Many Danes Came To Canada In 1957
Our big year of Immigration
written by Rolf Buschardt Christensen
More Danes immigrated to Canada in 1957, than in any other year. According to government immigration statistics, 7,790 immigrants came from Denmark in 1957, sixty years ago. This compares with 4,621 Danes immigrating to Canada in 1951, and between three and four thousand in 1928, 1929 as well as in 1956.
In most Post-World War II years, less than 2,000 Danes immigrated to Canada per year, and 1968 was the last year with over 1,000 Danes coming to Canada. In 1984 immigration from Denmark dropped to less than 100 persons per year, a trend which has continued.
In 1949 Canada opened it doors to immigration from Denmark, and there were few hindrances for Danes to make the move. At the same time, that is, after the War, Danes were also immigrating to the United States and Australia, as well as other countries. The United States had a quota system for immigrants. A few Danes tried to bypass the U.S. quota, and successfully used Canada as a stepping stone to the United States. Some Danish immigrants to Canada claimed they came here for adventure or to try something new and different. Indeed, a fair number of Danish immigrants, who had come to Canada in the 1950s, did return to Denmark. But some of these actually came back to Canada again!
In the 1920s Danish immigrants came to Canada by ship. They could board the SS Frederik VIII, the SS Hellig Olav, the SS Oscar II or the SS United States in Copenhagen and sail directly to Halifax. These ships were operated by the Scandinavian America Line, which was owned by DFDS of Copenhagen. Due to the Great Depression, the Scandinavian America Line was disbanded in 1935, and all four ships were scrapped.
After the Second World War, Danish immigrants could sail from Scandinavia, including Copenhagen, with the Swedish American Line or the Norwegian America Line, which both called at Halifax. Another possibility was the Polish liner MS Batory, which sailed to Montreal – and Halifax in winter.
1971 is often referred to as the year in which more immigrants came to Canada by air, than by sea. This fact is readily seen when looking at the fate of the shipping companies. The Hamburg America Line ceased operations on the North Atlantic run in 1969, followed by the Norwegian America Line in 1971. Then the Holland America Line stopped, while the Swedish American Line continued service until 1975. The MS Batory was taken out of service in 1969, but was replaced by the TSS Stefan Batory, which made its last North Atlantic run in 1990.
The Danes who came to Canada by ship can tell both wonderful and terrifying stories about the voyage, due to the storms, hurricanes and seasickness, as well as the bountiful food, great parties and live entertainment on board. For all of them it was the experience of a life time.
Many also remember their arrival at Pier 21 in Halifax, being processed through Immigration and then boarding the trains for Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg and points further West. The canteen at Pier 21 also had a “Special”, a cardboard box containing the essentials for a long train journey, costing two dollars. Many will readily tell others of the terrible conditions on the trains, wooden seats and little or no service, in addition to the desolate landscape looking out the window.
But the Danish immigrants came determined to carve out a better life in a new land which promised opportunity, freedom and security. Some of the Danish immigrants were farmers, including dairymen and gardeners, others were labourers, tradesmen, skilled workers and technicians, businessmen and even professionals.
We know that Danish farmers and farm hands generally came to Canada to acquire their own farm. But all Danish immigrants had one thing in common, they sought a brighter future, and the Canadian economy was booming. This was not the case in Denmark. The Danish economy did not recover after the War until 1957-58. Denmark had a trade deficit and had to deal with balance of payment problems. Denmark had no gold or foreign currency reserves to speak of, and had difficulty borrowing abroad. There were restrictions on foreign trade and the Krone was not convertible. Immigrants could only take the equivalent of $100 out of the country.
For decades Denmark continued to have a severe housing shortage. There was persistent and widespread unemployment. In March and April 1956, there were major strikes and lock-outs. The Danish workers demanded that the work week be reduced from 48 hours to 44 hours. There were demonstrations in front of the Parliament Buildings, organized by the Communist Party, which was growing in strength (until the events in Hungary later that year).
