German Canadians

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German Canadians
German ancestry in the USA and Canada.png
German descent % of population by area
Total population
(by ancestry, 2016 Census)[1]
Regions with significant populations
Ontario, Western Canada, Atlantic Canada, Quebec
Related ethnic groups
Germans, German Americans, Austrian Canadians, Swiss Canadians, Luxembourgish Canadians

German Canadians (German: Deutsch-Kanadier or Deutschkanadier, pronounced [ˈdɔʏ̯tʃkaˌnaːdi̯ɐ]) are Canadian citizens of German ancestry or Germans who emigrated to and reside in Canada. According to the 2016 census, there are 3,322,405 Canadians with full or partial German ancestry. Some immigrants came from what is today Germany, while larger numbers came from German settlements in Eastern Europe and Imperial Russia; others came from parts of the German Confederation, Austria-Hungary and Switzerland.


Data from this section from Statistics Canada, 2016.[2]

 CanadaTotal 9.6%
 Newfoundland and Labrador 1.7%
 Prince Edward Island 5.1%
 Nova Scotia 10.7%
 New Brunswick 4.7%
 Quebec 1.8%
 Ontario 9.0%
 Manitoba 17.7%
 Saskatchewan 27.7%
 Alberta 17.9%
 British Columbia 13.3%
 Yukon 15.9%
 Northwest Territories 8.3%
 Nunavut 2.1%


Little Dutch (Deutsch) Church - oldest German church in Canada (1756), Halifax, Nova Scotia

A few Germans came to New France when [[France colonized the area, but large-scale migration from Germany began only under British rule, when Governor Edward Cornwallis established Halifax, Nova Scotia (1749). Kown as Foreign Protestants, the continental Protestants were encouraged to come to Nova Scotia in 1750 to 1752 to counterbalance the large number of Catholic Acadians. Family surnames, Lutheran churches, and village names along the South Shore of Nova Scotia retain their German heritage, such as Lunenburg. The first German church in Canada, the Little Dutch (Deutsch) Church in Halifax, is on land set aside for the German-speaking community in 1756. The church was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1997.[3][4]

The Waterloo Pioneer Tower honours the Mennonite Germans who helped populate Waterloo County.

A smaller number of Germans had fought for Prince-Elector King George III, who was also prince-elector of Hanover, during the American Revolutionary War. They stayed in North America and mixed with the French-Canadians.[5]

The American Revolution saw a small group of German-American migrants to Canada. German-speakers from New York, 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. Their soldiers were known as "Hessians" since many of them came from Hesse. About 2,200 of them settled in Canada once their terms of service had expired or they had been released from American captivity. For example, a group from the Brunswick Regiment settled southwest of Montreal and south of Quebec City.[6]

The largest group fleeing the United States was the Mennonites from the US, the Pennsylvania Germans, who are sometimes confusingly called "Pennsylvania Dutch" since the German term is Pennsilfaanisch Deitsch.[7] Many of their families' ancestors had been from southern Germany or Switzerland. In the early 1800s, they began to move to what is now southwestern Ontario and settled around the Grand River, especially in Berlin, Ontario (now Kitchener) and in the northern part of what later became Waterloo County, Ontario.[8]

The same geographic area also attracted new German migrants from Europe, roughly 50,000 between the 1830 and 1860.[9][10] Research indicates that there was no apparent conflict between the Germans from Europe and those who came from Pennsylvania.[11]

1850 to 1900[edit]

By 1871, nearly 55% of the population of Waterloo County had German origins.[12] 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.[13]

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.[14]

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 maintain customs and traditions.[15] The Society is still active and celebrated its 180th anniversary in 2015.

20th century[edit]

A family of German immigrants to Quebec City in 1911.

Western Canada started to attract in 1896 drew large numbers of other German immigrants, mostly from Eastern Europe. Once again, German-speaking Mennonites (of Dutch-Prussian ancestry) were especially prominent since they were persecuted by the Tsarist regime in Russia. The farmers were used to the harsh conditions of farming in southern Imperial Russia (now Ukraine) and so were some of the most successful in adapting to the Canadian Prairies. Their increase accelerated in the 1920s, when the United States imposed quotas on Central and Eastern European immigration. Soon, 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 areas of Winnipeg and Steinbach, and the area just north of Saskatoon.[16]

By the early 1900s, the northern part of Waterloo County, Ontario exhibited a strong German culture, and people of German origin made up a third of the population in 1911. Lutherans were the primary religious group. There were then nearly three times as many Lutherans as Mennonites. The latter, who had moved here from Pennsylvania in the first half of the 1800s, resided primarily in the rural areas and small communities.[17]

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).[7] Mennonites in the area were pacifist and so not would not enlist. Also, some had immigrated from Germany and so found it morally difficult to fight against a country that was a significant part of their heritage.[18] Anti-German sentiment that precipitated the Berlin to Kitchener name change in 1916. The city was named after Lord Kitchener, who was 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 and in Calgary during the first years of the war.

