A Scattering of Seeds: The Creation of Canada
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THE IMPOSSIBLE HOME: Robert Kroetsch and his German Roots
Immigration History

Martin Kroetsch, his wife Kunigunda and their flock of nine children immigrated to Canada from the village of Kotzendorf, northern Bavaria, in 1841. The Kroetsches came from a long line of millers. But Germany was changing with the onset of the industrial age and the small millers were being wiped out. They could either knuckle under, fight to survive, or move on. The Kroetsches chose to move on.

They came to Canada with the third major wave of German immigrants: those who came between 1830 and 1880, settling predominantly in Ontario. The Kroetsches ended their migration near present-day St. Clements, Ontario, in an area that was to become a large German settlement.

First Settlers (1600s-1776)

The first German settlers in Canada who came before 1776, came to New France 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. Quebec's first recorded settler from Germany was Hans Bernhard from Erfurt, who bought land on the Isle d'Orleans 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 Quebec between 1760 and 1783 were businessmen, doctors, surveyors, engineers, silversmiths and furriers who had come with British militias from New England(1).

Canada's oldest German settlement developed in Nova Scotia between 1750 and 1753 when 2400 Protestant German farmers and tradesmen from the Southwest of Germany landed with their families in Halifax. They were recruited by British agents to strengthen Britain's position against the French in Acadia. In 1753, 1,400 of these Germans started the nearby community of Lunenburg. Arriving without marine skills, by the next generation they had become expert fishermen, sailors and boat builders. In the 1760s land grants attracted some additional 1,000 Germans from New England and Germany to Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley(2).

American Revolution (1776-1820s)

The American Revolution triggered the migration of Loyalists. Germans were the largest group of non-British descent, making up 10-20 percent of the refugees fleeing to Canada by 1786. They arrived as early as 1776 and most were the children of emigrants from Platinate. They had settled in New York and become embroiled in the politics of their neighbouring Irish Loyalist landlords(3).

While some Germans fled the American Revolution, others were recruited to fight. Britain contracted some 30,000 troops from various German states to help in suppressing the Revolution. Of these, Hessians, as they were called 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 Quebec towns where the Hessians were billeted, many married local girls, fathered large families and assimilated rapidly(4).

Another group of Germans fleeing the American Revolution came to Canada with the promise of religious and cultural autonomy. The Mennonites who came from Pennsylvania were pacifist farmers who were opposed to the fervour of American nationalism. Coming to Canada, they acquired a large tract of land in Waterloo County. It became a concentrated German colony, attracting 50,000 newcomers from Germany between 1830-1850. It was known as the community of Berlin until it was renamed Kitchener in 1916. From there, German Mennonite settlement spread to Perth, Huron, and Bruce and Grey Counties(5).

In 1794 the city of York, now Toronto, was co-founded by William Berczy, a German land speculator and artist, when he started a gigantic colonization venture in Markham Township. With 190 immigrants recruited from Germany, he made way for a road through the forest that became Toronto's Yonge street. He cleared land, cultivated fields, erected a church and 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 Berczy's motives, declared his grant invalid(6).

Western Canada, 1874-1914

By 1911, there were 152,000 German pioneer settlers in western Canada. Between 1874 and 1879 some 7,000 Mennonites came from Russia when they lost their military exemption. Their successful block settlements in Manitoba demonstrated that farmers from Russia were well adapted to prairie farming and that ethnically and denominationally homogeneous colonies were a viable strategy for opening the West(7).

In British Columbia the German presence dates back to the Caribou gold strike of 1858, when Germans came with the first diggers from California and later waves of miners to the Fraser River Valley. In Alberta, immigrants from Germany started homesteading in 1882. In 1892, a continuous migration of German Americans to Alberta and Saskatchewan began. They mixed with colonists from virtually all German-speaking regions in Europe in joint German settlements(8).

Between the World Wars

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(who were descendants of German-speaking immigrants 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(9).

Canada readmitted Germans in 1924 as "non-preferred" immigrants; this category restricted them to agricultural and domestic work. In January 1927 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(10).


1-18 - The 1998 Canadian & World Encyclopedia
(McClelland & Stewart, Toronto, 1998).

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