The Danish-Canadian saga began over 1000 years ago, when Norsemen landed in L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland. Vikings had a reputation for pillaging and plundering, although it is believed that the Nordic expansion across the North Atlantic was a relatively peaceful one. Due to its small size, L’Anse aux Meadows probably served as a base camp for ship maintenance and repairs. A lack of resources and technology, in addition to harsh weather conditions are attributed to the unsuccessful colonization of the Maritimes. UNESCO declared L’Anse aux Meadows a World Heritage site, and it is the most famous Nordic North American settlement, aside from Greenland.
Jens Munk was the next notable Dane to come to Canada. In 1619, Munk set out to discover a shorter trade route with the East, as ordered by Christian IV. The expedition led Munk and his crew to the Hudson Strait, but the severe winter weather and an outbreak of scurvy devastated them, leaving few survivors to sail home the following spring.
The Danish migration did not truly begin until the late 1800s when Canada’s development called for experienced farmers and skilled tradesmen. The next 100 years saw 3 waves of Danish migration, and there are now over 200,000 Danes living across Canada.
In the 1860s, Danish people began to emigrate from Denmark in large groups, settling across Canada and the United States. Notable Danish communities in Canada include New Denmark, New Brunswick; Pass Lake, Ontario; and Dickson, Alberta – founded in 1903 and the location of the Danish Canadian Museum.
In the 1920s when immigration was slowing down, the Canadian Pacific Railway developed the Ready-Made Farm initiative, encouraging farmers to settle in Western Canada by offering land and housing as a package deal. CPR land was available across Canada and attracted many Danish immigrants.
After World War II, Canada’s economic prosperity and need for farm workers and skilled tradespeople invited a third wave of Danish migration. Danes settles in the thousands, nearly doubling the previous Danish Canadian population.
Do you have a story about Danish Canadian history that you’d like to share? Click here to find out how.
Want to trace your Danish roots, or add to our genealogy archives? Click here for more information.