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Images of Canadianness

Leen D’Haenens

Part Two. Bilingual Canada: A Multicultural Mosaic

The Belgian Presence in Canada

Cornelius J. Jaenen

Texte intégral

1Flemings from Antwerp have been interested in the northern regions of North America since the Middle Ages when they participated in trade with the Viking colonies in Greenland and Vinland [Newfoundland]. They later became involved in the lucrative walrus hunts and the chartering and insuring of vessels bound for the Newfoundland cod fisheries in the 15th century. Cartographers associated with the University of Louvain, especially Gerard Mercator, played a key role in the transition to modern map-making. The maps of Gerard de Jode, Cornelius de Jode, and Abraham Ortelius were an important contribution to European knowledge of the region.


2In the period of French colonization (1604-1760) a few Belgians found their way to la Nouvelle-France and contributed to its economic and cultural development. A few Walloon Protestants from the colony on Staten Island (New York) associated with their pastor Pierre Minuit were involved with Huguenots in the fur and supplies trade with Québec. Among the soldiers, craftsmen and brides sent to the colony by Louis XIV’s ministers there were found to be a few Walloon Calvinists and Flemish Lutherans. The craftsmen employed in Québec included master-builders, engineers, and one architect. In the 1750’s a Flemish fortifications contractor along with some quarrymen, bricklayers and lime-burners were hired to strengthen the defenses of the fortress in Louisbourg.

3The major contribution was to the nascent Catholic church in New France. Eight Recollets of the Franciscan order, three of whom suffered martyr’s deaths, served as chaplains at military posts, as missionaries to the Amerindians, and as parish priests. Best known is Louis Hennepin of Hainaut, who accompanied the explorer Robert Cavelier de La Salle in search of the Mississippi, and who published Ontdekking van Louisiana (Amsterdam, 1688) and Aenmerckelijcke historische Reijs-Beschrijvinge door verscheijde Landen veel groeter als die geheel Europa (Utrecht, 1698), both of which went through numerous editions in several languages. Two Recollets from the Low Countries which would become Belgium (henceforth the “Belgian region”) worked among the Gaspé fishing settlements and the Micmac Indians. Their early exploits were recorded by Chrestien Le Clercq, Premier Etablissement de la Foy en Nouvelle France (Paris, 1691).

4The Jesuits were the principal missionaries to the Native peoples. Seven pioneer missionaries came from the Belgian region, among them Philip Pierson who worked among the Hurons and Sioux of the upper Great Lakes region, François de Crespeuil among the nomadic Montagnais, Jean-Baptiste Tournois among the Iroquois at Kanawaké reserve, and Pierre Potier with the Hurons of Detroit/Windsor. A final contribution in this colonial period was that of Pierre-Herman Dosquet, fourth bishop of Québec, who sought to raise the educational standards of clergy and laity and to eradicate the illicit brandy traffic.


5Following the cession of New France to the British Crown in 1763, few Belgians, apart from zealous missionaries, settled in British North America (1763-1867). There was some immigration to the coal mines of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick and to the towns of Québec which moved the Belgian government to open consulates in Montréal, Québec and Halifax. But many of the miners who came to Nova Scotia moved on to join compatriots in the Pennsylvania mining towns. Belgian authorities quickly became concerned about the welfare of emigrants. In 1842 conditions on board steamships leaving Belgian ports were strictly regulated and consuls were required to report regularly on the welfare of nationals working abroad. In 1856, for example, the consul in Montréal reported that factory workers were in great demand there and would find favourable working conditions, as would farmers and tradesmen throughout Québec. However, the trickle of Belgian emigration at this time was directed more to the United States, especially to Michigan, Indiana, and Wisconsin, than to the British colonies.

6In 1859 the colony of the United Canadas appointed a Select Committee on Immigration which recommended that assisted passages and grants of free land offered to British nationals be extended to Belgians. In response to this new policy, a group of ninety-nine families arrived in Québec in 1862 under the direction of an independent agent named A. H. Verret. This laid the groundwork for subsequent immigration policy in the new Dominion of Canada created out of four British colonies in 1867, to which the new provinces of Manitoba, British Columbia and Prince Edward Island were soon added, as well as the extensive North-West Territories.


7The creation of the Dominion of Canada in 1867, with overlapping provincial and federal jurisdiction in the field of immigration, resulted in the provinces of Québec and Manitoba and the federal government in Ottawa seeking a share of the flow of immigrants from Antwerp to North America. Legislation was soon in place providing free land grants and homestead patents to industrious settlers in Western Canada. The first Immigration Act, 1869, created a class of preferred countries, including Belgium, which were regarded as civilized Christian constitutional monarchies resembling Great Britain, and therefore choice sources of immigrants.

8Canadian authorities employed six means of attracting new settlers. Firstly, they appointed immigration officers-the first of whom was Edouard Simaeys, originally from Tielt in West Flanders-for Europe with offices in Antwerp. These immigration agents portrayed Québec and Manitoba with their Catholic majorities and bilingualism as particularly suitable places. Flemish farmers and Walloon miners and industrial workers were considered “desirable” according to the instructions issued Joseph Marmette, special immigration agent in 1883. The most successful agent was Désiré Tréau de Coeli, a trilingual Belgian from Hull, appointed permanent immigration agent in Antwerp in 1898. He gave weekly lectures, published a monthly bulletin in both French and Flemish for distribution to teachers, clergy, ticket agents, etc., and arranged for Canadian participation in the universal and local exhibitions.

9The second approach was the enlistment of the railway and steamship companies through bonuses paid for every immigrant landed at a Canadian port of entry. Assisted passages were also offered on participating steamship lines such as the Allen Steamship Line, the White Star Line and the Belgian government-subsidized Red Star Line to immigrant families. The North Atlantic Trading Company, composed of European shipping agents, was organized secretly by W.T.R. Preston in London to divert immigrants destined for the United States to Canada. But there were abuses which were addressed in part on the Belgian side by the Société de Protection des Emigrants, organized in Antwerp in 1882, and the Oeuvre de l’Archange Raphaël, organized in St. André-lez-Bruges in 1888. The Oblates opened an emigration center in Antwerp under the direction of Father C. Delouche.

10Thirdly, a publicity campaign was launched in the regions of Belgium most susceptible to provide the type of immigrants required. A Commission du Travail, established in 1886, had reported on appalling labour conditions and relations in the industrialized regions of Wallonia and had recommended emigration for the impoverished. Many Flemings were accustomed to sojourn in northern France or the industrial centers of Wallonia. Canadian efforts were directed to attracting this migrant labour force in the hope that a chain migration would ensue.

