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EARLY SETTLEMENT

Nova Scotia was home to Canada's oldest cohesive German settlement, which developed between 1750 and 1753 when 2400 Protestant southwest German farmers and tradesmen landed with their families in Halifax. They were recruited by British agents to strengthen Britain's position in Acadia vis-à-vis the French. Handbill advertisements had been posted throughout central Europe, and 'Foreign Protestants', mainly from agricultural communities along the Rhine River corridor, responded to the offer and emigrated to Nova Scotia. Most came from the Upper Rhine area of present-day Germany, from the French- and German-speaking Swiss cantons, and from the French-speaking principality of Montbéliard (now part of France). [1] 

In 1753, 1400 of these Germans started the nearby community of Lunenburg. Although arriving with no marine skills, they became expert fishermen, sailors and boatbuilders by the next generation. In the 1760s land grants attracted some additional 1000 Germans from New England and Germany to Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley.

During the next two centuries, most Germans were drawn to Canada by the prospect of farming on abundant and cheap land and preserving distinct religious lifestyles. However, they also played noticeable roles as entrepreneurs, professionals, artists, and tradesmen in the beginning of Canadian urban life in cities such as Halifax.

While Germans from rural eastern Europe tended to organize community life around their churches, immigrants from urbanized Germany established secular social clubs. The first German Canadian ethnic organization of Canada originated in Nova Scotia with the Halifax High German Society (1786-1791). Nova Scotia was also home to the first German-language press in Canada, the Halifax Neu-Schottländischer Calender (1788-1801). [2]
 

TODAY'S POPULATION

Today’s German ethnic and German-speaking population in Nova Scotia is of a diverse make-up and consists of people born to Canadians of Austrian, German and Swiss descent as well as European newcomers to the province. In 2006, there were:

  • 83,610 people of German;
  • 2,285 people of Swiss; and
  • 1,515 people of Austrian ethnic origin living in Nova Scotia. [3]

Of those, the following are first generation residents (i.e. people born outside of Canada):

  • 5,385 from Germany;
  • 345 from Switzerland; and
  • 340 from Austria.
Nova Scotia Population with Austrian, German or Swiss Ethnic Origin 15 years and over.

Nova Scotia Population with Austrian, German or Swiss Ethnic Origin 15 years and over.

GERMAN SETTLERS DAY ACT

German Settlers Day is kept and observed each year on June 7th in the Province of Nova Scotia. This date was established in the 58th General Assembly of the Nova Scotia Legislature in 2001 under the title German Settlers Day Act to recognize the German settlers of Nova Scotia.

View German Settlers Day Act
 

250 YEARS LITTLE DUTCH (DEUTSCH) CHURCH

Address given at a service of Choral Holy Communion on the occasion ofthe 250th Anniversary of the Consecration of St. George’s Church, also known as the Little Dutch (Deutsch) Church,  25th of April, 2011 

Henry Roper, President, Royal Nova Scotia Historical Society

In 1761, the second day of Easter was the 23 March, a month earlier than in 2011. The“Foreign Protestant” congregation mainly comprised of Germans must have felt a deep sense of pride in welcoming Lieutenant-Governor Jonathan Belcher and other dignitaries to the consecration of their church.

The Foreign Protestants had been brought to Nova Scotia between 1750-52 to augment the English settlerswho had arrived with Governor Edward Cornwallis to found Halifax. It is hard for ustoimagine how hard those early years must have been.  Most of the Foreign Protestants knew little or no English; from the beginning the English-speaking settlersreferredto them as “Dutch” and the north suburbs where they were settled as “Dutchtown.” Many were “redemptioners,” in debt for their fares to John Dick,  the agent who recruited them. These debts were assumed by the government, which meant that the Germans were required to meet their financial obligation by working on the fortifications in and around Halifax. Inexperience and lack of English meant that they were shamelessly cheated of rations by the commissary and the chief storekeeper, both of whom were eventually dismissed by Governor Cornwallis for “irregularities.”  

