The story of “Croatian Dawn” in Canada – 50 years keeping folklore traditions alive
- by croatiaweek
- in Entertainment
By Josipa Kraljevic
Saturday February 18th, 2023 will be a day full of celebration in the Canadian prairie city of Winnipeg. Located in the heart of Canada, Winnipeg, the capital of city Manitoba is home to the Croatian Folklore Ensemble “Croatian Dawn”.
The ensemble affectionately known as simply “Croatian Dawn” or rather by locals “Hrvatska Zora” turned fifty in February of 2022 but due to COVID-19 restrictions they were unable to celebrate with the local community. This weekend in its 51st year, Hrvatska Zora will proudly celebrate fifty years of rich Croatian Folklore on the Canadian parries.
Established in February of 1972 under the auspices of the Croatian Roman Catholic Church – St. Nicholas Tavelich, Hrvatska Zora has prided itself in preserving and promoting Croatian identity, culture and heritage nationally and internationally.
The ensemble had humble beginnings in the early years. The founding members quickly realized that the rich diversity of Croatian Folklore came to their advantage. Each member coming from different regions of our beloved homeland brought different steps, songs and ethnic attire. Quickly the leaders of the ensemble began to build repertoires of songs and simple but elegant choreographies for their newly minted ensemble to perform.
Croatian Dawn quickly became a community favorite performing at various local events, not only within its own Croatian community but throughout the civic community of Winnipeg and even began a greater reach throughout the province of Manitoba.
Every summer, the ensemble was the main attraction at Winnipeg’s internationally recognized two-week annual festival of nations, “Folklorama”. Hrvatska Zora performed and to date still performs at the community’s pavilion known as the “Croatian Pavilion Zagreb”. This was very important to the community as a whole, as it allowed them to showcase their beautiful rich Croatian culture to their local community in Winnipeg and the world.
No longer would they be asked by their peers “what is a Croat?”, rather they could invite them and show them through the greatest means possible, song and dance. If the body of any nation is its language and history, then the soul must be its culture.
The ensemble was one of the founding members of participating in forming the annual festival known as the Western Canadian Croatian Folklore Festival. In 1978, Hrvatska Zora attended the first annual festival in Edmonton, Alberta. This brought excitement within the community as now the youth were able to make lifelong friends with Croats across their newly adopted country of Canada.
This festival has become an annual event that the ensemble performs at every May long weekend. Hrvatska Zora has proudly held the festival at home on seven occasions. 1983, 1987, 1993, 2001, 2007, 2012, & 2018. On top of working close with groups from the Canadian Croatian Folklore Federation West (CCFFW), Hrvatska Zora has made close friends with various groups throughout Eastern Canada (Canadian Croatian Folklore Federation East), United States and Croatia.
Most notably for the ensemble, would be organizing one of its largest events; the 1987 Canadian Croatian Folklore Festival. This was a national event known as a “East -West Festival”, bringing together all folklore groups from eastern and western Canada for only the second time. The festival would have over 1500 performers from all across Canada and guest groups from the United States.
On the international stage, Hrvatska Zora would on occasion perform south of the Canadian border. With the ensemble growing in popularity, the senior group was invited to perform on popular children’s tv show Sesame Street.
With the reputation of the group on the rise throughout the North American continent, the ensemble was also invited by the Croatian community in Chicago to put on a two-hour concert where Hrvatska Zora sent its senior group accompanied by its tamburica orchestra. The ensemble was received with high praise rave reviews.
Even more so, as the group matured, the ensemble’s tamburica orchestra caught the attention of the local Folk Arts Council of Winnipeg. Working alongside the Folk Arts Council, the ensemble had the privilege of sending its tamburica orchestra to perform not only throughout the city and province but they were invited to perform at Disney World in Florida.
In 2009 Hrvatska Zora had the great privilege to be invited to the International Folklore Festival in Trujillo, Peru and had the honour of representing their ancestral homeland of Croatia in South America. This would be the first time the ensemble would perform in the southern hemisphere.
The late 1980’s would bring pivotal growth to Hrvatska Zora. During this period, the ensemble had the distinguished privilege of working with the members of the world renowned National Folklore Ensemble of Croatia “LADO”. In 1987, Željko Jergan held seminars with members of the senior ensemble, improving their stepping and performance style with choreographies they already had in their repertoire.
The pinnacle point of this period may have been the arrival of Ivica Đuričić and Davorin Jelčić from “Lado”, who provided their expertise and knowledge to Croatian Dawn for a three-month period in 1988. During their time here, they worked with all members of the ensemble, developing and teaching music to the tamburica orchestra, as well as teaching new steps and choreographies to all three of the performing groups.
The culmination of all this hard work was reached in March of 1988, when the Folklore Ensemble “Croatian Dawn” and the parish of St. Nicholas Tavelić held a gala concert at the Playhouse Theatre to celebrate the 15th Anniversary of the St. Nicholas Tavelić Croatian Catholic Church in Winnipeg.
Many special guests and community members present at the gala concert that day agreed that the ensemble demonstrated that it could be considered among the elite of the Croatian Folklore Ensemble’s in Canada. With the permanent arrival of retired professional from “Lado”, Davorin Jelčić and his family to Winnipeg, he would take over as Lead Artistic director of Croatian Dawn to lead the ensemble into the next decade and new millennium.
Mentioned above have been a small group of people who were primarily involved with the senior group, the mainstay of the ensemble during this entire period. Croatian Dawn has not had the success it has today because of the ideas of one, but rather, the ideas of many. The ensemble would not have existed had it not been for:
- The many past and present volunteers: teachers, managers, costume makers, donators who contributed their expertise in any way.
- The past and present members of the junior, intermediate, senior and alumni ensembles.
- The past and present members of the Tamburica orchestra.
- The many past and present members of the board of directors.
They all dedicated countless hours of their precious time to guarantee the continued prosperity and success of the organization. Their time, hard work and dedication will forever be appreciated and will never be forgotten. Thank you.
The Croatian Folklore Ensemble “Croatian Dawn” has existed for 50 years. It has faced and overcome many challenges. It has become one of the best ambassadors of our Croatian Community, promoting our traditions, customs and heritage wherever it has gone. With God’s blessings, may Croatian Dawn continue to prosper, maintain and foster the rich and beautiful Croatian cultural heritage within the great Canadian mosaic for generations to come.