11Fourthy, Canadian authorities subsidized the publication of pamphlets written by successful immigrants. This propaganda included J.V. Herreboudt’s Le Canada au point de vue de l’émigration (1890), Gustaaf Vekeman’s Guide des émigrants au Canada (1890), Louis Hacault’s Notes de Voyage au Canada (1890) and Gustaaf Willems, Les Belges au Manitoba, Lettres authentiques (1894). Steamship companies published their own immigration literature. But all recruiting had to be carried out with circumspection because Belgium had placed severe restrictions on emigration when reports of gross misrepresentation and exploitation of emigrants came in from consular offices abroad.

12A fifth approach was the official sponsorship by provincial governments of visits by articulate and successful immigrants to their villages and regions of origin to induce their countrymen to join them abroad. These return men enjoyed some success but they came under close scrutiny by the Ministry of Justice because their activities violated many of the protective measures the Belgian government had put in place to eradicate fraud and deception.

13Finally, tours of prospective areas of settlement in Canada were arranged for Belgian officials and journalists. Louis Hacault as journalist with the Courrier de Bruxelles was so impressed by rural Manitoba that he settled there himself. The engineer Georges Kaiser toured western Canada with a French colonization company group in 1887 and ten years later published his observations in Au Canada (Bruxelles, 1897). In 1900 a group headed by Louis Barceel visited western Canada in the interests of Antwerp businessmen. The following year, the vice-consul in Ottawa, E. R. de Vos, was instructed to investigate prospects in agriculture, mining, business and investment and report back to Brussels on the accuracy of private assessments from individuals who had been given guided tours. Finally, in 1929 Louis Variez and Lucien Brunin were commissioned to report on all centers of Belgian settlements in Canada. Their tour was at the expense of the several provincial governments and the Canadian Pacific Railway Company, all of which had an interest in promoting immigration.


14Emigration to Canada can be categorized as falling into four periods, coinciding with adverse conditions in Belgium and apparently favourable conditions in Canada. In the period before 1896 the majority of Belgians who came to North America arrived in New York and remained in the United States. There was some spillover into southwestern Ontario from Detroit and environs. Québec made the greatest effort to attract Catholic industrial and agricultural workers and publicized opportunities for newcomers in such brochures as the abbé P. J. Verbist’s Les Belges au Canada (1872). Appeals for experts in agriculture from the institutes at Vilvoorde and Gembloux resulted in the introduction of flax cuitare and the linen industry and in the commercial growing of sugar beets and sugar refining in the 1870’s. The introduction of new technology and the arrival of experienced farmers enabled both Québec and Ontario to develop butter and cheese-making on a commercial scale. There were also several projects to set up bloc settlements but the only one which enjoyed a limited success was Gustaaf Vekeman’s colony in the Sherbrooke area of Québec in the 1880’s, where numerous Flemings took up mixed farming.

15In this first period of immigration – coinciding with industrial unrest in Wallonia and population pressure in the Flemish region – Manitoba held out possibilities of building a new and more prosperous life on the 65 hectares of free land then offered as a “homestead”. Few knew the difficulties of pioneering in a strange land, a rigorous climate and a challenging environment physically and socially. Soon a sizable community developed in St. Boniface and small farming hamlets like St. Alphonse, Bruxelles, and Mariapolis emerged in the southwestern part of the province. A visionary French priest, the abbé Jean Gaire, dreamed of a chain of francophone parishes stretching across western Canada and proceeded in his recruiting efforts to attract a number of Walloon settlers from the province of Luxembourg. Walloon glass workers began arriving in Ontario’s nascent industry, while miners took jobs in the collieries of Nova Scotia and Vancouver Island.

16The second period of immigration began in 1896 with the coming to power of the Liberals who pursued a vigorous policy of building up eastern Canadian industries and western Canadian agriculture through enhanced immigration. In 1903, direct steamship links between Belgium and Canada avoided the necessity of departing from Britain or arriving at American ports where agents tried to divert new arrivals to the American Midwest. Also, in 1906 new legislation moved away from an agricultural bias to a program to attract Belgians to mining, construction, forestry and industry. About thirteen thousand arrived during the next eight years – miners, navies, craftsmen and a wide spectrum of agriculturists including dairymen, market gardeners, fruit growers, beet and tobacco growers. In 1903 the Union Belge was organized in Montréal to coordinate the social, recreational and business activities of a growing community in Québec, and two years later the Belgian Club was organized in St. Boniface with similar objectives for the Manitoba community.

17Another fourteen thousand followed in the decade after the First World War, many recruited by the railway companies, the sugar beet manufacturers, and the tobacco companies. Ontario’s Belgian-born population doubled numerically in the 1920’s as the Dominion Sugar Company recruited field and factory workers in the Flemish region and the growing of flue-cured tobacco caught on in the sandy soils of southwestern Ontario and attracted Belgian growers from the neighbouring United States and directly from Europe. Belgians figured prominently in market gardening and dairying in the Richelieu valley of Québec, the Red River valley in Manitoba and the Fraser valley in British Columbia.

18The last and greatest period of immigration from 1945 to 1975 did not result in the emergence of new Belgian settlements as most new arrivals went either to urban centers or to settlements already established by their predecessors. Economic pressures after World War II influenced more Belgians than ever before to look abroad for a better life. The decline of the coal, iron and steel industries centered in Wallonia, as well as the loss of the Belgian Congo in the 1960’s and the return of many professionals and technicians to a depressed economy, provided strong incentives for emigration. However, it is worth noting that it was the Flemish-speaking region, which was now becoming industrialized, that provided the majority of the emigrants. In Canada, immigration policy shifted in 1962 from preferred groups to individuals with desirable education, training and skills. Now immigrants came from the industrial, commercial and professional sectors more often than from the agricultural sector. Québec attracted about two-thirds of these immigrants, especially teachers and professors in disciplines outside traditional provincial programs, professionals, and skilled workers, particularly in the domains of biotechnology, aeronautics, and computer science.

19In Canada, the Belgians constitute a small community by any measure. In 1991 only 31,475 said they were of Belgian origin with another 59,435 indicating Belgian as one of their origins. In other words, if respondents who mentioned “Belgian” as one of their multiple origins are included, the total reaches 90,910. Flemings outnumber Walloons four to one and are found across the country, with a particularly important bloc in southwestern Ontario and in Manitoba. Walloons have gravitated to Québec and to small francophone communities across the western provinces.

