Canada's Germans have come from virtually every east European country, Asiatic Russia, the United States, and Latin America. (German colonists had been migrating to eastern Europe since the Middle Ages and to colonial America since 1683.) Canada's main source of Germans was Russia - especially from the Volga, the Black Sea coast and Volhynia. The next largest number came from Austria-Hungary, especially Galicia and the colonies of the so-called Danube Swabians along the Danube River between Austria and Romania. Transylvanian Saxons arrived as labour migrants in the 1920s and refugees in the 1950s. The remaining east European origins were Czechoslovakia, Romania, Poland and the Baltic lands.
Germans arrived in Canada with such diverse citizenships as Austrian, Swiss, Luxembourgian, Hungarian, Russian, French and American; with a variety of regional identities, such as Palatine, Bavarian, Saxon, Burgenländer, Sudeten, Danube Swabian, Baltic, Alsatian and Pennsylvania Dutch; and with such religious allegiances as Mennonite, Hutterite, Lutheran, Roman Catholic, Baptist, Moravian and Jewish. Their mother tongues included High German, Low German, Pennsylvania Dutch and numerous regional dialects. From their homelands and histories of previous migrations, German-speaking immigrants transplanted a mosaic of German cultures, including ancestral traits extinct in Germany as well as unique strategies of adaptation to non-German environments.
Migration and Settlement
German migrations to Canada may be divided into 6 major waves: the first settlers to 1776, the wave generated by the American Revolution 1776-1820s, immigration to Ontario 1830-80, immigration to western Canada 1874-1914, immigration between the world wars, and immigration since 1945.
Prior to 1760 Germans came to NEW FRANCE primarily in the service of the French military forces. Swiss guards were members of the first French expedition of 1604 to launch a colony in Acadia. Québec's first recorded settler from Germany is Hans Bernhard from Erfurt, who bought land on the Île d'Orléans in 1664. By 1760 an estimated 200 German families could be identified along the St Lawrence River - mainly families of soldiers, seamen, artisans and army doctors. Many of the Germans who rose to prominence in Québec between 1760 and 1783 as businessmen, doctors, surveyors, engineers, silversmiths and furriers had come with British militias from New England.
Canada's oldest cohesive German settlement developed in Nova Scotia between 1750 and 1753 when 2400 Protestant southwest German farmers and tradesmen landed with their families in Halifax. They were recruited by British agents to strengthen Britain's position in Acadia vis-à-vis the French. In 1753, 1400 of these Germans started the nearby community of LUNENBURG. Although arriving with no marine skills, they became expert fishermen, sailors and boatbuilders by the next generation. In the 1760s land grants attracted some additional 1000 Germans from New England and Germany to Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley.
After 1752 the Moravian church of Herrnhut extended its mission to the Inuit of Northern Labrador. From 8 coastal stations German Moravians served the Inuit until the 1960s as educators, employers, traders, judges, doctors, music teachers and lexicographers. By creating a written language (Inuktitut) and a dictionary, they helped preserve the Inuit language and cultural identity.
The American Revolution triggered the migration of LOYALISTS. Germans were the largest group of non-British descent, constituting between 10-20 percent of the refugees fleeing to Canada by 1786. In Upper Canada the German Loyalists' share has been estimated as high as 40%. Arriving as early as 1776, most of these Germans were the children of emigrants from the Palatinate and adjoining regions to New York, where they had become embroiled in the politics of their neighbouring Irish Loyalist landlords.
To suppress the American Revolution, Britain contracted in various German states for some 30 000 auxiliary troops. Of these so-called "Hessians" (since most were from Hessian states), an estimated 2400 remained in Canada. They had a significant cultural and demographic impact on Canadian society by the mere fact that they accounted for 3-4% of Canada's entire male population in 1783. In the Québec towns where the Hessians were billeted, they married local girls, fathered large families and assimilated rapidly.
In 1794 one William BERCZY, German land speculator and artist, became the cofounder of York (Toronto) when he started a gigantic colonization venture in Markham Township. With 190 immigrants recruited in Germany, he hewed a road through the virgin forest that became Toronto's Yonge Street, cleared land, cultivated fields, erected a church and a school, and built a model settlement whose "German Mills" became widely known. The enterprise disbanded in 1803 when the Executive Council of Upper Canada, distrusting Moll-Berczy's motives, declared his grant invalid.
