|Air Photo Study|
German Migration and Ottawa
|In the early formative years of the area that was to become Ottawa East Village, the community resembled a mosaic of tightly knit ethnic groups. Originally the area was sparsely populated mainly by Irish, English and Scottish immigrants who owned the vast majority of the land. By the late 1870's the population of future Ottawa East was approximately 700 people (1) of the same ethnic composition. In the 1880's however, this mix of the community began to change radically as a direct result of actions by the federal government in a land far away - in Germany.|
|By the late 1850's the Canadian government saw a need to encourage immigration from Europe through a concerted effort of recruitment. To that end, in 1857 it established an Immigration Agency in Ottawa under the direction of Francis C. Clemow (2), later to become a Senator (Clemow Avenue). Using recruitment agents in Europe, particularly in Germany and Norway, as well as agents situated at the ports of entry to Canada, many immigrants were persuaded to take advantage of free land grants and guaranteed employment in the Eastern Ontario Region.|
It appears, as described in government correspondence at the time, that Germans were highly sought after to occupy the sparsely settled areas in Canada. In 1862, a letter to P. M. Vankoughnet, Commissioner of Crown Lands, from William Wagner Esq., the Provincial Land Surveyor who had just been sent to Germany to recruit immigrants, noted that
From this letter it is clear that the initial immigration from Germany was focused on providing agricultural settlers to open public lands. In 1861, Clemow was replaced in Ottawa by William John Wills, who served as the Immigration Agent until 1894 (4). It was under his direction and encouragement that the German community was established in the Ottawa area.
Excerpts from Wills' 1864 report described a highly desirable situation for immigrants coming to the Ottawa area. He noted that
"Here in the city, the construction of public buildings afforded a field for all mechanics and such of the labouring class who desired to secure such situations . . . So great was the demand for imported labor that orders were always received from applicants in anticipation of the arrival of emigrants . . . (and new construction) will cause increased demand for stone-cutters, masons, bricklayers and carpenters . . . it may be reasonably anticipated emigrants and capitalists will be induced to seek a resident in close proximity to the capital of the country" (5).
As will be seen later, this report accurately predicted what was to occur as the community of Ottawa East became established. It was the Germans who settled here, that provided a large portion of the labour needed to build Ottawa.
Throughout the 1860's and 1870's a steady flow of German immigrants arrived in Canada. As detail in Thomas W. Carkner's definitive work "Ottawa Germania" (the principal source for this chapter), the majority of newly-arrived Germans that came to the region, settled in the city proper. It must be remembered that Ottawa East at that time was still a tiny community with little housing.
Those Germans that did settle in Ottawa, became a base for a community that was to rapidly grow in the next decade. Immigration in the 1870's slowed considerably as a result of a world-wide depression. With a reduction in trade there were fewer opportunities for employment and less money to fund immigration. For the most part those who did emigrate from Germany did so as a result of "chain migration" whereby immigrants already established in Canada sent money to assist family and friends in joining them in the new country. A further impediment to German migration came from the German government itself. Alarmed by the increasing tide of their citizens departing the "Vaterland", Berlin took steps to discourage people from leaving including arresting Canadian emigration agents working in Germany.
In the early 1880's there was a "new optimism and renewed immigration to the city of Ottawa"(6). The grip of the depression had lessened and the economy of Ottawa was flourishing. W. J. Wills, head of the Ottawa Agency for immigration hired Carl Maass, recently arrived in Ottawa, as an interpreter. This action had a pronounced effect on enticing German immigrants to settle in Ottawa as his brother Wilhelm, back in Germany, had taken on a major role in recruiting people to come to Canada. This provided the Ottawa German community with "a unique advantage when it came to arranging to bring out their family and friends"(7). As will be seen later, this action altered the ethnic mix of the Ottawa East community.
