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Entangled Communities: Religion and Ethnicity in Ontario and North America, 1880–1930

  • Benjamin Bryce
Couverture de                Volume 23, numéro 1, 2012, p. 1-354, Journal of the Canadian Historical Association

Corps de l’article

In 1886, Emil Hoffmann immigrated from Kropp, Germany to Wellesley, Ontario. The 24-year-old Lutheran pastor quickly became a dominant figure in the Canada Synod, a German-language religious body that served as an umbrella organization for approximately 70 Lutheran congregations in Ontario. Over his career, Hoffmann led German-language Lutheran congregations in Hamilton from 1889 until 1904, Berlin from 1904 to 1912, and Toronto from 1912 to 1920. Between 1902 and 1920, he served as the synod’s president. [1] In 1920, he became the president of Waterloo Lutheran College, a position he held until soon before his sudden death in 1926. [2] Early in his career, he became a member of the German Home Mission Board of the United States-based General Council, and in 1913 the Toronto pastor became the president of the board, making him a key figure in North American Lutheranism. [3]

Hoffmann came to Ontario because of the institutional connections established in the 1880s between the Canada Synod, the General Council, and a seminary in Germany. He met and corresponded with representatives of German Lutheran religious bodies in the United States on a regular basis over his four decades as a pastor, synodical president, and leader of a loosely-defined ethno-religious community in Ontario. German-speaking Lutherans such as Hoffmann interacted with people in many parts of North America through their involvement in the Ontario-wide synod, their support of missionary activities in Manitoba and major American cities, their financial contributions to Lutheran seminaries in the United States and Germany, and their collaboration in charitable projects with Lutheran bodies in the United States.

This article argues that regional, national, and transnational connections shaped many German-language Lutheran communities at the local level in Ontario. It explores the relationship between religion, ethnicity, and space in Ontario and North America, themes that have been largely overlooked in the historiography about German speakers in Ontario and that deserve more attention in the historiographies on religion and migration in Canada more generally. [4] It focuses on the relationships between local congregations, two competing regional umbrella organizations (the Canada Synod and the Canada District of the Missouri Synod), and the overarching Lutheran bodies in the United States (the General Council and the Missouri Synod) to which the Canada Synod and Canada District belonged. It analyzes the spread of organized Lutheranism, the importance of the German language for this denomination, and the connections that bound Lutheran congregations in Ontario to the United States and Germany. It offers new insights about the place of ethnicity in Ontario society, the evolution of a theologically-mainstream Protestant denomination, and the ways that institutional networks connected people in towns and cities across a large space. Both the size of this network and movements through it had a profound impact on the nature of the German-language religious institutions that developed in individual congregations between 1880 and 1930.

This analysis highlights several parallels between Lutheranism and the international influences on other churches in Canada. In the mid-nineteenth century, the nascent Anglican Church and Methodist Church in Canada were profoundly shaped by the flow of clergymen and ideas from the United Kingdom. [5] Many of these transatlantic ties continued to the turn of the twentieth century, with the ongoing arrival of Methodist ministers from the United Kingdom to the Canadian Prairies. [6] Ruth Brouwer’s seminal work about Canadian Presbyterian women’s involvement in the foreign missionary movement in India highlights the circulation of ideas and activities across the Canadian-American border, but Brouwer contends that missionary work represents Canadians’ strong interest in participating in the work of empire. [7]

The spread of Lutheranism complicates the history of religion in Canada. This denomination clearly did not grow out of nineteenth-century connections to the United Kingdom. First-generation immigrants and their children engaged in a variety of religious activities in a way similar to their Anglican, Methodist, and Presbyterian neighbours, but they did so in a dialogue with a much larger American religious body. Moreover, the members and leaders of Lutheran congregations were deeply interested in promoting the German language as a key component of their denomination. Both the Lutheran parallels with other Protestant churches and the ethnic interest of this denomination provide one example that can encourage historians to re-conceptualize the intersection of religion and nation in Canada between 1880 and 1930.

The idea that World War I played a decisive role in provoking a cultural eclipse of German ethnicity in North America was until recently a central argument in much of the historiography. [8] Recent studies of Waterloo County, Ontario, and of American cities, including New York, Buffalo, and Philadelphia, have largely refuted this point, instead pointing to a long process of cultural change between the 1890s and 1914. [9] Barbara Lorenzkowski has shown that German speakers in Waterloo County and Buffalo were capable of promoting the decline of the German language in some domains on their own terms and well before the war began. [10]

My focus on religion further supports the recent historiographic developments that draw the focus away from the war. I offer evidence about the emergence of bilingualism, youth’s preference for English, the creation of English-language congregations, and the establishment of an English-language Lutheran synod between 1890 and 1914, which further supports Lorenzkowski’s argument about the cultural transformations that occurred in the decades before the war began. This article highlights, however, a number of continuities in the 1920s, such as the ongoing use of the German language in many Lutheran religious and social welfare activities and the importance of this language in maintaining connections between congregations in North America. Through organized religion, many people of German heritage in Ontario involved themselves in ethno-religious spaces during and after the war. Through the lens of religion, we can see several examples of linguistic and cultural continuity between 1910 and 1930. The pre-war changes and the postwar persistence of the German language further challenges the singular importance that scholars used to ascribe to World War I.

Entangled and Transnational History

My spatial analysis of transnational, national, regional, and local scales provides a broader analytical framework for the history of religion and ethnicity in Canada. This approach suggests that political boundaries should not always serve as a frame of reference. The Lutheran Church was a transnational institution that was constructed and redefined in ongoing processes that crossed in and out of the country’s political boundaries.