In the fall of 1956, the world experienced the Suez Crisis, and oil and gas was rationed in Denmark. As well, the Hungarian Uprising that fall, brought the brutality of the Soviet Union directly into Danish homes through the newly acquired TV sets. The Nazi Occupation of Denmark was still fresh in the mind of Danes, and events in Hungary were too close for many Danes. Surely a safer future lay across the ocean.
In 1957, Canada welcomed 37,000 Hungarian refugees. Unlike the Danes, they could not go back home. The Canadian government streamlined the immigration process for Hungarians, covered much of their travel costs and supported them during their first year in Canada. In time, they too became an asset for Canada.
The Danes were economic immigrants. They were on their own, but prepared to work. They wanted to get ahead and contribute. For the Danes, there have been many accomplishments, but also hardships. In general, however, they have done well, made their old country proud, and have succeeded in realizing their grandest pursuits and wildest dreams. This is clearly seen in the Danish immigrant Class of 1957!
New Denmark Memorial Museum contains a collection of portraits, farm machinery, small tools, china, books and numerous artefacts that belonged to the local Danish settlers. Typical garments worn by the Danish people of the time are also on display.
St. Ansgar's Anglican Church
In 1893, some forty butchers and sausage makers settled in Pottersburg (London, Ontario). The attraction there was the large pork packing plant which had been built by John Ginge.
In 1894, a Danish immigrant, Rasmus Hansen went fishing out of Seattle, Washington. He came ashore at Cape Scott and concluded that the area would be a good place to start a Danish Colony. Therefore, in hopes of establishing an ethnic community, Danish settlers arrived in Cape Scott around 1897. Cape Scott, located at the northwestern tip of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, is a remote and quite inhospitable area which experiences heavy rainfalls and at times violent windstorms. The settlers initially subsisted on fishing and trapping, while awaiting a government promised road to be built to facilitate getting produce to markets. Unfortunately, the road never did materialize. The settlers started to make plans to leave around 1907 as they recognized the failure in establishing a colony. By 1909, only approximately 60 people lived there until 1913 when a second group of Danes arrived bringing the population to approximately 1,000. The second group of Danes also found great hardships in making a living at Cape Scott and by 1917 the area was virtually deserted of Danish inhabitants. Cape Scott has been a provincial park since 1973.
The community of Dickson in Alberta is the oldest Danish community in the Canadian Prairies. In 1903, seventeen Danish people from Nebraska arrived in what is now known as Dickson, Alberta to claim land for homesteading. Three new families arrived in 1904. They came with the hope of owning land and establishing a good future for their family. Life was not easy for the new settlers as they were isolated from a major city, had to travel over rough trails and few spoke English. Through determination and hard work the little settlement of Dickson was built.
Carl Christiansen opened a post office in 1905, in his own home, which put Dickson on the map. Carl Christiansen and his wife, Laura also opened a general store. By 1909, a church, the general store, a school and parsonage had been built. The Dickson Store, which continued to operate as a family business until 1980 was very important to the community as settlers purchased and bartered farm produce and lumber there. The store and post off ice are now a museum and gift shop.
In 1910, a group of Danes moved from Iowa to Standard, Alberta. It was first known as “Danaview” but was changed to “Standard” (name of the Royal Danish Flag) as another town by the same was already located in Saskatchewan. The railway had been built by 1911, therefore, allowing the settlement to becaome a thriving center for the farms surrounding the area.
In 1917, the “Dansk Folkesamfund”, an organization founded with the aim of strengthening cultural heritage of Danish American immigrants, sponsored a new settlement in Alberta. A bachelor by the name of Jens Hvass was the first to move from Chicago to what became known as Dalum, Alberta. “Dalum” was chosen as the name of the settlement as it was the name of an Agricultural School in Denmark. Jens Hvass became the land agent and representative for a new Danish settlement. The settlers encountered difficult times with major drought and hail storms which prompted some of the settlers to resell their land to neighbours and move away. The building of the Bethlehem Lutheran Church commenced in 1929 but difficult times prevented completion of the building. The congregation held services in the basement until September 1936 when the building was completed and the congregation could enjoy the use of a completed church building.
