Information about pre-World War II Dutch in Quebec is very scant indeed. There is hardly any written documentation and only a few people are left who can relate their personal experiences. For example, no person has been found by this writer, who could tell what it was like to be a Dutch-Canadian farmer in Quebec in the pre-war years.
What little information there is lets us know, however, that the immigration experience of the few hundred Dutch people who called Quebec their home, was very different from that of the thousands who arrived here after World War II.
Travelling was more cumbersome, assistance from government and private sources was minimal and, since most of these prewar New-Canadians were of very modest means, regular visits to the home country in those jet-less days, were not the normal occurrence they became for post-war immigrants.
The first knowledge potential immigrants would gain about Canada was usually dispensed in the homeland by Canadian government representatives, agents of steamship and railway companies, and Dutch authorities and private organisations. In addition, press reports and testimony from relatives and friends who had already settled here were important sources for information.
Until the 1920's, Canada, wishing to settle its empty lands, paid a commission to steamship agents of £.1/- per bona fide farmer or domestic recruited. This, together with the lax attitude of the Dutch government, would tend to emphasise commercial interests (e.g. the settlement of specific C. P. R. developments) rather than the welfare of immigrants. The agents' propaganda methods were often criticised in the Netherlands. Unfortunately, some Dutch private agents, even some Dutch priests in Canada, followed similarly unscrupulous methods of recruiting (Ganzevoort, 1975141; Van Stekelenburg, 1980). There are no reports that their ill effect was felt in Quebec, because the recruiters' attentions were mainly focussed on areas west of this province. Furthermore, in Quebec there was an ideological bias against immigrants, who were thought to integrate with the English, thereby weakening the relative position of the French in Canada (Petersen, 1955:120 ff.).
In 1917, in preparation of the influx expected after World War I, a federal Department of Immigration and Colonisation was formed (Ganzevoort,1975:421. This did not diminish the importance of the agent's role. His heyday lasted into the 1930's, when economic conditions no longer favoured immigration.
On the Dutch side the overall picture concerning information and support to prospective emigrants is one of very slight government involvement, a laissez-faire attitude, in line with Dutch belief in free trade. From time to time pressure groups would protest shady recruiting practices by agents, or unacceptable transportation conditions, forcing some tightening of control. Such groups formed the Netherlands Emigrations League in 1913, dedicated, among other things, to the gathering of accurate information on immigration countries (Ganzevoort, 1975:23-24). In 1923 the Central Emigration Foundation Holland began a pioneering venture in assisted emigration which, while successful in some ways, had difficulties attracting the most suitable emigrants. Such people did not wish to leave the Netherlands, while those who did leave, more often than not, refused to repay their loans (Ganzevoort, 1975:991.
Perhaps lack of enthusiasm to emigrate was partly due to press reports which, since the late 19th century, had carried negative messages about Canada, its climate, labour conditions, harvest uncertainty, and loneliness (Ganzevoort, 1975:29). This is quite understandable if one considers that, prior to World War II the bulk of Dutch immigrants were men who were either single or had left their families behind (Ganzevoort, 1975: 62).
Not all immigrants found hard times and loneliness out West: witness the experiences of interviewee U (J. Lowensteyn [cassette recording], 1985), a now elderly gentleman who, before finally settling in Quebec in 1952 (immigrating for the second time), landed in Alberta in 1912 and spent several happy years there and in British Columbia. He had left Holland in fear of a war, and joined his brother who was a sharecropper near Calgary. Our respondent, at that time 22 years old, fluent in four modern languages (including English and French), with an engineering diploma from a German school, had no difficulty finding work. First he was a mechanic in Calgary, Kelowna, and Vancouver, and in 1915 enrolled as a private in the Canadian Forces. He fought in France and Belgium, ended up in Germany, had an honourable discharge, returned to Holland to marry and intended to bring his wife out to Canada. She disagreed with his plans, however, and he brought up a family in Holland instead. Upon being widowed, he remarried and was able to realise his dream of settling in Canada for good. Once again heading for the West, he ended up staying in Montreal where a brother could assist him in finding employment (U, Tape I, side 1, 0:15).
This gentleman was able to compare his reception by Canadians at various times in this century. In 1912 he was called "a foreigner" (cf. Petersen, 1955, p-128 ff.), in 1952 a "displaced person", while at present there is no label at all: he feels completely accepted. Interestingly, he does not report discriminatory remarks or behaviour during his army service. Furthermore, at no time did the labelling hamper his employment opportunities. Without making the claim that this example is in any way typical of the Dutch immigrant who arrived before World War II, it does serve to underline the importance of bringing the proper requisites when trying to build a new future abroad. With extensive language skills, professional qualification (as a mechanic suitable to the demands of an industrialising nation, adaptable, of an optimistic nature, and from an ethnic origin considered next best to British stock, this immigrant could weather the inconvenience of name calling. It also illustrates the important role relatives play in the choice of final destination.
Part of the immigration experience is the situation met immediately upon arrival. Unlike after World War II, there was no extensive network of "field men" (church representatives) who met the immigrant and smoothed the way. In any case, Dutch Protestants tended to avoid the Catholic environment of Quebec. The Dutch Roman Catholic Church was reluctant to encourage Dutch emigration to Quebec "because of a suspicion that French-Canadian Catholicism shared the liberalism of French Catholicism" (Ganzevoort, 1975:33).
From all sides, the French language is cited as a deterrent for the Dutch to settle in this province. For the workers, craftsmen and small businessmen, the mechanics, the barber and the taylor, this must indeed have been somewhat of a problem. Still, the possibility of settling in an English speaking part of the province or of Montreal must have been at least as great before World War II as it was after.
However, at that time, Dutch immigrants were generally agriculturists rather than city-bound craftsmen and industrial workers. Just before the outbreak of World War II, Dr. Black, director of colonisation for the CNR, characterised the Dutch as falling into two groups: market gardeners and farmers. For the former he considered the best areas to be Holland Marsh (just north of Toronto), Edmonton, and Winnipeg, while for the latter the mixed farming areas of Ontario, the area around Edmonton, and New Brunswick were suitable in his view (Ganzevoort, 1975, Report by Consul Luden, Montreal, 20.5.19381. Concretely, the West offered opportunities that the East could not or would not match: free or cheap land, free placement services, etc. (Ganzevoort, 1975: 177).
All these factors combined to make the Dutch stay away from Quebec, and it is only well into the 1950's when there is a relative change in this situation.