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Arrival of 200,000th postwar Dutch immigrant merited no publicity

Dutch-speaking people large part of early Canadian history

Tags: Immigration

HALIFAX, Nova Scotia - Dutch people have been coming to Canada for centuries. Later this month, it will be the first time for many 1950s immigrants that they return to their point of entry at Pier 21 in Halifax. The Canadian version of New York’s Ellis Island in its opening year 1928, processed over 2,000 Dutch people entering the country. A Dutch 50th anniversary has been attached to the facility’s official 75th ‘birthday’, to ensure that memories of the arrival will be engraved in the community’s collective history a few decades longer. Dutch immigrants at Pier 21 were a significant factor, they were the fourth-largest group of civilians. The facility also handled returning Canadian soldiers after 1945.

That the Dutch community should focus on this Pier 21 celebration with a fiftieth anniversary of their own while the stream of post-war arrivals officially started in Montreal in 1947, has been questioned by some. Everyone has his or her own specific 50th to celebrate sooner or later.

For the community however, 1953 as an anniversary is a very understandable choice, since it represents the crest of the Dutch immigration wave with 20,095 newcomers that year. Only in 1952, a slightly higher number of Dutch immigrants had come ‘ashore’ in Canada, among them those who arrived by KLM plane.

Bol number 100,000

In 1954, Koosje Bol was welcomed as the 100,000th immigrant from the Netherlands. The arrival of the 200,000th Dutch immigrant since World War II has gone unnoticed. In 1982, this number of arrivals had risen to about 184,000 (*1). In the twenty-one years since, it is estimated that more than 16,000 others arrived in the country. The scale of postwar immigration is unprecedented in Dutch history.

Between 1946 and 1982, over 500,000 people said farewell to the Netherlands, with Canada as destination in descending order followed by Australia, the U.S.A., New Zealand and South Africa. Over that period, the U.S.A. attracted over 80,000 newcomers from the Neth-erlands, of whom many from the former Netherlands East Indies.


Throughout the 19th century a number of Dutch nationals settled in Canada, often entering the country through the backdoor along with other migrants from the U.S. They, when choice arable land became scarce there, opted for better opportunities in Canada. Early Dutch-born settlers founded such communities as Insinger, Boissevain (both in Rupert’s Land, now Manitoba, and named after their Dutch-born founders), Neerlandia and Nijverdal (Alberta) which later officially was named Nobleford.

These 19th century newcomers certainly were not the first Dutch-speaking migrants to call Canada home. Traces of archaic Dutch still can be found on grave markers at cemeteries along the northern shore of Lake Ontario. These people had been part of the significant Loyalist refugee migration which took place at the end of the American Revolution. Their descendants often can be identified through their anglicized Dutch names, such as Reyerson (Reyerse) and Van Clieff (Van Kleef). Some Dutch colonial Loyalists through their scattered and usually small Reformed congregations in the early 1800s joined Scottish settlers to institute what is now known as the Presbyterian Church of Canada. Others joined the Anglicans. Other Dutch American refugees settled in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

Not every Dutchman came peaceably on what would be Canadian soil much later. In the 1670s, the Dutch who were at war with France, attempted to wrest control of Acadia from the French. Dutch naval ships conquered several ports but were unable to hold on to their new territory for long (*2).


Dutch-Canadians usually assisted newly arrived Dutch immigrants in their efforts to acclimate. Those who had settled in Canada before World War II served as a vanguard for the stream of immigrants who arrived from 1947 on. Newcomers in some instances were encouraged by people from well established Dutch American groups. Dutch Canadian communities which for years had numbered just a few dozen of people, in a short time swelled to many hundreds. This was repeated in numerous locations. Most of these 1950s concentrations, with few exceptions, each have become significant contributors to the Canadian mosaic in their area.

Although most Dutch immigrants traveled to Ontario and beyond, some small Dutch immigrant concentrations took root in Nova Scotia. Particularly in that province’s various agricultural segments, Dutch immigrants soon were noted for their innovations on and off the farm, and as leaders in farming organizations. This phenomena occurred in Nova Scotia sooner then in other parts of Canada. Nova Scotia Dutch Canadian concentrations can be found in areas such as Antigonish, Kentville and Truro.

Own brand of banking

Elsewhere in Canada, Dutch Canadian communities replicated and refined infrastructures built earlier in the U.S. by immigrants from the Netherlands. This includes churches, schools, care homes, colleges, along with support systems and umbrella organizations. While in the U.S. many private banks were set up in various places, Dutch immigrants in Canada soon opted for the cooperative model they had known at home as the Raiffeisenbank and as the Boeren- leenbank. Of the current credit unions, only DUCA (the Toronto region) and St. Willibrord (Southwest Ontario with London as centre (*3), as well as the Christian Credit Union of Edmonton maintain a full line of service. DUCA and St. Willibrord today are among the largest credit unions in Ontario. All of these organization and services now cater beyond their initial constituency, although some maintain adherents’ restrictions.

Such community infrastructure particularly has allowed Dutch Canadian groups to introduce significant innovations in general society. In addition, Dutch Canadians also have produced numerous businesses and individual efforts that have greatly enriched local communities.

The developments in the Dutch Canadian community have been documented already for decades by staff at the Windmill Herald. Most material has been preserved for reference and research purposes. Immigrant history, including facsimiles of documents and pictures, is a significant part of this collection.

*1) See To All Our Children, Albert VanderMey, Paideia Press, 1983. VanderMey compiled the statistics used for this article.

*2) More on this subject can be read in the following books: Dutch: Peoples of the Maritimes, by G.H. Gerrits; and Silent Ethnicity: The Dutch of New Brunswick, by Will. C. van den Hoonaard.

*3) The story of this organization is elaborately detailed in the book Roots and Branches (Hardcover) (Paperback).

All three titles are available from Vanderheide Publishing Co. Ltd., 1-800-881-0705, and also are listed in the online catalogue at