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A work of art seems to be the earliest known Croatian contribution to Ottawa. During the First World War, a committee headed by Lord Beaverbrook commissioned a vast collection of documentary art to commemorate Canada's war efforts. A marble relief entitled “The Canadian Phalanx” was gifted to Canada in 1920 by Croatian sculptor and author Ivan Meštrović. The sculpture remains under the arch that links the East and West Memorial Buildings at 284 Wellington Street.


The first significant influx of Croatians to the National Capital Region began immediately after the Second World War. Many of them arrived here after spending a few years in crowded displaced persons camps in Austria, Italy, or other parts of Europe. Immigration remained steady for the next 20 years, but dropped sharply after 1977, picking up again after the breakup of Yugoslavia and the wars in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina in the 1990s.


​The 1986 census showed that 625 people claimed Croatian origins in the Ottawa-Hull Metropolitan Area, and 450 said Croatian was their mother tongue, while 200 selected Croatian as the language spoken at home. The 2016 census showed that 4,130 people claimed Croatian origin. 1,195 said Croatian was their mother tongue, 2,115 claimed proficiency in the Croatian language, and 430 selected Croatian as the language spoken most often at home.


In 1974, inspired by a performance by Toronto-based Croatian folklore group Zrinski-Frankopan at the Canadian Multicultural Festival in Ottawa, Ivan Žuger, founder of Croatian Folklore Ensemble "CROATOAN," conceived the idea of a local folklore group and began laying the groundwork for its establishment. Building on a love of folklore developed in his hometown of Sirač, Mr. Žuger consulted and expanded his knowledge with mentors Nikola Vrdoljak, Joe Lončarić, and Ilija Vranešić from Southern Ontario. Ivan introduced folklore songs and dances to Ottawa’s Croatian language school and organized performances by Croatian folklore groups led by his mentors. By 1976, a tamburica group had formed under the Croatian Canadian Club of Ottawa (CCC), thus making the CCC eligible to become a member of the Canadian-Croatian Folklore Federation.

​The Ottawa community hosted the 4th Annual Canadian-Croatian Folklore Festival in Ottawa between May 20-21, 1978, at the Ottawa Civic Centre. It was an exceptional event, still remembered for its warm hospitality and a magnificent show enjoyed by some 5,000 spectators. The festival created the enthusiasm and momentum needed for the organization and establishment of a folklore group. On August 20, 1978, Ivan Žuger called a meeting of friends to consider founding a folklore ensemble. The meeting adopted a motion to establish Folklore Ensemble “Croatia” (later renamed “CROATOAN”) and formed its provisional executive:  

Helen Kirinčić-Mullen - Director
Jagoda Čapkun - Treasurer
Nicole Castonguay - Secretary
Helen Juratovac - Assistant Secretary
Ivan Žuger - Folklore Instructor

The Executive issued a call for registration and organized a folklore workshop led by Joe Lončarić. The response from the Croatian community in Ottawa was overwhelming. In total, 83 individuals of various ages registered for the folklore ensemble and voted to legitimize its founding executive.

A few months later, in order to be eligible for government grants, the ensemble was placed under joint administration with the CCC as a folklore section. In 1979, the ensemble gave sixteen major public performances and increased it to twenty in 1980. The first public performance by “the Croatian Folklore Ensemble” was noted in the Ottawa Citizen, Friday, February 23, 1979, page 4. The first spring concert (which would continue as an annual event) was held on April 28, 1979.

The unresolved issue of dual CROATOAN/CCC memberships frustrated the community and deferred the election of CROATOAN’s fully self-governing executive. In the fall of 1987, the CCC conceded that CROATOAN’s members should elect their own governing body independent of the CCC. The constitution of the "National Capital Region Croatian Folklore Ensemble CROATOAN" was ratified in 1990 and the non-profit was incorporated in 1992.


The Ensemble has continued to preserve, protect, and promote Croatia’s cultural heritage in the National Capital Region and North America for decades. The Ensemble's caliber and recognition is thanks in large part to the expertise and dedication of its volunteer teachers and volunteer executive who sacrifice a great deal of time and energy. CROATOAN's success is also dependent on all the parents, spouses, and friends who volunteer and give support, as well as families and businesses who sponsor financially.

CROATOAN has entertained at numerous community festivals as well as larger events such as Canada Day, the Canadian Tulip Festival, Winterlude, Carnival of Cultures, Homelands, Brockville Folk Festival, the Drummondville Folk Festival, and the World Multicultural Festival. In 2009 and again in 2016, the ensemble traveled internationally to Los Angeles and New York City to perform.


CROATOAN has participated in every Canadian-Croatian Folklore Festival since hosting in 1978, welcoming festivalgoers back to Ottawa in 1993 and 2013 festivals. CROATOAN has also hosted "Tamburafest," the largest tamburica-music-focused event in Canada, in 2010 and 2024.


Over the years the Ensemble has attracted new members and expanded its repertoire, costume collection, and instrument library. The quality of artistic expression has been enhanced through seminars and workshops led by professionals such as Mojmir Golemac, Ivan Ivančan (mladi), Željko Jergan, and maestro Siniša Leopold. Students have gone on to become teachers. Today, CROATOAN consists of many levels of dance ensembles and tamburica orchestras and has over 60 students.


The Ensemble’s future rests on the young children of Croatian descent in the Nation's Capital, their parents, and all those non-Croatians who endeavor to learn the thrilling harmony of Croatian folklore. It is our mission to preserve, protect and promote our rich cultural heritage.

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