The concept of entangled history can help explain the activities of the thousands of people involved with this denomination. As Heinz-Gerhard Haupt and Jürgen Kocka explain, “entanglement-oriented approaches stress the connections, the continuity, the belonging-together, the hybridity of observable spaces or analytical units.” [11] Highlighting how a group of people participated in an entangled network defined by ethnicity, language, and denomination that transcended political boundaries reveals an important way that Ontario or Canada had only partial influence. Thomas Bender, in a study of the relationship between American and global history, calls for “a history that understands national history as itself being made in and by histories that are both larger and smaller than the nation’s.” [12] He argues, “American history cannot be adequately understood unless it is incorporated into that global context.” [13]

I use a transnational lens to understand the flow and circulation of people, ideas, and objects. I am aware of some scholars’ concerns that other scholars have used the term mainly as an attractive rebranding of cross-border relationships such as that between Canada and the United States. [14] In his transnational analysis of Japanese immigration to the American West, Eiichiro Azuma warns against the casual usage of the term “transnational” and of the danger of assuming that immigrants live in a “deterritorialized” or “denationalized” space. [15] Indeed, German speakers in Ontario did not always and entirely live in a transnational world. However, the flow of people, ideas, and money to and from the United States — and to a lesser extent Germany — shaped the German-language institutions in the province.

In addition to a transnational analysis, however, it is important to note that German-language Lutheran congregations were also firmly anchored in Ontario and connected to one another. Examining the outside factors that influenced local institutions does not undermine the importance of national and local contexts. Provincial and national boundaries do not compete with transnational forces, but rather complement them or are even reinforced by them. Royden Loewen’s examination of Mennonite communities in Manitoba and Nebraska shows both a great deal of cross border movement and the importance of two distinct contexts in Canada and the United States for one ethnic group. [16] Barbara Lorenzkowski has similar findings about the emergence of German-Canadian and German-American identities in the Great Lakes region. [17]

Spatial Dimensions of German Ontario

A spatial focus expands our knowledge of German speakers in Ontario. In the historiography, scholars have focused mainly on Waterloo County and drawn almost exclusively from sources produced in that county. [18] With such a methodological approach, Waterloo County and its largest town, Berlin (renamed Kitchener in 1916), emerge as the centre of all things German. The consequence of such a viewpoint is that evidence from a single case study is extrapolated to represent the history of a much larger group of people who interacted with German ethnicity in a number of ways. Through churches and missionary work, practising German-speaking Lutherans formed a web of relationships that spread across Ontario. Organized religion entangled local congregations with many others across the province, and from these local and regional connections, German-speaking Lutherans engaged with a transnational world.

The emergence of organized Lutheranism corresponds with the spread of Presbyterianism, Methodism, and Anglicanism in Ontario. [19] On the one hand, this reveals that within an institution that tried to serve as an anchor for language maintenance and as a cornerstone of many local ethno-religious communities, Lutheran congregations joined in a process of denominational expansion and entrenchment to a similar degree as other churches in the province. On the other hand, organized Lutheranism in Ontario depended on ethnicity and on strong ties with more developed institutions in the United States. The differences that I will soon outline between this theologically-mainstream denomination and several English-language churches underscore an important, but unstudied, feature of the emerging Protestant culture of Ontario at the turn of the twentieth century. [20]

Map I illustrates the counties with a congregation belonging to the Canada Synod in 1900. It elucidates the spatial network that extended across Ontario and that connected practising Lutherans at the provincial level. Congregations in Waterloo County are important parts of this history, but, ultimately, it is a history of a much larger space. Until 1904, the only German-language congregation in the town of Berlin was a member of the Canada District of the Missouri Synod rather than of the Canada Synod. The fact that the largest German-language institution in Canada in this period — the Canada Synod — did not have a congregation in Berlin calls into question the primacy given to the town in the history of German speakers in the province. In addition, a brief glance at a more detailed map of Ontario would reveal dozens of place names tied to a German-speaking past, such as Hanover, Mannheim, Zurich, Baden, New Hamburg, Hespeler, Heidelberg, Hessen, Schwartz, and Breslau, all of which continue to this day and which undermine the singular importance of the renaming of Berlin in 1916.

Map I

Spatial Dimensions of the Canada Synod in 1900

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Spatial Dimensions of the Canada Synod in 1900

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The growth of Canada Synod and the Canada District between 1880 and 1930 exceeded the increase of German speakers in the province. The history documented in this study is one linked to 81 Lutheran congregations in 1880 and 153 by 1930. The two decades between 1880 and 1900 were a period of expansion, as indicated in Tables I and II below.

Table I

Size of the Canada Synod, 1880–1930 [21]

Size of the Canada Synod, 1880–193021

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Table II

Size of the Canada District of the Missouri Synod, 1879–1929

Size of the Canada District of the Missouri Synod, 1879–1929

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The congregations in Toronto and Hamilton stood at centre stage for the Canada Synod, attracting a significant portion of the synod’s missionary activities that targeted recent German-speaking immigrants in these emerging industrial cities. In 1892, E.M. Genzmer, a pastor from the main Toronto congregation, began missionary work in the Junction, an industrial area in the western part of the city. He reported to the synod at the annual meeting, however, that “the expected arrival of many German fellow believers [in this neighbourhood] has not taken place.” [23] He decided to temporarily abandon the “West Toronto Mission,” but he hoped that new German immigrants would join his downtown congregation. [24] In 1900, pastors J.F. Bruch and P.W. Müller began efforts to found English-language Lutheran congregations in larger Canadian cities as a way to engage with a new generation of Canadian-born Lutherans and to welcome new Lutheran immigrants who were not German speakers. [25] This led to the creation of the English-language St. Paul’s congregation in Toronto in 1906, led by Müller, alongside the synod’s German-language congregation. [26]

Like the Canada Synod, the Canada District of the Missouri Synod formed an institutional web across Ontario. While Berlin played a leading role in district affairs, it was just one of many nodes in the larger framework. Toronto and Hamilton were two sites where the Canada District hoped to expand. In 1903, W. Weinbach reported that missionary activities in Hamilton had not been particularly successful. He lamented that whereas in the past weekly services alternated between English and German, in recent months people had requested that only English services be held. [27] By 1908, a full-fledged English-language congregation was founded in Hamilton while work in German floundered. [28] The district’s missionary work in Toronto began in 1902, but two pastors struggled to gain a foothold. They ministered in both German and English to gain more members. [29] By 1910, the district succeeded in founding a bilingual congregation, St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran. [30]

