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The Heritage Trails are presented courtesy of CKUA Radio Network and Cheryl Croucher

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German Immigration to Alberta, Part One

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The immigration of German settlers to Canada began in earnest in the late 1800s.

According to historian David Leonard, German people were attracted to Alberta for religious and economic reasons.

In the latter part of the 19th century, with the western prairies being opened up, there were lands available; a terrain which was very familiar with people from the great central plain of Austro-Hungary, where most Germanic peoples in Alberta came from, and also religious persecution. The Germans were affected very extensively, as we know, by the Protestant revolution of the 16th century, and many Germanic peoples chose a variety of different Anabaptist sects, which emphasized adult baptism, and also emphasized communal living and, primarily, pacifism, which did not sit well with the authorities in the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

The foothills south of Fort Calgary provided familiar scenery to the first wave of German-speaking people from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. And, in 1883, they established a colony at Pincher Creek.

A larger one, however, developed in 1889, just west of Medicine Hat, near the present community of Irving, where a number of people from Galicia, which was then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, were - for religious reasons, as well as economic reasons - were encouraged to go, and, of course, the Canadian Pacific Railway could take them that far. And, being on the bald-headed prairie, it seemed an ideal place to settle, because the open grasslands required minimal clearing. And here, a number of families in the early 1890s settled, and they were primarily Moravians, coming from Moravia, and, being Anabaptist, they wanted to associate together, and live together, and find a new existence for their people in the great, lone land of western Canada.

They called this community Josefsburg, after one of the villages they left behind in the old country. But successive years of poor crops forced the settlers to move on. And in 1891, with a new rail line built between Edmonton and Calgary, the Germans moved north to Stony Plain and Bruderheim. And they established yet another settlement, which they also called Josephburg.

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            For more on the history of settlement in Alberta, visit Peel’s Prairie Provinces.