The number of Germans arriving in the Ottawa Valley grew steadily from 1879 to a "peak in 1884"(8). Some of the reasons for this were noted in the Ottawa Citizen in January of 1882 that contained an interview with W. J. Wills. In the article he was quoted as saying
"A great many German families come out chiefly from two causes, some to join relatives, others were induced to come through literature sent home by my interpreter Mr. Mass (sic), to parties in Germany. I may say that we get no better class of settler than those" (9).
The Maass brother's connection was obviously working!
John Dyke, the Liverpool Immigration Agent tasked with assisting immigrants to Canada, offered a further viewpoint as to why so many Germans emigrated and were successful in Canada. In his annual report of 1885, to the Canadian High Commissioner in London, England, he had several observations on conditions in Germany and the success of Germans compared to immigrants from the British Isles. He noted that
"No emigrants make better settlers than the Germans . . . no nationality is so soon merged in that of their adopted country . . . than the hardy Teuton . . . (and) the bulk of emigration comes from West Prussia, Posen, Pomerania and Mecklenburg, purely agricultural districts where the lowest wages are now being paid".
"The principal reason of the German's success, as compared with the Englishman's is that, although he may meet with the greatest difficulties to be found in Canada, he is far better off than when in his own country for a labourer in England will earn three times as much wages as one in Germany. The German, moreover, is much more content with small beginnings than his fellow emigrant from the British Isles . . . (and he) is far more valuable than the English settler, as he sends for his family"(10).
There was a significant decrease in general immigration beginning in 1885 with the onset of another world-wide depression. But the Ottawa German community continued to grow through 1887 (11) as a direct result of "chain migration". By 1888 the great boom of German migration to Ottawa was over and through the 1890's declined to a much slower pace. The reasons for the decline were mainly related to another depression and a change in priorities for the Canadian government. Support for immigration was directed away from Ottawa to the western provinces where there was a much greater need for settlement.
But as the 1901 Census reveals, the immigration boom of the 1880's and early 1890's had served to create a flourishing German community in Ottawa, and in particular, the Village of Ottawa East.
The Germans of Ottawa East - 1871 to 1901
The 1864 prediction by W. J. Wills that many German immigrants would settle close to Ottawa and seek employment in the building trades was spot on. As the table here indicates, the vast majority of the Germans who settles in Ottawa East worked as labourers, brick makers, carpenters, stone masons and painters with most others in service industries.
The first recorded German immigrant in Ottawa East was William Taratset. The 1881 Census lists him as a butcher (born in 1843), living with his wife Catherine (b. 1841) and his children William E., Henry A., Alex H., and Godfrey, all born in Canada. He is however, not listed in any of the municipal directories so his stay in Ottawa East was brief. The first resident of Ottawa East of German origin was Horace O'Dell (born in the USA) who started the O'Dell Brickworks here and is described elsewhere in this history.
Initially most German immigrants arrived as unskilled labour "employed in jobs at the bottom of the economic scale" (13) that nobody else wanted. With large families to support and no social safety net to rely on, these industrious, hardworking 'Teutons' rarely turned down an opportunity to better themselves. Perhaps one of the best examples of their work ethic can be seen in the occupation of 'stone breaking'.
As the city grew so did the demand for better roads. Ratepayers were no longer content with packed soil as a road surface as it suffered the vagaries of climate and made travel difficult. The demand now was for hard-packed surfaces of stone. The process of building this type of surface was known as "macadamization'' after the Scottish inventor John MacAdam. Essential to this process, as well as other types of public works, was a steady supply of broken stone. In the absence of a mechanical stone crusher, the city employed labourers to break rock by hand.
There was a stigma however, associated with this basic work. Many unemployed men felt that this occupation was "not just suitable" as reported in the Ottawa Citizen in April of 1877 (14). The article noted that a number of men seeking work from the City Engineer declined the work offered. "One man said he was not born to break stones and he wasn't going to take any mean advantage of nature because he happened to be a little hard up" (15). There was addition reticence associated with this occupation for many since stone breaking was a form of punishment meted out to prisoners held in the County Jail. For many therefore, this work was either too hard or better left to unemployed immigrants. And that was just fine for the newly arrived Germans.
