Resources

Arrival and Settlement

From: The Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples/Germans/Gerhard Bassler

In the 1991 Canadian census, 911,560 individuals described themselves as being of exclusively German origin while 1,882,220 cited German as one of their ethnic origins, for a total of 2,793,780.

Settlement in Canada by German-speaking immigrants may be divided into six phases: arrivals prior to the American Revolution, the streams generated by that upheaval, exodus from Germany between the 1830s and the 1880s, chain migration to western Canada in the period 1874–1914, immigration between the world wars, and the post–World War II influx. German speakers settled in various parts of New France before the conquest of 1760. Most appear to have been serving in the French military forces, especially in connection with Louis XIV’s invasions of Germany and the annexation of Alsace-Lorraine in the 1660s and 1670s. On the Atlantic coast, Swiss troops, whose numbers may have comprised up to two-thirds German recruits, were part of the first French expedition to launch a colony on Isle Sainte-Croix in 1604. Among the first documented natives of Germany were Hans Bernhard from Erfurt (1664), Jean Daigre from Speyer (1668), Hans Daigle from Vienna “in Lower Germany” (1674), Andre Wolf of Danzig (1687), and Joseph Brissac from Breisach (1694). By 1700 New France counted about thirty to forty settlers of German origin, mainly artisans, doctors, seamen, and soldiers.

In their struggle for control of North America, both the British and the French enlisted the services of Germans. Because the decommissioned French troops, including officers and physicians, were encouraged to retire in New France, an estimated two hundred German families had settled along the St Lawrence River by the end of French rule in 1763. Many Germans who would rise to prominence in Lower Canada (Quebec) came with British militias recruited in New England. Among this group were businessmen, doctors, surveyors, engineers, silversmiths, and furriers.

The first documented German in Newfoundland was a Saxon miner and ore expert named Daniel, a member of the expedition in 1583 led by Sir Humphrey Gilbert. Like Daniel, Germans usually arrived in the colony via England and as servants of the British crown. In 1710–11 English merchants engaging in the Newfoundland fisheries offered to employ some five hundred German emigrants waiting in London for passage to the American colonies. German names such as Koch, Mayer, Rhine, Spawn, and Minchinner appear among Newfoundland planters and fishermen from the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries. In the later 1700s Germans were active in St John’s as physicians, commercial agents, and teachers.

Moravians from Germany visited Newfoundland regularly after 1752. They established eight missions to the Inuit in northern Labrador, where for more than a century they constituted the only European settlement. Until 1914 the missionaries serving in these stations


Adjusted or estimated German immigration to Canada to 1950
New France and Nova Scotia to 1776 and Loyalists1 6,000
Hessians22 2,300
Pennsylvania Germans, 1800–353 2,000
From Germany to southwestern Upper Canada, 1820s–60s 4 60,000
From Germany to the Ottawa valley, 1857–915 12,000
Western Canada, 1874–19114 152,000
German and Austrian origin, 1911–146 28,000
German ethnic origin, 1919–354 100,000
German and Austrian origin, 1935–396 2,700
Sudeten refugees, 1939–407 1,000
Jewish refugee internees, 19448 1,000
German-speaking immigrants, 1945–509 21,000
Total, 1650–1950 5 388,000

Sources: 1. Fenske, International Migration; 2. Wilhelmy, Les mercenaires allemands; 3. C. Harry Smith, The Story of the Mennonites; 4. Lehmann, The German Canadian; 5. Hessel, Destination Ottawa Valley; 6. Citizenship and Immigration Canada; 7. Wieden, Sudeten Canadians; 8 Bassler, Sanctuary Denied; 9. Bassler, German Canadian Mosaic

were selected and supervised from Herrnhut in Germany, and German-speaking missionaries and their families continued to serve in the area until the 1950s. In the absence of public services, they acted as educators, employers, traders, judges, doctors, music teachers, and lexicographers of the Inuit language.

The largest German-speaking community in British North America before the American Revolution grew out of some 2,400 individuals who arrived in Nova Scotia in the years 1750–53. The settlement of these so-called Foreign Protestants was part of a scheme to strengthen Britain’s position vis-à-vis the Roman Catholic Acadians. Germans had been readily available as colonists since 1709–10, when 13,000 had fled to London from the war-torn and famine-stricken region of Germany known as the Palatinate. Lumped together under various labels such as Palatines, Dutch, and Swiss, they had proven themselves as pioneers in colonial America by the 1740s.

Obtaining desirable settlers for Nova Scotia seemed simply a matter of deflecting part of the constant stream of Germans bound for the American colonies. The British government commissioned a recruiting agent in Rotterdam, whose subagents in Germany distributed deceptively favourable descriptions of the province together with offers of free passage and land. The result was a family migration composed of 40 percent men, 25 percent women, and the rest children. Half the immigrants were farmers, one-quarter rural tradesmen, and 8 percent soldiers. In Halifax these immigrants were forced to pay off their passage by working on the city’s fortifications until, in 1753, some 1,400 demanded and were given land on a site that the governor named Lunenburg. This settlement was threatened by Britain’s ongoing war with France, attacked by hostile natives, and raided during the American Revolution.