In 1911, the editors of the Canada District’s Lutherisches Volksblatt described Toronto as the new field of work for the district, and they spoke of the importance of succeeding in this project. [31] In 1911, W.C. Boese, the pastor of the Berlin congregation, happily reported in the Volksblatt that the Canada District would help the small congregation in Toronto to finance the construction of a church. [32] As a result, a small part of the contributions from every congregation in the province were funnelled to this project for the sake of expanding the spatial network of German-language Lutheranism and making inroads in Toronto. The Canada District’s attempted expansion into Toronto and Hamilton faced off against the two congregations of the Canada Synod, which had been founded in 1851 and 1858 and were noticeably larger. [33] Although both of these cities had a low percentage of German speakers compared to the overall population, unlike Waterloo County, Toronto and Hamilton were nevertheless sites where German speakers lived and a fundamental part of the Lutheran gaze.

Different congregations across the province hosted the Canada Synod’s annual meetings, and lay and pastoral representatives of almost all congregations in any given year attended them. Congregations in Toronto, Hamilton, and Waterloo were frequent hosts of these events, and Berlin’s St. Matthäus congregation also came to the fore once the synod made inroads in the town in 1904. [34] Towns and cities in the Toronto-Hamilton-Waterloo area were practical choices for the annual meetings because of their central location for transportation from all directions, particularly if we recognize that congregations in eastern Ontario, Muskoka, and across southwestern Ontario were all members of the overarching structure of the Canada Synod. Finally, Toronto, Hamilton, Waterloo, and Berlin were often the congregations of the synod’s pastoral leadership.

The spatial dimensions of these two competing Lutheran bodies and their interest in expanding into cities such as Toronto and Hamilton demonstrate the need to look beyond Berlin and Waterloo County in the study of Germans in Ontario. By situating this entangled history in a broader study of the spread of organized religion in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, we can see the importance that language and ethnicity played for some denominations.

Borders and Hubs: Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Philadelphia, and New York

Between 1880 and 1930, Lutheran congregations in Ontario were bound to Lutheran organizations in Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Philadelphia, and New York. The connections between the Canada Synod and the Canada District and urban centres in the United States illustrate how German ethnicity in Ontario was tied to a broader North American history. Lutheran congregations in Ontario did not spring up organically from within the local German-speaking population, but rather emerged as the result of the concerted effort of missionary pastors belonging to American religious bodies.

The 1880s mark a crucial step in this process as the congregations in Ontario more firmly established their own institutional structure while still maintaining strong ties to the United States. The Pittsburgh Synod was the first Lutheran body to come to Ontario, and in the 1850s its pastors founded a number of congregations. [35] In 1861, these Ontario congregations amicably left the Pittsburgh Synod and formed the Canada Synod. In 1880, delegates from Pittsburgh continued to attend the synod’s annual meetings. [36] As late as 1882, the president of the Canada Synod, Fr. Veit, described Pittsburgh as the mother synod (Muttersynode). [37]

The Missouri Synod, which despite the common label of “Lutheran” followed a different theological line than the Pittsburgh Synod and its parent body, the General Council, began missionary work in Ontario in the mid-nineteenth century as well. [38] The congregations founded by its pastors formed the Canada District of the Missouri Synod in 1879. [39] The spread of districts was the standard practice for the Missouri Synod as it expanded across the United States and into the Canadian Prairies. By 1914, in stark contrast to the regional activities of the General Council that bound many German speakers with the northeastern United States, the Missouri Synod had 22 synodical districts in the Americas (as far south as Argentina) along with missions in Europe, Asia, and Australia. [40]

The missionary work of the Pittsburgh and Missouri Synods in the mid-nineteenth century followed ethnic lines. The members of the newly founded congregations were German speakers, and generally they were either “lapsed” Lutherans or Lutherans without a place of worship. In this early period and unlike other Protestant churches in North America, two key criteria defined this Lutheran missionary work: missionary subjects generally had to come from some degree of Lutheran tradition and they had to be German-speaking. By 1900, as many German-language congregations became bilingual or as they became officially English-speaking congregations, the latter criterion became less important. [41] Nevertheless, the ethnic focus of this missionary work persisted. Map II below demonstrates the spatial dimensions of the North American, German-language Lutheran world in which people in local communities participated.

The foundation of the Canada Synod in 1861 and the Canada District in 1879 did not mark the end of the transnational relationship between people in small towns in Ontario and larger organizations in the United States. In 1866 and 1867, the Canada Synod was a founding member of the General Council along with the Pittsburgh Synod, the New York Ministerium, and the Pennsylvania Ministerium. [42] This overarching organizational body was one of four Lutheran church bodies in the United States, which would slowly develop into two North American Lutheran Churches. [43]

Map II

The Canada Synod’s Ties to North American Lutheranism

© 2012 Google
The Canada Synod’s Ties to North American Lutheranism

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At the turn of the twentieth century, the General Council contained both German- and English-language synods. Between 1901 and 1909, 14 congregations left the Canada Synod and joined the English-language Synod of New York and New England, which was also a member of the General Council, because these Ontario congregations had officially become English-speaking. [44] However, the re-establishment of institutional ties between local congregations and American synods was short lived. In 1909, these English-language congregations left the American synod and formed the Synod of Central Canada. In this year, the two Ontario synods began working together to found Waterloo Lutheran Seminary, which they achieved in 1911. The seminary expanded to include a high school stream in 1914, at which time it changed its name to Waterloo Lutheran College.

