste Helen
1971 – 1972 – Researched, coordinated & mounted, Slovak Exhibit, 20 Cultures-20 Nations Pavilion, M&HW. Isle Ste Helen, Montreal, Que.
Living Slovak Cultural Exhibits, with demonstrations of arts and crafts with entertainment – Ste. Therese, Quebec, Baie St. Paul, Quebec, Dawson College, various High Schools and La Maison Slovaque in Montreal
Margaret A. Dvorsky, researcher and historian of Slovak visible Folk Art. Founder, past choreographer & instructor of "LIPA" Canadian Slovak Folk Ensemble.
Life long promoter of Slovak Identity by retention and presentation of traditional customs, made visible through cultural activities and exhibits.
Hobies and interest: Needs for Children, Youth, Young adults, adults, Mature Adults and Seniors
Arts and crafts – enjoys all forms of cultural expression Theatre, Choirs and Folk dancing.
Together as a team, with her late husband John, complementing each other, they were dedicated to their Family, Community, Country, Canada, Slovakia and all her people.
Rest In Peace, Lady Margaret A. Dvorsky, LHS