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GERMANS IN CANADA

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General Information

Germans have been part of the Canadian mosaic for hundreds of years. While many migrated individually and separately into the country, most arrived en masse in large immigrant waves from many parts of the world, including the German and Austrian provinces,Prussia, Russia,Poland, Hungary, and other regions, seeking land and opportunities for economic progress.

Description:

German settlement in Canada can be divided into three primary regions: the east (Atlantic provinces), the central area (Ontario and Québec), and the west (the Prairie provinces and British Columbia). The eastern and central areas were settled mostly by citizens of the German states of central Europe and by people of German heritage who had first migrated to the British colonies or to the United States.  The west was largely settled by ethnic German farmers from eastern and southern Europe and from Russia.

There was a broad spectrum of religious background. Most were Lutheran, Catholic, Reformed, or Mennonite, but there were also Moravians, Baptists, Seventh Day Adventists, Jews and others.

History:

Eastern Canada - The Atlantic Provinces

German auxiliary soldiers were employed in England's North American conflicts with France as early as 1711. The first German settlement, Waldoburg, was established just outside the walls of Fortress Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia in 1745. This was a community of military families, whose men had assisted the English in the siege and capture of this French stronghold. It was abandoned a few years later.

The first permanent settlement began with the arrival of over 2000 citizens of the Holy Roman Empire (the collection of states that would unite to form the German Empire in 1871) and Switzerland, plus some Protestant French, who settled in Lunenburg and Halifax starting in 1750. They were followed over the next thirty-five years by others, including Hessian soldiers who chose to accept land grants in North America after their service and to remain loyal to their British employers rather than to the newly-independent United States. Over the centuries, the descendants of these people gradually integrated into the rest of the growing Maritime population.  However, German was still spoken in Lunenburg County at the turn of the twentieth century, and anglicized German family names are very common throughout Nova Scotia to this day.

Central Canada - Ontario and Québec

United Empire Loyalists of German origin emigrating from the United States, along with German soldiers who remained in North America after completing their service, settled in the St. Lawrence River Valley and the Eastern Townships of Québec after the American Revolution. They quickly integrated into the surrounding environment, often changing their names and religion in order to do so. Settlement by such groups in Ontario began as early as 1784. However, the biggest influx into Ontario, which began in 1796, consisted of Pennsylvanian Mennonites, largely because much of the arable land in Pennsylvania was already occupied. Mennonites settled in the Niagara region first, later expanding westward to the area around Waterloo. The settlement of Toronto (then called "York") was partly initiated through the efforts of a small group arriving from Germany via New York State.

Until about 1820, much of the Germanic migration into central Canada had come indirectly through the United States. After the defeat of Napoleon, a new wave of German migration to North America directly from Europe took place. For many people the ultimate destination was still the United States, but others, including craftsmen, tradesmen, and farmers, found their new home in Ontario. Most continued to settle in the same areas as the preceding Mennonites. Many people of German heritage, especially in the Waterloo region, have retained much of their ethnic identity and, in some communities, their language.

Western Canada - Prairie Provinces and British Columbia

Again, the first Germans to enter the Canadian West were soldiers who were employed by the British, in this case to help keep the peace at Red River in 1817. A little-known fact is that a French suburb of Winnipeg, St. Boniface, is named after Winfried Bonifatius, the patron saint of these Catholic German soldiers. The Seine, a small river which flows through this suburb, was originally called German Creek. St. Boniface did not grow into a permanent settlement, as is often the case with many temporary military communities.

Another attempt at German settlement was made in 1821 by 200 people from Switzerland and the Alsace region. By 1849, only 2 of these families remained, the rest having emigrated to warmer farming conditions in the United States.

