By Kenyon Stronski
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Back in early July, Taber had a very special visitor by the name of Borek Lizec — an Ambassador of the Czech Republic to Canada. He had made a stop in Taber because he wanted to visit places that had a plethora of Czech influence in their history in hopes to reconnect and open doors that were either closed — or never opened in the first place.
“The first Czech’s started to arrive in North America in the 1850s, as there was a revolutionary movement in the Austro-Hungarian Empire and it was crushed. So Czech’s protested against the Emperor and they had to flee so they went to North America,” explained Lizec. “Others followed for economic reasons because they had large families and needed new land to support them all. So even in the 1870s there was an extremely large immigration happening.”
Taber’s own name has roots deeply intertwined with Czech influence as well. There is a town of 34,000 people in the Czech Republic known as Tabor. As of now, there are some talks of a possible twinning municipality between Taber and the Czech Tabor.
During the large influx of Czech people into North America, Chicago actually became the second largest Czech city next to Prague.
“Then at some point when the Midwest was becoming taken, some of the children and grandchildren of the first Czech immigrants came to Canada. There were also promises of extra land by the government if Czechs immigrated to Canada. Many arrived here and began to work in the mines alongside the Slovaks. It was around 1885 that this immigration began. One-third came from continental Europe, one-third came from the United States and the other third came from the United Kingdom.”
Lizec also commented on how prior to the WWII there were many different military branches that sprang up within Alberta that supported Czech independence. These branches were in places like Lethbridge, Drumheller and Crowsnest Pass. In total, there were 91 of these branches.
“After the Second World War, Czech’s fell under the Soviet sphere of influence and Canada once again opened its door to Czech immigrants in 1948. I met with former Prime Minister (Stephen) Harper and we both agreed that if there wasn’t 40 years of Communism in the Czech Republic that we may be much more in touch and may have already had many sister city partnerships,” commented Lizec.
As it turns out — Mayor Andrew Prokop also shares his last name with a largely prestigious Czech General as well. Showing even more that Czech roots in Taber do stretch deep.
Lizec mentioned his main goal of visiting Taber and other municipalities along his way was to re-discover, re-connect and open the door for many possibilities between the Czech Republic and Canada.