The first group of 250 German immigrants arrived on the ship Ann on the 13 July, 1750. They brought with them an epidemic, probably typhus, which threatened the entire settlement in Halifax. In 1751 three lots to be used “for a Burying Ground and Dutch Church” wereassignedto the Foreign Protestant community.  The pressing need for such a cemetery wasgraphically made clear by excavations under this building in 1996 and 1998 which exposed a mass grave of 30 bodies clearly dugin haste; examination of the remains have revealed that at least one person buried there wasaboriginal. 

By 1752between 2,000 and 3,000 settlers, mainly Germans from the Rhineland, some Swiss and some French Protestants from the tiny principality of Montbéliard, had arrived in Halifax. After years of indecision, the authoritiesdecided to settle the community in what was to become Lunenburg . Some Germans, however, did not leave Halifax, probably those who arrived in the first wave of migration and had been given lots in the “north suburb” in 1751. The German community that remained was augmented by returnees from Lunenburg when economic conditions improved during the Seven Years’ War from 1756-63; in 1763 it included perhaps 250 people, or sixty-odd families.

The community, “by the united effort of voluntary hands” moved a small house to their burying ground in 1756, which they had obtained in exchange for some lumber. In Europe the dead were buried in or near churches; it is a poignant indication of their attachment to tradition, as well asdevotion to the memory of those who died, that the Germans erected this church over themass grave of 1751.  For two years they worked to convert the house to a church.  The Chaplain to the troops in Halifax conducted its first service,  in German, at Whitsuntide, 1758. Enlarged between 1758-60 and given a spire containing a bell brought from the recently captured town of Louisbourg , the church was to have been consecrated in October, 1760 in the presence of Governor Charles Lawrence. His death put off the eventuntil the following year. The choice of St. George, the patron saint of England, as the name for their church expressed the Germans’  loyalty to the Crown, and was particularly appropriate with the accession of the youthful George III to the throne in October 1760.   

As a chapel within St. Paul’s parish, St. George’s was consecrated by the rector of St. Paul’s, the Rev. John Breynton . Breynton celebrated Holy Communion and spoke to the congregation in both English and German. According to one account, he also gave a third address in French.  Breyntonbrought along the communion vessels used during the service. It was not until 1779 that the German congregation invested the substantial sum of57 pounds, 2 shillings and 1 pence in “a silver can, a silver cup, one large and one small plate, in all four pieces.”  That they could afford such expensive vessels is obviously an indication of how far the community had come in the 27 years since Cornwallis’ successor Governor Peregrine Hopson had described the Germanswho arrived in 1752 as “poor wretches that have scarce a farthing among them…”   

One of the people who must have been relieved at the arrival of the St George’s communion vessels, still in the possession of the church,  was Dr Breynton. In the words of Canon Francis Partridge, “It was probably a troublesome thing for the Rector of St. Paul’s to carry with him the holy vessels every time he went to St. George’s to celebrate the Holy Mysteries.”  We are fortunate today to have with us today not only Dr Breynton’s successor, Dr Paul Friesen, but St. Paul’s own 18th century silver communion vessels, whichwill be usedat today’s service.  Although not the ones that would have been brought by Dr Breynton in 1761, they remind us that the Rector of St. Paul’s visited St. George’sthree or four times a year to celebrate Holy Communion until theRev. Bernard Houseal, a Loyalist refugee, began to serve the congregation in 1785.

Historians are not supposed to be fanciful, but I imagine the Germans, participating in the consecration of their church on the first day after Easter, must have remembered the sufferings they had undergone during their early years in Nova Scotia, and how their community had survived adversityin a new and strange land. Rebirth was an immediate reality for those present 250 years ago;  it was only fitting that they placed at the top of their prized steeple, a cockerel,  symbol of resurrection.


More Information about Little Dutch Church
 

SOME FACTS ABOUT THE GERMAN LANGUAGE

  • About 100 million people speak German as their mother tongue. 
  • In the international book production, German is ranked third. 
  • In the number of Internet sites, German is ranked second. 
  • In the European Union, 90 million people speak German as their mother tongue. 
  • German is among the ten most spoken languages in the world. 
  • German is the largest native language in the European Union. 
  • 16 million people worldwide learn German as a foreign language. [4]