Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Promoters, Planters, and Pioneers: The Course and Context of Belgian Settlement in Western Canada

Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Promoters, Planters, and Pioneers: The Course and Context of Belgian Settlement in Western Canada

Article excerpt

Cornelius J. Jaenen, Promoters, Planters, and Pioneers: The Course and Context of Belgian Settlement in Western Canada (Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 2011), 362 pp. 10 b.&w. photos. 1 map. Paper. $34.95. ISBN 978-1-55238-258-5.

One of Canada's most senior scholars has successfully discharged a long-planned obligation to chronicle the Belgian community on the prairies. The Canadian son of a Flemish father and a Walloon mother, Cornelius J. Jaenen insists that the Belgian settler experience must be traced back to the homeland. Perhaps the only omission from this comprehensive study is the absence of a page of basic Belgian facts about an intriguing country of which outsiders know little, stressing its linguistic division, intense Catholicism, population density and early industrialisation. In the 1961 census, 61,000 Canadians traced paternal ancestry to Belgium, with 28,000 born there. They came in three waves, 16,000 in 1900-14, 15,000 in the interwar years and 19,000 in 1946-60. Jaenen confirms the general impression of a concentration in Winnipeg's francophone enclave, St Boniface, although a surprisingly high proportion of the few thousand Belgians there were Flemings. Belgian institutions were few: Scheppers College, a rural Manitoba boarding school for Flemings, opened in 1920 and lasted just 12 years. The most enduring organisation, Le Club Belge, took shape in St Boniface between 1905 and 1914, just survived the War and later spawned communal projects such as a credit union. Language lay at the heart of assimilation challenges: the Church sought francophone Walloons when Quebecers would not move west, while Flemings (like Dutch immigrants) easily made the transition to English. …

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