Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Manitoba's Teutonic heritage

For two centuries, Germans have been contributing to the province's culture

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What do more than 250,000 Manitobans have in common?

It all starts in the early 1800s. According to the last Manitoba study from the provincial Department of Culture and Heritage, the second-largest ethnic group in Manitoba is the German-Canadian cultural group. German culture, traditions and language, therefore, contribute significantly to Manitoba's ethnic mosaic. To appreciate the culture and traditions of any ethnic group, one should have some knowledge about the history of its people.

In Manitoba, it was mostly a steady stream of immigrants, beginning with the mercenaries of Lord Selkirk in the early 1800s, followed by a wave of immigrants after the First World War until the Great Depression, and resumed again after the Second World War, only to subside again to a trickle in the 1970s and thereafter. The first mention of Germans in Manitoba was made in 1816-17, when Lord Selkirk dispatched some 100 mercenaries of the de Meuron and the de Watteville regiments from Montreal after the Massacre at Seven Oaks (June 1816) to protect and populate the Red River Settlement. These soldiers had originally been in Canadian service in the War of 1812. They served for pay and outright land grants in the form of lots along the Red River and German Creek (Seine River), close to Fort Douglas to defend it.

In the following years, more and more Germans settled in and around Winnipeg, and the German language began to appear in the trading shops. Bishop Anderson, principal of St. John's Collegiate School, wrote in 1852: "... my senior scholar can read in Luther's own translation the German of the Gospel of St. John... and we combined thus the ancient with the modern tongues, and those of modern Europe with the two of our own land." In 1874 George Rath, a vice-president of Western Canada's first German Society, became quite famous when he successfully introduced a new method of delivering drinking water to Winnipeggers and outlying homes. "Rather good for Rath," commented the local papers.

Wilhelm Hespeler has probably done more than anybody else to attract German-speaking settlers to Manitoba. The first 70 Mennonites families arrived in July 1874, and by 1878 they and those who had followed after them, had established some 40 villages whose names are of Mennonite, Austrian and German origin. Lord Dufferin's wife wrote home after having visited these villages: "What gain they are to this country?"

German courses had been offered at the University of Manitoba since the early 1880s, German became an accredited subject in 1886, and was highly recommended for studies in the sciences.

On May 17, 1889, the first German newspaper, Der Nordwesten, appeared under the direction of Pastor Schmieder and Consul Wilhelm Hespeler and was greeted at length in the Free Press. In 1900 it had a circulation of 4,000; by 1912 it had reached 25,000. Today, some 110 years later, the same weekly is still published in Winnipeg for all of Canada under the name Kanada Kurier. Also on that day in 1889, the first German examination given at the U of M met with great success. There are so many more Canadians of German background whose achievements have greatly enriched the lives of their fellow Manitobans -- and will continue to do so.

On Nov. 2, 1985, a conference was held to organize the Manitoba branch of the German-Canadian Congress, and on April, 25, 1986, the German-Canadian Congress Manitoba Inc. was incorporated, with Mr. Abe Peters as president and Mr. Paul Kammerloch (the current German consul in Manitoba) as vice-president. In that year, Statistics Canada reported 192,000 people in Manitoba are of German-speaking heritage, some 78,000 of whom live in the city of Winnipeg. (A total of 2.5 million Canadians reported ethnic German roots). As per the 2006 Canadian census, some 3,179,425 Canadians claim to be of German ethnic origin, making German-Canadians the second-largest ethnic group in Canada.

Today, Manitoban citizens with German ancestors are organized in the German-Canadian Congress (GCC), which is an non-profit organization with no political affiliations. It's an umbrella organization, representing some 40 member associations, clubs, and many more individual members. The GCC supports and encourages activities that deal with important cultural, economic, educational, historical and social issues that relate to the Canadian-German community in Canada. One of the highlights of the German Canadian Congress in Manitoba is the annual Christkindlmarkt in the Fort Garry Mall from Nov. 30 to Dec. 2, 2012. The GCC in Manitoba has hosted the longest-running Christkindlmarkt in Canada. This old German tradition will delight your senses and warm your heart with local artists, German imports, German baking, entertainment and much more.

The Christmas market still takes place every year in the time of the advent in many German-speaking regions.

The origin of the Christmas market goes back to the Middle Ages, where sales fairs and markets were held in the fall for citizens to purchase meats and other products needed in the winter months. The Christmas market as we know it was first recorded in the 12th century and became an important pre-Christmas tradition during the first half of the 20th century. The Christmas market usually closes before Christmas Day.

A typical Christmas market consists of many kiosks placed along the streets and on squares of a city. There, you can buy baked goods and regional specialties such as printen -- gingerbread, Berlin doughnuts, spekulatius and stollen. Sweets such as chocolate figures, cotton candy, roasted almonds, hot maroons, as well as warm dishes are also offered. Very traditional are also drinks such as the "glühwein," or hot wine, and the "weihnachtsbock," which is an especially rich-tasting beer. Usually, you will also find kiosks selling Christmas decor, Christmas-tree decor such as glass ornaments, poinsettia and tinsels, or even handcrafted goods such as Christmas cribs, candle arches and fume figurines.

At most Christmas markets, there will be an artistic and cultural entertaining program. A St. Nicolas, Santa Clause or the "Christkind" is there to give little presents to the children. Sometimes there will be groups of figures to depict the Christmas scene or fable scenes. And there are orchestras and drama groups, entertaining on a stage or the balcony of the town hall.

The big Christmas tree and festive lighting that stand in contrast to the darkness give the Christmas market a special charm.

Since 1985, with the help of many volunteers, the GCC plans a Christkindlmarkt every year. The market is meant to uphold German traditions and to collect funds for cultural events and purposes in Manitoba throughout the year. For example, the congress often issues scholarships for skilled students, awards grants for study trips, supports the German school and other educational institutions that relate to the German language or culture.


Werner M. Klinger is secretary general of the German Canadian Congress Manitoba Inc.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 27, 2012 J11

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