20This Belgian-origin population is spread unevenly across the country. In comparative terms Québec’s share of Belgian-origin population declined in the 1980’s, while Ontario’s share increased and also benefited from inter-provincial migration. Some of these immigrants and migrants went to Ontario’s tobacco belt, but the greater number went to the commercial and industrial Greater Toronto region. Elsewhere in Canada, communities followed the general trends of urbanization and occupational mobility. There is a large concentration of about 43 percent of the total in Ontario, and Québec and Manitoba each have about 17 percent of the total Belgian-origin population. This population is more rural than urban, except in Québec, where it is overwhelmingly concentrated in the Montréal region, and in British Columbia, where more than half live in urban communities. In Manitoba, one third are found in the greater Winnipeg region, while in Ontario they are concentrated in the southwestern counties – up to 1921 in Essex and Kent, but more recently also in Norfolk county and metropolitan Toronto.


21In 1895 Ferdinand Van Bruyssel, a former consul general in Montréal, warned prospective immigrants that professionals should not contemplate pursuing their careers in Canada unless they had sufficient resources. The caution did not apply to industrialists and financiers. Even before there was direct steamship service between Antwerp and Canadian ports in 1903, glass products and structural iron and steel were in sufficient demand to sustain a network of Belgian importers and entrepreneurs in Canada. Gérard Macquet, for example, organized Québec’s department of transport in 1887 which undertook the immediate construction of forty-eight metal bridges. The following year, under Van Bruyssel’s direction, the Comptoir Belgo-Canadien, a conglomerate originally including fourteen major companies, was incorporated to negotiate railway construction and maintenance and public works in general. From 1902 to 1975 the Belgo-Canadian Paper Company, under the direction of Hubert Biermans, operated successfully at Shawinigan until it was absorbed into what became Consolidated Bathurst. In 1922 the Belgian Trade Syndicate had been organized in Brussels which provided information and personnel essential to such successful ventures as Alexis Nihon in ceramic, marble and granite products, the Miron holdings in cement and concrete, and the Simard family in shipbuilding. In 1932 the Liège-based Franki company began the construction of large buildings on piles from Montréal to Vancouver. A few years later, it was Louis Empain who opened what was then an unprecedented resort center, Domaine de l’Esterel, in the Laurentians north of Montréal featuring a luxury hotel, a commercial complex, a sports club, and a theater.

22Activity spread to other regions. Union Minière Canada revived the northern mining community of Pickle Lake in Ontario, for example. At the turn of the century several financial organizations with interlocking directorates, backed by Antwerp banks and investment conglomerates, were incorporated to buy up large tracts of land on the western prairies and in the Okanagan valley of British Columbia, to promote Belgian settlement, and to participate in the urban booms of Winnipeg, Edmonton and Calgary.

23In 1929 Leon Dupuis organized the Canadian-Belgian Chamber of Commerce in Vancouver, which played a role in western Canada similar to that played by the Comptoir Belgo-Canadien in central Canada. By using the Hudson’s Bay railway route, the Dupuis enterprises had no real competitors in rails, structural steel, wire, cement and glass until the outbreak of World War II.

24Belgians became active again in 1945, especially in mining and the petroleum industry. Through a number of organizational changes, including Sogémines and Solvay in mining and the metallurgical industries, Genestar emerged in 1965 as a major player. Canadian Petrofina, Canadian Hydrocarbons, Great Northern Gas Utilities are but a few of the Belgian-backed companies that contributed significantly to the economy and industrialization of a region previously limited to agriculture. By 1960 Belgium ranked just after the United States and the United Kingdom in investments in Canada.


25In the 1880’s miners in Hainaut were actively recruited for their particular skills by the Dominion Coal Company which operated mines at the Glace Bay, Dominion, and Reserve Mines in Cape Breton. A consular report for 1896 indicates that many of these men were dissatisfied with wages and working conditions in Cape Breton and that they moved on to the smaller mining centers of the Inverness, Pictou, and Stellarton (Nova Scotia). The report goes on to say that when they had earned sufficient money to move on again, they left with their fellow workers from Italy and Slovakia for the mines of Pennsylvania. This pattern of migration continued as many left the United States to return to Canada, first to Vancouver Island, and eventually to Alberta.

26Walloon miners, who had a reputation for being radical and anti-clerical, were well acquainted with their syndicalist tradition, and experienced in organizing unions and workingmen’s political associations when they immigrated. In 1909 they were caught up in a bitter struggle between the Dominion Coal Company and the United Mines Workers of America, who were seeking certification. Those who favoured unionization lost their jobs and the right to company housing. The company found that replacements hired in Belgium to break the strike tended to make a common cause with their dismissed compatriots. There were many similar strikes at other Nova Scotia mines in the pre-war years. At Springhill mines, Jules Lavenne emerged as a militant leader and member of the Socialist Party of Canada.

27In 1888 James Dunsmuir hired for his Vancouver Island collieries a number of Belgian miners, especially experts in explosives, who were anxious to flee the repression following bloody strikes and riots in Liège and Charleroi. Exaggerated accounts of ideal working conditions were transmitted to these miners by the Knights of Labour through Paul Watelet in Thuin who acted as their agent. Disgruntled miners soon began writing to Belgian newspapers describing the frequent work stoppages, extremely dangerous working conditions, and anti-union policy of the company. When miners joined an international union and went on strike for better wages and safer working conditions, Chinese replacement workers were brought in to break the strike. By 1912 the Belgian workers were at the forefront of the organization of the Syndicalist League of North America and when strike organizers were arrested, they organized a Miners Liberation League to work for the release of the detainees. But the intransigence of the mine owners and the provincial authorities convinced the majority of these men to move into other sectors of the wage economy.

28At the turn of the century miners from Wallonia began arriving at the collieries in Alberta to work for West Canadian Collieries, founded in 1903 by a group of French and Belgian entrepreneurs, and for Canadian Coal Consolidated, a Paris-based firm. Léon Cabeaux, a well-known union leader who had organized a particularly violent strike in Hainaut in 1886, settled in Lethbridge and soon attracted disgruntled compatriots from the collieries in Pennsylvania. The miners soon became deeply involved in labour radicalism, since in Alberta the mine disasters were among the worst anywhere, and there were no provisions for the welfare of families of the miners maimed or killed on the workplace. Frank Soulet, Joseph Lothier, and Gustave Henry emerged as dedicated socialist union leaders. In the strikes and demonstrations at Drumheller in 1919 and again in 1925 a youth called Lambert Renners was shot and injured by the police. This incident went to the Supreme Court of Canada but Renners received no compensation. This embittered the Belgian miners who blamed both the Communist Party for inciting violence and the Catholic Church for supporting the “establishment.”