News reports from Waterloo County, Ontario, indicate "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."[19] 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."[20]

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 Ukraine. Only 3,138 were classed as prisoners of war; the rest were civilians.[21][22]

There was also anti-German sentiment in Canada during World War II. Under the War Measures Act, some 26 prisoner-of-war camps opened and interned those who had been born in Germany, Italy, and particularly in Japan if they were deemed to be "enemy aliens." For Germans, that applied especially to single males who had some association with the Nazi Party of Canada. No compensation was paid to them after the war.[23] In Ontario, the largest internment centre for German Canadians was at Camp Petawawa, which housed 750 who had been born in Germany and Austria.[24]

Between 1945 and 1994, some 400,000 German-speaking immigrants arrived in Canada.[25] The vast majority of them assimilated and so culturally and linguistically, there is far less to distinguish Germans from the Anglo-French majority than for the more visible immigrant groups.


People who have self-identified as having German ancestors are the plurality in many parts of the Prairie provinces (areas coloured in yellow).

Ethnic-bloc settlements in the Prairies[edit]

There are several German ethnic-bloc settlements in the Canadian Prairies in western Canada. Over a quarter 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.[26] 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.[27] Arrivals from Russia, Bukovina, and Romanian Dobruja established their villages in a 40-mile-wide tract east of Regina.[28] 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.[29] 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.[30] 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.[31]


There are two German international schools in Canada:

There are also bilingual German-English K-12 schools in Winnipeg, Manitoba:

