Danes in Canada trace their origins to the nation-state of Denmark, a constitutional monarchy in north-central Europe. Denmark is a peninsula surrounded by four water bodies, the North Sea to the west, the Kattegat to the northwest, the Skagerak to the northeast, and the Baltic Sea to the east. It has a common border with Germany to the south. Denmark’s total area, exclusive of the Faroe Islands and Greenland, which are self-governing communities under the jurisdiction of the Danish Crown, is approximately 43,000 square kilometres. Denmark’s population is slightly over five million. Danish, the country’s official language, is a Germanic language that is mutually intelligible to educated speakers of Norwegian and Swedish.
Denmark came into being during the Viking Period (c. 800–1050). By the eleventh century the Danish king Canute the Great had ruled for a number of years over an empire encompassing most of the lands around the North Sea and including Norway and parts of England and Sweden. During the late fourteenth and fifteenth centuries Denmark became the dominant power in the Kalmar Union to which all the Scandinavian kingdoms belonged. Christianized in the late tenth century, Denmark was Roman Catholic until the reign of Christian III (1534–59), who converted the country to Lutheranism. (Lutheranism has remained the state church to this day.) It was also in the sixteenth century that Sweden exited the Kalmar Union, leaving Norway, Iceland, and the Faroe Islands under the Danish Crown. Denmark continued to occupy a position of political supremacy in Scandinavia until suffering a series of disastrous defeats during the Thirty Years’ War (1618– 48), shortly after which it lost territories in the east, which now comprise part of Sweden. Later wars during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries further weakened the country politically and economically. Denmark’s alliance with France during the Napoleonic Wars (1799–1815), which resulted in total defeat and the loss of Norway, marked an especially low point in Danish history.
The nineteenth century witnessed important political and economic changes. Denmark’s political system, which had been characterized since 1665 by absolutism, was altered in 1848 with the introduction of a two-chamber parliament (Rigsdag) chosen by the more wealthy strata of society. The economy, which initially stagnated in the wake of the Napoleonic Wars, began to turn around after 1830. The economic upswing was enhanced by a series of reforms during the 1850s that reduced the amount of tax-exempt property owned by large landowners and abolished labour dues owed to landlords by small-scale farmers. Trade was also made freer with the end of monopolies by towns and guilds and the development of the telegraph and railways. Following its loss in a war with Prussia, Denmark was obliged in 1864 to give up its southern provinces of Schleswig (Danish: Slesvig) and Holstein. In part to make up for its territorial losses to Prussia, the Danish government initiated, during the last decades of the nineteenth century, the reclamation of vast areas of wasteland in western Jutland where it settled the rural poor. At the same time, a greater emphasis was put on dairy farming and cattle breeding, and voluntary farmer cooperatives were encouraged. The country also witnessed the growth of industry, which attracted people from rural areas to settle in towns and cities. This in turn prompted the rise of socialism and a trade union movement and the beginnings of the modern welfare state.
Although Denmark remained neutral during World War I, it did suffer economically during the final months of the conflict and the first post-war years. A new constitution, which came into force in 1918, guaranteed universal suffrage. After a 1920 plebiscite, the northern part of Schleswig was returned to Denmark, at which time the country’s boundaries became fixed where they are situated today. The inter-war years saw the further implementation of social legislation and the development of the welfare state, but the 1930s and the onset of the Great Depression marked a slowdown in its progress as well as hard times.
Denmark hoped to remain neutral during World War II, but on 9 April 1940 it was occupied by the forces of Nazi Germany. At first the parliamentary government was allowed to function without much interference, but as time went on Nazi influence increased. This culminated in the summer of 1943, when the Germans took complete control of the government, partially in retaliation for many acts of sabotage committed by the Danish resistance movement. The country was liberated from Nazi rule when the German army surrendered in May 1945. The immediate post-war years were again marked by an economic recession, but by the 1950s the economy had improved and the state’s welfare programs were increased in scope. In 1953 the country adopted a new constitution which provided for a unicameral legislature (Folketing) chosen by universal suffrage. Denmark also began to draw closer to other European countries, joining the North American Treaty Organization in 1949 and the European Community in 1973.
Modern Danish immigration to Canada occurred in three phases – 1860–1914, 1919–30, and 1945–70s. However, the first Dane known to have set foot in what is now Canada was the explorer Jens Munk, sent in 1619 by King Christian IV to find the Northwest Passage to the Far East. Munk scouted Hudson Strait and Hudson Bay but was forced to winter near the mouth of the Churchill River, where sixty-two of his crew died. The next summer Munk and two other survivors sailed back to Scandinavia.
