The Netherlands sits on the North Sea, sandwiched between Germany and Belgium. Its geography, small and low-lying and relying on a series of dykes to prevent it from flooding, has played an important role in its history. Although many Dutch have not wished to leave their homeland, a lack of land and at times a lack of food have forced them to seek new homes overseas. Most Dutch immigrants have left in search of a sounder economic future rather than as a result of political factors.
The first Dutch immigrants sought a better way of life and sailed primarily for the United States, founding New Amsterdam (now New York) in 1625. It wasn’t until the late 1700s that Dutch immigrants began trickling into Canada. The first Dutch to call Canada home came primarily for two reasons: (1) land was cheaper in Canada and (2) the Dutch were Loyalists who had fought with the British against the Americans in the American War of Independence.
It would be another 100 years beofre the Dutch, during the 1890s, began arriving in any large numbers. Most of these people came as farmers looking for land. Much of the land in the United States had already been claimed, driving up prices. By comparison, however, land in Canada was inexpensive or free because the Canadian government had promoted settlement of the Canadian West.
At this time, Dutch immigrants arriving in Alberta came from two areas: the United States and the Netherlands. Those coming from the Netherlands came reluctantly, not wanting to desert their homeland. They were forced into moving by several factors, including:
- The country’s small size couldn’t accommodate the large population.
- The Netherlands’ neighbours were restricting imports of agricultural products.
- Competition from North American goods was driving Dutch prices down.
The Canadian government viewed the Dutch as ideal immigrants: they were seen as good farmers likely to stay on the land; they were of Nordic descent; and their Protestantism meant they would quickly adapt to Canadian society.
This last assertion proved correct as, unlike many other immigrant groups, the Dutch spread across the country, establishing only a few notable Dutch settlements. In Alberta, Dutch settlements included Neerlandia near Edmonton and Strathmore near Calgary. Many Dutch made it a point to assimilate quickly. Many were Protestant or Catholic so religion was not a barrier to their adaptation. Those who did not know English learned it quickly. The strongholds of Dutch culture and language were those communities founded around the Christian Reformed Church.
World War I halted the flow of immigrants arriving in Canada, but the end of the Great War brought about a second wave of Dutch to Canada. Again, many were forced to leave due to their own country's being overcrowded. Unable to gain access to the United States due to America's restrictive immigration measures, many Dutch ended up in Canada — mostly in Ontario. The Great Depression once again brought a halt to immigration: this stoppage lasted until the end of World War II.
The number of Dutch arriving in Canada following World War II was the largest yet. Once again, the Netherlands’ small size forced immigrants to leave the country. Other, secondary reasons, caused many Dutch to immigrate: the fear of a Third World War, severe flooding in 1953, and a dissatisfaction with Dutch government policies.
In the years following World War II, the Dutch were the third largest group to immigrate to Canada (after the British and Germans). Over 20,000 Dutch arrived in Alberta during this time, representing 15 percent of the total number of Dutch immigrants. The arrival of the Dutch during this time was made possible by both the Canadian and Dutch governments. The Dutch government was eager to ease the overpopulation problem while the Canadian government still viewed Dutch immigration favourably. The two governments reached an agreement that saw Canada allow progressively larger numbers of immigrants to enter Canada; these increased numbers were based on labour shortages.
Dutch immigrants were primarily farmers and workers with low levels of education. They arrived in family groups and were often sponsored by family members or assisted by church groups. These links allowed Dutch immigrants to assimilate more easily though some encountered difficulties due to their lack of English.
The number of Dutch immigrants arriving in Canada remained high until 1961 when numbers dropped off considerably due to the improving Dutch economy.
Today, Alberta is home to roughly 149,000 Dutch-Canadians — 16 percent of the Canada’s total Dutch population. Calgary and Edmonton are home to almost equal numbers of Dutch with 40,000 and 41,000 thousand respectively.