29As early as 1896, Belgians from overseas and migrants from North Dakota found employment in the lignite mines around Estevan and Bienfait in Saskatchewan where working conditions were no better than elsewhere. In 1931, in a period of rural distress when jobs were scarce, the miners went on strike for better working conditions. Police and firemen broke up a protest rally at the Estevan town hall, injuring scores of people and killing three workers. Louis Revay was among those vulnerable immigrants arrested, charged with unlawful assembly and ordered deported. Fortunately, by this time the Belgian government, had provided funds for the repatriation of such persons.


30Belgian immigrants excelled in five domains of agriculture, besides the usual mixed farming: market gardening, dairying, sugar beet culture, tobacco growing, and fruit growing. In the 1870’s a couple of Flemings experimented with flax growing and market gardening around St. Hyacinthe, Québec. Other farmers, who came to Québec in the late nineteenth century as part of the provincial government’s effort to modernize agriculture, introduced the growing of sugar beets, hops, and chicory. The Québec government also sent delegations to visit the agricultural institutions in Gembloux and Gentbrugge, and the horticultural college in Vilvoorde, with a view to introducing intensive farming to local haphazard farming approaches. There was no end of possibilities, as Johann Beetz discovered when he introduced silver fox farming which became a very lucrative business.

31In Ontario, market gardening was one of the first occupations undertaken by the newcomers to the Windsor and Lake St. Clair regions. After World War II there was renewed activity, especially around Leamington which became the canning and food processing center for Ontario. Gerhard Vanden Bussche, for example, developed overhead irrigation systems for growing tomatoes and strawberries, and developed new greenhouse watering systems at his Klondyke Gardens reclaimed from marshland.

32In Manitoba, market gardening which was dominated by Belgians boomed throughout the interwar years around Winnipeg. But following the Second World War the younger and better educated moved into urban occupations. In British Columbia’s Fraser valley, Belgians also took up market gardening but they never dominated the field as did their compatriots in Manitoba.

33Flemish immigrants experimented successfully with growing apples, apricots, and sand cherries in the seemingly inhospitable climate of Manitoba. Retired consul Léon Dupuis on Salt Spring Island in British Columbia had a carefully tended vineyard and served his own wines decades before the Okanagan wineries came into existence. Indeed, the success of the Okanagan valley in fruit growing began in 1890 with the Okanagan Land and Development Company, in which eight Belgians held a large number of shares. Seven years later, the Belgo-Canadian Fruit Lands Company, with headquarters in Antwerp and directed locally by Raoul de Grelle and Fernand De Jardin, began its operations. In 1908 a number of its shareholders formed their own Belgian Orchard Syndicate, bought land from the parent company, planted seventeen thousand apple trees in ten-acre blocks, built their own packing-house, and by 1936 the syndicate reportedly sold annually 40,000 boxes of apples and considerable quantities of pears, peaches, plums, onions, and tomatoes. In 1909 the Belgo-Canadian Land Company invested in undeveloped lands east of Kelowna and built up productive orchards under irrigation. The following year, the Vernon Orchard Company, organized in Belgium but registered in British Columbia, developed orchards near Swan Lake. In 1912 the Land and Agricultural Company of Canada, whose head office was in Antwerp, invested money made from land sales in Saskatchewan in its subsidiary Black Mountain Water Company for the irrigation of a vast acreage of bench land. These developments aided in the recognition of the Okanagan valley as one of the prime fruit-producing areas in Canada, the growth of service centers at Kelowna, Penticton and Vernon, and directly involved immigrants and their descendants in agriculture in an area once considered semi-desert.

34Dairy farming was another common Flemish occupation pursued in Canada. Flemings first became established around Montréal and Sherbrooke, were noted for their intensive production, and their important support of creameries and cheese factories. In southwestern Ontario, Flemings who first took up mixed farming soon changed over to either dairying or market gardening. In 1879 the Bossuyt brothers took up dairying in the environs of Winnipeg and St. Boniface, and soon names such as Nuyttens, Van Walleghem and Anseeuw became respected names in the Manitoba Dairy Association. The Bossuyt dairy and later the Anseeuw dairy in Fort Whyte became showplaces for foreign visitors and guests of the provincial department of agriculture. Beginning in the 1950’s, urban sprawl took over much of the valuable land of these dairies which gave way to large, modern, centrally located production facilities in the urban center. Just as dairying was proving less attractive in Manitoba, Belgians took it up in the Richelieu valley south of Montréal. The prosperity of the Sabrevois area is attested to presently by the presence since 1962 of a large Club Belgo-Canadien.

35In 1875 the Québec government began experimenting with the growing of sugar beets but it was the Ontario Agricultural College in Guelph that set up test plots and interested local businessmen in inviting entrepreneurs in Michigan, where the beet sugar industry was thriving with the help of experienced Belgian field workers, to start up a plant in Wallaceburg in 1902. In 1912 the Dominion Sugar Company began its own recruitment of seasonal workers in Flanders and by 1920 began providing subsidized fares, while the earlier group of workers provided housing for new immigrants on the small farms they had acquired. In this way Belgian communities were built up in the vicinities of Chatham, Windsor, and Sarnia. Then the depression of the 1930’s affected the industry and dissatisfied workers began leaving for the more lucrative but no less arduous labour of tobacco culture. Others, especially the youth, sought employment in the developing glass, plastics, and auto accessories manufacturing.

36Beet growing was introduced in Alberta in 1903 by the Knight Sugar Company that turned to Flemish migratory workers for the back-breaking work in the fields around Raymond, promising them passage money and housing. However, twenty-seven families that arrived in 1912 were bitterly disappointed because none of the promises were kept and at the outbreak of World War I the company closed down, leaving the immigrant workers stranded. In 1925 another American company opened a modern plant in Raymond and recruited workers in Flanders. The families that came were very dissatisfied with housing provisions – usually just abandoned houses or remodeled chicken coops and granaries – and the scheduling of their wages. A Beet Workers’ Industrial Union was formed and it affiliated with the Farmers Unity League, organized by the Communist Party in 1930. The following year, the British Columbia Sugar Company acquired ownership of the Alberta refinery and organized a Growers Association to divide the growers and their hired workers and thus break down any common front against management. The Growers Association received the support of the Alberta government in its wage disputes with the workers on the grounds there was a Red plot to overthrow constituted authority. When the company opened a new plant in Picture Butte in 1936, it signed profit-sharing agreements with the growers to undermine workers demands for better wages and living conditions. In 1941 the growers were able to use displaced Japanese Canadians as cheap labour, so the remaining Belgians left.