During the nineteenth century Denmark’s population grew rapidly, as did much of Europe’s, spurred by improvements in medical care and declining infant mortality. The rural economy was unable to sustain this growth, and many people migrated into the cities or left the country. Germany’s takeover of Schlewig-Holstein in 1864 led many among Nord Slesvig’s predominantly Danish-speaking population to leave for Denmark or to go abroad. Advertising by steamship lines and later by railways also influenced decisions to emigrate.
Though some people emigrated from Denmark in the 1840s, a substantial exodus began only in the late 1860s. A number went to South America, Australia, and New Zealand, but the vast majority travelled to the United States, where Danish immigration peaked in 1882. At this time there were probably very few Danes in Canada.
While people emigrated from virtually all areas of Denmark up to 1914, the largest numbers originated from the southeastern islands of Bornholm, Falster, Langeland, and Lolland and from the regions of Himmerland and Vendsyssel in the northern part of the Jylland (Jutland) peninsula, and the fewest from central Jutland and northern Sjælland. Emigration from cities was considerable, exceeding that from the countryside between 1900 and 1914. More men emigrated than women or families; there were many farmers, most of them landless, and journeymen, tradesmen, domestics, and industrial and white-collar workers.
As suitable homestead land became scarce in the United States, many people who had acquired poor land looked to other places, including Canada. The Dominion Lands Act of 1872 opened up lands for homesteading, and completion of the transcontinental railway in 1885 brought an influx of people into the west. Railways, particularly the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR), owned much of the land, especially on the prairies, and encouraged immigration – as did a rise in the price of wheat. However, it was not until after 1900 that a substantial northward exodus of Danes began from the United States. These immigrants are usually listed as Americans and so are difficult to quantify; as well, some people coming from Denmark stayed in Canada only a short time before moving south.
After World War I economic depression in Denmark forced many people to leave, primarily again for the United States, until it restricted immigration in the early 1920s. Some circles in Canada thought large numbers of easily assimilable immigrants desirable, particularly from English-speaking countries and northern Europe. The dominion government and the railways encouraged this trend; railways and other businesses would profit from increased grain and passenger transport, and farmers would more readily find harvest workers. Most of the immigrants were farmers or would-be farmers, and they came from almost every area of Denmark. Many were bachelors or married men who would later send for their families.
Denmark established the Oplysningsbureauet for Erhvervene (Information Bureau for the Trades) to provide information about countries of special interest to emigrants. The CPR set up an office in Copenhagen headed by M.B. Sorensen of its Department of Colonization and Development, and this office produced advertisements picturing prosperous Canadian farms.
At the invitation of Ottawa and the CPR, the Danish government sent a delegation headed by the editor Christian Reventlow and the agricultural expert Marius Gormsen to Canada for two months in 1923. Its report stressed hard work and the selection of areas with mixed farming, ideally in southern Ontario or Alberta; settlement in colonies would be likely to antagonize the rest of the population and retard assimilation, it concluded.
In 1925 the writer and “immigration expert” Olaf Linck spent six months journeying from coast to coast. In Kanada det store Fremtidsland (Canada the Great Land of the Future, 1926) he advised prospective émigrés to choose location and occupation carefully and work hard; he concluded that emigration decreased competition at home, and he recommended choosing Canada.
The editor of the Hjørring newspaper Vendsyssel Tidende, C. Mikkelsen, visited Canada and published Canada som Fremtidsland (Canada as Land of the Future, 1927), a very favourable report. He thought that immigrants should be young, healthy, and willing to work; further, their homeland was overpopulated.
Aksel Sandemose’s 1927 trip to Canada was, like Mikkelsen’s, financed by the CPR; he visited Danish settlements in the west and Danes in Winnipeg and Calgary. In a series of articles appearing in Danish newspapers and journals, he concluded that romanticism too strongly influenced people’s decision to settle there, that immigration literature was misleading, and that life on the prairies would be hardest on married women, who would be very lonely and have difficulty learning English because of their isolation. Those who did go should stay first in a Danish prairie colony, he advised, to make adjustment easier. Sandemose later wrote three novels about western Canada, discussed below.
Between 1919 and 1931, 18,645 Danes immigrated to Canada – including nearly 4,000 in 1927–28. Following the stock market crash in 1929 immigration fell sharply, and by the summer of 1930 Canada was effectively closed to new arrivals. Quite a few Danes who had arrived in the 1920s returned home in the 1930s.
The years following World War II were hard in Denmark, devastated by German occupation, and many Danes emigrated – for better conditions, in search of adventure, or to avoid high taxes. They came from various regions and from cities. There were many blue-collar workers, in particular craftsmen, and a few farmers. Apprenticeship in Denmark, which involved four years of education and training, was highly regarded in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, which lacked such skills. Canada was encouraging immigration again, and it attracted single people and married couples, some with children. Since 1945 approximately 42,000 Danes have arrived in Canada, including at least 7,700 in 1957.
