The Implantation of Belgian Immigrants in Western Canada

By Jaenen, Cornelius J. | Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal, Spring-Summer 2011 | Go to article overview

The Implantation of Belgian Immigrants in Western Canada


Jaenen, Cornelius J., Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal


Abstract

Belgians did not emigrate in large numbers impelled by overpopulation, persecution, war or economic depression. Crises in the Flemish linen industry and industrial strife in the Walloon factories and collieries were push factors, nevertheless, those who chose to better their economic circumstances in a developing virgin region such as Western Canada, which was in a full economic expansion, often aspired to retire in their native environment. The Belgian government never sponsored emigration but it did regulate the conditions awaiting emigrants in Antwerp (the port of departure for thousands of Europeans) and on board steamships. It also inquired regularly through consular officers into conditions expatriates could expect and experienced. In the settlement of Western Canada, Belgians stood apart from most ethnic groups on several grounds. First, they came cautiously, usually well informed, and they avoided ethnic bloc settlement. They developed a social network emanating from St. Boniface to direct new arrivals to suitable locations and contact persons. They engaged hot only in mixed and wheat farming, but some rapidly specialized in dairying, market gardening, sugar beet culture, as well as fruit growing in B.C. A number took up village occupations while others chose urban life revolving around skilled trades, commerce and construction, notably in St. Boniface. However, they did not develop an array of ethnic institutions so they fell into the category of groups lacking institutional completeness, and, rather, integrated into existing community associations. Finally, as a national group, rather than an ethnic group, they integrated into both dominant host societies--the Anglophone for most of the Flemish and the Francophone for the Walloons.

Resume

Les Belges n'ont pas pris la route de l'emigration pour cause de surpeuplement, de persecution, de guerre, ou meme de depression economique. Les crises dans l'industrie du lin en Flandre et les luttes ouvrieres dans les fabriques et mines de la Wallonie y ont, bien sur, contribue. Neanmoins, ceux qui choisirent d'ameliorer leur sort en emigrant dans une region vierge tel que l'Ouest canadien, qui se trouvait en plein essor economique, comptaient tout de meme rentrer chez eux pour leur retraite. Le gouvernement belge n'a jamais parraine l'emigration. Il a par contre reglemente les conditions d'accueil des emigrants a Anvers, point de depart pour des milliers d'Europeens, et a bord des navires. Il s'est aussi renseigne chaque annee aupres des agents consulaires sur les conditions d'implantation auxquelles les expatries pouvaient s'attendre et qu'ils ont eprouvees. Dans le peuplement de l'Ouest canadien, les Belges se sont differencies de la plupart des groupes ethniques a bien des egards. D'abord, ils arrivaient prudemment, d'habitude bien renseignes, et ils ne s'etablirent point en blocs ethniques. Ils developperent un reseau social a partir de Saint-Boniface afin de guider les nouveaux arrivants vers des sites et des personnes-ressources appropries. Ils ne se lancerent pas seulement dans la culture "mixte" et celle du ble, mais ils se specialiserent aussi dans l'industrie laitiere, les fermes maraicheres et la culture de la bettrave sucriere, ainsi que dans les vergers en Colombie britannique. Beaucoup d'entre eux se sont etablis dans des villages, tandis que d'autres ont choisi la vie urbaine tournee essentiellement vers les metiers specialises, le commerce et la construction, particulierement a St-Boniface. Cependant, ils ne se doterent point d'institutions ethniques, mais ils joignirent les associations communautaires existantes. Enfin, en tant que groupe national plutot qu'ethnique, ils se sont integres dans les deux societes hotes dominantes, les Anglophones pour les Flamands et les Francophones pour les Wallons.

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The Belgian immigrant experience in Western Canada was unique in several respects. I propose to examine this phenomenon in terms of the immigration prospects and experiences, the successive waves of entry, and the contrasting rural and urban implantations. …

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