Monday, March 16, 2015

The Germans are Coming!

Last week, I told you about the American influence and immigration to Vancouver. Today, I want to remark about the German influence.

German settlers were among the first flood of immigrants to British Columbia in 1857. A variety of people came mainly from southwestern Germany. Shopkeepers, merchants, skilled artisians and craftspeople left their homes and ventured to this new land and brought with them much needed skills and trades.

These immigrants became prominent in Vancouver's social and political life. German clubs soon sprang up, the members preserving their heritage, language, music and cultural traditions.

There were a significant number of German immigrants during the early 20th century. Many became part of local society by marrying into the "old families". German investment bankers, noblemen, barons and counts - they all entertained lavishly. It was an era that came to an end due to the economic crisis prior to World War I.

World War I turned the Germans from much loved, revered people to vilified enemies overnight. German-Canadians were hesitant to speak their native tongue in public; German language church services were stopped and the federal government stopped all German newspapers. A census in 1921, after the war, showed a decline in British Columbia of nearly 40 percent of people declaring German origin and they spoke English in public.

But in World War II, attitudes towards Germans were less hostile. However, all Germans entering the country had to register as enemy aliens. Most of those interned at the outbreak of the war were released in 1941 as harmless. This time there were no bitter ethnic tensions and, as early as 1947, Germans were again admitted as immigrants, initially as "displaced persons" who fled their homes in Eastern Germany.

Around 300,000 German immigrants arrived in the province between 1947 and 1967. Once again, many were tradespeople with good educations and a reasonable command of the English language. They easily merged into our society and became British Columbia's second largest ethnic group next to the British. These immigrants were successful in business, professions and trades, they persevered and rarely suffered failure.

In the post-war era, many German-Canadians settled along Vancouver's Fraser Street and in the West End. There they opened small businesses and ethnic restaurants along Robson Street. In fact, Robson Street was sometimes referred to as "Robsonstrasse".

I am referring once again to the book The Greater Vancouver Book, An Urban Encylopaedia and this time the article is entitled Germans and was written by Sylvia Reinthal.

I hope you find the beauty around you.


  1. My husbands family are full blooded German and when World War I broke out they were afraid as well so they stopped speaking in German and only spoke in English. Then in World War II both my husbands parents went into the military and never spoke German. So much of their heritage was lost because the entrenched so much with regular Americans. The Great Grandparents were so successful that they opened up businesses for their sons in Norfolk NE and the Heckman name is still very much established throughout the town.

    1. It is sad when heritage is lost but it happens all the time.

  2. I think Americans believe you can't be an American and (for example) German and have two cultures. Somehow I think they see that as un-American. I think losing ones culture is sad because so much of it is beautiful and fun. You can have both! Fear changes people and changes how others act toward what they don't understand. Sad