FREEDOM FOR HUNGARY – FREEDOM FOR ALL
- Wienerschnitzel is a signature Hungarian dish made of veal cutlets dredged in flour, eggwash and breadcrumbs, pan-fried to golden brown perfection, doused with a squeeze of citrus and sprinkled with a pinch of salt
- Hungarian Canadian Cultural Centre and the Hungarian Heritage Museum – 141 Sunrise Ave
Last year, Canada opened its doors to thousands of refugees from Syria, many fnding new homes in Toronto. But this isn't the frst time, nor second, in our history, that this has happened.
In the mid-ffties, Canada's response to Hungarians leaving their country was ground breaking at the time. Everyone agreed that something had to be done and Canada was united on it, all politicians agreed. A repressive regime in Eastern Europe was spreading terror and oppression across Hungary. Proud Hungarians resisted, and as a result, thousands were killed, wounded or arrested. Escaping often with nothing more than what they could carry, a quarter million fled the country.
In response, between 1957 and 1958, Canada opened its doors to about 40,000 Hungarian refugees. It was the largest intake of refugees in Canadian history, and we were only one of two countries, at the time, that offered a home.
One family – a father and mother with two young children – all recall leaving Budapest on Nov. 13, 1956 with the clothes on their backs and what they could carry. Tey crossed the border into Austria, and after spending time in a refugee camp arrived in Canada, then Toronto.
Tey were part of the 1,200 that came to Toronto, partly because the city offered one of the best resettlement programs. Everyone did what they could in order to welcome the newcomers. For example, churches in the city, St. Elizabeth of Hungary Roman Catholic Church and the First Hungarian Presbyterian Church, performed marriages for newly arrived couples.
Te new Canadians settled into a community along Bloor Street between Bathurst and Spadina, which became known as "Schnitzel Row." Kensington Market also became a Hungarian centre. Te Mihalik family, for example, found a community with the other new Canadians in the area, setting up a secondhand clothing business to make a living. Teir young son Tom started working there when he was twelve.
Today, Torontonians still know "Tom's Place" as the place to fnd one of the widest selections of men's suits. Tom (and his son Tom Jr.) still work in the store. In a 2012 interview, Tom described what the community was like at the time:
"On Spadina, we had hundreds and hundreds of different mom and pop restaurants and they made the fnest foods. It was real homemade food, homemade cooking – Eastern European."
Other well known Torontonians of Hungarian descent include Peter Munk, business leader and philanthropist, Olympic skater Elvis Stojko, and publisher Anna Porter.
Although any vestiges of a distinct Hungarian enclave have largely disappeared from the city's downtown core, Toronto's Hungarian population remains a vibrant, active and rich part of our city's history and culture.
In 1966, to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the Hungarian Uprising and to express the gratitude of Hungarians to Canada, a steel sculptural fountain by Victor Tolgesy, inscribed with the words "Freedom for Hungary-Freedom for all', was erected in Wells Hill Park at the foot of Sunnyside. Te site was renamed Budapest Park at the time of its dedication.