The 1991 census lists 40,640 people with single-response and 94,880 with multiple-response Danish background, for a total of 135,520. Of these, 21,555 immigrated from Denmark, 22,560 claim Danish as one of their mother tongues, and almost 2,400 use Danish at home. British Columbia had 39,975 Danes (both single and multiple response); Alberta, 38,320; and Ontario, 32,365.
In 1872 the year the Canadian Parliament passed the Dominion Lands Act, New Brunswick’s Free Grants Act guaranteed all immigrants over the age of eighteen one hundred acres of free land, provided that they clear a certain portion and live there for three years. Both the province and the railways wanted European settlers, particularly farmers, to populate inland areas and make the province self-sufficient in food. To attract immigrants the surveyor general, Benjamin R. Stevenson, prepared A New Brunswick Pamphlet on Immigration, which was translated into Scandinavian and other languages, and distributed by steamship lines. Stevenson parcelled out lots in the heavily forested area east of the Salmon River in Victoria County for a Danish settlement, and Captain S.S. Heller gathered about thirty Danes, who in June 1872 arrived at the junction of the Salmon and the St John. A specially built Emigrant House housed them while they got established in New Denmark – the earliest permanent Scandinavian settlement in Canada.
In the early twentieth century Danes from the United States founded four colonies in the western Canadian prairies. In 1903 some members of the United Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church (UDELC) congregation in Omaha, Nebraska, primarily craftsmen and workers who had immigrated from Denmark during the 1890s, settled near Innisfail, in the future province of Alberta, at the recommendation of a CPR agent. Despite an earlier reconnaissance trip, they found the land almost impossible to farm. Arrivals after 1910 possessed farming experience, and by the mid-1920s there were about forty families living in the Dickson area and about seven in nearby Kevisville.
In 1908 Jens Rasmussen from Iowa went to Dickson to look at land; the following year a CPR agent recommended to him land about twenty-four kilometres north of Gleichen, east of Calgary, and the railway agreed to set aside 6,800 hectares if enough Danes purchased there by the end of the summer. Settlement began in 1910, and by the mid-1920s there were about one thousand Danes living in the Standard area.
In 1917 the Dansk Folkesamfund (Danish People’s Society, or DF), an arm of the Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church (DELC) in the United States, purchased 8,000 hectares from the CPR in what is now Dalum, near Wayne, Alberta. The same year the first settlers – mostly bachelors with little farming experience – arrived, and by 1920 all the land was taken. Population totalled around two hundred in the mid-1920s.
Dannevirke in southeastern Saskatchewan was founded by the legendary Simon Hjortnæs, a farmer who in the early 1890s had settled in South Dakota. In 1901 some of Simon’s horses went astray, and he set out after them. He found them near Redvers/Alida, in present-day Saskatchewan, liked the look of the land, and bought a homestead there before returning home. One year later he started his farm, and then he purchased quarter-sections for his father and three brothers. Hjortnæs became well-to-do and encouraged Danes to settle in Dannevirke. Apparently Pastor Niels Damskov in Winnipeg sent him Danish immigrants whom he had met on the trains. A rumour circulating among some of the settlers in the area had it that Hjortnæs received twenty-five dollars from the CPR for every immigrant he got. As time went on he became known as king of the Danes. He travelled back to Denmark, lecturing and promoting immigration. Though many settlers moved to other places, there were about three hundred in Dannevirke in the mid-1920s.
Between the world wars the UDELC set up three rural colonies on land acquired from the railways – Pass Lake, Ontario, Ostenfeld, Manitoba, and Tilley, Alberta. Pass Lake, near Thunder Bay, was founded in 1924 after the government of Ontario and the Canadian National Railways (CNR) had set aside land for Danes for homesteading. By 1926 about fifty Danes had settled there, the majority of them bachelors, and this number gradually increased; most had not previously farmed.
In 1926 Pastor Niels Damskov arranged with the government of Manitoba to have a tract of land some forty-eight kilometres southeast of Winnipeg set aside for purchase by seventeen Danes. Damskov would meet immigrant trains in Winnipeg and help Danes find work or get established further west, often in Dannevirke, but eventually he founded his own colony. Ostenfeld (named after a Danish bishop) was just past the edge of the Red River valley, in a rocky, heavily wooded area. Getting started was difficult, and only two of the original settlers still lived there in 1939.
