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Rural Dutch immigrants in the Lower Fraser Valley Ginn, Edith Margaret


The impact of immigrants on Canadian society and economy has been, and still is, a very live issue. This study focuses on the post-war Dutch immigrants in the Lower Fraser Valley, British Columbia, to examine the impact of a particular cultural group on the life and landscape of a region. The emphasis is on the agricultural Dutch immigrants because they have made the most noticeable impact in the Valley, through their close association with the dairy industry. The distribution, settlement, social characteristics and occupational selection of the Dutch immigrants were considered, to identify any pattern in the cultural geography of the Valley which has arisen from cultural differences between the Dutch immigrants and the other Valley residents. A field survey of a sample of Dutch immigrants in the Lower Fraser Valley seemed the most satisfactory method for the investigation of such a topic. Published primary and secondary sources are negligible or of limited value. For example, in the Canadian census the definition of 'Dutch' is ambiguous, resulting in the inclusion of Germans and Mennonites in the 'Dutch' classification. The study is primarily based on data acquired in 1964 through interviews with Dutch immigrants, community leaders, municipal and agricultural officers in the Valley. Telephone directories and church registers were used to select the sample. The interview included personal and social characteristics, emigration and locational motivations, the occupations and the innovations of the Dutch immigrants. The Dutch are a succession group. They acquired farms and residences where they were available. Their impact is subtle and more difficult to define than that- of a pioneering group. There is no large compact settlement with a distinctive Dutch form, or architecture, to compare with the settlement of some of the initial immigrant groups in Canada. The most spectacular impact on settlement has been the creation of Pitt Polder. Through the reclamation of marshland, the Dutch have extended the area of settlement in the Valley. The Dutch account for four per cent of the Valley population, but they form more than ten per cent of the population of those municipalities which include the major dairy regions, such as Pitt Meadows, Kent and Matsqui. The dispersed distribution of the Dutch has not prevented the development of strong social ties among that section of the immigrant group that has established Dutch churches. This suggests that if there is a sufficiently strong bond among people, religion in this case, physical proximity is not an essential prerequisite for the development of a community. The most distinctive social characteristic of the post-war Dutch immigrants is the significance of religion as a variable in their migration, location and rate of integration. The socio-religious divisions of the Netherlands society are apparent among the Dutch immigrants. The Orthodox Calvinists have shown a greater readiness to establish ethnic churches, separate schools and separate trade unions; they have the fewest contacts with Canadians; and have the slowest rate of integration. Their impact on the social geography of the Valley is the easiest to identify. It is expected that their social identity will last longer than that of the rest of the Dutch immigrant group. The casual observers' linkage of the rural Dutch immigrants with dairying has been verified. There are over four hundred Dutch dairy farmers forming a fifth of the producers in the Valley. In the post-war period dairying was an economically attractive agricultural enterprise, yet only Dutch immigrants have penetrated it to any extent, suggesting that there is a cultural preference involved in the Dutch occupational selection of dairying. Through competition and by example the Dutch dairy farmers have encouraged the adoption of intensive land use methods in Valley dairying. This contribution to dairying is an example of the value of a skilled immigrant group to the economy of an immigrant country. The rural Dutch immigrants have been distinguished by their association with dairying, but already there is an indication that this characteristic will fade. Some second generation Dutch immigrants have selected urban occupations in preference to dairying. The strength of religious ties among the Orthodox Calvinists suggests that this group will maintain their distinctiveness for the longest period as there is little pressure in Canadian society to relinquish a particular religion, compared with the trend in favour of urban occupations. The Orthodox Calvinists, rather than the dairy farmers, may be the section of the post-war Dutch immigrants to have the most marked impact on the cultural geography of the Lower Fraser Valley in the future.

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