After 1753, except for a few Americans, no more Germans migrated to Nova Scotia, except in the Annapolis valley, where nearly 1,000 individuals from New England and Germany settled in the 1760s. They came in response to land grants offered to prospective settlers by prominent Pennsylvania planters. The German community in Halifax, which had numbered 900 after the departure of the Lunenburg settlers, declined to 264 by 1766, but it expanded to well over 1,000 with the influx of Loyalist refugees and disbanded Hessian soldiers in the 1770s and 1780s in the wake of the American Revolution. Increased cultural activity manifested itself in the publication of British North America’s first German-language paper, the establishment of the first secular association, and the opening of a German school. By the 1830s, however, the German-speaking population of Halifax had been largely assimilated or dispersed, leaving only such names as the Old Dutch Church, Dutch Village Road, Brunswick Street, Bauer Street, and Dresden Row as reminders of a once-significant German presence.

The American Revolution had triggered the migration of new waves of German speakers to the British colonies: Loyalists, the auxiliary troops known as Hessians, Mennonites from Pennsylvania, and other German Americans. In Upper Canada (Ontario), as the territory west of the Ottawa River became known in 1791, they paved the way for a large influx from Germany, first to the area around Berlin (Kitchener) and Waterloo and then in the 1850s and 1860s to the Ottawa valley. The Loyalists represented a broad spectrum of ethnic, religious, and racial groups. The exact proportions are difficult to determine. However, at an estimated 10 to 20 percent of the total influx and as high as 40 percent in Upper Canada, Germans were the most numerous element of non-British descent.

Between 1776 and the mid-1780s the Loyalists employed three routes: across the Niagara River to Fort Niagara; up the Hudson River, across Lake Champlain, and down the Rivière Richelieu to Sorel; and by sea from New York to Halifax. The largest influx came by way of Sorel, where those of British descent were in the minority, while in the Halifax group they were the majority. The first German-American refugees to Quebec were a party of five women and thirty-four children. They had fled in 1776 from New York State to the east bank of the Niagara River, which served as a base for the Loyalist Butler’s Rangers and became the site of the settlement of Queenston. At the time that the regiment was disbanded in 1784, one-quarter of the 620 eligible to receive land had German names. One observer noted that half those who came to the Niagara area spoke High or Low German or Dutch.

At the eastern end of Lake Ontario, in the townships of Ernestown, Fredricksburgh, Adolphustown, and Marysburgh, an even larger number of German Loyalists in 1783 helped to form the first communities of European settlers in the area. These townships had been allotted to the second battalion of Sir John Johnson’s King’s Royal Regiment of New York, which consisted predominantly of German- and Dutch-American volunteers. In the four townships at least half the original settlers were New York Palatines. After the war, more friends and neighbours from New York joined them, so that by 1811 Ernestown was the most populous township in the province.

The majority of Upper Canada’s German Loyalist settlers were called Palatines because they were the descendants of Lutheran and Reformed Church members who had emigrated to New York from the Palatinate and adjoining southwest German regions. The heaviest concentration of German Loyalists was found in the so-called royal townships along the St Lawrence, especially Matilda, Williamsburgh, Osnabruck, and Cornwall. Their founders consisted of troops from the first battalion of John Johnson’s regiment, which was composed almost entirely of Palatine farmers and artisans from small German-speaking communities in the Mohawk and Schoharie valleys. It has been estimated that more than 1,000 German Loyalists moved with their families to what was to become Upper Canada. By giving the territory’s newly organized districts such names such as Nassau, Hesse, Lunenburg, and Mecklenburg, Governor Lord Dorchester intended to honour the British royal family’s German connections and also recognize the large German element among the Loyalists.

They were not the only Germans who arrived in British North America during the American Revolution. Of the 30,000 German troops contracted to serve the British, some 12,000 were stationed in the loyal colonies between 1776 and 1783. These troops faced different challenges from those confronting the Loyalists. Frequently labelled Hessians because the Hessian states had supplied more than half their numbers, they were stigmatized as foreign mercenaries willing to fight for causes that they neither understood nor cared about. In reality, these draftees fought with valour and had a lower rate of desertion than the British and American troops. At a time when the British force of 8,500 was dangerously outnumbered by American rebels, their presence probably saved the loyal colonies for the British Crown.

An estimated 2,400 Hessians stayed in British North America after the war. In Nova Scotia they were treated as Loyalists, while in Quebec they were denied the land grants and supplies of provisions awarded to such immigrants. In Marysburgh, where forty-four Hessians settled with German Loyalists from New York, they suffered nearly unsurmountable difficulties in eking out a living in the wilderness. Generally unsuited and unsuccessful as pioneers, some became servants to German Loyalist farmers or moved to urban areas. In Lower Canada, the post-1791 name for the old province of Quebec, the large number of Hessian males had a significant demographic and cultural impact. Billeted in Montreal, Quebec City, Trois-Rivières, and Chambly, many married local women and reportedly had large families. Since Halifax was a major British military base, some Hessians settled in that city and the surrounding area. They have also been traced in Prince Edward Island.

