German Heritage Month
October is German Heritage Month in Canada! With more than 3 million people, German Canadians represent one of the biggest cultural groups in the country, which has in turn adopted a wide range of German traditions, including the celebrated Oktoberfest.
The first Germans in Western Canada arrived in 1817 as part of a military contingent hired by Lord Selkirk of the Red River Colony. Immigration to the Okanagan Valley, meanwhile, began around the turn of the 20th century.
In July of 1911, the Vernon News reported that a number of German residents living in the Canadian prairies were visiting the Valley in the hope of finding land on which to settle. The first German settler who was naturalized at the Vernon Courthouse was William Harroff, a carpenter, in 1923. By 1947, approximately another 450 German immigrants became Canadian Citizens at the Courthouse.
Discrimination and celebration
Although German culture is now rightly celebrated in Vernon and the Okanagan Valley, it goes without saying that this was not always the case, considering the complicated legacy of the two World Wars.
Within days of the outbreak of World War One, the Canadian government developed a comprehensive set of national security guidelines around German immigrants to Canada. Then, between 1914 and 1918, hundreds of German men, women, and children were incarcerated at the Vernon Internment Camp.
In 1919, after the war had ended, the S.S. Sicamous docked in Kelowna with a number of German settlers on board, and was met by an angry crowd. This sentiment towards German immigrants continued up to and beyond World War Two.
Thankfully, this time of distrust and discrimination is largely behind us, and as of 2016, Vernon was home to more than 10,000 people of German descent, including the celebrated Tobler Family of the Okanagan Spring Brewery.
To explore more of Vernon’s history, check out our other blog posts!
Gwyneth Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator