Canadians of German ethnicity

German Canadians
Total population
(by ancestry, 2011 Census))
Regions with significant populations
Ontario, Western Canada, Atlantic Canada, Quebec
English, French, and German
Lutheran, Roman Catholic, Mennonite, Hutterite
Related ethnic groups
Germans, German Americans
A family of German immigrants to Quebec City in 1911.

German Canadians (German: Deutsch-Kanadier or Deutschkanadier) are Canadian citizens of ethnic German ancestry. The 2006 Canadian census put the number of Canadians of some German ethnicity at 3,179,425. Some immigrants came from what is today Germany, while larger numbers came from German settlements in Central Europe and Russia; others came from former parts of the German Confederation like German-Austria and some emigrated from Switzerland.


After the fall of New France a smaller number of Germans who had fought for prince-elector king George III during the Revolutionary War stayed in North America and mixed with the French-Canadians.[1] However, the first major round of German immigration to Canada began already after the British conquest of Nova Scotia. Many Germans had served in the British army and elected to settle in the new lands. Far more arrived as some of the Foreign Protestants. These were continental Protestants encouraged to come to Nova Scotia to counterbalance the large number of Catholic Acadians. This influx began in about 1751 and to this day the South Shore of Nova Scotia is filled with German town names, surnames, and Lutheran churches. The Little Dutch (Deutsch) Church in Halifax, located on land set aside for the German-speaking community in 1752, was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1997 as the oldest known surviving church in Canada associated with the German Canadian community.[2]

The American Revolution saw a small group of German-American migrants to Canada. German speakers from New York and Pennsylvania (and other areas) made up a significant percentage of United Empire Loyalists. To fight the war, Britain had hired regiments from small German states; these soldiers were known as "Hessians." About 2,200 settled in Canada once their terms of service expired or they were released from American captivity. For example, a group from the Brunswick regiment settled southwest of Montreal and south of Quebec City.[3]

The largest group fleeing the United States were the Mennonites from Pennsylvania. They moved to what is today southwest Ontario, settling around Berlin, Ontario (now known as Kitchener and Waterloo). This large group also attracted new migrants from Germany drawing some 50,000 of them to the region over the next decades.[4]

19th century

The German Protestants developed the Lutheran Church along Canadian lines. In Waterloo County, Ontario, with large German elements that arrived after 1850, the Lutheran churches played major roles in the religious, cultural and social life of the community. After 1914 English became the preferred language for sermons and publications. Absent a seminary, the churches trained their own ministers, but there was a doctrinal schism in the 1860s. While the Anglophone Protestants promoted the Social Gospel and prohibition, the Lutherans stood apart.[5]

In Montreal, immigrants and Canadians of German-descent founded the German Society of Montreal in April 1835. The secular organization's purpose was to bring together the German community in the city, and act as a unified voice, help sick and needy members of the community and to keep alive customs and traditions.[6] The Society is still active today and celebrated its 180th anniversary in 2015.

20th century

The population of the Canadian west beginning in 1896 drew further large numbers of German immigrants, mostly from Eastern Europe. Once again German-speaking Mennonites (of Dutch-Prussian ancestry) were especially prominent, being persecuted by the Tsarist regime in Russia. The farmers, used to the harsh conditions of farming in southern Imperial Russia (today's Ukraine), were some of the most successful in adapting to the Canadian prairies. This accelerated when, in the 1920s, the United States imposed quotas on Central and Eastern European immigration. Soon after Canada imposed its own limits, however, and prevented most of those trying to flee the Third Reich from moving to Canada. Many of the Mennonites settled in the Winnipeg and Steinbach, Manitoba, and the area just north of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.[7]

In the years since the Second World War there have been about 400,000 German-speaking immigrants.

While Germans are one of the largest constituent ethnic groups in Canada, they are considerably less visible than others. In part this is because the great waves of German immigration were many decades ago and since then Germans have been largely assimilated. Culturally and linguistically there is far less to distinguish Germans from the Anglo-French majority compared to other immigrant groups. Also important is that during both the world wars the Germans were regarded as enemies resulting in Anti-German sentiment.


People who have self-identified as having German ancestors are the plurality in many parts of the Prairie provinces (areas coloured in yellow).

The areas where they mostly live are Toronto: 220,135; Vancouver: 187,410; Winnipeg: 109,355; Kitchener: 93,325; and Montreal: 83,850.

Ethnic-bloc settlements in the Prairies

There are several German ethnic bloc settlements in the Canadian Prairies in western Canada. Close to half of people in Saskatchewan are German-Canadians. German bloc settlements include the areas around Strasbourg, Bulyea, Leader, Burstall, Fox Valley, Eatonia, St. Walburg, Paradise Hill, Loon Lake, Goodsoil, Pierceland, Meadow Lake, Edenwold, Windthorst, Lemberg, Qu'appelle, Neudorf, Grayson, Langenburg, Kerrobert, Unity, Luseland, Macklin, Humboldt, Watson, Cudworth, Lampman, Midale, Tribune, Consul, Rockglen, Shaunavon and Swift Current.


