A Scattering of Seeds: The Creation of Canada
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General History


When Jane and Bob Aberson settled in Dauphin, Manitoba, they soon realized that making a living on a small farm was a far cry from the idyllic lifestyle of the immigration posters. (10) What often awaited immigrants was low pay and poor living conditions. Jane Aberson made a little extra money to supplement the farm income by writing columns back home, tempering the immigration myth with a hardy dose of fact.

The barren prairie life, short growing season and cold winters took the early Dutch immigrant by surprise. But their community grew and so did the desire to help the continuing flow of immigrants from their homeland. In Winnipeg, an organization was set up to give aid to needy immigrants and provide social and cultural activities for the community. It established the Queen Wilhelmina Fund to give temporary financial aid to immigrants in distress.(11)

Despite the unexpected hardships, many of the Dutch established family farms to provide enough security for them to return to more familiar lines of work such as bookkeeping, carpentry, masonry and construction.(12)

The physical and social isolation of the Dutch immigrants created new opportunities for those who had an entrepreneurial spirit. One was the travelling grocer who capitalized on the immigrant's lack of familiarity or dislike of Canadian foodstuffs and household goods. Small businessmen established sales routes among the immigrants, bringing imported Dutch cigars, apple spread, cheese, windmill cookies, honeycake, raisin bread and smoked sausage. Dutch textiles and underwear were other items considered to be better made than in Canada and made the immigrant's adjustment just that little bit easier.(13)

Religion was also a concern. (14) The Dutch had to choose between assimilation into the Canadian churches and loss of traditional practices or the establishment of their own Dutch churches. Many of the Protestant Dutch became members of the Canadian Presbyterian or Methodist congregations. Others were interested in establishing a Dutch church where sermons would be preached in the native language. Their own halls and ministers proved impossible without sufficient finances and members. Services took place in private homes under the direction of elders and were attended mostly by the Dutch Calvinists. Roman Catholic immigrants often attended local churches, but despite Latin mass, their unfamiliarity with the English language prevented most from becoming active members.(15)

The Calvinist immigrants decided to preserve their faith and organized the Winnipeg Christian Reformed Church in 1908. The Dutch church functioned as more than a religious institution. It also gave some financial support to its indigent congregation members. Its clubs, youth groups, and choral organizations provided social activities for local immigrants. New arriving immigrants found part of their native culture alive in the church and were quick to join. But as Dutch immigrants became more familiar with Canada their dependence on the church decreased. A great many immigrants severed their connections with the church as they became integrated into Canadian society.(16)

A Bittersweet Land, The Dutch Experience in Canada, 1890-1980, by Herman Ganzevoort
(McClelland and Stewart, Toronto, 1988).

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

From the Prairies with Hope, by Jane L. Aberson
(Canadian Plains Research Centre, Regina, 1991).

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