On the heels of the Loyalists and Hessians, a third group of German speakers started migrating to Upper Canada via Niagara, Detroit, and Dundas. Sometimes referred to as late Loyalists, they were dissenters identified by their pacifist, separatist, and Anabaptist creeds and included Mennonites, Tunkers (a revivalistic group of partly Mennonite origin later known as Brethren in Christ), and Dunkards (German Baptists). These “plain people” hailed primarily from Pennsylvania, where German-speaking refugees from the upper Rhine had found a haven since the seventeenth century.

Pennsylvania’s 110,000 settlers of German origin constituted one-third of the population in 1776 and nearly half the total German population in the American colonies. Among these settlers was the largest cohesive German-speaking community on the continent, whose distinctive dialect and culture are known as Pennsylvania Dutch. The American Revolution was the catalyst but not the sole impetus for their migration. Population pressure, a shortage of good land, and relatively easy access to Upper Canada were also factors. German cultural considerations were also strong. The free land granted to thousands of Germans Loyalists and Hessians who had defended the Crown suggested that their culture could be better maintained in the British colonies than in the post-Revolutionary United States.

Noteworthy, too, was a small group of immigrants from Germany who moved to Upper Canada after the American Revolution because of business failure in the United States. It was led by William Berczy, who was variously an artist, teacher, and land speculator. After being cheated out of his partnership in a huge settlement project in the Genesee valley of New York, he received a grant of 25,900 hectares west of the Grand River, subsequently exchanged for a larger grant in Markham Township north of York (Toronto), for a colonization scheme on a grand scale. In 1794 he brought to Markham a group of 190 settlers, whom he had recruited in Germany for his New York project. These settlers cut a road (Toronto’s Yonge Street) through the virgin forest from Lake Ontario to Lake Simcoe, cleared one-quarter of the land, cultivated fields, erected a church and a school, and built a model settlement whose “German mills” became known throughout the province. But in 1803 the Executive Council of Upper Canada, unwilling to support an alien upstart and distrusting the motives of his “German Company,” declared the land forfeited, and the enterprise had to disband in bankruptcy. A year later the Markham settlement counted 462 Germans among a population of 580. Today Berczy is remembered not only as a leading portrait painter of the time but also as the co-founder of Toronto and the architect of some of its first public buildings, which he designed while appealing the cancellation of his grant.

Another abortive colonization venture involving German-speaking settlers was Lord Selkirk’s Red River colony, intended for displaced and impoverished Scottish tenants in virgin bush at the site of present-day Winnipeg. In 1817 he engaged a hundred German and Swiss-German mercenaries from the disbanded de Meuron and de Watteville regiments, originally enlisted to fight in the War of 1812, to protect the settlers. In order to persuade the soldiers to stay, Selkirk in 1821 recruited 180 German-speaking settlers, including brides for the soldiers, from Switzerland, southwest Germany, and Alsace. They reached the colony by way of Hudson Bay only to realize they had been deceived. Instead of the conditions for successful farming that they had been promised, they found themselves without adequate supplies, roads, markets, or protection from floods, grasshoppers, and the severe climate. The first of these colonists left the following year, and the remaining German-speaking families and soldiers followed by 1826.

In the half century before Confederation, some 50,000 to 60,000 newcomers from Germany settled in southern and western Upper Canada and, after 1857, the Ottawa valley. The migration began in the 1820s with Amish from Bavaria and reached tidal proportions in the 1830s just as the influx of German Americans petered out. This mass migration was in reality an offshoot of the great English-German-Scandinavian trek to the American frontier. Most of the Germans who settled in the province between the 1820s and 1870s had intended to homestead in the United States. The two main overland routes to the American midwest – from Quebec City along the St Lawrence River and from New York to Detroit by way of the Hudson River and Lake Ontario – intersected in Upper Canada. They were equally long and difficult for immigrants but differed significantly in terms of the ocean passage leading to them.

The Quebec route was patronized largely by impoverished emigrants because the small ships sailing to that port could offer lower rates by avoiding New York regulations on overcrowding. Of the more than 40,000 Germans who landed at Quebec from Hamburg and Bremen in the years 1850–57, three-quarters continued on to the American west. Those 10,000 to 12,000 who remained in the British colonies did so partly because they lacked the financial resources to complete the journey and partly because the province of Canada had appointed a German-speaking agent in Quebec to guide the newcomers to Canadian destinations. The majority of German emigrants bound for the United States preferred the more frequent, faster, and more comfortable passage to an American seaport, especially New York.

Germans travelling through Upper Canada to Detroit found many reasons and opportunities for staying. Some were surprised to meet Mennonite farmers speaking their own German dialect and offering work to non-Mennonite Germans. The farmers found a place for them in their waggons and took them across the river and as far into Upper Canada as they cared to go. From these farmers the Germans learned the rudiments of New World agriculture. As one settler in Waterloo wrote in 1831, they discovered that they could “make money easily, as you can make hay, if only you want to work for it.”

