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History of Saskatchewan and The Old North West
Chapter XLIV - Continental Immigration : North Western Europe


Contract With North Atlantic Trading Company: Consummated 1899: Annulled 1906—Subsequent Immigration Propaganda— Easy Assimilation of Immigrants from Northern and Western Europe—Icelandic Immigrants—The Mennonites—Settlers from Austria Hungary—Hebrews.

The census of 1911 indicated the presence in Saskatchewan of approximately 160,000 settlers of continental origin, hailing from North Western Europe. For a number of years the immigration propaganda under which such settlers were secured was largely controlled by an organization known as the North Atlantic Trading Company. In 1899 this company entered into an agreement with the Canadian Government to spend annually not less than $15,000 in presenting to the agricultural classes of Holland, Denmark, Germany, Northern and Western Russia, Austria-Hungary, Luxemburg, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Switzerland the advantages of immigration into Canada. For each farmer or domestic brought into the country by the company it was to receive from the Canadian Government a bonus of £1 sterling. In 1904 the contract with the North Atlantic Trading Company was given a ten years' renewal. The agreement, however, was made subject to cancellation on four years' notice in case of a breach of its terms.

In most European countries it is illegal to engage in immigration propaganda, and it was therefore necessary for the company to enshroud itself in impenetrable secrecy. Outside of the innermost circle of the Government confidential officials, no one knew and indeed no one yet knows even who the members of the company were. Such a state of affairs left room for the wrongful manipulation of subsidies and aroused steadily increasing public disfavor. It was believed that the company was receiving the bonus in the case of very many immigrants whose coming to the country was not owing to its influence. Moreover, it was claimed that undue attention was being given to eastern Europe. On these grounds the contract was therefore annulled, terminating November 30, 1906. In the seven years of its operations this secret corporation had received from the Government the sum of $367,245.00. This is practically Canada's only experiment in the farming out of immigration propaganda and it entailed such serious and persistent criticism that such a method of inducing settlement is not likely again to be met with favorable consideration.

Indeed, the need for such an organization, if it ever existed, had disappeared. The tide of immigration had set strongly toward Canadian shores, and the problem was no longer to induce, but to safeguard and assimilate. Formal measures for the securing of continental immigrants have almost entirely ceased as far as the Canadian Government is concerned. It has continued to some extent in France, where the entente cordiale has resulted in the French Government winking at the operations of Canadian immigration officials. In Scandinavia the Government does not actively discourage emigration, but supervises emigration propaganda carefully in the interests of its citizens. To reliable information, however, from official Canadian sources they have given wide and effective publicity through the schools and otherwise. Practically all other European countries, however, vigorously suppress any such movement. The Scandinavians in Saskatchewan in 1911 numbered 33,991, as against only 1,452 in 1901. Many of these were born or had lived for years in the United States.

No influence for the securing of desirable citizens is so important and effective as personal letters from successful settlers to their friends in the old lands, or reports carried back by prosperous immigrants revisiting the homes of their childhood. Consequently the best "foreign settlements" in Saskatchewan consist largely of settlers who have not come in a body, but who were friends and neighbors in the home land.

Generally speaking, the immigrants from northern and north western Europe, and from Teutonic countries and provinces in particular, are an acquisition the value of which is unquestionable. As a general rule, they rapidly adapt themselves to Canadian institutions. Though, as a rule, they retain their mother tongue for domestic intercourse, they promptly set themselves to the learning of English. Their assimilation therefore presents no very serious problems. The present writer has been the guest in many scores of the homes of such settlers and has observed with interest the frequency with which certain important topics formed the staple of conversation around the family circle in the evening. These topics included the freedom these new settlers enjoyed from excessive taxation and onerous police supervision; the exceptional opportunities here presented for the poor man to enjoy the benefit of his own labor; the security of life and property, and the freedom from army conscription. As contrasted with these hopeful themes, the old folks would tell of the hardships and hopeless poverty from which they had escaped. Such topics habitually discussed with the rising generation cannot fail to produce excellent results.

Though a surprisingly small percentage have come direct from Germany, a very large proportion of our immigrants from continental Europe are German speaking. These include many thousands from Austria; a considerable number from Hungary; and a very large body of settlers from the German provinces of southwestern Russia.

A relatively small but exceedingly valuable immigration has come from Iceland. The movement to America commenced about 1874 and in 1875 some five hundred Icelanders settled about Lake Winnipeg. Six years later they numbered over six thousand. The early settlers experienced many hardships, suffering severely from epidemics of smallpox. Moreover, the lands they had chosen had been favored on account of their facilities for hunting and fishing, and were not particularly good for agricultural purposes. In spite of these drawbacks the Icelanders have made extraordinarv progress, and the overflow of their immigration into Saskatchewan has been heartily welcomed.

