Leonard Frank: General History
Leonard Frank came to Canada's West Coast, in 1892, at the age of 22, leaving behind his family and the life he knew in the small village of Berne Germany. Frank wasn't the first German to arrive on Canada's shores, seeking a better life and fortune. German-speaking immigrants had been arriving in Canada long before Germany united as a country. The two founding Europeans credited with exploring and developing Canada are the British and the French. If a third nation was added to that list, it would be Germany.
The British often recruited Germans to fill the ranks of their armies. There were Germans with Colonel Edward Cornwallis when he founded Halifax, with Wolfe on the Plains of Abraham. It is also a German, Sir William Berczy, who is credited as the co-founder of Toronto. Along with a group of German immigrants, he forged one hundred miles of Yonge St. out of the wilderness.1 The Germans remained loyal to the British crown during the American War of Independence. When the British lost this conflict, one third of the United Empire Loyalist who made their way north into Canada were Germans. Between 1813 and 1914, six million Germans emigrated to North America. Many settled in the United States, some moved on to Canada. Until the 1870's, the majority of Germans in Canada settled in the Waterloo area, where towns were founded along the CN line, many taking the names of German towns. The capital of German Canada became Berlin, Ontario.
The Waterloo area of Ontario was attractive to the Germans because they were able to recreate a European community in the heart of North America. Their children were taught in German, German festivals were created, as were sports centres. Eighty percent of Church services in the area were held in German. This early example of multi-culturalism was encouraged by the Government of Canada. During a visit to the Waterloo area, the Governor- General spoke in glowing terms of the contributions made by the Germans to Canada.2 Along with Queen Victoria's birthday, the German Kaiser's birthday was a civic holiday in Waterloo County. The German Flag flew alongside the British flag over the City Hall of Berlin, Ontario.3
The emigration patterns changed after the 1870's, with the authorized government agencies making trips to Germany, offering generous land packages and incentives for the Germans to settle Canada's West. The Canadian Government was anxious to attract the Germans, who they found to be independent, loyal and anxious at a chance to own their own land. These were just the characteristics that the Canadian Government were looking for. The Germans had proven their loyalty to the British Crown as United Empire Loyalists and through the links between the British and German Royal houses.
Thousands of Germans settled Canada's West, clearing the land and planting the first crops and living in sod. Between 1870 and 1914, hundreds of thousands of Germans moved to Canada's West, and the population swelled until it surpassed the Ontario population. However, in the western cities such as Regina and Winnipeg, German immigrants did not flourish as they did in other parts of the country. In these cities slums developed, not just with the Germans but other immigrant groups, and the areas became known as German town.4
While German immigrants in the prairie provinces faced terrible hardships and poverty, those who travelled as far as British Columbia had the same success that was found in Ontario. Germans were well received by the British majority. German culture and language was encouraged and added to the fledgling province a sense of who they were. The Germans and British inter-married, and formed the elite of British Columbia society.
The cozy relations between the British and Germans came to an end with the onset of the first world war. As the war dragged on, and the death toll continued to rise across Canada, anti- German feelings heated up. Germans were viewed with suspicion. The Dominion Government passed the ‘Enemy Alien Act' which took away many of the basic rights enjoyed by German Canadians: the right to vote, freedom of movement, etc. Many had their businesses damaged and their homes vandalized. Thousands were interred during the war, suspected of being German spies. Some, like Leonard Frank, were forced to leave the towns where they were once respected, by towns people who now looked upon them as enemies. The effects of the war were to end much of what had been German in Canada. Although German-speaking Canadians would remain the third largest group in the country, the German language was no longer taught in the schools. Church services were no longer held in German. Signs in towns were no longer written in German. The experiment of creating a European culture in Canada ended with the declaration of World War I.5
Between the war years, Canada once again opened its doors to the Germans. This new post World War I group did not advertise their German roots, but just quietly went on with their business.
When Germany and Britain went to war again, the fear of Canadian Germans did not escalate to the point it had reached in World War I. There were a few internments, but the trend seemed to be for the German Canadians to join en masse the services of their adopted country.6
It is estimated that after the war, there were over 7 million German refugees. Again, Canada opened its doors. This generosity of Canadians went a long way towards improving the relations between the two countries.7
The majority of the post-war Germans came here in the hope of putting their German identity behind them. They didn't settle in the old German areas, but instead chose urban areas. Many anglicized their names in order to better blend in. Today, over 1 million Canadians can trace their roots back to a German base. The Germans remain the third largest group in Canada, but as a result of the two wars, they remain largely silent and their contributions to the tapestry of Canada are forgotten by most.