A more recent Danish colony is about sixteen kilometres west of Tilley, Alberta. The CPR was selling land that it had irrigated in southern Alberta and had sent agents to, among other places, the United States. In August 1929 three Danish immigrants from Hardy, Nebraska, accompanied by a CPR agent, went to investigate, and two bought farms on the spot. Terms of purchase included a loan of $1,000 from the CPR to set up buildings and fences. Since most of the Danes in drought-stricken Hardy were renting land, a number decided to move north and formed a congregation, headed by Pastor A.N. Skanderup, who secured a block of land from the CPR and became their agent. In 1930 about thirty people made the eight-day drive to Tilley. In an abandoned house on one of the farms purchased the previous summer, they lived together until they built their own dwellings.
By the mid-1920s, concentrations of Danes were located in Lloydminster, Saskatchewan, and in Alberta, especially around Holden, Olds, and Ponoka. As well, there was a small group of bachelors near Gem, Alberta. Once or twice a month congregations were ministered to by pastors from Dalum, Dickson, and Edmonton. There were also Danish communities, and some congregations, in Swan River, Manitoba; Canwood, Saskatchewan; and Edgewater, British Columbia.
At least two attempts at forming Danish colonies failed. Cape Scott on the northwest tip of Vancouver Island, at the edge of the Pacific rain forest, started in 1897, but remoteness, the province’s unwillingness to build roads, and the lack of suitable harbours doomed the endeavour, which was abandoned in 1907. A colony begun in 1926 near Wallace, Nova Scotia, was devastated by the Great Depression, and by the 1950s most of the Danes had left.
Farming was, of course, the major occupation of Danes in rural settlements. Many prairie farmers, particularly in Dalum, Dannevirke, and Standard, Alberta, grew wheat, especially before the Depression. In other western settlements, such as Dickson, Danish-style mixed farming was the rule. Further east, in Pass Lake, many Danes worked in logging on the side or fished commercially in Lake Superior, as well as doing mixed farming and growing strawberries. In New Denmark, dairy farming gave way to potato farming after the turn of the century.
In Canadian urban areas, most Danes did not congregate together, and many assimilated quickly. In 1893 in Pottersburg, just outside London, Ontario, a packing plant was established to export pork products to Britain, which was still importing most of its pork from Denmark. Since Danes were renowned as pork producers, forty-two Danish butchers and sausage makers were brought to work in the plant, as well as manager Johan H. Ginge, a Dane from Slesvig. Later two more processing plants were set up, but all three were dissolved in 1915.
On the east coast, Danes settled in St John’s, Halifax, and Saint John. Many Danish immigrants arrived in Saint John in the 1920s and got jobs as tradesmen. In 1936 they formed their own church, which functioned as an informal community centre. By 1956 most of their descendants had left for Ontario or the United States. The current Danish presence in the city (595 in 1991) is a result of post-1945 immigration and an influx from rural New Denmark.
In Quebec a few Danes did settle in French-speaking areas, and their francophone descendants carry Danish family names, such as Hansen and Rasmussen. Frairie Viking du Fjord Saguenay in the Saguenay region unites people of Scandinavian descent. Most of Quebec’s Danes, however, live in Montreal, where a sizeable community formed a club in 1922 and a church in 1927. The census of 1991 found 2,065 Danes in the city and 3,100 in the province.
In southern Ontario, Danes live in several cities, especially Toronto (10,475). Ottawa’s first known Dane was a tailor, Christian Madsen, in the mid-1860s. In the 1880s others arrived, such as Carl Conrad Meyer, who set up Canada’s first Danish-language newspaper.
Before World War I Danes in Winnipeg established a congregation and a branch of the Danish Brotherhood of America (DBA). The city had several Danish businesses and organizations to house and assist newcomers in transit west. The community shrank considerably during the 1930s and did not really recover until after 1945. Today Danish Canadians number over 4,000 in Winnipeg.
In 1991 Regina had 1,550 Danish Canadians, Saskatoon 1,660, Edmonton nearly 10,000, and Calgary almost 11,000. Edmonton had Danish settlers before 1900. Their numbers increased during the 1920s, and in 1930 a Danish church was founded. During the 1920s Calgary attracted large numbers of Danish farm workers, who formed a Danish congregation and at one time two folkehøjskoler (folk high schools). After World War II immigration increased.
Vancouver has more Danes (17,955) than any other city in Canada. Danes had arrived in the area in the 1880s, and their numbers steadily increased, with a Danish church being built in the 1930s. The greatest influx came after 1945, from Denmark and other parts of Canada.