37In 1939 Baron Kronacher and a New York investor opened a sugar refinery in Fort Garry. Dairy farmers living near the plant, mostly Flemings, began growing sugar beets on a crop-sharing basis for the Manitoba Sugar Company. When a local Catholic priest exposed some of the evils of the system, he was quietly transferred by his bishop to a remote northern Ontario parish. By the 1950’s prospective Belgian workers had good reason to heed the earlier warnings of their consular officials and emigration societies. The conditions demanded were not acceptable so recruitment of Belgian field workers came to an end.

38It was primarily the cultivation of flue-cured tobacco as a commercial crop on the sandy soils around Tillsonburg and Delhi in the 1920’s that drew Flemings away from market gardening and beet growing in southwestern Ontario. According to the 1921 census, 63.4 percent of the Belgians in Ontario had migrated to the tobacco belt of Kent, Essex, and Lambton counties. In the ensuing decade the tobacco buyers exploited small farmers through the system of barn-buying and the growers’ plight was aggravated by the onset of the great depression and the decline in prices. Although the large, cohesive patriarchal family functioned well as a unit of production, many of the growers became hopelessly indebted.

39In this crisis the Flemish growers took uncharacteristic action and became instrumental in the organization in November 1932 of the Southern Ontario Flue-Cured Tobacco Growers’ Association. This group filed an unsuccessful complaint with the combines investigation office that the tobacco companies were fixing the purchase and price of the crop, so they organized their own marketing association with representatives from both growers and buyers, an arrangement which remained in effect until 1957 when it was decided to adopt the European system of selling by auction. George Demeyere emerged as the community leader charged with finding international markets for the marketing board with federal government support. The communities of Tillsonburg, Delhi, Simcoe, and Aylmer relied on tobacco wealth to build malls, massive banquet halls, modern sports complexes and to send their youth to university. Each year the tobacco harvest attracted about ten thousand transients to southwestern Ontario, creating enormous social problems. So in 1966 students were sent out from Belgium to bring in the harvest. This developed into a cultural experience as well when the students gave language lessons, staged plays and gave concerts to reawaken a sense of Flemish culture.

40In the 1950’s about twenty Flemish growers decided to leave Ontario to try to establish tobacco culture on the sandy soils around Joliette in Québec. Others, noting the success of their neighbours who had moved to Joliette, turned to other sandy regions in the Maritimes suitable for tobacco growing and introduced tobacco growing in Nova Scotia in 1958, in Prince Edward Island the following year, and finally in New Brunswick in 1963.

41In the mid-1980’s domestic tobacco consumption began to decline rapidly, therefore many Belgians in southwestern Ontario turned once again to growing vegetables and small fruits for local canneries. However, young people are more inclined to turn to the larger urban centers for employment.


42While tracing urban activities, it is certain that from the beginning a number of immigrants settled in urban centers. In 1872, for example, Count Leopold d’Arschot arrived in Québec City with workers in tow to open a potato-base starch, vinegar and strong glue factory. The following year, Jules Van Nieuwenhuyze arrived with men experienced in flax growing and some weavers intent on opening an establishment in St. Hyacinthe for manufacturing linen.

43Single men coming to western Canada made St. Boniface their first destination where many remained to work in the local brickyards, lumber yards, slaughter houses, meatpacking plants, and flour mills. Others moved on from St. Boniface to Belgian contacts in Deloraine and eventually Forget in Saskatchewan, where a consul was named to assist them. In Weyburn sufficient numbers found employment, especially in the brickyards, so that a section of the town became known as Belgium Town. As they moved westwards some found seasonal employment through their ethnic contacts in the factories of Chicago or Moline during the winter months. Among the more enterprising was one François Adam, an engineer with connections in high financial and political circles, who took up fur trading and successfully competed with the Hudson’s Bay Company in person each year on the London market. Upon learning of the coming of the railway, he turned his ranch into the townsite for Camrose in Alberta, built twelve large business blocks and operated several businesses himself.

44After World War II Belgians were caught up in the movement from rural to urban communities. This was particularly evident in the greater Winnipeg area, as insurance agencies, hardware stores, lumber yards, plumbing and building suppliers, electrical suppliers and repairers, bakeries and confectioneries bore recognizable Belgian names. The same urbanization occurred in Ontario as Belgians became car dealers, innkeepers, insurance agents, salespeople, and retailers. Some started their own businesses. One great success story began with Michael DeGroote’s trucking company in Elliott Lake, which developed in time into the Laidlaw’s enterprises which became the largest school bus operation and the third largest garbage disposal company in all of North America. Immigration to Québec after 1950 was directed almost entirely to the Montréal area where Belgians made their mark as teachers, college and university professors, researchers, doctors, bankers, brokers, musicians, and artists.


45In 1821 the abbé Charles Nerinckx recruited nine candidates at Malines for the North West missions, among them Pierre de Smet, a Jesuit from Termonde, and AugusteJoseph Brabant, from the American College in Louvain. Father Brabant taught for a couple of years at St. Louis College in Victoria, then learned the Wakashan tongue of the Hesquiat who lived on the northern part of Vancouver Island. During his many years of labour among these people he became an authority on their history and customs. In 1899 he opened the first “industrial school” for Native children in British Columbia.

46In 1846 the diocese of Vancouver Island was created and its first bishop brought out some Belgian and Dutch priests, including Charles-Jean Seghers of Ghent, who became diocesan administrator in 1871 and bishop of the diocese two years later. Seghers directed his attention to the evangelization of coastal native communities as far north as the Yukon and to laying the foundation of educational and charitable institutions for the colony. He was succeeded in Victoria by Jean-Baptiste Brondel, a native of Malines, who is remembered for having decreed that all missionary work, whether with Indians or Europeans, would be conducted in English. When Brondel was transferred to an American diocese, Seghers returned and almost immediately undertook another missionary journey to the Yukon. These bishops had laid the foundations of an enduring Catholic presence on the Pacific frontier which remained attached to the American church until 1903.

47The Oblates of Mary Immaculate extended their missionary work to western Canada and the first Belgian of the order arrived at Lac La Biche in 1874. In 1883 Leonard Van Tighem began teaching the Blackfoot at a residential school south of Calgary as well as serving three pioneer communities, hearing confessions and preaching in English, French and German, and on a few occasions in Italian and Hungarian as well. He laid the foundations of the first school of agriculture in southern Alberta and through irrigation showed the ranchers how to grow quality fruits and vegetables. During the next century at least forty-six other Belgian Oblates devoted their lives to the Indian, Inuit, and isolated communities. They taught in the boarding schools they managed for native children, composed dictionaries and grammars of the various native languages, and evangelized over a vast territory.

