Politics and Education

From: The Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples/Danes/Christopher S. Hale

Relatively few Danish Canadians have been active in politics. C.P. Marker was dairy commissioner for the North-West Territories around 1900; Dan Morkeberg, a Liberal member of Alberta’s legislature from 1917 to 1921; and Regina-born Erik Nielsen, deputy prime minister in 1984 and defence minister in 1985.

The Danish-Canadian population is dispersed. Rural settlements were usually relatively small and far apart, and the urban population never formed Danish neighbourhoods. Because most Danes easily assimilated, they experienced little discrimination and thus did not feel compelled to organize themselves. Post-1945 immigrants tended to be tradespeople rather than professionals and had little interest in political activity.

Since Denmark is a prosperous, independent, democratic country, Danish immigrants in Canada accepted the political situation in their homeland, except when it was occupied by Nazi Germany. In that period they set up branches of the Danish Relief Fund in larger Canadian cities to assist, in particular, sailors in the Danish Merchant Marine who were unable to return home.

Education has always been an integral part of Danish life in Canada. Of particular importance is the folk high school movement, started in the mid-nineteenth century in Denmark by N.F.S. Grundtvig. Its rural boarding schools had terms lasting from one week to a full academic year but had neither entrance requirements nor gave diplomas. Courses, primarily in the humanities, emphasized participation and discussion, in accordance with the tenet of “the living word.”

Pastor Peter Rasmussen established a folk high school on his farm in Dalum, Alberta, in 1921. This “school for life” prepared immigrants for their new country, with classes in Rasmussen’s home and students living upstairs, often in cramped conditions, until a couple of bunk-houses were built. The school closed in 1934, when immigrants ceased coming to the district.

Other folk high schools were established in New Denmark and in Edmonton and Calgary. All helped Danes acclimatize to Canada and learn the rudiments of English. Members of the UDELC set up Dana (founded 1924) in Calgary and Danabyrd (1928) in New Denmark; Calgary’s Dannevang and Edmonton’s Danebod (both founded in 1928) were Grundtvig-oriented, like Dalum. They taught English, history, geography, music, and mathematics. All closed about 1930, when Danish immigration all but ceased.

A Danish-style folk high school for Canadians in general, founded at Cherry Hill Farm in Unionville, Ontario, by John Madsen, operated between 1946 and 1957. It stressed gymnastics, folk dancing, leadership training, arts, and crafts.

Annual one-week courses in Danish history and culture, begun in 1989 by the Federation of Danish Associations in Canada, are held in various places and follow the principles of the folk high school. Offerings include Danish literature, art, social and economic conditions, folk dancing, and singing.