From the start Danes have formed clubs and organizations in Canada, often in conjunction with the church. On the prairies the church was the centre of community life. Most congregations had ladies aid groups, youth leagues, and choral groups. Urban communities formed social clubs; most of these were independent, but some became branches of U.S. associations, such as the Vancouver lodge of the DBA, founded in 1931 as a fraternal organization and benefit society. A number have their own building, but most share a hall with other Scandinavian groups or rent premises. Where there are fewer or inactive Danes, as in Saskatoon, they have joined Scandinavian groups.
The Danish Canadian Club (DCC) in Calgary has over two thousand members. In 1933 three smaller clubs formed during the 1920s amalgamated as the Danish Canadian Society (DCS) and were incorporated in 1947 as the DCC; it established its present facilities in 1963. Its restaurant serves Danish food to members and attracts many non-Danes to the organization. Associated with the DCC are sports clubs, a businessmen’s club, and a journeyman’s association.
Other cities have Danish clubs. Dania in Edmonton, founded in 1921 but not very active until after 1945, when new immigrants reinvigorated it, celebrates Danish holidays. Winnipeg’s DCC, founded in 1934 by dissidents from the DBA, was also inactive during the 1970s but was revived in 1981 and currently has about eighty members. Montreal’s Danish Club was founded in 1922 as a luncheon club for business people; it holds an annual outing and has a soccer team. Montreal’s branch of the Danish Canadian Society, established in 1934, holds dances and parties and celebrates Danish holidays. Both Montreal organizations have about one hundred members. Ottawa’s DCC, founded in 1975, has around two hundred members. Ottawa’s Canadian Nordic Society stresses cultural aspects of Scandinavian life and holds regular lectures. The Danske Kvinders Forening (Danish Women’s Association), formed in 1988 in Toronto, keeps the language alive and uses it in meetings and gettogethers; members exchange Danish magazines and newspapers and information on events in Denmark, and they help female newcomers adapt to Canadian society.
There are Danish social clubs in Saint John (founded in 1987), New Brunswick; Kingston, Ontario (revived in 1968); Red Deer, Alberta (formed in 1959); Kelowna (1982) and Nanaimo (1989), British Columbia; and Yellowknife, Northwest Territories (1982). Most try to preserve their heritage by celebrating Danish festivals – lighting a bonfire on Midsummer’s Eve (sankthansaften), smashing open a barrel containing goodies (slå katten af tønden) at Shrovetide, and eating goose (mortensgås) on Martinmas. By contrast, in almost all rural settlements traditional observances have died out, except for Christmas Eve.
Several rural communities have historical societies. The New Denmark Historical Society, established in 1959, got the name of the local post office changed from Salmonhurst to New Denmark. In 1970 it was given a school where the Emigrant House once stood and which today contains historical artifacts and archives. The society helps organize the annual Founders’ Day celebration on 19 June, with a parade, speeches, folk dances, and a commemorative banquet. The Pass Lake Historical Society, organized in 1983, is taping interviews with longtime residents. The Danish Heritage Society of Dickson, Alberta, founded in 1985, has restored the old general store, built in 1909, which was dedicated in 1991 by Queen Margrethe of Denmark. Since 1992 the Danish Canadian National Museum Society, with representatives from across the country, has been raising money to create a museum and archives at Dickson.
The Royal Danish Guards Association in Canada has three branches – for Eastern Canada, with headquarters in Toronto (1958); for Western Canada, in Calgary (1944); and for the Pacific North West, in Vancouver (1968). Each normally has an annual banquet and other social functions.
Almost all Danish associations in Canada use English at meetings, even though many members can speak fluent Danish. They feel that use of Danish would exclude the younger generation.
Danish Canadians have created facilities for their seniors. In 1940 an elderly Dane in Vancouver, Carl Mortensen, left $3,000 for a seniors’ home. With help from other western Canadian Danes, a building was purchased in Burnaby, and the Dania Home was opened in 1944. Later the premises were extended and modernized, and now they contain bed facilities and low-rent apartments. The new Danish Lutheran church was built on the site in 1984. Sunset Villa in Puslinch, Ontario, was established in 1955; Ansgar Villa in Edmonton was founded in 1985; and Dana Village in Calgary is still in the planning stages.
Danish Canadians mainly have had three Lutheran churches – the Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church (DELC), the United Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church (UDELC), and the Dansk kirke i udlandet (Danish Church Abroad, DKU). The DELC was founded in 1872 in the United States, inspired by the Danish minister and hymnodist N.F.S. Grundtvig and his movement glade kristendom (Happy Christianity), based on “the living word.” He was opposed to both pietism and the official church, and his followers came to be known as “Happy Danes.” The church set up folk high schools on the Grundtvigian model and stressed preservation of Danish culture and language and establishment of Danish immigrant colonies.
