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Insinger elected MLA soon after arrival in North West Territories

Two books detail aspects of early Dutch-Canadian emigrant history

Tags: Dutch Exploration

Little is known about the early history of Dutch emigration to Canada. There were firsts and first experiences, but no one bothered to write home about it: the good or the bad news. Historian Jan Krijff, a Dutch emigrant who returned to the Netherlands, made inquiries regarding this subject, and discovered some very interesting evidence which he guided into print. Indeed, in the final decade of the 19th century, two brothers did write home about it the move to Canada, and their impressions were also rushed into print.

What exactly were the factors in the Netherlands that pushed people to leave behind home, family and friends for opportunities elsewhere? Had America and Canada, billed as lands of opportunity, such a pull, that Europeans flocked by the tens of thousands across the Atlantic?

A group of 68 people enjoyed their last meal on Dutch soil in at the Volks-koffiehuis De Hoop in Amsterdam. Before boarding their ship, the party listened to speeches in which they received their send-off by members of the Committee for Emigration, a group of upper-class benefactors who wanted to help the working poor helping themselves by bundling them off to a new future in Canada.

Other than the life-story of Klaas de Jong, published in a regionally distributed book called Cauliflower Crown in the 1960s, not much had been written about the group of 68 landverhuizers which boarded the ship Sea Horse in Amsterdam for Hull, England, on April 1, 1893. There, they transferred to the ocean liner, S.S. Numidian. This ship took them, along with over 1,000 others, to Halifax, Canada. The group was accompanied by an experienced traveler, who had made the same journey some years earlier. Henry R. Roosmale Nepveu was the son of an influential Dutch banker and who had settled in Yorkton (now part of Saskatchewan). With his American-born bride, he was on his way back to Canada. Was their presence the reason that this party of Dutchmen received an official welcome both in Halifax and Winnipeg? In Halifax, the group was met by the honourary Dutch vice-consul, a prominent Canadian businessman named Wickwire. Interestingly, the welcome in Winnipeg was by a member of the legislature, Fredrik R. Insinger, a Dutch-Canadian, who since his arrival eight years earlier, already had been elected MLA for the district of Wallace (likely, he was the first Dutch-born immigrant to hold office in a - provincial or territorial - legislature in Canada). 

CPR promoted emigration at Fair

The arrival of the group was a significant boost to the Dutch emigrant community which then consisted of 73 individuals. They were spread out over a vast area: there were some living in the city of Winnipeg, the province of Manitoba and the North West Territories (which in 1886 included the regions now known as Saskatchewan and Alberta). However, in a broader context, the importance of the Dutch group's arrival that year pales when considering the total number of newcomers for that month which was tagged at 1,260, of whom nearly half came from Germany.  

In those years, the population of both Winnipeg and Manitoba was growing rapidly. In 1884, the Canadian government had published the pamphlet: Manitoba and the great North West of America - 200 million acres for colonization in which it promised a free homestead of 65 ha to every male colonist of 18 and over. A year earlier, at the World Fair of Amsterdam, the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) advertised the Canadian west as 'the land of opportunity.' It is not known what specifically attracted well-to-do individuals such as Insinger and Roosmale Nepvue to Canada's fifth province (formed in 1870) but these promises of free homesteads may well have fostered awakened for adventurism in many a (young) man. 

Brochure detailed trip to Canada

Roosmale Nepvue's contacts with the Committee for Emigration are obvious enough, since his father was a member of that group. The committee was concerned over extreme poverty in the entire country (such as many areas in Friesland), and with the emergence of Domela Nieuwenhuis' socialist party and escalating social unrest (i.e. strikes in the peat bogs), which threatened the position held by the privileged class. Therefore, the Committee sought ways to help those in need help themselves. Emigration was one such way. Krijff's book 100 Years Ago sheds light on this era, which was important in both Dutch-Canadian as well as Dutch emigration history. In his research, Krijff had the good fortune to find the prelude to Canada-bound emigration: a rare brochure, in which brothers Klaas and Reindert De Vries relate their early impressions of Canada. 'From Amsterdam to Canada: The Story of two emigrants, K. and R. de Vries of Jubbega-Schurega, departed from Amsterdam on May 14, arrived in Canada, June 2, 1892.' (Printed within months of their arrival in Canada, the pamphlet was serialized at once by the Leeuwarder Courant, while Johannes Gutteling, a Jubbega evangelist, sold individual copies of the brochure door-to-door.) The brochure played a major part in awakening interest in emigration to Canada, and was translated into English and re-published in Krijff's new book Leaving Home Forever. The book's historical setting details the conditions which prompted the De Vries' brothers to pull up stakes and cross the Atlantic. In this setting, the Committee for Emigration again plays a role as does, among others, the Nederlandsche Evangelische Protestantsche Vereniging. Several of these groups were part of, or influenced by the 19th century's religious re-awakening which in turn provides clues as to how and where prospective emigrants were enlisted.

The oldest CRC in Canada

Via Klaas and Reindert De Vries and the 68 of 1893, Krijff introduces another little known detail in Leaving Home Forever: the history of what could well have been Canada's oldest Christian Reformed congregation, College Avenue CRC at Winnipeg. By 1900, an independent house congregation had been formed which received help, first from the Reformed Church in America (RCA) but later chose to affiliate with the CRC and was instituted in 1908. (They were beat by the Alberta congregations of Nijverdal/Nobleford and Granum in 1905.) No, once in Canada, the De Vries brothers did not find the streets paved with gold. In fact, the 1892 brochure informs the reader how they reached their destination in Yorkton: '... we started off on our trip across the prairie, along some winding paths...' before arriving at Roosmale Nepveu's isolated homestead. There are still visible reminders of this episode in early Dutch emigration to Canada. Insinger had a Saskatchewan town named after him as did another Dutch settler in Manitoba: D.F.E.J. Boissevain. Yorkton still is home to descendants of Dutch emigrants of the 1890s while Winnipeg had a thriving Dutch community ever since. Krijff's work is a valuable contribution to building awareness' the history of Dutch emigration to Canada. 

Leaving Home Forever by Klaas and Reindert De Vries,  translated from the Dutch by Hendrika Ruger with a Preface by J.Th.J. Krijff. Softcover, 64 pages, illustrated, Can$14.95, US$11.95.

100 Years Ago, Dutch Immigration to Manitoba in 1893 by J.Th.J. Krijff with a Foreword by Mr. Hubert Kleysen, a second-generation Dutch-Canadian entrepreneur. Softcover, 107 pages, illustrated, Can$11.95, US$9.95.

Also published by Krijff is the book My 38 Years in America, which details the experiences of Klaas de Vries.

Please visit our online book store here for a copy of these boks or to explore our selection.