The Beginning of a Remarkable Journey
In the mid-20th century, a unique chapter in the history of Spanish emigration unfolded. Thousands of Spanish peasants, seeking a better life, embarked on a journey to the farmlands of Quebec, Canada. This mass movement was part of the first organized emigration program under Franco's dictatorship, known as "Operation Bison".
The First Wave of Emigrants
In May 1957, four planes took off from Madrid, heading to Montreal. These planes carried the first batch of emigrants organized by the Francoist dictatorship through Operation Bison. The Spanish Institute of Emigration, established just a year prior, had launched a program through the country's farming brotherhoods to send "agricultural workers" to Quebec's farms. The region was in dire need of labor to tend to the cows and maintain the farms.
From Spain to Quebec
The first group to cross the Atlantic included 107 farming couples from regions such as Teruel, Santander, La Rioja, Galicia, Madrid, and Castilla León. These individuals were fleeing the poverty and misery that plagued Spain, which was deeply entrenched in the autarky of the dictator. They signed contracts blindly, tying their destinies to a country about which they knew very little. The promise of a better life was shrouded in uncertainties and mysteries.
Settling in a New Land
Upon their arrival in Canada, the families were distributed among various farms in the province of Quebec. They began working for bosses who treated them with respect, offered them all the comforts of Canadian homes, and guaranteed their rights. It was a modern, tolerant, and diverse country, the antithesis of Franco's Spain.
A New Life in Canada
The majority of these immigrants experienced many firsts in these splendid homes - bathrooms, televisions, refrigerators, vacuum cleaners. They had never seen anything like it in their villages. There was electricity in the houses, pantries were filled with food, and they had weekends off.
The Influence of the Church
However, despite the stark contrast between their old and new lives, the immigrants could not escape the influence of the Catholic Church. Quebec in the late 1950s was under the rule of ultra-right-wing Prime Minister Maurice Duplessis, a period marked by a stifling morality.
The Quiet Revolution
The "great darkness" gave way to the "quiet revolution" in 1960 with the victory of liberal Jean Lesage in Quebec. Most of the Spaniards left the remote and isolated farms as soon as they could and settled in prosperous Montreal.
The Impact of Spanish Immigrants in Canada
In their new home, these Spanish immigrants not only adapted but also thrived. They established businesses, including several Spanish clubs, and our store, La Librería Española. Initially opened to sell books in 1964, it ended up becoming the main store for Spanish products in the city. With the launch of the L'Espanola website, it has grown to become the leading Spanish store in all of Canada.
The story of these Spanish immigrants is a testament to the human spirit's resilience and the pursuit of a better life. Their journey, marked by courage and determination, has left an indelible mark on the history of both Spain and Canada. Their entrepreneurial spirit has also contributed significantly to the multicultural fabric of Canadian society.