A Scattering of Seeds: The Creation of Canada
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General History


While Berthold Imhoff did not come to North America from Germany as part of any mass migratory movement, a long history of German settlement on this continent paved the way for him. The very first German to Canada, Hans Bernard, purchased land near Quebec City in 1664. Between the 16th and 18th centuries, other German-speaking immigrants - including demobilized soldiers who had served in the French military forces in Quebec - had built homesteads there.

The British often recruited Germans to fill the ranks of their armies in the 13 American colonies, and there were Germans with Colonel Edward Cornwallis when he founded Halifax, as well as 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. 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.

The Imhoffs, choosing to escape the heaving industrialization of Germany at the beginning of the 20th century, first settled in the large German community in Pennsylvania. Like many of their neighbors who later moved up to Canada (though mostly to the east and Upper Canada) the Imhoffs settled in the St. Walburg area of Saskatchewan because other German settlers were moving to the area at the time to farm. Unlike his fellow settlers, it was the promise of peace, quiet and isolation, not farmland that the passionate painter was looking for at the time.

Among the thousands of German-origin immigrants who homesteaded on the Prairies in the late 1800s, most did not come from the German Empire like Imhoff, but from the Russian and the Austro-Hungarian empires and the Balkan countries, where German colonies had been established in the eighteenth century. Thus, it was the large number of German-speaking Mennonites from the Ukraine who helped Canada's Minister of the Interior, Clifford Sifton, to realize his dream of aggressively peopling the prairie provinces. They were among the first settlers to arrive in Manitoba after it became a province in 1870.

Many German settlers who came after the 1870s were lured by Canadian government agents who made trips to Germany, offering generous land packages and incentives 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 land and planting the first crops between 1870 and 1914. 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.

From the 1890s until the outbreak of the First World War, approximately 35,000 Germans settled in Manitoba, representing 7.5 percent of that province's total population. Alberta (where Germans concentrated in the Medicine Hat area and along the Calgary and Edmonton Railway) and Saskatchewan also witnessed a dramatic growth in German immigration.

In Saskatchewan, there were fewer than 5,000 of German descent in 1901, increasing to over 100,000 in 1911. Most settlements in Saskatchewan broke down along denominational lines: Mennonites, the first to pioneer on the Prairies, settled in Swift Current and Rosthern; Lutherans, in central Saskatchewan; and Roman Catholics, after 1903, in St. Peter's Colony, near Humboldt, and in St. Joseph's Colony, near Trampling Lake.

The outbreak of the First World War prompted the Canadian government to restrict direct immigration from Germany. During this period, a small group of German-speaking Hutterites did, on religious grounds, immigrate to Canada from the Dakotas. They settled in Manitoba and Alberta where locals and neighbouring residents regarded their distinctive communal way of life as a threat to society.

During the interwar period, 97,000 German-speaking immigrants came to Canada from Poland, Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Germany. Farmers and agricultural workers settled in the vicinity of older German settlements on the Prairies. A smaller number of artisans, labourers, and shopkeepers moved on to British Columbia. During the late 1930s, a small group of Sudeten Germans were permitted to come to Canada from Czechoslovakia in order to escape Nazi persecution for their Social Democratic political affiliation.

Significant German immigration did not occur again until the movement of displaced persons after the Second World War. Between 1947 and 1950, immigration to Canada included many German-speaking refugees from Romania, Yugoslavia, and the former Austria-Hungary. When the ban on immigration of German nationals was lifted in 1950, the number of Germans entering the country increased dramatically. Between 1950 and 1961,250,000 arrived; they tended to settle in the urban areas of Canada, particularly in Ontario, Quebec, and western Canada.

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