In Saskatchewan the German settlers came directly from Russia, or, after 1914 from the Dakotas.[8] They came not as large groups but as part of a chain of family members, where the first immigrants would find suitable locations and send for the others. They formed compact German-speaking communities built around their Catholic or Lutheran churches, and continuing old-world customs. They were farmers who grew wheat and sugar beets.[9] Arrivals from Russia, Bukovina, and Romanian Dobruja established their villages in a 40-mile-wide tract east of Regina.[10] The Germans operated parochial schools primarily to maintain their religious faith; often they offered only an hour of German language instruction a week, but they always had extensive coverage of religion. Most German Catholic children by 1910 attended schools taught entirely in English.[11] From 1900 to 1930, German Catholics generally voted for the Liberal ticket (rather than the Provincial Rights and Conservative tickets), seeing Liberals as more willing to protect religious minorities. Occasionally they voted for Conservatives or independent candidates who offered greater support for public funding of parochial schools.[12] Nazi Germany made a systematic effort to proselytize among Saskatchewan's Germans in the 1930s. Fewer than 1% endorsed their message, but some did migrate back to Germany before anti-Nazi sentiment became overwhelming in 1939.[13]

Prominent German-Canadians

In sports

In the early 1980s, German ice hockey started a recruitment drive in Canada, aimed at Canadian ice hockey players of German ancestry. The term Deutsch-Kanadier became synonymous in Germany with those players. Their contribution added largely to the improvement of the sport and the national team in Germany. Critics, however, also blame those players for a reduction in the number of German-born players playing at the elite level. Some of them, like Harold Kreis, remain closely associated with the sport in Germany. The most well-known of those were:[15]


There are two German international schools in Canada:

See also

Further reading

Grams, Grant W.: German Emigration to Canada and the Support of its Deutschtum during the Weimar Republic - the Role of the Deutsches Ausland Institut, Verein für das Deutschtum im Ausland and German-Canadian Organisations, Peter Lang Publishers, Frankfurt am Main, 2001.

Grams, Grant W.: “Der Volksverein deutsch-canadischer Katholiken, the rise and fall of a German-Catholic Cultural and Immigration Society, 1909-1952”, in Nelson H. Minnich (ed.) The Catholic Historical Review, 2013.

Grams, Grant W.: “The Deportation of German Nationals from Canada, 1919 to 1939”, in Peter S. Li (ed.), Journal of International Migration and Integration, 2010.

Grams, Grant W.: “Immigration and Return Migration of German Nationals, Saskatchewan 1919 to 1939”, in Patrick Douand (ed.), Prairie Forum, 2008.

Grams, Grant W.: “Karl Respa and German Espionage in Canada during World War One”, in N.P. Mackie (ed.), Journal of Military and Strategic Studies, 2005.

Grams, Grant W.: “Sankt Raphael’s Verein and German-Catholic Emigration to Canada between 1919 and 1939”, in Robert Trisco (ed.), The Catholic Historical Review, 2005.


  1. Wilhelmy: Les Mercenaires allemands au Québec, 1776-1783
  2. Little Dutch (Deutsch) Church National Historic Site of Canada. Canadian Register of Historic Places. Retrieved 24 March 2013.
  3. Lehmann (1986) p 371
  4. Lehmann (1986) passim
  5. Wilfrid H. Heick, "Becoming an Indigenous Church: The Lutheran Church in Waterloo County, Ontario," Ontario History, Dec 1964, Vol. 56 Issue 4, pp 249–260
  6. Gürttler, Karin R. (1985). Geschichte der Deutschen Gesellschaft zu Montreal (1835-1985). Montreal, QC: German Society of Montreal. p. 108. ISBN 2-9800421-0-2.
  7. Lehmann (1986) pp 186–94, 198–204
  8. Heinz Lehmann and Gerhard P. Bassler, The German Canadians, 1750–1937: immigration, settlement & culture (1986)
  9. Jessica Clark and Thomas D. Isern, "Germans from Russia in Saskatchewan: An Oral History," American Review of Canadian Studies, Spring 2010, Vol. 40 Issue 1, pp 71–85
  10. Adam Giesinger, "The Germans from Russia Who Pioneered in Saskatchewan," Journal of the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia, Summer 1984, Vol. 7 Issue 2, pp 1–14
  11. Clinton O. White, "Pre-World War I Saskatchewan German Catholic thought concerning the perpetuation of their language and religion," Canadian Ethnic Studies, 1994, Vol. 26 Issue 2, pp 15–30
  12. Clinton O. White, "The Politics of Elementary Schools in a German-American Roman Catholic Settlement in Canada's Province of Saskatchewan, 1903–1925," Great Plains Research, Sept 1997, Vol. 7 Issue 2, pp 251–272
  13. Jonathan F. Wagner, "The Deutscher Bund Canada in Saskatchewan," Saskatchewan History, May 1978, Vol. 31 Issue 2, pp 41–50
  14. Note: William Steeves is Layton's great grand uncle.
  15. Günter Klein: 30 Jahre Eishockey-Bundesliga (German) Copress Verlag, published: 1988, ISBN 3-7679-0289-3
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