In 1917, the two synods began working towards a merger, something they completed in 1925. [45] The new organization retained the name of the larger Canada Synod, and the pastors continued to keep their records in both German and English. The maintenance of an Ontario-based synod as a filter between local congregations and larger United States-based church structures illustrates how regional and provincial boundaries complemented a larger transnational structure. John Schmieder, a pastor in Kitchener, wrote that unlike the creation of the United Church of Canada in the same year:

For us it is a union of two Lutheran church bodies that are one in faith and teaching. We unite on the basis of an agreement that stipulates that both languages, German and English, have equal rights … The Canada Synod will not be dissolved with this union but will carry on because of its older character from 1861 …. Through this union the Lutheran Church in Ontario [will] continue to develop in a peaceful manner for the benefit of all parties. [46]

In a variety of German-language Lutheran sources in this period, at both the congregational and synodical level, many people expressed concern over the linguistic implications of this merger and the changing linguistic character of many Lutheran churches in Ontario.

There are many other tangible examples of the transnational nature of this religious institution. The German-language Canada Synod sent delegates to the annual meetings of the General Council. It cooperated with the council in charity work for Lutheran orphanages and an immigrant settlement home in New York City, in missionary activities among German-speaking immigrants in North America, and on missionary work in India. After 1910, the Canada Synod and other synods abandoned their individual publications and produced together a German-language Lutheran periodical in Philadelphia, the Deutsche Lutheraner. This Philadelphia publication and its successor, the Lutherischer Herold, were distributed in the homes of German-speaking Lutherans in Ontario until 1943. [47] The Canada Synod also cooperated with the General Council in pastor recruitment from a seminary in Germany and the training of German-speaking North Americans in Philadelphia until the founding of Waterloo Lutheran Seminary.

The ties between Ontario and St. Louis remained strong after 1879 when the Ontario congregations belonging to the Missouri Synod founded the Canada District. The district remained part of the institutional structure of the United States-based synod. The Ontario congregations participated in the Missouri Synod’s missionary work to German speakers in the United States and the Canadian Prairies, and the congregations supported social welfare organizations in the United States, such as orphanages and immigrant settlement homes.

Ideas circulated between Ontario and St. Louis as well. The Ontario-based, bi-weekly LutherischesVolksblatt had a large circulation in the United States. [48] This periodical regularly carried out theological attacks on the teachings of the Canada Synod as well as those of other member bodies of the General Council such as the New York and Pennsylvania Ministeria. [49] The Volksblatt and the Canada District emphasized a version of Lutheranism that involved a specific interpretation of Martin Luther’s ideas, as well as the Augsburg Confession and the Book of Concord, two foundational texts that established the Lutheran Church and doctrine in sixteenth-century Germany. [50]

In promoting its theology and its own version of what the Lutheran denomination should be, the Volksblatt and the Canada District’s leaders drew thousands of German speakers in Ontario into a North American debate. In advancing their theological views, pastors in Ontario specifically and repeatedly discussed Lutherans in the United States. Moreover, in making this theological argument, the Canada District’s pastors not only emphasized the use of German in all institutional functions until the early-twentieth century, but their references to Martin Luther, the Augsburg Confession, and the Book of Concord bound their denomination to people, events, and texts from sixteenth-century Germany. In so doing, the Canada District blended followers’ denominational identity with their ethnic heritage.


The training and circulation of pastors provides a clear example of the transnational nature of these two competing religious organizations in Ontario. Through the movement of a small group of men, we can observe the circulation of ideas about theology, language use, and ethnicity. The arrival of a new pastor in any given locality required the active request of a congregation’s lay leadership and the financial contributions of parishioners. In many ways, this circulation brings to light the involvement of a large group of people in activities that transcended the boundaries of their local congregation.

The circulation of pastors beyond Canada’s borders was not specifically a Lutheran phenomenon. Michael Gauvreau documents the tensions that emerged between local congregations in Nova Scotia and the theological views and religious practices of Irish-trained Anglican clergy in the mid-nineteenth century. [51] George Emery demonstrates that almost half of Methodist clergymen who served on the Canadian Prairies between 1896 and 1914 were trained in the United Kingdom. [52] Roberto Perin and Pierre Savard describe similar trends in Catholic parishes in the late-nineteenth century as the Catholic Church attempted to cater to growing immigrant populations in Canada and the United States. [53] John Zucchi discusses the role of Italian clergy in the establishment of Italian-language national parishes in Toronto in the early-twentieth century. [54]

Particularly between 1880 and 1911 — when the Canada Synod co-founded the Waterloo Lutheran Seminary with the English-language Synod of Central Canada — the training of Canadian-born pastors for the Canada Synod relied on a larger institutional framework based largely in hubs in the United States. In the 1880s and 1890s, the synod sent young German-speaking men from Ontario to a Lutheran seminary in Philadelphia for their training. [55] The synod gave young men, often the sons of pastors in Ontario who had immigrated from Germany, small scholarships, and upon completing their studies these men returned to Ontario to be ordained by the Canada Synod and to begin working as pastors. [56] The congregations belonging to the Canada District of the Missouri Synod drew their pastors from a seminary in St. Louis. [57]

Beyond benefitting from its close ties with Philadelphia, the Canada Synod relied on a seminary in Kropp, Germany, located approximately 120 kilometres north of Hamburg. The seminary existed between 1882 and 1931, and its main activity was training Lutheran pastors for service in North America. [58] John Schmieder, a pastor in Kitchener, estimated in 1927 that the Kropp seminary had trained more than 500 pastors. [59] The Kropp seminary was the main source of pastors for the Canada Synod throughout this period. In 1883, the General Council’s German Mission Committee — an organization that the leaders of the Canada Synod described as part of a larger “German spirit within the Council” — entered into an agreement with Kropp’s director, Johannes Paulsen. After this point, the synod’s directors commonly described the Kropp seminary as “our institution.” [60] In 1886, the Canada Synod’s official organ, the Kirchen-Blatt, reported that although the General Council had colleges and seminaries in the northeastern United States:

… these are either completely English or almost completely. In the future, only a few German pastors can and will develop from them and serve our German congregations. And even if it were two or three — how would that help? It is necessary that we have a German seminary in Kropp. [61]

According to J.J. Kündig, as of 1886 all of the pastors in the Canada Synod had come from Germany. [62] The way these pastors came to Canada, however, was through the institutional connections that the Pittsburgh Synod and the Pennsylvania Ministerium had with Germany.