The largest Germanic wave into Canada did not originate in Germany or the United States but in eastern Europe, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and Russia. It was launched in 1874 with the arrival of 7000 ethnic German Mennonites from southern Russia. Much of the religious freedom that the Czars had previously granted to the Mennonites, including exemption from service in the Russian army, was now gone, prompting mass exodus. The Canadian Homestead Law of 1872 attracted hundreds of thousands of Europeans to settle the Canadian prairie with the promise of cheap land, available at only $10 for 160 acres. The Mennonites first took advantage of two large tracts of land set aside specifically for their use. Both were south of Winnipeg, with one on the east side of the Red River around Steinbach, and the other on the west side around Gretna and Altona.

Following close behind them in large numbers were Lutheran Germans. Starting in the late 1880s, many of them would first go to work for the already established Mennonites before moving on to their own homesteads or buying land from other settlers who had encountered difficulties in developing their plots into good farmland. These ethnic Germans came from the Black Sea and Volga River regions of Russia, from Volhynia, Galicia, Central Poland, Bukovina, Banat, and Romania. Much smaller numbers also came directly from Germany, the United States, and Ontario. Hundreds of German villages sprang up throughout the West with German names like Neu Elsass, Strassburg, Langenburg, Josephsthal, Landshut, Neudorf, Waldersee, Friedensthal, Bruederheim, and so on. In Saskatchewan alone, Germans made up 14% of the population in 1911.

The Twentieth Century

The admission of German-speaking immigrants from eastern Europe continued into the twentieth century. Reichsdeutsche (Germans from Germany) were barred from entry into Canada from the onset of World War I until 1923. Between 1919 and 1935 some 90,000 German-speaking people arrived in Canada. Over 50% of these were again from eastern and southern Europe and Russia, with the balance directly from Germany. Over 70% were farmers. World War II again interrupted the flow.

After the Second World War, massive numbers of immigrants from Germany, Austria and Switzerland entered Canada in the 1950s and 1960s. Many of these people did not ultimately remain in Canada, but the majority did. After English and French, the third largest ethnic group in Canada is German. As it is a highly integrated group in general, it is often invisible, and, according to the 1981 census, the language itself falls behind English, French, and Italian in usage.
 

[Primary sources:
1)  Einarsson, Magnús and Taylor, Helga Benndorf, eds. Just For Nice: German-Canadian Folk Art. Hull, Québec: Canadian Museum of Civilization, 1993.]
2)  Lehmann, Heinz.  The German Canadians 1750-1937. Gerhard P. Bassler - translator and editor; St. John's, Newfoundland: Jesperson Press, 1986 (compilation of five dissertations originally published in the German language by Heinz Lehmann between 1931 and 1939).]

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Genealogical Societies

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Genealogical and Historical Records

Church Records *

Most churches that keep records retain them in their own offices. In some cases, the records have been brought together in regional offices. In most situations it is necessary to write to specific churches to obtain information from these records.

The national libraries / archives of the following denominations may also be helpful:

Anglican Church of Canada, General Synod Archives
Church House, 600 Jarvis St.
Toronto, Ontario M4Y 2S6

Presbyterian Church of Canada Archives
59 Saint George St.
Toronto, Ontario M5S 2E6

United Church of Canada Central Archives
Victoria College, 73 Queen's Park Crescent East
Toronto, Ontario M5S 1R7

Civil Registration Records *

These records are kept in the Vital Statistics offices of individual provinces. There is a cost for searching and copying them which varies from province to province. In most cases, you will need to at least know the year of the event you are interested in researching in order to achieve a result.

Other Records

*  The National Archives of Canada / Archives nationales du Canada. website contains information on accessing all of this material.

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Gazetteers and Maps

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Bibliography and Literature

Bibliographies

Historical Literature (in English)

Hier finden Sie historische Literatur auf Deutsch.

Genealogical Literature

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Last update: 7-December-1999 (mf)

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This page created by Jennifer Publicover and Jerry Frank.  Thanks also to Monika Ferrier, Helmut Flacker, John Merz, and Richard Heli for their generous assistance.