Wagner Chronicles German-Canadian Connection

Boardman, Edna M. "Wagner Chronicles German-Canadian Connection." Connections, Spring 2003, 10.

A MSU history professor has written a book about German immigration to Canada during the 19th and 20th centuries.

Jonathan Wagner's book "German Migration to Canada (1850-1939)" will be published by the University of British Columbia press this summer.

The work chronicles the Canadian government's stubbornness in holding to a faulty immigration policy for almost 100 years.

In the 1860s and `70s, eastern interests wanted to build a Canadian empire in the newly opened West. Their aim was twofold. They hoped to populate it with farmers, since they valued the agrarian tradition, and prevent American expansion into the region. Since British immigrants were scarce, the Canadian government tried to recruit Germans.

"Germany had industrialized and become modern, and Canada was recruiting traditional farmer types," Wagner said. "There weren't any people to come, not in Germany proper. The Canadian policy was anachronistic. It was out of joint with what was going on, so it failed."

As a result, Canada had to recruit farmers from the Ukraine and Eastern Europe to populate the West. It succeeded in protecting western Canada from an American takeover, but the program had long-lasting repercussions for the nation.

"Canada was, for 150 years, two nations--French and English," Wagner said. "Then at the end of the 19th century, they recruited non-French and non-British people because they had to have bodies. It's now multiethnic, which changed the nature of Canadian society as a whole."

In the late 19th century, Germans immigrated to the United States due to its extensive industrialization. Yet, the Canadian government continued to pursue its failed policy.

"It doesn't really change until 1945," Wagner said. "Then the Canadian immigration people did welcome German mechanics and engineers."

In researching the book, Wagner examined government archives in Canada and Germany, along with German-language newspapers and letters. He visited Germany more than a dozen times.

"The book deals not only with Canada, but also with how the process worked itself out in Germany," he said. "It looks at the German government's efforts to restrict people from being lured away. Immigration agents, for example, had to be registered. If they stepped over the bounds, they were arrested, fined and expelled. During Hitler's time, you weren't allowed to recruit."

Wagner, an Ohio native, became interested in German migration to Canada during a 12-year teaching stint at the University of Winnipeg. He was motivated by his German-American students and the historical sources readily available.

Previously, Wagner has published a monograph on Nazism in western Canada during the 1930s and a collection of letters written by German immigrants between the world wars. His current book synthesizes 30 years of research on Germans in Canada.

The book is addressed to an academic audience, especially sociologists, economists and historians who specialize in migration studies.

Wagner, who has taught at Minot State since 1984, relishes the research process, being willing to sit for hours in archives, poring over documents. Technological improvements through the years have made the process even more enjoyable.

"When you go through documents, you never know what you're going to find. It's exciting," he said.

`Canada was, for 150 years, two nations--French and English... Then at the end of the 19th century, they recruited non-French and non-British people because they had to have bodies. It's now multiethnic, which changed the nature of Canadian society as a whole.'

History professor Jonathan Wagner examines the manuscript of his upcoming book on German migration to Canada.

Reprinted with permission of the Connections, Minot State University.

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