The Canada Synod had a strong interest in supporting the German language, and its leaders were concerned about the growing use of English by younger, Canadian-born Lutherans. A factor in the retention of German at the local level was surely that many of the pastors leading these congregations had come to Ontario through a transnational network that linked small communities in Ontario to Germany (via the United States). The continued use of German in many Lutheran congregations into the 1920s, despite clear indications of a language shift to English in many other public domains in Ontario, such as education, newspapers, and business, was linked to the ongoing process that bound Lutheran churches to a larger German-language network. [63] Similar flows of German-trained pastors were not found in the Catholic Church and in several other denominations to which German speakers belonged. [64]

In 1881, R. von Pirch, the pastor of the German Lutheran congregation in Toronto and president of the synod; William Henry van der Smissen, soon-to-be professor of German at the University of Toronto; and several other leading pastors and lay figures in the Canada Synod met in Toronto to discuss the idea of founding a seminary. They concluded that instead of a seminary, the synod should found a college “for the higher education of the youth of our communities as well as for the Germans of Canada in general.” [65] The committee decided that such a college should be located in Berlin, Waterloo, or New Hamburg and it “should give our youth an academic training that matches our Canadian colleges; the languages of instruction should be both German and English, Lutheran-religious education should receive particular attention, and the main goal of the institution should be to prepare students for theological study in one of our Lutheran seminaries.” [66] Leaders soon abandoned the project for practical and financial reasons. These efforts, however, mark the beginning of a long process whereby local congregations sought pastors or arranged to train pastors in distant seminaries and one that culminated with the founding of Waterloo Lutheran Seminary.

In 1886, the General Council gave the seminary in Kropp $9,000 for the construction of a new building. [67] An editor of the Ontario Kirchen-Blatt supported this substantial amount of funding and argued that “should German missionary work, German morals, German worship, and true Lutheranism not be crippled, then we need a German seminary.” [68] It added that too few young men from the congregations in the Great Lakes region were available to be trained as “German pastors.” [69] J.J. Kündig added that all 70 students at the Kropp seminary in 1886 were German (rather than bilingual Americans or Canadians), and that they would all become German Lutheran pastors, and for this reason congregations throughout the General Council needed to raise money. [70] He concluded, “We need capable workers from Germany, who not only can speak German in a jam but who have a German heart and who are enthusiastic about German missionary work.” [71] Kündig feared that Canadian-born German speakers were linguistically capable when necessary, but that they did not actively seek to carry out German-language missionary work and to promote linguistic interests alongside religious ones.

In 1886, Kropp had 53 students and 20 new students were to join later that year. In 1885, the seminary sent eight pastors to North America: one to Ontario, two to the Pennsylvania Ministerium, three to the New York Ministerium, one to the Pittsburgh Synod, and one to Texas. In 1886, the Kropp seminary sent three more pastors to North America, one of whom was Emil Hoffmann, the young pastor who opened this article. [72] The arrival of new pastors from Kropp continued over the next four decades, as did the relationship between the Canada Synod and the seminary in Philadelphia. [73] In 1909, the Kirchen-Blatt wrote that “our Canada Synod has relied almost exclusively on Kropp over the past 20 years in order to fill vacancies. In the future the synod will continue to look to Kropp.” [74] In June 1914, Emil Hoffmann wrote in his annual report, “Kropp owes a good part of its existence to our synod,” [75] thereby emphasizing the importance of the Canada Synod within the larger German-language activities of the General Council.

By 1908, five bodies within the General Council were concerned about the changing linguistic character of their congregations. At the “First General Conference of German Pastors of the General Council,” representatives from the Canada Synod, the Manitoba Synod, the New York Ministerium, the Pennsylvania Ministerium, and the Pittsburgh Synod met to discuss the creation of a German-language seminary in North America. Attendees resolved that it would be better to train pastors from the United States and Canada, which was a notable change from Kündig’s views in 1886 about the value of pastors trained in Germany. However, the men who attended this conference also decided that the lack of capable young men in North America, according to the criteria defined by the church leadership, required the synods to draw more from the seminary in Kropp. [76]

In 1909, the General Council strengthened its relationship with the directors of the Kropp seminary, and the two organizations made a new agreement to govern the seminary. Emil Hoffmann represented the Canada Synod in these negotiations with American and German representatives. [77] The pastors who published the Kirchen-Blatt described the Canada Synod as “one of the most German in the Council,” and they wrote that the synod was, therefore, particularly interested in the relationship with Kropp. [78] The General Council was given the power to approve or reject all instructors working at the Kropp seminary, and the seminary agreed to teach doctrinal principles of the General Council. Finally, the pastors established a concrete rule that required all candidates in Kropp to spend an additional year studying at the theological seminary in Philadelphia. In return, the council pledged to support the seminary with $4,000 annually. [79] Throughout this period, the money sent to Kropp came from the constituent bodies of the General Council such as the Canada Synod. [80]

In 1910, the Canada Synod and the newly founded English-language Synod of Central Canada agreed to work together to found Waterloo Lutheran Seminary. This local and regional process was directly linked to the broader context of German North America. Emil Hoffmann, the president of the Canada Synod, noted that the directors of the General Council felt that the addition of a seminary to the collective group should receive the approval of the other member synods. [81] As a result, the official decision was delayed a year until 1911 so that the General Council could give its approval. Other synods could, after all, use this seminary, and a seminary in Ontario would change the relationship between Philadelphia, the Canada Synod, and the Synod of Central Canada. When Waterloo Lutheran Seminary was founded, the two governing synods decided that four men should first approve its charter and constitution: the president of the Canada Synod, the president the Synod of Central Canada, the president of the German Home Mission Board, and the president of the General Council. This procedural fact reflects the intimate ties between Ontario and the United States and the importance of North American structures in shaping institutions at the local level. [82]

