A Scattering of Seeds: The Creation of Canada
Episodes Search Site Map The Series Partners White Pine White Pine Home

General History


Jane Aberson has been credited with bringing a lot of hard-working immigrants to Canada. Her bare-truth words on the reality and beauty of Canadian life filled the pages of newspapers and speaking halls throughout Holland in the early decades of the century. She told the true story, not the sugar-coated portrayal of Canada as the land where money grows on the wheat.

The result was considerable. The Dutch are the tenth largest ethnic group in Canada, with a little help from Jane Aberson. And it is this significant Dutch presence in Canada that makes up the most prominent part of their legacy. Despite their numbers, the Dutch have maintained a relatively low profile in Canada; they are the invisible immigrants. Their invisibility was more a matter of choice than chance. Accommodation, integration and even assimilation have been the desire of most Dutch immigrants and their children. Pragmatism asserted itself in the keeping or discarding of things Dutch. Family loyalty and solidarity among communities was worthy of preserving however, as were the doctrines and expressions of Dutch Calvinism. (17)

For many immigrants, one of the most important ways of retaining cultural identity is in the use of their native language. The Dutch language, however, was largely discarded. Prior to their departure from the Netherlands, Dutch immigrants were encouraged to take lessons in conversational English. Emigration societies and the Dutch government urged the necessity of fluency in English and stressed that integration was desirable both economically and socially. As a result, the Dutch language persists only among first generation immigrants, those who picked up only enough English to get by but otherwise retained their native tongue. Subsequent generations have a consistently decreasing knowledge and fluency in the Dutch language. The Dutch in Canada have recently expressed interest in reviving their language, one example being the DUCA in Toronto which offers Dutch language instruction to its members and their children.(18)

There remain a few cultural remnants and memories, though. Family names remain as an important means of identification. The Dutch chose to keep them because they weren't too difficult to pronounce. Dutch businesses are often recognizable by the names of the proprietors, Voortman's Cookies for example, or by the prominence of the windmill logo. Anything Dutch is thought to connote cleanliness hard work, and acceptability -- a reputation that favours financial success.(19)

In recent years, with stimulation from the federal government's multicultural program, Dutch Canadian clubs have developed and become involved in ethnic festivals in Winnipeg, Toronto and Calgary, but in reality these clubs only represent a small number of the members of the ethnic community. Social clubs are successful in organizing events and supporting groups such as choirs and dancers. The Canadian Association of Netherlands Studies has attempted to encourage the study of the Dutch role in the world and participation in Canadian cultural events.

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).

Previous Page - - Next Page

Top of page.