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Donald Sinnema. The First Dutch Settlement in Alberta: Letters from the Pioneer Years 1903–1914 University of Calgary Press. viii, 392. $34.95

This book tells the story of a small Dutch settlement in the Granum-Monarch-Nobleford area of southern Alberta, slightly north and west of Lethbridge, from 1903 to the First World War. The story is told primarily through letters written by the settlers and published in Dutch-language newspapers, documents that heretofore were not translated into English or accessible to the general reader. There are also a number of letters that were kept in private family collections, but most of the items in this volume are of the former sort. The correspondents, with minor exceptions (three letters in total), are men, which means that we have here a picture of western settlement from the male point of view. Editor Donald Sinnema provides a thirty-seven-page introduction and then allows the letters to speak for themselves.

The Dutch settlement in southern Alberta was part of the land rush of the early 1900s, when thousands of homesteaders snapped up free land in the hope of securing independence, social status, and economic prosperity. Harm and Jantje Emmelkamp and their children were the first to arrive in the Granum area in January or February 1903. Harm was born in Holland in the province of Groningen, immigrated to the United States at age twenty in order to avoid the military draft, and worked as a labourer in Grand Rapids, Michigan. There he married Jantje Roos, also a Dutch immigrant, and together they bought a thirty-acre mixed farm. They joined the Christian Reformed Church, from which they subsequently resigned apparently because they were not happy about the way local church authorities handled the case of an elder who had been accused of stealing hay. Sinnema is very attentive to incidents of this kind, and it is interesting to note that several of the settlers who made their home in Alberta had been involved in church disputes. Willem Feller, a bachelor who came from the small Dutch community of Maxwell City, New Mexico, had been visited by the consistory for neglect of Sabbath observance, and George Dijkema, who wrote many of the letters published in this volume, was expelled from theological school. This is not to say that the settlers were an irreligious lot. Quite the contrary, religion was an important part of their lives, but it also gave rise to divisions within the community. The Dutch settlement, which according to the 1906 Alberta census consisted of 149 persons, by 1910 worshipped in three separate church buildings, two of them Christian Reformed and one Reformed Church in America.

The first group of settlers hailed largely from a Dutch farming settlement in Manhattan, Montana. There was no organized colonization effort. News of the opportunities in Alberta spread by word of mouth and along kinship channels of communication. A second group in 1904 was slightly [End Page 519] more organized and comprised forty-one persons from the small town of Nijverdal in Holland. Most were not farmers. Jacobus Nijhoff, a baker, delivered bread around the town on a small cart pulled by a dog. Another worked as a stoker in the creamery, and a third was employed in a cotton mill. Everhardus Aldus, the animating spirit of the group, was the physics teacher at the local school. Boldly, he collected information about Western Canada and inspired his fellow townsmen and women to embark on a great adventure. Why did they do it? A letter from Aldus, written shortly after he set roots in Alberta, provides a clue: 'Freedom, Equality and brotherhood taken in a good sense,' he wrote, 'are found here more than in Holland ... If one does not steal, set fires, or murder, one is free to do anything. Also every farmer is his own boss in everything, and the workman is not a kind of machine who has to produce so much work each day.' Such were the yearnings of these new Canadians, whose stories are told in this carefully assembled collection.

James Pitsula

James Pitsula, Department of History, University of Regina

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 519-520
Launched on MUSE
2007-03-27
Open Access
N
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