In his book Carkner details numerous contracts given by the City to German immigrants. In July of 1873, Henry Haul received $1,037 for breaking 122 toise (tons) of stone at $8.50 per ton. With additional contracts he broke over 138 tons which amounted to "a block of stone that is 30 feet long, 30 feet wide and 33 feet high"(16). It is quite logical to conclude, as Carkner does, that Haul employed many of his fellow immigrants to accomplish this work.
Obtaining employment in public works was essential to the Germans in the Ottawa area. So much so that in 1890 the topic created a political furor in the newly incorporated Village of Ottawa East. In a December 17, 1890 article in the Ottawa Free Press, entitled "German Voters Kicking", it was reported that
"about forty German voters in the village . . . are enraged at their recent dismissal from work on the Rideau St. drain. . . (having been) refused work under the corporation owing to living outside the city and they are agitating for incorporation of the village with the city"(17).
In the village itself, much of the work on roads, drainage and building repair was done by Germans residing in the community. The rate of pay however was decidedly lower than that paid by the city.
As seen in Chapter Five, day-labour and contract work were regularly given to men such as Lemke, Ullrich, Romhild and Winges. It was rare for a village tender not to be bid on by a German resident. Others were employed locally in the brick works, lumber trade, carpentry and blacksmithing. And then there was William Romhild who, when not breaking stone, served as the village constable - an apt employment given his obvious formidable upper-body strength!
Almost every German immigrant was of the Lutheran faith and as such was connected to St. Paul's Church located at the corner of Wilbrod and King St. (later King Edward Ave.). The original church opened in August of 1875 but with the large influx of immigrants in the early 1880's it soon became inadequate. By 1886 the size of the congregation was so large that "three dozen chairs to seat the overflow in the aisles" had to be purchased. In January of 1888 plans for a new church were finalized and in January of the following year, the new stone structure was opened (18).
St. Paul's played an integral role in the German community in the late Nineteenth Century. Dependent almost exclusively on new immigrants for the growth of the congregation, the church from its very beginning was actively involved with encouraging emigration from the old country and in many cases provided assistance to those newly arrived.
Politically the German community played an active role in village life. The surviving village record (1898 to 1907) shows that each year there was at least one German seeking office as a Councilor or School Trustee. Charles Winges served as a Councilor in 1898 and 1900. Other Germans who either sought office of acted as nominators included: H. Herbst, W. Romhild, C. Plett, C. Romhild, F. Winges and A. Tubbe. The detail of their involvement can be found in Chapter Five.
It is not possible to document every German who lived in Ottawa East up to 1907. The census was taken every ten years and the municipal directories do not list ethnic origin. So therefore, many early residents will not be covered in this brief history. To assist those searching for roots, a table shown here comprising all of the Germans immigrants listed in the 1881, 1891 and 1901 censuses has been created. As well, various municipal directories have been extracted and are listed here.
There were a number of German families who were actively involved in the Village of Ottawa East during its existence. These include, but are not limited to, the Winges, Pranschkes, Noffkes, Messerschmidts, Ullrichs, Lemkes and Romhilds among many others. A brief genealogy of these families can be found at the following links:
These families have been selected because they reflect the period of immigration described above and they went on to form an important part of the German community of Ottawa East. Only time and space precludes inclusion of many other families who were equally as important.
The genealogical detail of the selected families has been reproduced with the kind permission of the original author Thomas W. Carkner. This material represents only a tiny portion of his extensive research into the German community of Ottawa. He retains ownership of the copyright. Any use of his work, reproduced here in the Ottawa East History Project, must have his written approval (See Project Sources).
The principal source for this chapter of the Ottawa East
History Project is the book entitled:
1 - There were approximately 80 families of all origins
listed in the municipal directory of 1881 for Archville but not including
the farming area to the south. An estimate from the 1881 federal census
reveals about 600 people in the area. The figure of 700 is therefore a
|Return to History Index|