German Canadians (German: Deutsch-Kanadier or Deutschkanadier) are Canadian citizens of ethnic German ancestry. The 2016 Canadian census put the number of Canadians of German ethnicity at over 3.3 million. Some immigrants came from what is today Germany, while larger numbers came from German settlements in Eastern Europe and Russia; others came from former parts of the German Confederation like the Austrian Empire and some emigrated from Switzerland.
|German Canadians |
German Canadians % of population by area
(by ancestry, 2016 Census)
|Regions with significant populations|
|Ontario, Western Canada, Atlantic Canada, Quebec|
|English, French, and German|
|Lutheran, Roman Catholic, Anabaptism (Amish, Mennonite, Hutterite)|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Germans, German Americans, Austrian Canadians, Swiss Canadians, Luxembourgish Canadians|
After the fall of New France a smaller number of Germans who had fought for prince-elector king George III during the Revolutionary War stayed in North America and mixed with the French-Canadians. However, the first major round of German immigration to Canada began already after the British conquest of Nova Scotia. Many Germans had served in the British army and elected to settle in the new lands. Far more arrived as some of the Foreign Protestants. These were continental Protestants encouraged to come to Nova Scotia to counterbalance the large number of Catholic Acadians. This influx began in about 1751 and to this day the South Shore of Nova Scotia is filled with German town names including Lunenburg, surnames, and Lutheran churches. The Little Dutch (Deutsch) Church in Halifax, located on land set aside for the German-speaking community in 1756, was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1997 as the oldest known surviving church in Canada associated with the German Canadian community.
The American Revolution saw a small group of German-American migrants to Canada. German speakers from New York and Pennsylvania (and other areas) made up a significant percentage of United Empire Loyalists. To fight the war, Britain had hired regiments from small German states; these soldiers were known as "Hessians." About 2,200 settled in Canada once their terms of service expired or they were released from American captivity. For example, a group from the Brunswick regiment settled southwest of Montreal and south of Quebec City.
The largest group fleeing the United States were the Mennonites from the U.S., called Pennsylvania Dutch, actually Pennsilfaanisch Deitsch, (German). Many of those families' ancestors had been from Southern Germany or Switzerland. Starting in the early 1800s, they moved to what is today southwest Ontario, settling around the Grand River, especially in Berlin, Ontario (now known as Kitchener) and in the northern part of what later became Waterloo County, Ontario.
This same geographic area also attracted new German migrants from Europe, roughly 50,000 between the 1830 and 1860. Research indicates that there was no apparent conflict between the Germans from Europe and those who came from Pennsylvania.
By 1871, nearly 55 percent of the population of Waterloo County had German origins. Especially in Berlin, German was the dominant language spoken. Research indicates that there was no apparent conflict between the Germans from Europe and those who came from Pennsylvania.
The German Protestants developed the Lutheran Church along Canadian lines. In Waterloo County, Ontario, with large German elements that arrived after 1850, the Lutheran churches played major roles in the religious, cultural and social life of the community. After 1914 English became the preferred language for sermons and publications. Absent a seminary, the churches trained their own ministers, but there was a doctrinal schism in the 1860s. While the Anglophone Protestants promoted the Social Gospel and prohibition, the Lutherans stood apart.
In Montreal, immigrants and Canadians of German-descent founded the German Society of Montreal in April 1835. The secular organization's purpose was to bring together the German community in the city, and act as a unified voice, help sick and needy members of the community and to keep alive customs and traditions. The Society is still active today and celebrated its 180th anniversary in 2015.
The population of the Canadian west beginning in 1896 drew further large numbers of German immigrants, mostly from Eastern Europe. Once again German-speaking Mennonites (of Dutch-Prussian ancestry) were especially prominent, being persecuted by the Tsarist regime in Russia. The farmers, used to the harsh conditions of farming in southern Imperial Russia (today's Ukraine), were some of the most successful in adapting to the Canadian prairies. This accelerated when, in the 1920s, the United States imposed quotas on Central and Eastern European immigration. Soon after Canada imposed its own limits, however, and prevented most of those trying to flee the Third Reich from moving to Canada. Many of the Mennonites settled in the Winnipeg and Steinbach, Manitoba, and the area just north of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
By the early 1900s, the norther part of Waterloo County, Ontario exhibited a strong German culture and those of German origin made up a third of the population in 1911. Lutherans were the primary religious group. There were nearly three times as many Lutherans as Mennonites at that time. The latter, who had moved here from Pennsylvania in the first half of the 1800s, primarily resided in the rural areas and small communities.
Before and during World War I, there was some Anti-German sentiment in the Waterloo County area and some cultural sanctions on the community, primarily in Berlin, Ontario (now Kitchener). Mennonites in the area were pacifist so they could not enlist and some who had immigrated from Germany (and were not born in Canada) found it morally difficult to fight against a country that was a significant part of their heritage. It was this anti-German sentiment that precipitated the Berlin to Kitchener name change in 1916. The city was named after Lord Kitchener, famously pictured on the "Lord Kitchener Wants You" recruiting posters.