During and after World War I, the relationship that the Canada Synod had with Kropp via the General Council was weakened but did not end. In 1911 and 1912, the synod sent $800 to Kropp. In 1914, before the outbreak of war, it sent $400. In June 1917, even after the United States had entered the war, the Canada Synod again sent $400 to Kropp. [83] In 1918 and because of the war, the synod was unable to transfer money to Germany, but it earmarked just over $700 for Kropp. [84] In the same year, the synod spent $3,900 on Waterloo Lutheran College. [85] Even in 1925, the synod sent $350 to Kropp, while its contribution to the growing Waterloo Lutheran rose to over $13,000. [86] In 1926, after the merger with the Synod of Central Canada, the now officially bilingual Canada Synod sent only $25 to Kropp. [87]

In 1930, the Canada Synod stopped sending money, but in that year three new pastoral candidates from Kropp came to Ontario. [88] The Canada Synod’s delegates to the General German Conference reported that the new pastoral candidates from Kropp should improve their English skills before they took over a congregation, and this too attests to the changing nature of the relationship. [89] The connections between the Canada Synod, the General Council, and the Kropp seminary brought one or two pastors trained in Germany to Ontario each year, and some of these men would later migrate on to congregations in other parts of North America. The Kropp seminary closed in 1931 as a result of its shrinking relationship with church bodies in North America.

By using a broader analytical framework, we gain new perspectives on the relationship between ethnicity and space. It reveals the connections between regional and transnational structures that played a role in the development of local communities. The intersection of religion, ethnicity, and space also calls into question the singular importance of World War I. By tracing this entangled history across the Atlantic, we see the persistence of connections between practising Lutherans and institutions in Germany between 1910 and 1930. At the same time, the language debates led by Lutheran pastors and as a response to the conflicting behaviour and opinions of thousands of parishioners for three decades before the war indicate that young Lutherans’ growing preference for English posed challenges to the leadership’s dual focus on language and denomination.

The Inner Mission and Charities

Throughout this period, local congregations and the two Ontario-wide Lutheran bodies engaged in missionary work to integrate people with some loose affiliation to the Lutheran denomination into their local congregations. The inner mission (innere Mission in German) had a distinctly ethnic and linguistic outlook. Often called the “interior mission” or “home mission” in other denominations, the inner mission was inward looking. The use of a direct translation from the German term reveals an idea specific to German speakers in North America. [90] The laypeople and pastors involved in the inner mission sought to improve church attendance and to establish a web of Lutheran charities in Ontario and North America. The ultimate goal of this missionary work was not to spread Lutheranism so much as to preserve it and to draw together a group defined by its heritage and lineage. The Lutheran leadership of Ontario infused in its missionary work ideas of language and lineage, targeting almost exclusively German-speaking, non-practising Lutherans. This group consisted of German speakers with some connection to a Lutheran tradition, but to simply call them Lutherans would be to impose on them a homogenizing view of faith and ethno-religious identity.

Even when people involved in the inner mission in Toronto, Hamilton, and northern Ontario used English, the majority of the people whom the pastors sought to bring into new congregations were of German heritage. The new congregations often alternated between German and English on a weekly basis. This linguistic behaviour suggests a negotiation between the two languages in which all congregants had varying degrees of proficiency, rather than two separate speech communities sharing a congregation. [91] This level of proficiency, in turn, would suggest that the inner missionary work rarely targeted people who were not of German heritage.

In 1910, the head itinerant pastor, M. Hamm, reported that immigration to northern Ontario was increasing rapidly and that the synod would need to found many congregations. The main reason for this, according to Hamm, was that it “is the holy duty of our synod to carry out the work of the Lord in New Ontario so that our brothers of stock and faith [Stammes- und Glaubensgenossen], our sons and daughters, do not fall into the hands of sects.” [92] The belief that people with a common language and denomination needed to preserve a degree of unity suggests that Lutheran leaders in Ontario saw a certain permanence to their ethnicity. Moreover, the term Stammesgenossen (brothers of stock) cast German ethnicity in racialized terms.

Many aspects of the inner mission underscore the relationship between religion, ethnicity, and space. The leaders of the congregations of the Canada Synod slowly expanded their institutional network into Ontario cities, northern Ontario, and Manitoba, and the people whom these leaders wanted to incorporate into organized Lutheranism were defined by their ethnic and denominational background. In the Canada Synod’s records during the three decades before World War I, inner missionary work in places such as Toronto, northern Ontario, and Manitoba was aimed at “fellow believers” (Glaubensgenossen). However, since these “believers” did not have any organized religion and had to be the target of the synod’s missionary activities, the concept of Glaubensgenossen was more complex than making contact with believers. Pastors had a clear preference for offering services in German and the missionary or itinerant pastors typically founded German-language congregations. Fellow believers’ linguistic abilities and heritage motivated this missionary work, and these ethnic markers defined who should be Lutheran for the pastors. Missionaries and those in southern Ontario who supported them believed that inaction would risk that German speakers unconnected to organized Lutheranism would be “lost” to another denomination.

German immigration to northern Ontario encouraged the synod’s leaders to spread the inner mission to a larger spatial network. The Lutheran focus on spreading an institutional network northward emerged as the result of the broader religious context in Ontario. Lutherans in southern Ontario were of course aware that Presbyterians, Methodists, Anglicans, and Catholics were carrying out missionary work in these regions as well. As a result, this spatial analysis reveals both the ethnic focus of the Canada Synod and the Canada District and their relationship with the wider denominational landscape in Ontario.

