Croatians were the earliest south Slavic group to settle in North America in significant numbers. In the U.S. census of 2000 and the Canadian census of 2001, 374,241 Americans and 97,050 Canadians claimed Croatian descent. The earliest Croatian concentrations in the United States were in San Francisco, but in the 20th century these shifted to Pittsburgh and western Pennsylvania. About two-thirds of Canadian Croatians live in Ontario, although there is also a large settlement in Vancouver.
Croatia occupies 21,800 square miles of the Balkan Peninsula between 42 and 47 degrees north latitude along the Adriatic Sea. Slovenia and Hungary lie to the north, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia and Montenegro to the east. Flat plains cover the northeast region of the country, while highlands stretch along the coast. In 2002, the population was estimated at 4,334,142. The people are ethnically divided between Croats, mostly Roman Catholics, who make up 78 percent of the population; and Serbs, mostly Orthodox Christian, who make up 12 percent. Almost 700,000 ethnic Croats also live in neighboring Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Croat language is similar to Serbian but written with the Latin alphabet. Croats briefly had an independent kingdom in the Middle Ages but were from the 12th century westernized under Hungarian influence, apart from the Serbs. They remained autonomous until conquered by the Turks during the 16th century, though northern areas of Croatia were restored to the Habsburg (Austrian) Empire in 1699. Croatia was granted crownland status along with Slavonia following the Hungarian Revolution of 1848–49, during which Croatia aided Austria. In 1867, the area was reunited with Hungary until 1918, when it joined other south Slavic nations in declaring the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, later known as Yugoslavia. At the end of World War II, in 1945, Croatia became a constituent republic of Yugoslavia. Croatia declared its independence in 1991, causing an outbreak of ethnic war between Serbs and Croats. Following several cease-fires, Serbian rebels declared the independent republic of Krajina in 1994. The Croatian government continued fighting and finally captured Krajina in 1998, restoring the republic.
Some Croatian adventurers and sailors came to the Gulf Coast region of the United States as early as the 17th century. The earliest Croatian settlement was in New Orleans and the coastal regions of Mississippi, where a community of 3,000–4,000 had been established by the time of the Civil War (1861–65). Croatians—or Dalmatians, as they were frequently called—also began to move to the American West, where they worked as fishermen, small businessowners, and eventually farmers and fruit growers. In 1857, they had established in San Francisco the first charitable society in the United States organized to help Slavic immigrants, the Slavonic Illyrian Mutual and Benevolent Society. By 1880, the Croatian community in the United States had grown to 20,000. After 1880, Croatians were part of the massive migration of eastern and southern Europeans to North America, most settling in the Great Lakes industrial belt, where they often worked in heavy industry. Because Slavic groups frequently were not distinguished from one another and immigrants were often classified according to the country of emigration, it is impossible to say how many Croatians came, but one estimate places the number in the 1930s at around a half million. Between 1899 and 1924, however, almost half of them returned to their homeland. With the disruptions of World War II and the advent of a Communist government in Yugoslavia, about 40,000 Croatians were admitted into the United States under a variety of measures, including the Displaced Persons Act (1948)
and the Refugee Relief Act (1953)
. A small but steady immigration during the 1970s and 1980s added almost 50,000 more. Between 1992 and 2002, about 18,000 Croatians immigrated to the United States, including 5,675 refugees.
Croatian adventurers known as Kolumbusari sought their economic fortunes in Canada as early as the 16th century, though they rarely brought their families with them. Most were miners, loggers, or fishermen. The first significant number of Croatian settlers in Canada arrived in British Columbia in 1890. The region continued to attract miners, lumbermen, and fishermen until World War I, many coming by way of the United States. Croatians were among the 6,000 to 10,000 “bunkhouse men” who immigrated between 1900 and 1912, helping to open western territories. As mines opened across Canada after the war, Croatians migrated, spreading throughout the country. During the 1920s, about 20,000 Croats entered Canada, many having been diverted from the United States in the wake of the Johnson-Reed Act of 1924
, but almost one-quarter of Croatians returned to their homeland, keeping population growth relatively small in Canada. The first Croatian Peasant Society was founded in Toronto in 1930. After World War II, from 1946 to 1958, some 22,000 refugees and displaced Croatians arrived in Canada, often with advanced degrees and specialized training that had not been characteristic of earlier immigrants. Of Canada’s 39,375 Croatian immigrants in 2001, more than half came in the 1960s and 1970s and more than a quarter between 1991 and 2001.
See also Austro-Hungarian immigration
; Yugoslav immigration