Manitoba's Teutonic Heritage

Winnipeg Free Press, October 27, 2012 | Go to article overview

Manitoba's Teutonic Heritage


For two centuries, Germans have been contributing to the province's culture

What do more than 250,000 Manitobans have in common?

It all starts in the early 1800s. According to the last Manitoba study from the provincial Department of Culture and Heritage, the second-largest ethnic group in Manitoba is the German-Canadian cultural group. German culture, traditions and language, therefore, contribute significantly to Manitoba's ethnic mosaic. To appreciate the culture and traditions of any ethnic group, one should have some knowledge about the history of its people.

In Manitoba, it was mostly a steady stream of immigrants, beginning with the mercenaries of Lord Selkirk in the early 1800s, followed by a wave of immigrants after the First World War until the Great Depression, and resumed again after the Second World War, only to subside again to a trickle in the 1970s and thereafter. The first mention of Germans in Manitoba was made in 1816-17, when Lord Selkirk dispatched some 100 mercenaries of the de Meuron and the de Watteville regiments from Montreal after the Massacre at Seven Oaks (June 1816) to protect and populate the Red River Settlement. These soldiers had originally been in Canadian service in the War of 1812. They served for pay and outright land grants in the form of lots along the Red River and German Creek (Seine River), close to Fort Douglas to defend it.

In the following years, more and more Germans settled in and around Winnipeg, and the German language began to appear in the trading shops. Bishop Anderson, principal of St. John's Collegiate School, wrote in 1852: "... my senior scholar can read in Luther's own translation the German of the Gospel of St. John... and we combined thus the ancient with the modern tongues, and those of modern Europe with the two of our own land." In 1874 George Rath, a vice-president of Western Canada's first German Society, became quite famous when he successfully introduced a new method of delivering drinking water to Winnipeggers and outlying homes. "Rather good for Rath," commented the local papers.

Wilhelm Hespeler has probably done more than anybody else to attract German-speaking settlers to Manitoba. The first 70 Mennonites families arrived in July 1874, and by 1878 they and those who had followed after them, had established some 40 villages whose names are of Mennonite, Austrian and German origin. Lord Dufferin's wife wrote home after having visited these villages: "What gain they are to this country?"

German courses had been offered at the University of Manitoba since the early 1880s, German became an accredited subject in 1886, and was highly recommended for studies in the sciences.

On May 17, 1889, the first German newspaper, Der Nordwesten, appeared under the direction of Pastor Schmieder and Consul Wilhelm Hespeler and was greeted at length in the Free Press. In 1900 it had a circulation of 4,000; by 1912 it had reached 25,000. Today, some 110 years later, the same weekly is still published in Winnipeg for all of Canada under the name Kanada Kurier. Also on that day in 1889, the first German examination given at the U of M met with great success. There are so many more Canadians of German background whose achievements have greatly enriched the lives of their fellow Manitobans -- and will continue to do so.

On Nov. 2, 1985, a conference was held to organize the Manitoba branch of the German-Canadian Congress, and on April, 25, 1986, the German-Canadian Congress Manitoba Inc. was incorporated, with Mr. Abe Peters as president and Mr. Paul Kammerloch (the current German consul in Manitoba) as vice-president. …

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