On their heels came MENNONITES from Pennsylvania. These pacifist Anabaptist farmers fled the fervour of American nationalism and sought land for their growing population. Preferring cohesive settlement, they acquired a huge tract in Waterloo County. Through chain migration they transplanted their families, coreligionists and Pennsylvania German culture. Isolating themselves from British immigrants while attracting some 50 000 newcomers from Germany between the 1830s and 1850s, their Waterloo County colony with a hub community named Berlin (in 1916 renamed Kitchener) developed into an area of concentrated German settlement. From there, German settlement spread to Perth, Huron, Bruce and Grey Counties. In the 1860s the American Civil War diverted America-bound Germans to the agriculturally marginal wilderness lands of the upper Ottawa Valley, where a population of 12 000 Germans from Prussia settled by 1891.
Of western Canada's 152 000 German pioneer settlers by 1911, more than half came from eastern Europe. Some 7000 Mennonites from Russia, who had lost their military exemption, blazed the trail between 1874 and 1879. These attracted a continuous flow of coreligionists from Europe and the US to the Canadian prairies. Their successful block settlements in Manitoba demonstrated that farmers from the Russian steppes were particularly well adapted to prairie farming and that ethnically and denominationally homogeneous colonies proved a viable strategy for opening the West.
In British Columbia the German presence dates back to the Cariboo gold strike of 1858, when Germans came with the first diggers from California and subsequent waves of miners to the Fraser River Valley. In Alberta immigrants from Germany started homesteading in 1882. By 1892 a continuous influx of German Americans to Alberta and Saskatchewan mixed with colonists from virtually all German-speaking regions in Europe in joint German settlements. The largest were Saskatchewan's Roman Catholic St Peter's and St Joseph's colonies, founded in 1902 and 1904. Initiated by Benedictine monks from Minnesota and Illinois, their aim was to funnel Catholic German American newcomers into closed German-speaking settlements where their faith would be preserved from a Protestant environment.
Despite the anti-German sentiment in 1918, Canada admitted 1000 HUTTERITES and 500-600 Mennonites fleeing intense American intolerance towards pacifists. All but one of America's 18 Hutterite colonies, whose members were descendants of German-speaking immigrants to South Dakota from the Ukraine in the 1870s, entered Canada on the basis of an order-in-council of 1899 that granted them immunity from military service. However, in May 1919 Canada prohibited Hutterites and Mennonites until 1921, and nationals of former enemy countries until 1923.
Canada readmitted Germans in 1924 as "nonpreferred" immigrants; this category restricted them to agricultural and domestic work. In January 1927, however, German nationals were promoted to the "preferred" class. Of Canada's 100 000 German immigrants from 1924 to 1930, 52% came from eastern Europe and 18% from America. Agencies of the Canadian railways (CPR and CNR) in co-operation with Mennonite, Baptist, Lutheran and Catholic immigration boards coordinated recruitment in Europe and settlement in Canada. Some 21 000 Mennonite refugees from Soviet Russia, barred from the United States by quota legislation, were Canada's largest group of ethnic German immigrants in the 1920s.
In the 1930s Canada denied sanctuary to most Jewish refugee applicants from the Third Reich, except for 972 from a batch of 2300 shipped from British to Canadian internment camps in 1940 (see also IMMIGRATION). Many of the 972 later made outstanding contributions to Canadian cultural life. Only one other German REFUGEE group was admitted in 1939-40, also as a result of British pressures. These 1043 Sudeten German Social Democrats were settled in the Tupper Creek wilderness of British Columbia and on abandoned railway land in northeastern Saskatchewan.
As part of its postwar policy of resettling displaced persons from Europe, Canada admitted some 15 000 Volksdeutsche (east European ethnic Germans) from 1947 to 1950. Most of these arrived with the help of the Canadian Christian Council for the Resettlement of Refugees, a government-authorized agency created by the Lutheran, Catholic, Mennonite and Baptist churches for the admission of ethnic German refugees excluded from the care of the United Nations International Refugee Organisation.