Land clearing around Pass Lake, Ontario (60 km east of Thunder Bay) began in 1924 by Danish settlers. In order to obtain the deed to their homestead, the settlers had to build a house and barn; clear and farm at least two acres of land during each of the first three years; had to live on the land at least six months of the year and also obtain citizenship papers. Then after the three year period they apply to get the deed to his homestead. The settlers were required to work three days per year on the roads but the reward for this was pay for six days of roadwork.
The settlers would cut pulpwood in the winter for the Provincial Paper Company, which was situated north of Port Arthur, and then clear land for the purpose of farming in the summer. Many Danish immigrants joined the settlers between 1926 and 1930. They eked out a living by selling wood products, such as pulpwood, lumber, firewood, railway ties and fence posts until the land was cleared for farming. Around 1930, enough land had been cleared and farming began. Cream was shipped to the city, potatoes and other garden produce began to be sold on a commercial scale.
In the 1930, Pass Lake became well known for their strawberry crops. In 1935, Pass Lake had over 20 acres of strawberries planted which yielded 70,000 quarts of strawberries that were sold at markets.
During the World War II, many of the Danish settlers in Pass Lake sold their land and moved away. However, new Danish immigrants started arriving and settled in Pass Lake during the 1950s.
Ostenfeld, Manitoba (48 km east of Winnipeg) was founded in 1926 by a Danish Immigration Pastor from Winnipeg, Niels Damskov. Pastor Damskov would often meet Danish immigrants coming in on the train in Winnipeg. He would provide housing and food for the immigrants for a few days until they were on their way to a settlement. He applied for a tract of land to be used for a Danish settlement which became known as Ostenfeld. Pastor Damskov named it after Bishop Henrik Ostenfeld, who had visited Winnipeg in 1923. The Colony remained very small as it was heavily forested and very rocky making it difficult to clear.
Other Danish settlements were founded in the 1920s at Wallace, Nova Scotia; Redvers, Saskatchewan; Alida, Saskatchewan; and at Tilley, Alberta.
The Danes have formed social clubs, built churches and published newspapers. Danes have made significant contributions to Canada in many fields, particularly the dairy industry, nurseries, the cooperative movement and gymnastics. Danes were among the first to build homes for senior citizens,
St. Peter's Lutheran Church
New Denmark, the oldest Danish settlement in Canada, was founded in New Brunswick in 1872. Captain Søren Severin Heller, a Danish sea captain recruited twenty-seven people comprising of five young families and seven single men to come to Canada and settle in New Brunswick. They set sail for Halifax and arrived in New Denmark on June 19th, 1872, just two days short of Midsummer's Day which is a traditional day of celebration in Denmark. New Denmark, an agricultureal area, well-known for its potatoes, is situated southeast of Grand Falls.
According to the 2001 census, there are about 170,00 people of Danish origin in Canada. They are found in all walks of life and in all of Canada's ten provinces and two territories. There have been three major waves of Danish immigration to Canada: from the late 1880s to 1914; the 1920s and in the 1950s and 1960s.
Danish Settlements in Canada
Upon entering the community of New Denmark you will come across two churches standing opposite each other. St. Ansgar's Anglican Church and St. Peter's Lutheran Church.
For a period of time the Lutherans became Anglicans! Niels Hansen, a Lutheran lay missionary arrived in New Denmark in 1875, along with his wife, eight children and 20 others from his parish in Denmark. Life was very difficult at that time in New Denmark so the Hansens soon decided to return to Denmark. A visiting Anglican clergyman suggested to Hansen that he should become a minster of the Church of England which would then provide support. Hansen believed that the differences between the Anglican and Lutheran churches were not doctrinal but rather in the form of services. St. Ansgar's Anglican Church was consecrated in 1884. The Danish language continued to be used and the church had a Danish character as well as the Danish flag adorned the interior. The congregation stood to pray, sat to sing and in the Sunday school the Lutheran catechism was retained. The older members of the congregation called themselves Lutherans, though they received the sacrements of the Church of England!
St. Peter's Lutheran Church was bult in 1905, after Hansen's departure. The first pastor of this church earned a salary of $25 a month plus free lodging. The minutes of the church continued to be written in Danish until 1960. Around 1969, the Danish services ceased but a Danish hymn is still being sung every Sunday.