Most of the newcomers came from southwestern Germany. There, where small-scale agriculture and wine growing provided the economic mainstay, the division of inheritances had led to poverty, and mass-produced English goods had ruined traditional industries, crafts, and trades, thus hastening economic and social changes that made North America attractive. Characterized by families headed by small, independent farmers and craftsmen, the mass exodus assumed epidemic-like proportions by 1851 and totalled 1.7 million individuals between 1820 and 1869.

Because of the disastrous effects of pauperization, governments in Germany began subsidizing the emigration of needy and socially undesirable individuals. Between 1847 and 1855, Baden, Hesse, and Württemberg dissolved entire communities and shipped their inhabitants at state expense to Quebec and Saint John, causing the British government to protest this dumping of the “refuse of foreign pauperism.” In Saint John these immigrants became public charges, but in Quebec, according to the German-speaking agent stationed there, they found work with farmers and on construction projects or were sent to Waterloo County in Upper Canada.

By 1853 German-speaking settlers predominated in four of five townships in the county. Such places as Berlin, Strasburg, Freiburg, Heidelberg, Baden, Mannheim, and Bamberg in present-day Ontario point to the German origin of these newcomers. The neighbouring Niagara District also attracted a sizable number of settlers from Germany; an estimated 2,500 arrived between 1830 and 1860. Their centres included Rainham, Stonybridge, New Germany (Black Creek), and Jordan, while Clinton, Louth, St Catharines, and Niagara (Niagara-on-the-Lake) had large German populations. Until the 1860s, successive groups of immigrants from Germany continued to move into townships with large German communities. The 1871 census shows that one-quarter of the Niagara peninsula’s population of 80,000 were of German origin.

Immigrants from Germany also played a prominent part in the opening of the Huron Tract, a huge unsettled area north and west of Waterloo County. On the road cut by the Canada Company through the forest to Lake Huron in 1828, Swiss German Sebastian Freyvogel erected an inn that became the nucleus of the German settlement of Sebastopol. In the 1830s and 1840s virtually all of South Easthope Township was developed by Germans, who organized the first school in the area in 1824. In Ellice Township, Bavarian Andreas Seebach was the first settler. Not far from his homestead near Sebringville, pioneers from Germany settled in places that they named Rostock, Wartburg, Kuhryville, and Brunner. The southern townships of Bruce and Grey counties, too, were colonized predominantly by Germans.

Settlement in the Ottawa valley resulted from the first systematic attempt by a Canadian government to recruit immigrants in Germany. As many as six agents worked in the German states between 1857 and 1866, three in Prussia alone. To attract a permanent population for the strategic area between the Ottawa River and Georgian Bay, the government offered free land grants along three roads built between 1851 and 1856 through the wilderness. The American Civil War helped to achieve this objective by diverting United States–bound immigrants to Quebec and Ottawa. German-speaking agents in those cities directed them to the isolated and agriculturally marginal lands of the upper Ottawa valley. These pioneers initiated a chain migration that by 1891 had brought some 12,000 permanent German settlers to the area. Prussia now became the source area for emigrants from Germany; the newcomers were mostly working-class and agricultural labourers of German, Polish, and Wendish origin. From the 1850s, agents also directed land-hungry German settlers from Waterloo County, where cheap land had become scarce, to the Ottawa district.

Apart from the influx to the Ottawa area, Canada was unaffected by an exodus from Germany of 1.8 million individuals in the years 1880–92. Manitoba in 1872 had set aside a block of one and a half townships exclusively for German immigrants. They were to be recruited with the help of the German Society of Montreal. However, virtually the entire migration from Germany proper went to the United States. Of western Canada’s 152,000 German settlers between 1874 and 1911, a mere 12 percent originated in Germany, despite the extensive network of Canadian agents there and their promotional efforts under such slogans as “Canada, the new America.” Instead, more than 50 percent came from ethnic German enclaves in the Russian Empire, espe-


Canadians reporting German ethnic origin, German as their mother tongue, and birthplace in Germany in censuses, 1871–1991
Ethnic origin Mother tongue Birthplace
Census year German German Germany
1871 202,991 - 24,162
1881 254,319 - 25,328
1891 - - 27,752
1901 310,501 - 27,300
1911 403,417 - 39,577
1921 294,635 - 25,266
1931 473,544 362,011 39,163
1941 464,682 322,228 28,479
1951 619,995 329,302 43,693
1961 1,049,599 563,713 189,131
1971 1,317,200 561,085 211,060
1981 1,142,365 (s) 522,860 198,215
577,895 (m)
1991 911,560 (s) 424,645 (s) 180,525
1,882,220 (m) 51,065 (m)

Note: The letters (s) and (m) refer to single and multiple responses in the 1981 and 1991 censuses.

cially the Black Sea coast, the Volga, and Volhynia; 18 percent from the Habsburg Empire; 6 percent from the Romanian Dobruja; 18 percent from the United States; and 2 percent from Ontario, Switzerland, Chile, Brazil, and other places.