The re-admission of Reichsdeutsche (German nationals) in 1950 opened the flood gates to a quarter million German newcomers by 1960, about one-third of them Russian-German, Volhynian-German, Danube Swabian, Baltic German, Transylvanian Saxon, and Sudeten German refugees. Of the 400 000 German-speaking immigrants from 1945 to 1994, 5% declared Austrian, and 5% Swiss origin. Annual German arrivals in the 1960s fluctuated between 4400 and 8200, and in the 1970s and 1980s dropped to between 1500 and 3400. One-third to one-half of these newcomers returned to Europe or moved on to the United States.
Before 1945 most Germans were drawn to Canada by the prospect of farming on abundant and cheap land and preserving distinct religious lifestyles. They also played noticeable roles as entrepreneurs, professionals, artists, and tradesmen in the beginning of Canadian urban life in Halifax, Berlin [Kitchener], Montréal, Hamilton, Toronto, Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton, Victoria and Vancouver. A high proportion of Canada's German urban business, professional, academic and artistic elites came from the US. In Hamilton, Winnipeg, Edmonton and Calgary, Germans were part of the early industrial labour force.
In the 1950s and 1960s most German immigrants sought work in secondary industries. Although only 13% of total immigration, they constituted over 19% of Canada's skilled arrivals during 1953-63. Germans quickly attained levels of income matching or surpassing those of English and French Canadians. Benefiting from the large German immigrant market, German immigrants often seized opportunities for self-employment. Between 1950 and 1966 they launched 19% of all new businesses started by immigrants. Some have mushroomed into gigantic enterprises, as the Vancouver business successes of Helmut and Hugo Eppich and of Markham-based Frank Stronach attest. Immigrating as mechanics in 1953-54, their small auto parts and tool shops of the 1950s, patronized by and employing German immigrants, developed by the 1990s into multinational corporations known as EBCO and Magna International.
Diversity of origins have not prevented German-speaking immigrants from interacting as one community. From Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, to Waterloo County and western Canada, German communities composed of mixed backgrounds formed the predominant pattern of German settlement, membership in churches, and voluntary ethnic associations, as well as in celebrating symbolic events such as German Day, Oktoberfest and Karneval.
While Germans from rural eastern Europe tended to organize community life around their churches, immigrants from urbanized Germany established secular social clubs. German Canadian ethnic organizations originated with the Halifax High German Society (1786-91) and numbered over 600 by 1994. The oldest surviving German Canadian secular association is the German Society of Montreal, founded in 1835. The first nationally recognized umbrella organization was the Trans-Canada Alliance of German-Canadians (TCA). Founded in 1952, it counted 94 member organizations in 1972 (with 20 000 active and 40 000 social members). Its successor is the German-Canadian Congress (GCC), founded in 1984, with some 550 affiliated organizations, including 130 churches, 100 German language schools, 20 senior citizens' homes, art associations, museums, theatres, and credit unions, as well as several regional umbrella organizations in 1994. The GCC has assumed an advocacy role for the entire German Canadian community, including Mennonites and Hutterites, Austrians and Swiss, as well as anglophone and francophone Canadians of German-speaking background.
Religious and Cultural Life
The church - focus of community life in the rural homelands of the immigrants - remained the strongest influence on community formation and maintenance in Canada until WWII. Church ministers acted as focal points for social cohesion and preservation of the German language and cultural heritage. Lutheranism has been the most popular German Canadian denomination, followed by Roman Catholicism and Mennonitism.
The cultural diversity of the German Canadian mosaic is reflected in its rich legacy. In Lunenburg relics of 18th-century German culture are still noticeable. Canada's first illuminated Christmas tree, a medieval German custom, was erected in 1781 by General von Riedesel, commander of the German troops in North America. Physicians, artists and musicians from among his troops introduced professional standards in their respective arts to the Québec bec society of the day.
The Germans' love of music is reflected in the choirs, musicians, conductors and orchestras they started in many Canadian cities. Since the early 19th century, such German Canadian artists as William Berczy, Peter RINDISBACHER , Cornelius KRIEGHOFF and Otto R. Jacobi have enriched Canadian culture. Today, German Canadians are found among internationally acclaimed architects (Eberhard ZEIDLER), scientists (Gerhard HERZBERG and John POLANYI), and space engineers (Claus Wagner Bartak).
The German-language press dates to the Halifax Neu-Schottländischer Calender (1788-1801). By 1867, 18 German-language papers appeared in southwestern Ontario. The oldest continuously published paper is Mennonitische Rundschau. The Winnipeg-based Nordwesten (1889-1969) and the Regina Courier (1907-69) became the chief nondenominational papers with a national circulation. In 1970 they merged to become the Kanada Kurier.
