History

German people have been migrating to Eastern Europe since the Middle Ages and to colonial America since 1683. Many of the Germans who immigrated to Canada did not come directly to Canada from Germany. They have come from every East European country, Russia, the United States and Latin America.

An Illustrated world map highlights the countries of Canada and Germany.

German immigrants traveled from Germany to Canada.

A map illustration highlights the country of Germany and its surrounding countries are also shown including Poland, Denmark, the Netherlands, France, Switzerland, Austria, etc.

The country of Germany and the surrounding countries.

Germans started immigrating to Canada in 1776 but did not always come directly from Germany. More than half of the German-speaking immigrants who came to the Prairies before 1950 were from countries outside Germany. Many came from Russia or other Eastern European countries between 1874 and 1914. German settlers also moved from the United States because land there was expensive and difficult to buy. The Germans started to move to Saskatchewan where they could get inexpensive, good quality farmland.

A group of German travellers are boarding a train in Hamburg, Germany in 1911 to move to Canada. They pose for the photo, men in 3 piece suits and jackets, and women In full-length dresses.

This group of German travellers are boarding a train in Hamburg, Germany in 1911 to move to Canada.

In 1916, only about 15,000 residents of the Prairie provinces listed Germany as their country of birth, but around 102,000 people listed German as their language.

An illustrated group of Germans stand next to a wagon that is being pulled by horses across the Prairies. The men wear trousers and button-up shirts, and the women wear full-length dresses.

Germans were nervous about the cold climate in Canada, so it was not their first choice to relocate here. The inexpensive, good-quality farmland brought them here though.

A group of men are working together to build a wooden grain elevator with piles of lumber nearby and a train in the background.

Photo Credit: Western Development Museum

This German family is boarding a ship to travel to Canada.

Settlement

When Germans settled in Saskatchewan, they settled in different ways. Some German people formed farming colonies with people from the same home country as them, but practiced different religions. Other Germans formed farming colonies with people from different home countries, but practiced the same religion. Some of these farming settlements were planned and whole colonies would move at once as a group.

Other colonies formed slowly as a chain. A few families immigrated to Saskatchewan and found suitable locations to settle. Then they would send for others to join them in their farming colonies. Other Germans chose to live on their own homesteads and towns in areas that were being settled by a mix of cultural groups.

An illustrated man rides on a seeder that is being pulled by horses. Another man ploughs the soil. A horse pulling a cart and a number of colony houses are in the background.

Some Germans settled on colonies, while others moved onto their own homesteads or into towns.

Between 1874 and 1911, 152,000 German speaking settlers arrived in Western Canada. By 1914, there were over 100 German settlements that had been established with the largest being in Rosthern, Wetaskewin, St. Peter’s, and St. Joseph’s. There are German farming colonies around many areas in Saskatchewan.

An illustrated group of people work together to raise a barn wall.

Germans that settled onto colonies worked together to build homesteads.

A man rides a tractor pulling a plow that is operating over very bumpy terrain to turn the soil.

A German family is breaking soil and bush on their land in 1929 using a tractor and a one-way disc.

When the First World War broke out in 1914, the Canadian government treated many Germans terribly by putting them in prison because they were originally from a country that was at war with Canada. The Germans were described as ‘enemy aliens’ and were put in prisons, concentration camps, and labour camps. After the World War, over 97,000 German speaking people immigrated to Canada from Germany, the Soviet Union, Poland, and Czechoslovakia.

An illustrated group of men dressed in overalls and hats stand behind a barbed wire prison fence.

Canada treated Germans terribly because they were originally from a country Canada was at war with.

A German family poses for a photo in front of a line of bushes.

Canada was advertising in other countries to attract settlers. This German family saw advertisements for farmland in Canada and immigrated in 1893.

Culture

German Canadians have played an important role in Canada’s growth. In the early 1900s, most Germans were drawn to Canada because of the large amounts of inexpensive farmland that was available to purchase, and because they wanted to preserve their religious or communal living lifestyle. Germans ended up becoming prominent Canadian entrepreneurs, professionals, artists, music, and tradesmen. Many Germans stay connected to their culture through the German language, religion, social clubs, and music.

An illustrated German band plays instruments and are wearing traditional German clothing.

Germans like to stay connected to their culture through music.

Germans are dancing to music and wearing traditional outfits.