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Celebrating the ‘Kolumbusari’ – reuniting Croatian immigrant families

(Photo credit: Lucijan Blagonic)

19 July 2019 – At the turn of the last century the city of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada, with its booming steel and pulp industries and need of a workforce, attracted many immigrants. In his book, For A Better Life: A History of Croatians in Canada, Anthony Rasporich included interviews undertaken in Sault Ste. Marie with aged migrants. During these talks references were made to well-known local Croatian surnames: Crnko, Čulina, Glibota, Krmpotić, Levar, Majić, Milosović, Padjen, Pavelić, Polić, Prpić, Pećanić and Šojat and Stilin.

While researching the book Rasporich visited Sault Ste. Marie and spoke with the late Nikola Krmpotich, then 93 years of age. Mr. Krmpotich referred to the early new comers as the “Kolumbusari”, implying that they came with the explorer,Christopher Columbus. Nikola’s grand-daughter, Marilyn Boschetto, recalled her grandfather affectionately using the term when referring to old family and friends.

A tri-annual reunion ensures that the efforts and sacrifices of the Kolumbusari will not be forgotten. Descendants of Pavelić, Krmpotić and related families will gather July 26 to 28, 2019 in Sault Ste. Marie for the triannual celebration of their Croatian heritage. People have registered from California, Washington state, Colorado, Minnesota, Nevada and the provinces of Ontario and Quebec.

“Consideration this time around was given to ensure that contact was made with newly found family we discovered viaDNA connections” said Planning Committee member Sherri Pavelich Crosato. Many of the first wave of Croatian immigrants who came to Canada and the US during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s lost touch with each other.Communication between families through postal mail was unreliable and return trips to the homeland were few. “DNA technology has reunited branches of the family that were lost to us. For many this will be the first opportunity to meetface to face”.

The historic Mill Restaurant and Machine Shop located in the century old buildings of the now defunct pulp and paper mill was chosen as the main venue. Originally part of the Francis H. Clergue empire, a number of family worked in these same buildings. The Planning Committee wanted to give participants the experience of walking in the steps of those who have preceded them.

The city’s Croatian community, represented by vice president Steve Staznik of the Canadian Croatian Home Association (CCHA), will provide the welcome Friday evening. Historian Frank Jankač, director of the Croatian Canadian Internment Project, will speak on his new work researching the North American Croatian diaspora. A public invitation was sent out to provide an avenue for local residents interested in Croatian immigration and history to access the presentation.

Saturday will see reunion participants explore areas of the city important to local Croatian heritage, share genealogy research and take part in an afternoon family festival. Those attending are encouraged to take a walk on Whitefish Island. The island is of importance to local Croatian immigrant history; it served as a holding area for interned persons during WWI, which included ethnic Croatians. Many of those attending are descended from persons who awaited transfer to labour camps from this historic spot.

No Croatian event would be complete without a traditional picnic. The Machine Shop staff have graciously worked with family members to replicate authentic recipes. The Saturday evening menu will offer Croatian favourites such as ćevapi, krompir salata, Francuska salata, sarma, spit-roasted meats and, of course, a selection of Croatian wines and beer. Sunday will wrap up the reunion with a blessing of the families at an early mass at St. Gregory’s parish and a good-bye brunch.

For more information about the family’s tri-annual event contact [email protected] or check them out on Facebook at “Pavelić and Krmpotić Descedents”.

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