The migration of these Germans to western Canada was triggered, generally speaking, by a coincidence of east European push and Canadian pull factors. This country offered attractive inducements for resettlement at the very moment when reforms in Russia ended such privileges as exemption from taxation and military service for the Mennonites and others. Eastern Europe’s German colonies were also experiencing an explosion in population, shortage of land, and restrictions on acquiring land. Canada, on the other hand, not only provided abundant free or cheap land, but as Frank Oliver, editor of the Edmonton Bulletin and soon to be minister of the interior, expressed it in 1901, it also valued any German as “a man of dominant race, of untiring energy, of great foresight ... of sterling honesty and reliability, whether he comes from Germany, from Galicia, or anywhere else.”

The Mennonites who had settled in Manitoba in the 1870s had demonstrated that farmers from the eastern European steppes were particularly suited to prairie farming and that ethnically and denominationally homogeneous block settlements were a viable strategy for colonizing the west. By employing German Protestant and Catholic immigrants from Russia as farmhands, they encouraged more Germans to move westward or settle nearby. The Canadian government in its immigration literature pointed to these settlements as models for potential newcomers. German Lutheran colonies developed east of Winnipeg, west of Lake Manitoba, and along what is now the Manitoba-Saskatchewan border near Langenburg. A typical settlement developed in 1896 near Beauséjour, Brokenhead, and Whitemouth when immigrants from Volhynia were joined by coreligionists from Galicia, Russia, and eastern Germany. The same year Waldersee, founded in 1891 by Germans from Galicia, received a large influx of Lutheran Germans from East Prussia, Posen, Volhynia, and Crimea. In 1900 Germans from Minnesota, southern Russia, Volhynia, Germany, and Romania settled near Inglis and Grandview.

Since the 1880s, the modern-day province of Saskatchewan has had the highest proportion of residents of German origin of any part of Canada; the ratio reached 15 percent by 1911. Among its first European immigrants were natives of Germany who in 1884 and 1885 took up homesteads around places that they named Neu Elsass (Strasbourg) and Hohenlohe (Langenburg). Edenwold, the second oldest German settlement in Saskatchewan, was started by immigrants from Bukovina. Between 1889 and 1904 the area northeast of Regina and around Melville attracted Germans of the Lutheran and Reformed faiths from such different parts of eastern Europe as Ukraine, the Volga region, Poland, Galicia, Volhynia, Kurland (now in Latvia), and Bessarabia. Josephstal, founded near Balgonie in 1886 by Germans from Odessa, is the oldest German Catholic colony. A continuing influx from southern Russia (Ukraine) made Balgonie known in the 1890s as the centre of German colonization in the northwest, Germans from Romania, Hungary, Germany, Ontario, and North Dakota founded Catholic colonies in the 1890s and early 1900s near Langenburg, Grayson, Steelman, Estevan, Claybank, Allan, Quinton, and Raymore.

Once the pioneers had successfully established themselves, settlement continued in family units. Edenwold, Langenburg, Lemberg, and Neudorf became way stations for chain migrations from various regions of eastern Europe and occasionally also from Germany. Typically, the newcomers worked for a while on farms in the well-established German colonies until they acquired the means to start their own. Thus scattered colonies of German Protestants appeared after 1900 in central, northern, and southwestern Saskatchewan, often next to German Mennonite and Catholic block settlements.

Near Rosthern and Swift Current in Saskatchewan, the Canadian government had reserved two areas for Mennonite block settlement. By 1911 the community around Rosthern had expanded to forty-two adjoining townships. Of its 8,000 German-speaking inhabitants, 800 were German Lutherans from Russia. The largest German block settlements, the Catholic colonies of St Peter’s and St Joseph’s in Saskatchewan, were the last to be started. St Peter’s covered an area of fifty townships around Humboldt and Munster and was founded in 1902 with the assistance of Benedictine monks from Minnesota and Illinois. The aim was to funnel the growing stream of Catholic German Americans heading for the Canadian prairies into a closed community where their faith would be preserved despite the Protestant environment around them. By 1911 the colony had 6,000 German settlers, most of them first- or second-generation immigrants from Germany and Russia to Minnesota, the Dakotas, Wisconsin, and Kansas. About 10 percent had come directly from Germany and a few from southern Russia and the Banat.

The spectacular success of St Peter’s encouraged its founders to organize St Joseph’s, a block of seventy-seven townships under the spiritual care of the Oblate order in Germany. Located on the treeless prairie in order to achieve maximum wheat production, it was advertised among Germans in Russia and the United States who were accustomed to farming on similar terrain. Most of its settlers were from southern Russia (Ukraine) and the Volga, with a large minority from Germany and Austria-Hungary. Leipzig, the oldest district in the colony, was settled by equal numbers of German Catholics from Germany, Russia, and Hungary. Between 1911 and 1931 the population of St Peter’s grew from 6,000 to 9,000 and that of St Joseph’s from 5,300 to 10,000.