48In 1879 Belgian Redemptorists arrived at Sainte Anne-de-Beaupré to take over the healing center and shrine, which had been a place of pilgrimage since 1658, from their American correligionists. They soon extended their preaching missions to other ethnic communities in Western Canada in response to an invitation from Archbishop Langevin of St. Boniface. Father Guillaume Godts, who had visited parishes on the prairies that included Flemings, took charge of a parish and the monastery in Brandon and was directed to turn his attention to the Ukrainians. Father Achille Delaere arrived from Flanders to undertake this work, conscious that it was necessary to adopt the Eastern rite, with its Church Slavonic liturgical language rather than Latin, yet follow the Vatican directive to keep his vow of celibacy although Ukrainians preferred married priests. In 1901 Delaere and four companions were assigned to open a new monastery in Yorkton, adopted the Eastern rite and the Julian calendar. More Redemptorists came from Belgium as Ukrainian parishes multiplied, and a residential high school for girls and St. Joseph’s College for boys were opened. Delaere began publishing in Ukrainian a modest church paper, Holos Spasitelya (Redeemer’s Voice) in 1923. The Belgians began to retire from this pioneer work as Ukrainian Basilians arrived.

49Flemish communities in southwestern Ontario benefited from the presence of the American diocese of Detroit created in 1833, where numerous Belgians lived, that had a succession of Belgian-born bishops and administrators: Rese, De Bruyn, Lefevre, Van Renterghem, all of whom paid attention to the needs of the Flemings, including those in neighbouring Ontario. The Fathers van Scheut, the popular appellation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Mission Society, came regularly to minister, as did the Dutch Priests of the Sacred Heart in London. From 1878 to 1919, Franciscan friars at Chatham also took a special interest in parishes with a concentration of Flemings.

50Then, in 1927 Capuchin monks opened a monastery in Blenheim and were given a special mission to serve Dutch and Flemish Catholics. They succeeded in bringing families back to active support of their parish and separate Catholic public schools. They extended their ministry to St. Boniface, where the Walloons worshipped with other francophones in the cathedral while Flemings were assigned a chapel where Fathers De Munter and Van den Bossche cared for them. In 1917 Canada’s only Flemish ethnic parish – Sacred Heart – was created in the Belgium Town section of St. Boniface, and ten years later it was assigned to the Capuchins from Ontario. Full services – catechism, confessions, sermons, retreats, etc. – were offered in Flemish until 1935 when catechism was taught in English only and 1955 when all sermons were given in English. This erosion of the use of Flemish followed naturally on generational assimilation and the lack of sustained immigration. From 1931 to 1972 the Capuchins, with reinforcements from Belgium from time to time, maintained a small monastery at Toutes Aides, a remote community three hundred kilometers northwest of Winnipeg, from which they would serve not only Belgians but many ethnic groups and native peoples in at least five mission stations.

51Among the other religious communities are: the Trappist monks who in 1862 founded a monastery at Oka, famous for its cheese; the Benedictines of Saint-Wandrille led by Dom Joseph Pothier, internationally known for his achievement in restoring Gregorian chant into contemporary worship, who in 1912 founded the monastery and retreat center of St. Benoit-du-Lac; the Premonstratensians from Tongerloo, who built an imposing monastery at Lacolle, south of Montréal; and the Brothers of Our Lady of Lourdes from Oostakker, who opened the Dom Bosco Home in Calgary for emotionally disturbed teenagers in 1959.


52Very soon after Confederation in 1867, the Department of Public Instruction in Québec City placed orders in Belgium for textbooks, teacher’s guides and manuals on pedagogy. Laval University relied heavily on Louvain University as a model for its organization. In 1908 Auguste-Joseph de Bray of Louvain University organized the Ecole des Hautes Etudes Commerciales in Montréal, supervised its construction and hired its staff. It went on to enjoy great success under the direction of Henry Laureys, an economic geographer, who added a simulated trading establishment and a museum of commerce and industry to the institution. Alfred Fyen, a former officer in the Belgian army, founded a series of trade schools: in 1907 a school for training surveyors in Québec City; in 1908 the reorganization of the Ecole Polytechnique in Montréal; in 1912 the Ecole des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels and then the Ecole d’Architecture. To each institution he brought a sense of organization and discipline important to establishing high standards in new educational domains. Charles De Koninck played an important role in university affairs in his capacity of professor and dean of the faculty of philosophy at Laval from 1934 to 1965. He surprised many by advocating a non-confessional school system to replace the traditional Québec dual confessional system.

53As school enrollment mushroomed, partly owing to the 1950’s baby boom, Belgium became a source of teachers from kindergarten level through to university graduate schools. There is little doubt that their liberal ideas contributed not only to the Quiet Revolution in the province but also to the student movement in the universities and junior colleges (CEGEPs).

54In the rest of Canada, Flemings generally supported Catholic public schools where such existed, while Walloons joined French Canadians in demanding instruction in French as well. Maurice Baudoux of La Louvière, for example, as a parish priest in Saskatchewan, became a staunch supporter of French rights and campaigned successfully for French radio broadcasting in western Canada, before becoming Archbishop of St. Boniface. Only two communities of religious women were active in Canada, the Sisters of Notre-Dame-de-Namur in Ontario and the Ursuline Sisters from Tildonk, Manitoba.

55Belgians created only one educational institution serving solely their ethnic community-Scheppers College in Swan Lake, in rural Manitoba, operated by the Brothers of Our Lady of Mercy from Malines, as a boys’ boarding school and agricultural college offering basic agricultural and manual training, along with academic subjects and religious instruction in Dutch. Twelve brothers came from Belgium and classes began in an imposing brick structure in the autumn of 1920. Each year there were between sixty and seventy-five boys in boarding, in addition to local day scholars. The great depression played havoc with their project and by 1932 the bold ethnic experiment had come to an end.

56The work of Gustave Francq in labour relations in Québec can justly be regarded as educational. At the turn of the century he became active in labour politics, as a union executive for seventeen years, as a militant member of the Labour Party fighting for the eight-hour day and universal suffrage, as an organizer of working class clubs in Montréal, as owner and editor of the bilingual Le Monde ouvrier/The Labour World, a newspaper which appeared in 1916 with a mission to educate the public on labour, class, and gender issues. In addition to being president of the provincial Minimum Wage Commission, Francq was also active in organizing sports facilities, food cooperatives, lobbying for minimum wage legislation and women’s rights until his death in 1952.