With growing German immigration between 1880 and 1914, Manitoba became an important site of inner missionary work for the Canada Synod and the Canada District. A spatial network extended from Muskoka northwards in Ontario and then on to Manitoba. The Canada Synod began the Winnipeg Mission in 1890, and the pastor there was one of the synod’s seven missionary pastors, with the others in Auburn and Walkerton in western Ontario, one in Muskoka, two in Denbigh and Elmwood in northern Ontario, and one in Thorne Centre in northwestern Quebec. [93] The average German Lutheran in southern Ontario was connected to the Winnipeg Mission through small financial contributions that every congregation sent to the synod. The synod’s official publication, the weekly Kirchen-Blatt, also reported regularly on the progressive growth of organized German-language religion in Manitoba, and this circulation of information bound Ontario to this larger German-language, discursive space. [94]

In 1891, the Canada Synod turned over the administration of the “northwest mission” to the General Council because of rising costs. [95] The Kirchen-Blatt continued to report on the missionary work there, and the synod remained an important participant in this project. At the same time, however, we can see that this inner mission was part of a transnational network and not simply a history of German-speaking Lutherans in Canada. The transfer of control from Ontario to the overarching General Council reveals as much about the Canada Synod’s relationship with a larger German-speaking world in the United States as it does about the spatial connections between German speakers in Manitoba and Ontario.

The nature of the organized expansion of Lutheranism both supports and requires a spatial analysis. Missionaries from the nearby Pittsburgh Synod founded the Canada Synod in the mid-nineteenth century. As the new synod stabilized in the 1880s and 1890s, it began its own missionary activities, spreading northwards and westwards, and finally founding another synod in Manitoba. In 1899, the Winnipeg Mission developed into the autonomous Manitoba Synod, which then became a member of the General Council. The Kirchen-Blatt continued to report on the spread of Lutheranism and this inner mission, thereby maintaining the connection between southern Ontario and Manitoba. [96] The Canada Synod and the German Home Mission Board of the General Council continued to support the new Manitoba Synod. [97] By 1902, the synod had 13 pastors, 60 congregations, and 5,833 congregants. [98]

The Canada District of the Missouri Synod began missionary activities in Manitoba in the 1890s as well. The Lutherisches Volksblatt kept Lutherans in southern Ontario regularly informed about the missionary efforts they were supporting. [99] The periodical often contrasted these activities with the missionary work carried out in Alberta by an itinerant Missouri Synod pastor from Montana. [100] By 1915, while the spread of the inner mission in Manitoba was still a prominent part of the news in the Lutherisches Volksblatt, the congregations there had fallen under the charge of the Minnesota District and out of the hands of the Canada District. [101] The multiple sites of cross-border connections further highlight the North American nature of these German-language institutions in Ontario and the Canadian Prairies. [102]

Nancy Christie and Michael Gauvreau have described a process of centralization in Toronto of the Canadian Presbyterian and Methodist Churches. [103] George Emery has similarly stressed the importance of an Ontario-based leadership in shaping Methodist churches on the Canadian Prairies between 1896 and 1914. [104] In this sense, a theologically-mainstream denomination — Lutheranism — did not match the overall trend of centralization in Ontario in the late-nineteenth century. While this is perhaps the result of the linguistic focus of the Canada Synod and the Canada District, such an exception adds new perspectives on the history of religion in Canada and the nature of the connections between Ontario and the Prairies. While Lutherans in Ontario were indeed connected to Manitoba, Lutherans in both provinces were bound to broader North American structures, which brings to light the complementary nature of local, regional, national, and transnational scales.

Between 1880 and 1930, a web of Lutheran charities tied the congregations of the Canada Synod and Canada District to key locations in the United States. This network was part of the inner mission that targeted mainly working-class German speakers and often recent German immigrants. Charities and social welfare services received a noteworthy amount of attention in the German-language congregations and Lutheran press in Ontario. With small donations specifically for charitable causes, German speakers actively participated in a larger Lutheran world. A North American network of institutions provided social welfare along ethno-religious lines, and from this vantage point we are offered a glimpse into an area of study in Canadian history that rarely considers the role of ethnic minorities as active promoters of social welfare and that typically describes immigrants as targets of moral and social reform campaigns. [105] In this period, many Lutheran social welfare services were organized at the synodical rather than congregational level. Many others, however, were run in conjunction with the two Ontario bodies’ parent organizations in the United States.

Orphanages are a particularly salient site to track the intersection of ideas about denomination and language in the larger category of German ethnicity in Ontario. In a variety of sources dealing with children, there appeared the idea that children could be “lost” or somehow denied what should be a natural part of their cultural identity. Such a viewpoint asserts the primacy of lineage over actual linguistic abilities and assumes that ethnicity is a permanent rather than an unstable or a relational category. [106] Lutheran orphanages attempted to give children of German parents supposedly vital aspects of their cultural heritage. As early as 1880, the Canada Synod began making small contributions to a Lutheran orphanage in Buffalo. [107] This relationship remained constant until World War I, but starting in 1911, the Canada Synod also began to fund its own orphanage. [108]

Both the General Council and the Missouri Synod founded immigrant settlement homes in New York City. Russell Kazal notes that the Pennsylvania Ministerium’s inner missionary work in Philadelphia took an interest in Americanizing a variety of immigrant groups as a way for middle-class Lutherans to assert their own “old-stock” American identities. [109] The two immigrant homes in New York, however, maintained a stronger ethnic focus. Throughout this period, the pages of the Canada Synod’s Kirchen-Blatt and the Canada District’s Lutherisches Volksblatt included advertisements for settlement homes in New York City. The papers informed German speakers about the homes’ existence, the services they offered, and spread information well beyond the American metropolis that working-class German migrants could seek shelter in this German-speaking, Christian place.

The leaders of the General Council described the home as a site “for the protection and well-being of immigrants and emigrants.” [110] The Kirchen-Blatt informed its readership in Ontario that the home “offers room and board to immigrants and emigrants at the lowest prices as well as free services necessary for world travel. The home arranges steamer tickets in the cheapest and most honest manner as well.” [111] In the 1890s and after the turn of the century, advertisements for the “German Lutheran Immigrant Home” in New York were among a select group of advertisements in the Kirchen-Blatt[112] Supporting this home financially, discursively, and symbolically seemed to be of prime importance for the leaders of the Canada Synod, and in so doing the pastors and laypeople established a transnational institutional network that went well beyond theological agreement within the General Council.