In present-day Alberta, as in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, German-speaking settlers were among the earliest farmers. In 1882 two immigrants from Germany had settled in Pincher Creek, where they were soon joined by more German Lutherans. Seven years later a party of 630 immigrants from Galicia started a string of colonies south of Medicine Hat, laying the foundation for a large settlement of Germans. Forced to relocate near Edmonton in 1891 because of drought conditions, German Lutherans from Galicia founded Hoffnungsau and Rosenthal near Stony Plain, members of the Reformed faith from the same region started Josephsberg near Fort Saskatchewan, and German Lutherans from Russia established Heimthal and Lutherort (Ellerslie) in Rabbit Hills.

Beginning in 1893 German Americans settling in Red Deer, Wetaskiwin, and Leduc initiated large-scale American migrations to western Canada. Baptists from Volhynia established themselves in the Leduc district that year, and in 1894 Moravians from Volhynia started Bruderheim and Bruderfeld near Edmonton. As a result of migrations prior to 1896, the Edmonton-Wetaskiwin-Camrose triangle was first settled by German-speaking people. Continued German movement into the area along the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) line between Wetaskiwin and Edmonton gave Germans the predominance in eleven adjoining townships around Leduc by 1911, despite a heavy Scandinavian, British, and Ukrainian influx. It thus became the largest area of German settlement in Alberta.

In British Columbia the German presence had begun much earlier than in the rest of western Canada. It dated from 1850, when the Hudson’s Bay Company physician John Sebastian Helmcken arrived with a group of colonists. Born in London of German parents and fluent in English and German, he was appointed magistrate of Fort Rupert, elected to the first colonial legislature, and led the delegation that negotiated confederation with Canada in 1870. Large numbers of Germans were among the prospectors who arrived from California in the wake of the Cariboo gold strike of 1858 and in subsequent waves of miners to the Fraser River valley. The 1881 census records 585 settlers of German origin in British Columbia in a non-native population of 24,000, making them the fourth-largest ethnic group. Consisting predominantly of immigrants from Germany and their descendants, the province’s pre–World War I population was concentrated in the cities of Victoria and Vancouver. After the war, Russländer (Russian) Mennonite and Sudeten German refugees, as well as other east European Germans fleeing the drought and depression in Alberta and Saskatchewan, found a haven in the Fraser valley and in the north of the province.

World War I disrupted the flow of German-speaking immigrants from Europe. In 1919 Canada shut its doors to all nationals of former enemy countries, an order that held until April 1923. Arrivals from post-war Germany were, like east Europeans, subsequently classed in the “non-preferred” category, from which only agricultural and domestic workers were admitted. But in January 1927 German nationals were promoted to the preferred class. The Canadian government organized the immigration and settlement of agriculturalists through the railways, which were eager to settle their landholdings. It established the Canada Colonization Association, which eventually became a CPR subsidiary, with German American T.O.F. Herzer as manager. In cooperation with Mennonite, Baptist, Lutheran, and Catholic immigration groups, the association coordinated the recruitment of settlers, assigned them a district, and found them employment. Through steamship agencies commissioned by the railways, church organizations in the emigrants’ home parishes arranged for passage, housing, and jobs at their destinations.

The significance of this service by the Canadian railways and the churches is reflected in the occupational and demographic structure of the migration. Between 1927 and 1930, 65 percent of the 20,000 immigrants from Germany were farm labourers, mostly from the agrarian regions of the northeast, 10 percent domestic servants, and only 3.4 percent skilled workers. The proportion of German farm labourers emigrating to Canada was three times higher than in the total emigration to all countries during that period, while among skilled workers the percentage was ten times lower. Half the German immigrants to Canada in 1922–31 were men, and women and children constituted a quarter each. Nearly three-quarters of Germans migrating to Canada in these years were between twenty and forty years of age.

For ethnic Germans, the support network that facilitated their immigration to Canada was provided by friends and relatives who had arrived before the war, as well as by churches and relief organizations. Many from eastern Europe had come to this country by way of and with the help of Germany, including 20,000 Russländer Mennonites from the Soviet Union. American quotas, introduced in 1921, redirected to Canada a continuation of the pre–World War I labour migration of Danube Swabians and Transylvanian Saxons. Many entered this country in the 1920s in the hope of gaining access to the United States. They settled in southern Ontario cities with employment opportunities, such as Windsor, Kitchener, and Hamilton, and are scattered through the immigration statistics under such diverse origins as German, Austrian, Hungarian, or Romanian. The adjusted figures for German immigration from eastern European countries are 30,000 from the Soviet Union, 14,000 from Romania and Yugoslavia, 8,000 from Poland, 3,000 from Czechoslovakia, and 2,000 from Hungary.

Between 1923 and 1930 some 100,000 Germans are estimated to have entered Canada, one-quarter from Germany, almost half from eastern Europe, 18 percent from the United States, 6.2 percent from Austria, 1 percent from Switzerland, and 2.4 percent from Latin America and other origins. However, more than one-third of the immigrants from Germany and an unknown proportion of the ethnic Germans continued on to the United States, which reduced Germany’s annual quota from 51,000 in 1924 to 26,000 five years later and granted only a minimal quota to eastern Europeans. Until the onset of the Depression, Canada thus functioned as both the gateway to and a substitute for its southern neighbour.