Some DELC members felt that their church was neglecting missionary work and, led by a group of conservative pastors, in 1896 formed the UDELC, modelled on the Inner Mission, a fundamentalist and revivalist group in Denmark. This church emphasized literal interpretation of the Bible, personal conversion, and universal missionary work; it was not particularly concerned with Danishness.
UDELC pastors in Canada often moved among Danish settlements. The nomadic experience of the Reverend Niels Damskov, mentioned above, is typical. Born in 1863, he immigrated to the United States with his family in 1890, was ordained in 1895, served parishes in Iowa, North Dakota, and Montana, and from 1919 to 1925 ministered in Winnipeg and to rural Danish congregations. During the early 1930s he went monthly from Ostenfeld to Pass Lake, conducting a youth meeting there on Friday evening, and a service on Sunday. He lived alternately with three different families. Usually he held a meeting for Danes in Port Arthur on Sunday nights before the night train left for Winnipeg. He served from 1934 to 1937 in Redvers and then moved back to Ostenfeld, whence he also visited the small Danish congregation in Swan River, Manitoba, over 500 kilometres away, as well as other places. He was proclaimed Ridder af Dannebrog (Knight of the Dannebrog) in 1937 for his work.
Canada’s first Danish congregation was the one in New Denmark. Because settlers could not support the Lutheran pastor, Niels Mikkelsen Hansen, sent from Denmark in 1875, the local Anglican priest offered help. Though eventually ordained an Anglican priest, Hansen was allowed for twenty years to preach in Danish and to use the Lutheran catechism. In June 1884 St Ansgar’s Church was dedicated, possibly the only Anglican church in the world named after Denmark’s patron saint.
It was not until 1905 that a UDELC congregation was formed in New Denmark. St Peter’s Lutheran Church was built in 1917, across the road from St Ansgar’s. After years of friction, the two denominations now get along well. Danish-language sermons disappeared from the Anglican church with the retirement of its last Danish priest in 1911 and from the Lutheran church in the late 1960s. However, both congregations still sing a Danish hymn in their services. In most rural churches in Canada use of Danish ceased by the 1950s.
Most urban churches established early in the century in Canada were formed by the UDELC. In the prairies, congregations formed in Winnipeg (1910) and Calgary (1913) built churches between the world wars, when the second wave of immigrants arrived. However, after World War II the Danish element became less important, and today only the Calgary congregation survives, with most of its members being non-Danish. Similarly, UDELC churches in Toronto (founded 1926) and Montreal (1927) had Danish services until the 1960s, after which both lost their Danish membership and character. There are or have been Danish congregations also in London and Waterloo, Ontario, and in Saskatoon.
In the early 1960s the DELC and UDELC in Canada, together with other Scandinavian and German Lutheran churches (except the Missouri Synod), amalgamated with the American Lutheran Church, Canada District. This new body became the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada in 1967.
In 1919 a group of Danish men living in Berlin, Germany, most of whom were married to German women, set up the Danish Church Abroad (DKU) – an Inner Mission–type church that branched out into nations where Danes had settled. By 1939 it had become quite Grundtvigian, and today it is associated with the state church, the Dansk Folkekirke (Danish National Church, or DF), though privately funded. A DKU church was founded in Edmonton in 1930, and one in Vancouver in 1935. During the war these churches were cut off from Denmark, Danish-trained pastors were brought in from the United States or other parts of Canada, and members seriously debated whether or not the churches should remain Danish. Post-war immigrants, however, expanded membership, and congregations were formed in Toronto and Grimsby, Ontario (both 1957), and in Calgary (1964). From the 1960s the Vancouver church had an annex in Surrey called Granly (Spruce Shelter), which in 1984 became independent.
DKU pastors are still trained in Denmark and serve regular DF congregations there, but when sent abroad they are paid by the DKU and their host congregations. Currently they serve in Canada for five years, plus three more years if the congregation so desires. DKU churches still hold services in Danish on alternate Sundays.
Seven churches in Canada were built in the Danish Gothic style typical of village churches in Denmark – stone, painted white, with red-tiled roofs. Many Danish-Canadian churches have a traditional kirkeskib, or model votive ship, hanging from the rafters over the nave.
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.
The earliest Danish immigrants read Danish-language U.S. newspapers and periodicals. Norwegian newspapers also entered Danish-Canadian homes, especially before 1914, because of the similarity in the languages.