Another body of immigrants of continental origin, whose settlements in Saskatchewan have been offshoots from settlements in Manitoba, are the Mennonites. The members of that sect in this country are chiefly German Russians. They arc representatives of a religious body dating to early in the 16th century. The most outstanding tenets of whose creed arc those forbidding all oaths or preparations for warfare, and demanding the absolute separation of church and state. These doctrines involved them in serious difficulties with the authorities in their mother land, and the Canadian Government offered them an asylum, promising them exemption from military service and the right to live in colonies instead of upon their homesteads. The first settlements of Russian Mennonites were chiefly in Manitoba, the Mennonites of eastern Canada being of Pennsylvania!: origin. The immigration commenced in 1874 and by the end of the century the western Mennonites numbered over thirty thousand. While they arc possessed of many virtues, their exclusive habits have rendered them very difficult of assimilation. In recent years, however, rapid progress has been made, especially through the belated establishment of public schools in the Mennonite communities.

The citizen body of Austria-Hungary is made up of very diverse racial elements; approximately forty-five per cent, are Slavs; about twenty-five per cent, are Servian; sixteen per cent, are Magyars; the remainder include, many thousand Croatians, Ruthenians (popularly known as Galicians), Poles, Bohemians, Hebrews and other races. The immigrants to Canada are chiefly from the province of Galicia, and the movement from that quarter was brought about by the Xonh Atlantic Trading Company. As a general rule these settlers are primarily agriculturists. Those who have settled in the cities, however, have tended to congregate in congested slums where their presence has greatly added to the difficulties of those entrusted with the maintenance of law, order and the proper hygienic conditions.

Since 1906 the Canadian Government has made no further effort to secure this class of immigrants, but they have continued to come in large numbers. In 1907-8 the immigrants from Austria-Hungary numbered over 21,000; in 1908-9 nearly 11,000; in 1909-10 approximately 10,000; in 1910-11 over 16,000. Those that have not made for the urban centres have chiefly chosen timber lands in eastern Manitoba, north-central Saskatchewan and Alberta. These immigrants, as a rule, were very poor, but large numbers of them are already well-to-do. On account of their tendency to segregate themselves in self-contained communities, their assimilation has so far been rather discouragingly slow. Of late, however, most encouraging improvement in this respect has been prominently in evidence. Numerous Ruthenian districts have established schools, which, as regards building and equipment1, at all events, would put to shame many prosperous and long established settlements in the best parts of eastern Canada. And in these schools, despite many errors in the matter of management, the work of nationalization is proceeding apace.

Various Hebrew agricultural settlements have been established in Saskatchewan, notably at Hursch. at Edenbridge and near Lyton. These, however, have proved a doubtful success. The experience of centuries during which the Jews have been deliberately excluded from agricultural pursuits has rendered them essentially city dwellers. In too large a proportion of instances they have not prospered as farmers, and as soon as the titles to their homesteads have been obtained, the farms have usually been sold and their owners have removed to the urban centres. There are many exceptions to these general statements, however, and the census of 1911 showed in Saskatchewan the presence of 356 Jewish farmers, occupying with their families, over 76,000 acres of land. The grain they produced in 1912 was valued at over $170,000, and their assets over liabilities amounted to nearly a million dollars. Since 1907 Hebrew settlement has been under the general management of the Canadian Committee of the Jewish Colonization Association.

Our Jewish immigrants have shown a most praiseworthy interest in education. Owing to the provisions made by the Government of Saskatchewan for the establishing and support of rural schools, each Jewish colony is provided with an English School. To supply the want of Hebrew and religious education every colony has a Hebrew teacher. In newer districts where the farmers are not as yet able to support their own teacher the Jewish Colonization Association is making liberal provision in this regard. The Hebrew Teachers are carefully chosen. Apart from instructing the children, it is also their duty periodically to arrange lectures and debates for the benefit of the parents and the young men of the colonies. Monthly reports and close records are being kept of the children's progress, the results proving highly gratifying.

Several of the Colonics are in possession of Modern Synagogues, provided with libraries and recreation halls. Of great importance has also proven the establishment of "Free Loan Associations" in most of the colonies which is materially supported by this association. The Jewish Colonization Association also renders financial assistance in the shape of loans to Jewish settlers coming to western Canada with a view to establishing themselves on homesteads. A Jewish homesteader, after living on his land from one to two years and showing some progress can apply to this association for a loan which he receives at a very low rate of interest, viz: three or four per cent; thus enabling him to purchase the stock and implements necessary for a farmer.

Since 1907 the Canadian Committee has done a great deal to further the success of Jewish Colonization all through the Dominion, and the increasing success of our Hebrew settlers in recent years has been the result of its wise and liberal guidance.


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