Although Canada opposed the admission of most refugees fleeing persecution in Europe under the Third Reich, a small group of Sudeten Germans rescued by the British government were allowed in. As a party to the Munich Agreement of 1938, Britain arranged a £10 million loan for the resettlement of 20,000 Czech and 10,000 Sudeten German refugees from temporary camps near Prague. In response to British pressure and the offer of a $1,500 grant per family, Canada agreed to place up to 1,200 healthy German-speaking families from this group on railway-owned land. Opposition from all four western premiers prevented the evacuation of most of the designated families until the Germans occupied Prague in March 1939. Of the 1,043 Sudeten Germans who did manage to reach the safety of Britain, 525 individuals (constituting 148 families) were sent to abandoned farms on Canadian National Railways lands near St Walburg in northeastern Saskatchewan, and 518 (152 families) were settled in the wilderness of Tupper Creek (Tomslake) in northeastern British Columbia.

The only other group of German-speaking refugees from the Third Reich to reach Canada were the so-called accidental immigrants deported to this country in 1940. They consisted of 2,300 males from among the 65,000 mostly Jewish refugees from Germany and Austria residing in Britain. They had been interned in that country during a scare about supposed fifth columnists following the German occupation of France, Belgium, and the Netherlands that year. A German invasion of the British Isles appeared imminent, and Britain decided to ship the internees to the dominions. Canada agreed to a temporary transfer of 4,000 enemy aliens and 3,000 prisoners of war, but had not expected refugees. The British, however, held only 4,500 men in the agreed categories and made up the difference with refugees. As a result, males in all three categories were sent to Canada in three prison ships. A German submarine sunk one of them, resulting in heavy loss of life.

The refugees were at first received as dangerous enemy aliens and detained in internment camps together with pro-Nazi prisoners and internees. Months elapsed before the authorities transferred them to special camps in Quebec and New Brunswick. The first ones were released in February 1941, but some inexplicably continued to be interned until August 1943. Of these refugees, 972 stayed in Canada. Predominantly composed of German-Jewish teenagers and young men from all strata of society, the group included businessmen, academics, artists, musicians, scientists, and writers. The potential of intellectual and creative energy that this group represented was in inverse proportion to its numbers.

When Canada reopened its gates to German immigrants in 1947, only those classified as volksdeutsch were admitted. German nationals remained “prohibited enemy aliens” until September 1950. The government reacted in part to pressure from citizens of German ethnic origin when in 1947 it allowed the Canadian Lutheran, Catholic, Mennonite, and Baptist churches and a representative of the Sudeten community to create the Canadian Christian Council for the Resettlement of Refugees (CCCRR), an official agency for the selection and settlement of refugees. Operating in both Canada and Germany, the CCCRR concentrated on the large class of refugees of German ethnic origin whom the United Nations had excluded from the mandate of the International Refugee Organization. The CCCRR processed healthy, employable ethnic Germans who had not assumed German citizenship voluntarily, German war brides of Canadian servicemen, and a clearly defined class of close relatives of Canadians. By late 1950 it had arranged the immigration of 15,000 German-speaking individuals.

Removal of the prohibition against German nationals, except for Nazi war criminals and those identified as Communists, in September 1950 opened the floodgates to more than a quarter of a million German-speaking newcomers in the following decade. This wave represented 18 percent of Canada’s total immigration during those years and a greater German influx than the country had ever received over such a period. The number of German immigrants jumped from 5,800 in 1950 to 32,400 a year later, when they constituted the largest ethnic category, exceeding those of British origin. The influx peaked at 39,000 in 1953 and had dropped to 12,000 by 1960. Through the next decade the annual figure for immigrants of German ethnic origin fluctuated between 4,400 and 8,200, and in the 1970s and 1980s it averaged between 1,500 and 3,400. Canadian immigration statistics counted well over half a million German-speaking arrivals between 1945 and 1994, about 5 percent of whom declared Austrian and 5 percent Swiss origin.

Mass German migration to Canada in the 1950s resulted from a combination of powerful push and pull factors. Pressure to emigrate came from the unsettled economic, social, and political conditions in central Europe in the early years of the decade and from despair about their future on the part of millions uprooted by the war. Also, a growing number of Germans, who had been deprived of the opportunity to travel for more than a decade, wanted to see the world, work abroad for a while, learn English, and decide later whether they would stay or return home. Canada appeared a prosperous, safe, neutral country, untouched by war and assured of a great future. Opportunities awaited almost every German skill in the expanding Canadian economy. German Canadians were willing to sponsor relatives from Europe, and from 1950 on, the country’s assisted-passage scheme offered interest-free loans for immigrants whose skills were needed. In 1955 their families also became eligible for loans repayable within twenty-five months after arrival. Then the picture changed; increasing unemployment in Canada beginning in the late 1950s coincided with a new shortage of workers in Germany. This development translated into a drop in immigration to 5,000 in 1962 (from 11,000 two years earlier) and a return migration of 3,300.

