Creating a New Life: Dutch Immigration to Canada after the Second World War
After the Second World War, tens of thousands of European civilians, war brides, displaced persons (DPs), and prisoners of war (POWs) immigrated to Canada in search of work, asylum and a better life. In the context of a postwar economic boom, immigrants helped to fill Canadian labour shortages and to meet the demands of expanding industry nationwide.
In a speech before the House of Commons, May 1947, Prime Minister King announced his plan to relax immigration policy in order to foster population growth. Not all immigrants were welcome, however. Canadians, he argued, would be opposed to “mass immigration” that would “make a fundamental alteration in the character of our population.” King supported selective immigration from countries where citizens spoke English or French and could be easily assimilated.
As a result, immigration schemes primarily targeted citizens from the United States, Britain, and Northwestern Europe. One large group of immigrants that came to Canada during this time was from the Netherlands, a country which had been devastated by the war. Living under Nazi occupation, the Dutch were denied basic necessities, including food and fuel, in their own homes. After the Canadian Army liberated the Netherlands (1944-1945), many Dutch families chose to come to Canada to start a new life.
Approximately 2,000 war brides were among the first Dutch immigrants to arrive in Canada. These were Dutch women who had married Canadian service personnel in Europe during the war. Some war brides inevitably experienced culture shock and missed friends and family back home. Others found the transition less difficult and got along well with their new husbands’ families in Canada.
Beginning in 1947 approximately 15,000 Dutch farm workers immigrated to Canada under a three-year bilateral agreement between Canada and the Netherlands. Known as the Netherlands Farm-Families Movement, Canadian farmers sponsored Dutch immigrants to work on their farms for a few years before they could buy their own land. While not all Dutch farm workers were treated well by their Canadian sponsors, many Dutch citizens were willing to endure hardships if it meant the possibility of a better life outside of the Netherlands.
Dutch immigrants and their families, including John and Roslyn Franken, have contributed significantly to Canada’s history and culture. They have also helped to maintain and strengthen important political, social and cultural ties between Canada and the Netherlands.
Image: Infantrymen of the West Nova Scotia Regt surrounded by Dutch people celebrating the liberation of the Netherlands, 9 May 1945. Lieut. G. Barry Gilroy. Canada. Department of National Defence. Library and Archives Canada, PA-134390. Flickr/cc.