Several streets in Toronto that had previously been named for Liszt, Humboldt, Schiller, Bismarck, etc., were changed to names with strong British associations, such as Balmoral. There were anti-German riots in Victoria, BC and in Calgary, Alberta in the first years of the war.
News reports from Waterloo County, Ontario indicate that "A Lutheran minister was pulled out of his house ... he was dragged through the streets. German clubs were ransacked through the course of the war. It was just a really nasty time period.". That sentiment was the primary reason for the 1916 Berlin to Kitchener name change in Waterloo County. A document in the Archives of Canada makes the following comment: "Although ludicrous to modern eyes, the whole issue of a name for Berlin highlights the effects that fear, hatred and nationalism can have upon a society in the face of war."
Across Canada, internment camps opened in 1915 and 8,579 "enemy aliens" were held there until the end of the war; many were German speaking immigrants from Austria, Hungary, Germany and the Ukraine. Only 3,138 were classed as prisoners of war; the rest were civilians.
There was also anti-German sentiment in Canada during WWII. Under the War Measures Act, some 26 POW camps opened and interred those who had been born in Germany, Italy and particularly in Japan, if they were deemed to be "enemy aliens". For Germans, this applied especially to single males who had some association with the Nazi Party of Canada. No compensation was paid to them after the war. In Ontario, the largest internment centre for German Canadians was at Camp Petawawa, housing 750 who had been born in Germany and Austria.
Between 1945 and 1994, some 400,000 German-speaking immigrants arrived in Canada. The vast majority have been largely assimilated. Culturally and linguistically there is far less to distinguish Germans from the Anglo-French majority compared to the more visible immigrant groups.
There are several German ethnic-bloc settlements in the Canadian Prairies in western Canada. Close to half of people in Saskatchewan are German-Canadians. German bloc settlements include the areas around Strasbourg, Bulyea, Leader, Burstall, Fox Valley, Eatonia, St. Walburg, Paradise Hill, Loon Lake, Goodsoil, Pierceland, Meadow Lake, Edenwold, Windthorst, Lemberg, Qu'appelle, Neudorf, Grayson, Langenburg, Kerrobert, Unity, Luseland, Macklin, Humboldt, Watson, Cudworth, Lampman, Midale, Tribune, Consul, Rockglen, Shaunavon and Swift Current.
In Saskatchewan the German settlers came directly from Russia, or, after 1914 from the Dakotas. They came not as large groups but as part of a chain of family members, where the first immigrants would find suitable locations and send for the others. They formed compact German-speaking communities built around their Catholic or Lutheran churches, and continuing old-world customs. They were farmers who grew wheat and sugar beets. Arrivals from Russia, Bukovina, and Romanian Dobruja established their villages in a 40-mile-wide tract east of Regina. The Germans operated parochial schools primarily to maintain their religious faith; often they offered only an hour of German language instruction a week, but they always had extensive coverage of religion. Most German Catholic children by 1910 attended schools taught entirely in English. From 1900 to 1930, German Catholics generally voted for the Liberal ticket (rather than the Provincial Rights and Conservative tickets), seeing Liberals as more willing to protect religious minorities. Occasionally they voted for Conservatives or independent candidates who offered greater support for public funding of parochial schools. Nazi Germany made a systematic effort to proselytize among Saskatchewan's Germans in the 1930s. Fewer than 1% endorsed their message, but some did migrate back to Germany before anti-Nazi sentiment became overwhelming in 1939.
In the early 1980s, German ice hockey started a recruitment drive in Canada, aimed at Canadian ice hockey players of German ancestry. The term Deutsch-Kanadier became synonymous in Germany with those players. Their contribution added largely to the improvement of the sport and the national team in Germany. Critics, however, also blame those players for a reduction in the number of German-born players playing at the elite level. Some of them, like Harold Kreis, remain closely associated with the sport in Germany. The most well-known of those were:
There are two German international schools in Canada:
Grams, Grant W.: German Emigration to Canada and the Support of its Deutschtum during the Weimar Republic - the Role of the Deutsches Ausland Institut, Verein für das Deutschtum im Ausland and German-Canadian Organisations, Peter Lang Publishers, Frankfurt am Main, 2001.
Grams, Grant W.: “Der Volksverein deutsch-canadischer Katholiken, the rise and fall of a German-Catholic Cultural and Immigration Society, 1909-1952”, in Nelson H. Minnich (ed.) The Catholic Historical Review, 2013.
Grams, Grant W.: “The Deportation of German Nationals from Canada, 1919 to 1939”, in Peter S. Li (ed.), Journal of International Migration and Integration, 2010.
Grams, Grant W.: “Immigration and Return Migration of German Nationals, Saskatchewan 1919 to 1939”, in Patrick Douand (ed.), Prairie Forum, 2008.
Grams, Grant W.: “Karl Respa and German Espionage in Canada during World War One”, in N.P. Mackie (ed.), Journal of Military and Strategic Studies, 2005.
Grams, Grant W.: “Sankt Raphael’s Verein and German-Catholic Emigration to Canada between 1919 and 1939”, in Robert Trisco (ed.), The Catholic Historical Review, 2005.