57In addition to holding important positions in colleges, universities, academies, learned societies, libraries, archives and museums, Belgians have made significant contributions in music, theater, and the fine arts. Behind the founding of the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Montréal in 1873 was none other than the colonizing priest P. J. Verbist. Guillaume Mechtler, apparently the first Canadian to have been paid for his compositions, was organist of Notre-Dame Church in Montréal from 1789 to 1832. Other famous organists followed in the early twentieth century – Benoît Verdickt at Lachine, Auguste Leyssens at Sorel, Joseph Vermandere at St. Joseph’s Oratory in Montréal from 1919 to 1937. In 1865 the renowned violists Jules Hone and Frantz Jehin-Prume settled in Montréal. Jehin-Prume founded the Association Artistique, Québec’s first professional chamber music company, among whose members were gifted compatriots Erasme Jehin-Prume and Jean-Baptiste Dubois. The latter gave courses for the general public that were paid for by the provincial government. Sohmer Park, inaugurated in 1889, featured Belgian musicians in its concerts and many of them remained in Québec to teach music. Joseph-Jean Goulet, for example, played an important role in the founding of the Montréal Symphony Orchestra, which began with a core of Belgian musicians in 1894. His brother, Jean Goulet, conducted the majority of choral productions in Montréal up to 1955 for the Société Canadienne d’Opérettes and the Variétés Lyriques, founded by another brother – Charles. In 1933, Henri Vermandere founded and directed for many years the choir school called Chanteurs à la Croix de Bois. At about the same time, pianist Severin Moisse and violinist Maurice Onderet took up their distinguished careers as soloists and teachers in Montréal.

58The paintings of Henri-Leopold Masson, a native of Namur, which reflect his love of the Gatineau region near Ottawa, are known internationally and hang in galleries across Canada. Among the artists who have attained regional fame are Francis Coutellier, Guy Gosselin, Michel Meerts, Jan Mirck, Claire Miron, Raymonde and Léon Plonteux. In the field of sculpturing, Marcel Braitstein, Josef Drenters, Auguste Hammerechts and Pierre Hayvaert have been outstanding. Hayvaert is remembered especially for his work for the Québec pavilion at Expo 67.

59In 1903 Alphonse Ghyssens, with the support of the Count de Bellefroid and Baron Kerwyn de Lettenhoven, organized the Union Belge in Montréal (reorganized in 1939 as the Union Nationale Belge) to bring together Walloons and Flemings. However, in 1964 the two linguistic groups each founded their own social association: the Vlaamse Kring van Montreal and the Association Belge de Langue Française de Montréal.

60In Manitoba the Belgians organized few associations to preserve their language and cultural heritage. From the turn of the century the Walloons in St. Boniface participated in both the Cercle Molière, a nationally reputed drama group, and the Société Lyrique de Gounod while the Flemish community organized the La Verendrye band the Onder Ons dramatic club. Both groups joined in 1905 in supporting Louis de Nobele in the organization of the Club Belge in St. Boniface. It began as a social and cultural association with a special mission to assist newcomers in making contacts, finding jobs and farmsteads. Although it was strictly non-partisan, it was here that people came to discuss political and social issues, community concerns and business affairs. Its benevolent and charitable activities were carried out through a Ladies Auxiliary, a Belgian Mutual Benefit Society, and a Belgian Credit Union Society in co-operation with the Flemish Sacred Heart parish. It also became the umbrella organization for the various sports and recreational activities associated with all the Belgians on the prairies. To this end it had a branch in Ste. Rose-du-Lac for twenty years. The club sponsored and publicized the activities of scores of archery clubs, Belgian bowling tournaments, bicycle racing, and pigeon racing. Provincial semifinalists still go on to compete at the national finals in Detroit or some southwestern Ontario location. At its inception the club operated in both French and Flemish, but now official minutes and correspondence are in English.

61In 1962 a unique association, Vlamingen in de Wereld, made its appearance in Ontario when Dr. Arthur Verthé and Marcel Vertommen came to the Belgian Club in Delhi to arrange for exchanges with the mother country. In 1965 a world congress of Flemish representatives from all over the globe was organized in Brussels. Canadian Flemings were represented by delegates from the Belgian Club in St. Boniface, the Belgian Club in Delhi, and a delegate from Tillsonburg. In one of the first exchanges university students from Flanders worked during the day harvesting tobacco and spent the evenings teaching Flemish language and literature, or putting on plays and concerts. This combination of field workers and cultural agents continued until the mid-1980’s. Since then smaller groups of both Walloon and Flemish students have continued to come.


62The influence of Belgian communities in the United States on activities in Canada has already been mentioned. Detroit became in several ways the cultural center for North American Flemish communities. In 1911, for example, the Nationaal Toneelverbond began furnishing dramas and theatrical expertise to Flemish groups in both the United States and Canada. By 1922 there were at least four Flemish theatrical companies in Detroit, of which Kunst en Vermaak made regular visits to southwestern Ontario. Three years later, a club known as Den Vriendenkring was launched to extend ethnic activities into the educational field. A small school was opened in Leamington to teach Flemish and a Dutch-language library was organized. In 1927 the Windsor Dramatic Society began to stage dramas for the Flemish tradesmen, auto workers and business people, the Vlaanderen’s Kerels undertook to provide both entertainment and language instruction at Chatham, and De Jonge Jeugd promoted cultural activities in Wallaceburg. With some assistance from the Belgians in Detroit, a Flemish choir was organized in Windsor to complement the efforts of the drama society. Most of these groups fell victim to the depression in the 1930’s, but the parishes attempted to continue some of the social and cultural activities.

63The Flemish nationalist movement also entered Canada from the United States. In 1919 an organization called Flandria-America was organized in Michigan by war veterans to support the Flemish nationalist struggle in Belgium. From Michigan its activities soon spread into Ontario. Adolf Spillemaeckers often visited the communities of Wallaceburg, Leamington, Blenheim, and Delhi until 1925, when he was deported to Belgium by American immigration authorities. It was not long before he was back, this time legally, and from his base of operations in Detroit he spent many weekends in Ontario promoting Flemish drama, music, literature, and language study for Flandria-America.

64In 1962 the work of all these early associations was taken over by België in de Wereld, an umbrella organization launched at Detroit by Rev. Arthur Verthé and Marcel Vertommen. It had the support of the Belgian embassy in Ottawa for its activities in Canada. Very soon it changed its name to Vlamingen in de Wereld to more accurately reflect its ethnic character and mission.

65The Catholic Church in the United States also played an important role in Belgian communities in Canada. St. Anne’s parish in Detroit was the spiritual home of many Flemings in Windsor, and as this parish grew it assumed an important role in the cultural and recreational field. The diocese of Detroit had been canonically constituted in 1883 and had a succession of Belgian-origin bishops; Rese, De Bruyn, Lefevre, Van Rentergem. It received many Redemptorist, Oratorian, and secular priests from Belgium, also two women’s orders, the Sisters of Notre-Dame de Namur and the Sisters Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. When Belgian Capuchins arrived in Blenheim in 1927, they took charge of most of the Flemish work in southwestern Ontario, with the exception of Windsor which continued to look to Detroit for its clergy.