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Canada, Government of Canada, Statistics. "Immigration and Ethnocultural Diversity Highlight Tables - Ethnic Origin, both sexes, age (total), Canada, 2016 Census – 25% Sample data".
  2. ^ "2016 Census of Canada: Topic-based tabulations | Ethnic Origin (247), Single and Multiple Ethnic Origin Responses (3) and Sex (3) for the Population of Canada, Provinces, Territories, Census Metropolitan Areas and Census Agglomerations, 2006 Census - 20% Sample Data". Statistics Canada. 2020-01-11. Retrieved 2020-01-11.
  3. ^ " -". Retrieved 19 August 2017.
  4. ^ Little Dutch (Deutsch) Church National Historic Site of Canada. Canadian Register of Historic Places. Retrieved 24 March 2013.
  5. ^ Wilhelmy: Les Mercenaires allemands au Québec, 1776-1783
  6. ^ Lehmann (1986) p 371
  7. ^ a b " -". Retrieved 19 August 2017.
  8. ^ "Waterloo Township". Waterloo Region Museum Research. Region of Waterloo. 2013. Retrieved 13 March 2017.
  9. ^ "German Canadians". The Canadian Encyclopedia. The Canadian Encyclopedia. 2016. Retrieved 13 March 2017.
  10. ^ Lehmann (1986) passim
  11. ^ "Religion in Waterloo North (Pre 1911)". Waterloo Region. Waterloo Region. 2015. Retrieved 21 March 2017.
  12. ^ "Full text of "Waterloo County to 1972 : an annotated bibliography of regional history"". Retrieved 19 August 2017.
  13. ^ "Religion in Waterloo North (Pre 1911)". Waterloo Region. Waterloo Region. 2015. Retrieved 21 March 2017.
  14. ^ Wilfrid H. Heick, "Becoming an Indigenous Church: The Lutheran Church in Waterloo County, Ontario," Ontario History, Dec 1964, Vol. 56 Issue 4, pp 249–260
  15. ^ Gürttler, Karin R. (1985). Geschichte der Deutschen Gesellschaft zu Montreal (1835-1985). Montreal, QC: German Society of Montreal. p. 108. ISBN 2-9800421-0-2.
  16. ^ Lehmann (1986) pp 186–94, 198–204
  17. ^ "Waterloo Region Pre-1914". Waterloo Region WWI. University of Waterloo. 2015. Retrieved 20 March 2017.
  18. ^ D'Amato, Louisa (28 June 2014). "First World War ripped away Canada's 'age of innocence'". Kitchener Post, Waterloo Region Record. Kitchener. Retrieved 14 March 2017.
  19. ^ "Kitchener mayor notes 100th year of name change". Retrieved 19 August 2017.
  20. ^ "ARCHIVED - Did You Know That… - ARCHIVED - Canada and the First World War - Library and Archives Canada". 30 June 2016. Archived from the original on 30 June 2016. Retrieved 19 August 2017.CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  21. ^ "Anti-German Sentiment". Canadian War Museum. Government of Canada. 2015. Retrieved 21 March 2017.
  22. ^ Tahirali, Jesse (3 August 2014). "First World War internment camps a dark chapter in Canadian history". CTV News. Bell Media. Retrieved 21 March 2017.
  24. ^ MacKinnon, Dianne (16 August 2011). "Canadian Internment Camps". Renfrew County Museums. Renfrew County Museums. Retrieved 21 March 2017.
  25. ^ "German Canadians". Canadian Encyclopedia. Canadian Encyclopedia. 2016. Retrieved 21 March 2017.
  26. ^ Heinz Lehmann and Gerhard P. Bassler, The German Canadians, 1750–1937: immigration, settlement & culture (1986)
  27. ^ Jessica Clark and Thomas D. Isern, "Germans from Russia in Saskatchewan: An Oral History," American Review of Canadian Studies, Spring 2010, Vol. 40 Issue 1, pp 71–85
  28. ^ Adam Giesinger, "The Germans from Russia Who Pioneered in Saskatchewan," Journal of the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia, Summer 1984, Vol. 7 Issue 2, pp 1–14
  29. ^ Clinton O. White, "Pre-World War I Saskatchewan German Catholic thought concerning the perpetuation of their language and religion," Canadian Ethnic Studies, 1994, Vol. 26 Issue 2, pp 15–30
  30. ^ Clinton O. White, "The Politics of Elementary Schools in a German-American Roman Catholic Settlement in Canada's Province of Saskatchewan, 1903–1925," Great Plains Research, Sept 1997, Vol. 7 Issue 2, pp 251–272
  31. ^ Jonathan F. Wagner, "The Deutscher Bund Canada in Saskatchewan," Saskatchewan History, May 1978, Vol. 31 Issue 2, pp 41–50

Further reading

  • Antor, Heinz (2003) Refractions of Germany in Canadian literature and culture Walter de Gruyter
  • Becker, Anthony. "The Germans in Western Canada, A Vanishing People." Bulletin of the Canadian Catholic Historical Association (1975). online
  • Foster, Lois, and Anne Seitz. "Official attitudes to Germans during World War II: some Australian and Canadian comparisons." Ethnic and Racial Studies 14.4 (1991): 474–492.
  • Freund, Alexander. "Troubling memories in Nation-Building: World War II memories and Germans' inter-ethnic encounters in Canada after 1945." Social History 39.77 (2006): 129+. online
  • Gürttler, Karin R. "Geschichte der Deutschen Gesellschaft zu Montreal (1835-1985)". (1985) Montreal, QC: German Society of Montreal. 108 p. ISBN 2-9800421-0-2.
  • Lehmann, Heinz. German-Canadians 1750–1937 (1986)
  • Keyserlingk, Robert H. "The Canadian Government's Attitude Towards Germans and German Canadians in World War Two." Canadian ethnic studies= Études ethniques au Canada 16.1 (1984): 16+.
  • McLaughlin, K. M. The Germans in Canada (Canadian Historical Association, 1985).
  • Magocsi, Paul, ed. Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples (1999) extensive coverage
  • Sauer, Angelika E. "The unbounded German nation: Dr. Otto Hahn and German emigration to Canada in the 1870s and 1880s." Canadian Ethnic Studies 39.1-2 (2007): 129–144.
  • Wagner, Jonathan. A History of Migration from Germany to Canada 1850–1939 (UBC Press, 2006)
  • Waters, Tony. "Towards a theory of ethnic identity and migration: the formation of ethnic enclaves by migrant Germans in Russia and North America." International Migration Review 29.2 (1995): 515–544.
  • (in French) Meune, Manuel. Les Allemands du Québec: Parcours et discours d'une communauté méconnue. Montréal: Méridien, 2003. ISBN 2-89415293-0.

External links[edit]