Danebrog (Danish Flag; Ottawa, 1893–32) promoted immigration and provided newcomers with information. A large portion of its weekly print run was bought by the Department of the Interior and handed out on trains to Danes heading west to keep them from crossing into the United States. The widely read Danske Herold (Danish Herald; Kentville, Nova Scotia, 1932–40), published by Odin Kuntze, included articles from a national network of Danish correspondents. The bimonthly church paper Kirken og Hjemmet (Church and Home; Dickson, Alberta, 1930–61) was begun by Pastor Paul Nyholm and covered church and other matters. Other publications included the Dansk Canadisk Tidende/Danish Canadian Times (Toronto, Montreal, 1930–c. 1940), Viking/Danish Canadian Weekly (Toronto, 1928–31), Danskeren (Dane; Calgary, 1930–34), Dansk Canadieren (Danish Canadian; Winnipeg, 1928–c. 1931), and the more recent Modersmaalet (Mother Tongue; Toronto, 1956–92). Newsletters are still put out by clubs, churches, and other organizations. Articles about Danes and Danish Canadians, mostly in English, have appeared in such periodicals as Scandinavian Forum (Toronto, 1985– 93) and Scandinavian (Centre) News (Edmonton, 1958– 87).
The “Scandinavian Program” broadcast by radio station CKUA in Edmonton lasted from 1952 until 1994, with a Danish segment, narrated by Erik Pedersen, including news from the home country and Danish music. Though originally in Danish, the segment became more and more bilingual, later being presented almost entirely in English.
Most of the writing by Danes in Canada is in the form of reminiscences. Rosa Hansen’s recollections of the life of her family in New Denmark, New Brunswick were published by Benedicte Mahler as Cathrine og Valdemar. Et udvandrerpars skæbne skildret gennem breve (Cathrine and Valdemar: The Fate of an Immigrant Couple Depicted through Letters, 1975). Idun Engberg’s 1950 book Danske Nybyggere i Canadas Skove (Danish Pioneers in the Forests of Canada, 1950), described her marriage in the 1930s to a Danish settler and contained anecdotes about life in Pass Lake, Ontario. Kirstine Pedersen wrote Mine Erindringer (My Memories, 1968) about her immigration to Canada in 1927 and experiences in Saskatchewan and in Swan River, Manitoba. H.F. Feilberg based De Derovre (The Ones over There) and Hjemliv paa Prærien (Home Life on the Prairie) on immigrants’ letters that he received in the 1910s.
Aksel Sandemose fictionalized immigrant life on the Canadian prairies in his Alberta trilogy. He based part of Ross Dane (1928) loosely on the life of Simon Hjortnæs of Dannevirke and on his own Canadian trip in 1927, mentioned above. En sjømann går i land (A Sailor Goes Ashore, 1931), in Norwegian, traces the adventures of Sandemose’s alterego, Espen Arnakke, who kills a man in Newfoundland and later struggles to establish himself on the Canadian prairies and to come to terms with what he has done. September (1939), also in Norwegian, concerns a love triangle and the extent to which Scandinavian settlers on the prairies have become Canadian.
The Danish language has been taught in private classes in homes and in evening classes sponsored by high schools and universities. Only McGill University in Montreal offers university credit courses in Danish in its regular program. The University of Alberta accommodates students interested in Danish culture, literature, and linguistics and grants a bachelor’s degree in Scandinavian studies; it will start offering courses in the Danish language in the fall of 1998. Its library and that of the University of Toronto have extensive collections of Danish literature, both in the original and in English translation.
While almost all first-generation, urban-based Danes speak Danish, most of their children do not. In New Denmark more than one hundred people in the fourth generation and a few even in the fifth communicate with each other in Danish as well as in English. In the Dalum area between thirty and forty second-generation people speak it. Danish has virtually disappeared in most of the other rural colonies, except for Pass Lake, where it has been preserved primarily among post-1945 immigrants.
Most Danish-Canadian homes bake Danish pastries and celebrate Christmas Eve. In New Denmark the Danish flag flies from many farmhouses, and a restaurant, the Valhalla, serves Danish cuisine. In some places, such as Pass Lake, Midsummer’s Eve was celebrated by lighting bonfires, and this tradition has been revived elsewhere. From the 1920s through the 1950s Dalum’s Folkefest (People’s Festival), held for two days each summer, attracted Danes from all over Alberta and included church services, lectures, folk dancing, skits, and a picnic.
In general, the Danish community and individual Danes have easily interacted with other ethnic communities and with Canadian society as a whole. The sort of internal strife between Grundtvigian and Inner-Mission groups of U.S. Lutherans seldom affected Danes in Canada. However, where the two groups lived near each other, as at Dalum and Standard in Alberta, serious church-goers in the one group would have little to do socially with their counterparts in the other. Even today when Dalum is mentioned in one of the old UDELC colonies, people laugh and say, “Oh, yes; the ‘Happy Danes.’” Occasionally the location for a church could cause disagreement, as during the early years at Dickson, and abandonment of Danish services almost invariably caused heated debate.