Since 1900 an enduring endeavour to underpin cultural maintenance has been the German Saturday School. Initiated and funded by churches, clubs and parents, the schools have operated on school-free Saturday mornings for 2½-3 hours with voluntary immigrant teachers. In the early 1970s, the TCA coordinated a national network of 106 Saturday schools with 10 240 students. Enrolment has since declined, and German is increasingly taught to students of non-German-speaking background.
Before WWI German Canadians did not question the compatibility of their customs and traditions with Canadian life, and Anglo-Canadian officials confirmed the affinity of German traits and values on numerous occasions. The First World War changed all that. Overnight, Germans became Canada's most vilified enemy aliens. Charged with treason and sedition, although no charge was ever proven, many were economically ruined and socially ostracized. Unruly mobs were allowed to attack them and their properties in cities across the country. The Wartime Elections Act of September 1917 disenfranchised all German Canadians naturalized after March 1902. Clubs and associations were dissolved, German schools closed, and German-language papers suppressed. Berlin, Ontario, and other towns were renamed. More than 2000 immigrants from Germany were interned. WWI trauma caused many German Canadians to camouflage their identity as Dutch, Scandinavian, and Russian. Long after the war, attribution of wartime characteristics continued. During 1939-45 the Canadian government arrested and interned 837 German Canadian farmers, workers and club members denounced or deemed disloyal. Again, cultural activities ceased almost completely.
After 1945 the recovery of ethnic confidence seemed problematic enough without the postwar revelations of the atrocities committed by the Nazi regime. In 1964 Maclean's characterized German Canadians to be "almost painfully unassertive." Postwar surveys found more than one-third of German immigrants eager to jettison their identity in favour of "Canadianism." Census data confirm that German Canadians have been abandoning their mother tongue at a rate superseded only by Scandinavian, Dutch, Flemish and Gaelic immigrants.
Author GERHARD P. BASSLER
G. Leibbrandt, Little Paradise: The Saga of the German Canadians of Waterloo County, Ontario, 1800-1975 (1980); R.A. Helling, A Socio-Economic History of German-Canadians: They, Too, Founded Canada (1984); W. Bausenhart, German Immigration and Assimilation in Ontario, 1783-1918 (1989); Heinz Lehmann, The German Canadians, 1750-937: Immigration, Settlement, and Culture. Ed, trans and intro by G.P. Bassler (1986); G.P. Bassler, The German Canadian Mosaic Today and Yesterday: Identities, Roots, and Heritage (1991); A. Grenke, The German Community in Winnipeg 1872 to 1919 (1991); H. Froeschle, ed, German-Canadian Yearbook, vols. I-XIII (1973-93); K. Guerttler et al, eds, Symposium: Annals German Canadian Studies, vols. 1-8 (1977-1993).
Links to Other Sites
Canadian Multiculturalism Day
Canadian Heritage's guide to celebrating Canadian Multiculturalism Day.
A Scattering of Seeds - The Creation of Canada
This television series features poignant stories about Canada’s first immigrants. Produced by White Pine Pictures. A Canada Digital Collections website.
Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples
The website for the "Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples." Click on the links for feature articles about Canada's many multicultural communities, access to their extensive digital archives collection, learning modules, and much more. From "Multicultural Canada."
Languages of Canada
A comprehensive online database of languages currently in use in Canada. Also provides details about extinct languages. Check out the "language maps" for more information. Based on "Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Fifteenth edition." From SIL International, a US website.
Germany - Canada Migration
View historical documents, stories, and distinctive folk art that show how immigrants from Germany have contributed to Canadian life and culture. A Virtual Museum website.
German and European Studies in Canada
An online information source for German and European Studies in Canada. Offers information tools and outreach initiatives for the German and European Studies Community in Canada.
Ethnocultural Portrait of Canada
This website offers Canadian population data (2006) by ethnic origin. Also, find information for individual provinces and territories by clicking the "Select a view" window above the chart. For more information, click on the "Ethnocultural Portrait of Canada" link at the top of the page. From the website for Statistics Canada.
Waterloo Centre for German Studies
The website for the Waterloo Centre for German Studies, which conducts research on the language, culture, and civilization of German-speaking peoples, from both historical and contemporary perspectives.
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