66In 1821, the abbé Charles Nerinckx, a native of Brabant and missionary in the United States, began to recruit clergy in Malines. It was there that he persuaded Pierre de Smet and eight other seminarians to join him. De Smet completed his priestly studies with the Jesuits in St. Louis and went west to Idaho and Montana, eventually extending his missionary activities into British Columbia and Washington. The American College at the University of Louvain, founded in 1856 through the efforts of Bishop Peter Paul Lefevre of Detroit, became an important source of missionary clergy for both the United States and Canada. Father Auguste-Joseph Brabant, for example, was recruited there, served for several years as assistant pastor in Victoria, then opened a mission among the Hesquiat on the northern part of Vancouver Island, where he spent the next 33 years of his ministry. Prominent among the later recruits were Bishop Jean-Baptiste Brondel and Bishop Charles-Jean Seghers, whose diocese extended at one time from Oregon to the Alaskan border.


67Both Flemish and Walloon immigrants brought with them strong traditions of the patriarchal family functioning as an economic unit. The role of the women was particularly crucial in the mining and agricultural contexts. In addition to their domestic chores, miners’ wives often ran boarding houses for single men, offering such services as laundry and mending. The patriarchal family and the practice of pooled family resources were an asset in pioneering days in the prairie West. The same practice was current in southwestern Ontario, where tobacco farmers survived the depression years in good measure because of pooled family labour and pooled family financial resources.

68During the first decade of immigration Walloons showed a greater tendency to come as family units, but the Flemings from the agricultural regions of the homeland tended to send one or two young men, occasionally the head of a family, to scout out the country, to earn some capital, and so pave the way for relatives, and eventually neighbours, to follow in the familiar pattern of chain migration. In this way, the community of Manor in Saskatchewan, for example, drew almost exclusively upon the Lommel area of Limburg province, which was an unusual region for emigration to Canada. For a brief period Manor was the seat of a Belgian consulate.

69It is not surprising that Belgians have experienced relatively rapid integration into mainstream society. Outside Québec the Flemings have integrated into the dominant anglophone host society. Walloons in Western Canada often adopted French Canadian nationalist views regarding language rights and separate schools, but have generally supported the official national policies of bilingualism and multiculturalism. In Québec, the experience seems to have been different again, as both Flemings and Walloons became integrated into the now dominant francophone community.

70In all regions this integration proceeded more on an individual basis rather than as a group experience. Belgian immigrants did not create their own ethnic sub-system, either on a regional or national scale. Roman Catholicism is one of the major distinguishing characteristics of the group, yet there is only one Flemish ethnic parish – Sacred Heart in St. Boniface – and no Walloon parish in all of Canada. This may be explained by the fact that unlike a number of other ethnic groups, Belgians never settled in ethnic blocs or reserves, although there was a concentration of settlements in southwestern Ontario and southern Manitoba. So-called “Belgian Towns” in St. Boniface, Glace Bay, or Estevan were not ghettos or self-sufficient ethnic enclaves but residential concentrations. The Belgian clubs in Montréal, St. Boniface, Delhi, and Sabrevois have increasingly served a heterogeneous community. Belgians, therefore, were never an isolated or segregated group in Canada.

71This association with other ethnic communities may explain the departure from endogamy which characterized the first generation of immigrants. Local histories and church registers indicate that in the second generation marriages extended beyond ethnic boundaries into the wider Catholic community. In subsequent generations even the religious boundary is crossed as young people increasingly choose their mates from associates at school, the workplace, and recreational activities. The community’s concentric worlds appear to expand with each succeeding generation.

72This openness to other ethno-cultural groups has had other consequences. Flemings, as might be expected, have had a very low language retention rate. Outside of Québec they quickly adopted English because of its implications for economic advancement and social acceptance, just as in Québec in recent decades they have readily integrated into the francophone majority. The first generation of immigrants maintained active drama clubs, literary societies and social gatherings, but these soon gave way to mainstream cultural and social activities. A survey in Ontario’s tobacco belt in the 1970’s indicated that while children seldom spoke Flemish with their parents, and almost never with their peers, they retained a sufficient amount to communicate with their grand-parents.

73There is no indication that Flemings and Walloons perpetuated their linguistic and ethnic battles in Canada. In the early years of settlement, Flemings in Ontario and Manitoba, like other ethnic minorities, asked for the services of priests speaking their tongue but the hierarchy was only infrequently able to meet their requests. Walloons were more fortunate as many of the Canadian clergy spoke French. In the 1920’s, the Walloons shared with other francophones in western Canada and Ontario the abuse and verbal attacks of anti-French and anti-Catholic organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan, the Orange lodges and the reactionary wing of the Conservative party.

74Politically, both Flemings and Walloons have consistently supported the same political party – either the Conservatives or the Liberals and rarely a third party – and have supported each other’s candidate in municipal, provincial and federal elections.

75The first generation of Walloon immigrants were more literate than their Flemish counterparts and as francophones they subscribed either to newspapers from Belgium or to French Canadian publications. The Flemings had their own North American newspapers coming out of the United States: the Gazette van Moline, which was published from 1907 to 1940, at which time it was incorporated into the Gazette van Detroit which continues to the present day.

76Belgians have enjoyed a positive image in mainstream Canadian society inasmuch as they are seen as having upheld the work ethic, community values, and loyalty to the Crown. In numerous communities they reinforced Catholic values and traditions. They are one of the few immigrant groups who have actively promoted the development of francophone institutions in Canada, and one of the few immigrant groups to have actively participated in missionary work among other ethnic groups and the Native peoples. Belgian miners, dairymen, market gardeners, tobacco growers, and grain growers joined non-ethnic associations. Traditional recreational activities such as pole archery, pigeon racing, bicycle racing, and Belgian bowling were never restricted to their own community. Belgian investments in the nascent industries of this country greatly stimulated development and created jobs. In mining they actively supported unionization and the labour movement in general. In agriculture they have been pioneers in dairying, beet growing, tobacco culture, and market gardening. Everywhere they have made an important contribution to intellectual life, education, religion, arts and letters. This is especially true in Québec where university research, biotechnology, aeronautics, and computer science are domains in which their role has been most significant.

77The acceptance of Belgians by both francophone and anglophone mainstream communities in Canada derives from their initial perception as preferred immigrants, their heroic image as valiant resistors of foreign invasion and occupation in 1914-18 and again in 1940-45, their rapid integration into the dominant society, their success generally as settlers, and their outstanding contributions in fields ranging from music and pedagogy to agriculture and engineering.



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