Group Maintenance and Ethnic Commitment

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

For many years there was no umbrella organization for Danish organizations in Canada. In the 1930s Calgary’s Sygekasse Finsen (Finsen Sick Benefit Association) and Logen Dansk Samarbejde i Canada (Danish Cooperation in Canada Lodge) wanted such a body set up to cover sickness and funerals for members. Odin Kuntze, editor of the Danish Herald, became a vigorous proponent of the plan. The result was the Danish Canadian Society (DCS), founded in 1933, with headquarters in Montreal. However, Kuntze became too ill to publish his newspaper, by then the organization’s newsletter, for long periods. His death in 1940 robbed the society of one of its main figures, and because it had never elected a national executive it could not continue. Two branches still exist – Montreal’s DCS and Calgary’s Danish Canadian Club (DCC, formerly DCS).

After World War II Jan Eisenhardt became president of Montreal’s DCS and proposed a Canada-wide Danish organization. Together with a few other Montreal Danes, Eisenhardt set up Canadania to foster closer relations between the two nations. However, other Danish-Canadian organizations felt that Canadania was dominated by Montrealers and lacked regional representation, and little outside support emerged.

The Danish-born historian Rolf Buschardt Christensen was elected secretary of Ottawa’s DCC in 1977 and soon established contacts with Danish groups from coast to coast. In a speech at Sunset Villa in Puslinch, Ontario, on 1 June 1980 he promoted a national organization, an idea supported by others. With the backing as well of Calgary’s DCC, the Federation of Danish Associations in Canada was established 7 June 1981 at Sunset Villa.

This umbrella organization has a membership of over forty bodies – social clubs, historical societies, churches, seniors’ homes, and three associated members in Denmark. Its annual conferences attract representatives from each association. Every year it publishes information on member organizations and a conference book containing articles, announcements, and biographical sketches. It also sponsors folk-high-school courses. Though most representatives are first-generation Danes, all meetings are conducted in English, so as to attract youths.

The federation has been trying to interest young Danish Canadians in their heritage; societies are ageing, and older members pass away without being replaced. It has also sought landed-immigrant status for DKU pastors from Denmark. As well, it has urged member organizations to appoint historians to promote collection of archival material and to tape interviews and write articles on the history of their own community. It also supports a proposed Danish-Canadian national museum for Dickson, Alberta.

Several organizations and institutions in Denmark have direct links with Canada. Skandinavisk Canadisk Venskabsforening (Scandinavian Canadian Friendship Association) was founded as Dansk Canadisk Venskabsforening (Danish Canadian Friendship Association) in 1962 to link immigrants and their friends and relatives back in Denmark. Dansk Samvirke (Danish League), formed in 1919, does the same for Danes living anywhere abroad and disseminates knowledge about them. Finally, Det danske Udvandrerarkiv/Danes Worldwide Archives in Ålborg, opened in 1932 and the oldest institution of its kind in Scandinavia, carries out research and houses documents and a library relating to Danish emigration. It published Danish Emigration to Canada (1991).

What the future holds for the Danish heritage in Canada is not certain. Danes have assimilated so easily into the mainstream, in large part because of exogamy, that many no longer feel themselves Danish. Perhaps a national federation and a Danish museum will help maintain the culture in Canada.