A few Danish Canadians recall that they ceased speaking Danish during World War II, because of increased Canadian patriotism and out of fear of being mistaken for Germans. On the whole, though, Danes seldom seem to have been looked down on by other ethnic groups, and exogamy was common and uneventful. As immigrants they have usually been favoured by government authorities. Aksel Sandemose and Danes who immigrated between the two world wars mention how Danes looked down on the “Galicians” – a name that western Europeans in Canada gave to Ukrainians, Poles, and other eastern Europeans because of their differing beliefs and customs. However, they also tell how the Danes frequently admired the Metis and native peoples. Danes have invariably cooperated with other Scandinavian groups in building halls, publishing Scandinavian periodicals, and celebrating common holidays.
Most Danish Canadians are well educated, many having received university degrees, though some postwar immigrants have complained that Canada would not recognize the education or training they had received in Denmark. Some have started businesses, and the vast majority are middle class. Many first-generation Danes read Danish newspapers and magazines, and most have made one or more trips to Denmark. On the whole they feel that Canada has treated them well and given them opportunities they would not have had in Denmark.
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.
One of the standard English-language histories of Denmark and the Danes is Stewart Oakley, The Story of Denmark (London, 1972), which can be usefully supplemented with the multi-volume work in progress by Bent Rying, Danish in the South and the North. The first two volumes (Copenhagen, 1981, 1988) cover Danish history to the end of World War II and subsequent volumes will deal with contemporary Denmark, the Faroe Islands, and Greenland.
The immigration of Danes to North America, primarily to the United States of America to 1914, is discussed in Kristian Hvidt, Flight to America (New York, 1975). There is no comprehensive study of Danish immigration to Canada save for the rather uneven collection of articles in Henning Bender and Birgit Flemming Larsen, eds., Danish Emigration to Canada (Ålborg, Denmark, 1991). This volume includes studies of New Denmark and Dickson, Danish farmers, churches, folk high schools, the Federation of Canadian Associations in Canada, and immigration to Canada in the 1920s. The folklorist Frank Paulsen, Danish Settlements on the Canadian Prairies: Folk Traditions, Immigrant Experiences, and Local History (Ottawa, 1974), includes interviews with local residents in this study of the extent to which folk traditions have been maintained by rural Canadian Danes.
There are also histories of several Danish-Canadian colonies, the most substantial of which is in Danish, Palle Bo Bojesen, New Denmark, New Brunswick, Canada: Udviklingen i en dansk udvandrerkoloni, 1872–1914 (Århus, Denmark, 1992). Other histories of this type include Jens Rasmussen, The History of the Standard Colony from Its Birth (Standard, Alta., 1943); A History of New Denmark (New Denmark, N.B., 1967); 50 Years with Pass Lake Homesteaders (Pass Lake, Ont., 1974); and Dickson Koloniens Historie (Blair, Neb., 1948). Danish groupings Danube often are discussed also in local community histories like Grub-Axe to Grain (Spruceview, Alta., 1973), which includes Danish Canadians in Dickson, Alberta. These local studies usually contain histories of the various families in the region.
A good source on Danish settlements in Canada, as well as organizations, churches, projects, and personal histories of Danish Canadians, are the annual conference books published by the Federation of Danish Associations in Canada since 1982, including, for example, Rolf B. Christensen, ed., Danish Organizations – Our Future? (Ottawa, 1989), which reproduces the proceedings of the eighth annual conference.
Finally, mention should be made of Lester R. Petersen, The Cape Scott Story (Vancouver, 1974), which is a popular account of that Danish colony; Thorkild Hansen, The Way to Hudson Bay, trans. James McFarlane and John Lynch (New York, 1965), for the story of the Danish explorer Jens Munk; and Denise Chantal, Amour humain (Ottawa, 1984), for the biography of a Danish Canadian from a Francophone region of Canada.
Archival collections pertaining to Danes in Canada can be found in a number of repositories although their contents are not extensive. The National Archives of Canada has documents relating to Danish immigration to Canada and these can be supplemented with Danish-Canadian newspapers in the collections of the National Library. Provincial archives, in particular in jurisdictions where there are concentrations of Danish Canadians, also contain relevant materials. A number of municipal and similar repositories can be recommended as well, including the collections of the Multicultural History Society of Ontario in Toronto (in particular for Ontario and the Pass Lake settlement), the Red Deer and District Archives in Red Deer, Alberta (for Dickson), and the Glenbow Archives in Calgary, Alberta (for Alberta in general).