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The German Canadians, 1750-1937: Immigration, Settlement, and Culture

Book review by Edna Boardman, Bismarck, North Dakota

Lehmann, Heinz. The German Canadians, 1750-1937: Immigration, Settlement and Culture. Edited by Gerhard P. Bassler. St. John’s, Newfoundlan: Jesperson Press, 1986.


The story of the Germans who settled in Canada from its beginnings is skillfully drawn in this book. Heinz Lehmann, who was a German born and educated scholar, collected the material for the book between 1928 and 1930 and published it in two books plus three articles in 1931 and 1939. Bassler put Lehmann's work all together in English, sorting out duplications of material. Lehmann lived long enough to review and approve this translation, which appeared just before his death.

It is fascinating to follow the earliest history of Germans who came into Canada. About one third (11,853) of the Hessian soldiers who served on England's side in the American Revolutionary War did not return to Germany. Almost 5000 of them died but about 7,000 survived, and they were welcome settlers in both the fledgling United States and Canada. (Lehmann doesn't mention this, but it appears that most of these soldiers came from the same areas as many of those who went to Russia, suggesting an intriguing blood link.) Little by little, Germans directly from Germany, others came from other European countries, and German-speakers who had first come to the United States settled the farmland of Canada. Lehman carefully traces where they came from, where they took up land, and what their circumstances were in the settlement process. He takes care to note the religious faith of each group--primarily Lutheran, Catholic, and Mennonite--and who it was who came to serve them in their churches. He does not appear to have prejudices against any group. He notes that Mennonites and the culturally related Hutterites were often the most capable farmers and were repeatedly the first to move into the most hostile areas to make their homes. He mentions schools and the controversies that surrounded them as the German settlers struggled to maintain their faith and culture (including language) and the Canadian government asserted its policy of assimilation. Lehmann's general attitude is that being culturally German is a good thing, but he is not anti-Canadian; he recognizes the tremendous benefit that Canada provided in opening its doors to the ethnic Germans.

The fact that the material for this book was collected and written at the time when the fascists were consolidating their power and Germany was especially interested in Germans who lived elsewhere in the world may be disturbing to some readers. But there is nothing propagandistic about it; this reviewer could see no evidence that it is anything but a straightforward scholarly effort to trace the times and places of German-speaking peoples' settlement in Canada. Researching and writing a book of this kind was especially important, the introductions say, because some histories of the settlement of Canada do not mention Germans at all.

A nuisance item that recurs in the book is the use of "now" and "today," and the reader is never quite sure if the text refers to the time of Lehmann's writing or of Bassler's translating, but this is not a reason to reject the book. Germans from Russia who have family who migrated to or through Canada at any time will be interested in reading this book. This reviewer found several pages that illuminated a period during which her father wandered Canada in search of work. Others may find a fit with their own family stories. It is a good companion to the book Russian-German Settlements in the United States by Richard Sallet, Translated by LaVern J. Rippley and Armand Bauer (North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies, Fargo, ND. 1974.) Libraries would do well to shelve them side by side because both perform the same service, one taking over at the border where the other leaves off.

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