Almost 60 percent of German-speaking migrants in the 1950s, the highest of any nationality, considered their movement to Canada to be conditional. Only one-third intended to remain permanently, and more than 20 percent gave adventure as their reason for coming to this country. During the 1950s and 1960s, according to German statistics, one-third to one-half of German newcomers returned to the homeland, while others moved on to the United States. Since the 1960s, apart from scattered ethnic German arrivals from Russia and Romania, the typical immigrants have been highly trained specialists in secure positions and the nouveaux riches of Europe’s affluent society. Decisive for their emigration were less the actual socio-economic conditions at home and in Canada than a belief in the potential for liberty, opportunity, and wealth in the blessed land of the future.

Canadian immigration statistics do not differentiate between displaced ethnic Germans, natives of Germany expelled from its former territory east of the Oder-Neisse line, and refugees from the former German Democratic Republic. Estimates of the numbers of displaced ethnic Germans range from 61,000 to 88,000, or 24 to 37 percent of total German arrivals between 1951 and 1960. The calculations depend on whether immigration data in the 1951 and 1961 censuses by German ethnic origin and birthplace in Germany or by mother tongue and birthplace serve as the basis. Attempts to obtain more exact figures are problematic.

Some ex-refugees entered as natives and citizens of Germany, while an unknown number declared their origins as Dutch, Czechoslovak, Hungarian, Romanian, or Yugoslavian. In the late 1940s German-speaking Mennonite refugees from Russia are known to have been labelled as of Dutch origin, Sudeten Germans as Czechoslovaks, and Baltic Germans as Latvians or Estonians; other ethnic Germans used passports from their native country to enter as non-Germans. As displaced persons, German Mennonites from Russia had entered Canada as early as 1947, and Baltic and Sudeten Germans and Danube Swabians in 1948, but Transylvanian Germans did not arrive until 1955.

Arrivals from Russia, an amalgam of regional, denominational, and linguistic groups, constitute the largest category of post–World War II ethnic German refugees. According to one estimate, Canada had received 25,000 by the mid-1950s. Sponsored by North American networks of co-religionists, compatriots, or relatives, some settled in eastern Canada, but most went to the west. Today the German community from the former Russian Empire living in North America numbers about one million, one-third of whom are in Canada. Similarly, Volhynian Germans in Canada and their churches sponsored refugees from the camps in Germany, Austria, and Poland as early as 1947. The newcomers, however, did not settle on the land but moved to the major cities of western Canada.

The Baltic-German group had few precursors in Canada. But in Graf Robert Wendelin Keyserlingk, who had arrived in 1925 and organized a Baltic Relief Society in Montreal in 1945 with the help of prominent Canadians, and Baron Cecil Hahn, it had two representatives able to influence government policy through personal connections with the governor general, Lord Alexander. He had been the Allied commander of the Baltic-German regiment, Baltische Landeswehr, which in 1920 had helped to expel the Bolsheviks from Latvia and Estonia. Relatives of Hahn and Keyserlingk had served as officers under Alexander. As Lutherans, Baltic Germans also availed themselves of the assistance of Canadian Lutheran World Relief, which was directed by T.O.F. Herzer. Through his efforts, ten so-called Musterknaben (model boys) were admitted in 1948. They were to sponsor their families, who in turn would back others. By 1952, 800 Baltic Germans had arrived in Canada. The total post-war immigration is estimated at 2,000.


Distribution by provinces, according to the 1991 census (combined single and multiple responses)
Province or Ethnic origin Mother tongue Birthplace
territory German German Germany
Newfoundland 7,225 415 315
Prince Edward Island 5,890 215 165
Nova Scotia 109,015 2,395 1,740
New Brunswick 31,620 1,485 1,440
Quebec 92,615 20,845 12,705
Ontario 1,287,195 165,535 89,040
Manitoba 205,595 69,740 8,130
Saskatchewan 297,195 43,145 3,700
Alberta 544,065 81,270 22,825
British Columbia 493,865 89,795 39,885
Yukon Territory 4,655 530 375
Northwest Territories 4,255 360 200

Danube Swabian refugees settled in a broad corridor from Windsor to Montreal. They joined friends and relatives who had migrated before World War II. Their historian, Frank Schmidt, counted 65,000 (including prewar immigrants) by the end of the 1950s. Among Transylvanian Saxons, too, the arrivals between 1928 and 1930 served as links and sponsors for post-war migrants. Although in their homelands they had experienced Nazi rule, enforced collaboration, and deportation to the Soviet Union, only a small number fled to the West at the end of the war. Official emigration from Romania was not permitted until 1955. Within two years an estimated 5,000 had come to Canada.

In the case of the Sudeten Germans, members of the CCCRR who had arrived as refugees before the war helped to prepare the ground in Canada for an influx between 1947 and 1965 of several thousand of the three million ethnic German residents of Czechoslovakia expelled by the government in 1945–46. The pre-war Sudeten German refugees, however, strove to maintain their own identity vis-à-vis the expellees, who had tolerated or collaborated with the Nazi regime.