A Scattering of Seeds: The Creation of Canada
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General History
Overcoming Obstacles

The early German immigrants came to Canada with the British army in the mid 1600's. Like many European settlers, the Germans were faced with the hardships of forging an existence out of virgin wilderness. Many residents of the villages in Nova Scotia can trace their family tree back to Germany. The Germans found Ontario, and in particular the Waterloo region, welcoming to their culture.

Old Order Mennonites from Pennsylvania, came to Upper Canada in search of good, cheap farm land, and settled in the Waterloo area. It was important to these German immigrants that they were able to practice their religion, educate their children and conduct their business in German. There was no opposition to this and Waterloo became a vibrant German community, a little bit of Europe transplanted in North America. In the 1870's, German immigrants were attracted to Canada's west. They came in the thousands. Many were skilled craftsmen and farmers who came from villages in Germany, such as Baden, Wurttnemberg, the Rhenish Palatinate, Hessen-Darmstadt and Hessen-Kessel in the southwest, as well as Hanover, Oldenburg, Schleswig-Hostein and Mecklenburg in Northwestern Germany. Rarely were German immigrants subject to the poverty, disease and despair which characterized so many of the Irish famine immigrants of this period.

Between 1871 and 1914 the vast majority of emigrating Germans were choosing the United States as their destination. During this time 3,163,747 Germans emigrated to the United States, while only 39,900 Germans immigrated directly to Canada. As well as immigrants directly from Germany, there were other German speaking immigrants, including people from the Ukraine (Mennonites, Hutterites). By 1874, 284 Mennonites settled in Manitoba. This grew to 7,000 by the end of the 1870's. The influx continued and by 1900, 25,000 German-speaking settlers had taken up residence in Western Canada. By 1914 there were 151,900.8

Western Canada welcomed more German-speaking immigrants than Ontario. These immigrants had to overcome the isolation of the prairies, and the hardship of trying to change the virgin prairie fields to farmland. The Germans did not fare as well in the Western cities, and many ended up living in congested slums where thousands of people lived together in a very small area. There was no running water, poor nutrition and despair of the human spirit. These slums in Regina, Saskatoon and Winnipeg were known as ‘German Town'.

The German community on Canada's West Coast blended in with the dominant British culture. The Germans tended to be skilled and educated. They brought their language, culture, and many of their traditions.; an encouraged practice on Canada's West Coast. It was not the land, weather, disease or even the bugs which proved to be the greatest obstacle faced by the Germans in Canada. It was the outbreak of World War I. The German nationalism, which added to the Canadian mosaic prior to the war, was now seen as a threat to Canadian security. The Federal Government passed the ‘Enemy Alien Act', which stripped German Canadians of their right to vote, speak their language in public, and teach their children in German. Over eight thousand Germans and Austro-Hungarians were stripped of their liberty and interred for the duration of the war. World War I had a devastating affect upon the German Community in Canada. The German sense of pride was replaced by feelings of anxiety and uneasiness. Immigration from Germany ceased abruptly.

The immigration restrictions for Germans was lifted in 1923, and between 1923 and 1929, 18,000 Germans emigrated to Canada per year. By 1930, over 90,000 had emigrated to Canada. Many of these were Mennonites who were fleeing Soviet Russia. They were given German papers and emigrated to Canada. By 1931, there were 473,544 Germans in Canada - nearly 60% lived in the West.10 During the Great Depression, the door to immigrants was closed. The next wave of immigrants would not arrive until after World War II. Unlike the first war, only 85 Germans were interred during the second World War. There just wasn't the same bitterness. The German community once again tried to keep a low profile.

Again, after the second world war, thousands of Germans emigrated to Canada, helping to preserve German speakers as the third largest group in Canada. However, the toll of the two world wars largely silenced their community.

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