The immigrant home was part of the larger inner mission run by the German Mission Committee of the General Council, the group that established relations with the Kropp seminary and that was separate from the English-language Mission Committee. Delegates from the Canada Synod who attended the annual meetings of the General Council reported in 1882, “one thing in particular that should be gratifying for every German Lutheran: in the General Council, a German spirit has begun to advance and it will care for the stream of German Lutheran immigrants so that they are not lost to our church.” [113] A year later, church leaders proposed that every congregation in the General Council have an annual collection to support inner missionary work in New York aimed at new immigrants. [114] Through the flow of funds, we can see a line that streamed out from Ontario and to a much larger hub in the United States. We also see how local congregations — oriented around language, ethnicity, and denomination — were part of an entangled history both bigger and smaller than the national unit.

In 1912, the Canada Synod began to run its own immigrant home in Montreal. Although immigrants could disembark in Quebec City, Saint John, and Halifax, the synod’s leaders reasoned that these people continued the journey westward by a train that would necessarily pass through Montreal. [115] Dr. Klaehn, the pastor in charge, reported in 1929 that in the past two decades, approximately 95,000 Lutheran immigrants had landed in Canada, 15,445 of whom had come in that year. [116] Klaehn awaited the arrival of 304 ships and trains, and he made 438 visits to hospitals in Montreal in order to invite working-class, Lutheran migrants to use the services of the immigrant home rather than engage in the supposedly morally problematic behaviour of the city or rather than make use of the social welfare services offered by other denominations in Montreal.

The Missouri Synod engaged in activities similar to those of the General Council. It ran an “emigrant mission” and a “Lutheran Pilgrim House” in New York City, which focused specifically on German immigrants, and the synod’s leaders often discussed their interest in the ebb and flow of German migration through New York. [117] Although the home also took in Lutherans from other countries and linguistic backgrounds, its German-language annual reports explicitly announced the goal of providing services mainly to Germans. [118] Like the Kirchen-Blatt, the Volksblatt included advertisements on a regular basis, thereby informing German speakers in Ontario about the services the home offered to immigrants and emigrants. [119] It also reminded its readers that the home in New York required the support of the Canada District. [120] The Lutherisches Volksblatt told readers that for the Pilgrim House to continue, every congregation in the whole Missouri Synod should have an annual collection. [121] This reveals both the network behind one institution in New York City and the importance that the synod, the Canada District, and the Lutherisches Volksblatt gave to such social welfare activities that were informed by ideas of religion, language, ethnicity, and morality.

The inner missionary work of the Canada Synod and the Canada District reveals how practising Lutherans across Ontario interacted with people in nearby and distant communities. The ethnic outlook of these activities underscores important ideas about language and denomination in the construction of German ethnicity in North America. At the same time, however, Lutherans engaged in missionary and social reform activities with the context of their surrounding society very much in mind. Concerned about people joining another denomination and following a pattern laid out by Anglicans, Presbyterians, Methodists, and Catholics, Lutherans carved out a space for linguistic and denominational pluralism in Ontario and North America.


Between 1880 and 1930, an institutional network bound people across Ontario into two regional religious bodies, the competing Canada Synod and the Canada District. The networks that extended, however, to Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Philadelphia, and New York integrated practising Lutherans in Ontario to an institutional structure based in the United States. For many, German ethnicity in Ontario was tied to a single but evolving German North America, and the German-language institutions in this province were intricately bound to the linguistic behaviour of people functioning in another national context. The intersection of local, regional, national, and transnational scales illustrates how German-speaking Lutherans engaged in a dynamic and layered dialogue with interlocutors scattered across a large spatial network.

A denomination centrally concerned with the ethnicity of its parishioners and one that kept its records in German rather than English or French enhances our understanding of religion in Canada. This Lutheran case study suggests that beyond Presbyterianism, Methodism, and Anglicanism, religion in Ontario, particularly when closely linked to ethnicity, functioned in a larger North American space. The story illustrated by Lutheranism is one that likely mirrored the experience of many immigrants. Moreover, a fundamental aspect of the Catholic Church has been to offer a range of services to immigrants in their preferred language, and thus Catholicism shares aspects of the relationship between denomination and ethnicity as well.

This article has demonstrated some of the ways that many German-speaking Lutherans imagined both nation and place. The similarities between the Lutheran Church and other denominations in Canada — Ontario as a hub for westward expansion, a significant portion of the clergy trained in Europe, and the growth of religious social welfare institutions — means that at least one large linguistic group participated in key aspects of the religious culture of the surrounding society. Yet the ethnic interests that accompanied the spread of Lutheranism suggest that religion and nation in Canada could intersect in a variety of ways not fully recognized by the historiographic focus on English-language denominations.

Through the lens of religion and space, this article has made three contributions to the study of German speakers in North America. First, for many people, ethnicity was shaped by religious participation and denominational identity. There was no single German community in Ontario nor in any single town, and the very existence of German- language Lutheran congregations meant that mutually exclusive communities oriented around denomination rather than ethnic heritage emerged. Second, evidence of linguistic change in the decades preceding World War I and the persistence of the German language as a unifying feature of organized Lutheranism after the war illustrates that many factors led to changing linguistic behaviour among the Canadian-born children of German speakers. This not to say that the war had no impact on German ethnicity in Ontario. However, considering that the Canada Synod and the Canada District were the two largest German-language institutions in Canada between 1880 and 1930 and that the language maintained an important place in this social space in the decade after the war, the singular importance attributed to the war should be rethought.

Third, the focus on space challenges our understanding of settlement and enclaves defined by ethnicity, and this argument contributes to a broader discussion of ethnicity and migration in North America. The popular assumption and historiographic tendency to present Berlin and the surrounding Waterloo County as the site where German speakers in Ontario supposedly dwelled resembles the external perceptions of Little Italies and Chinatowns across North America. Spaces such as Waterloo County have come to be viewed as boxes where ethnic groups lived. The German-language Lutheran churches that dotted the Ontario landscape well beyond Waterloo County clearly contradicted such an idea, as did the anglophones who found themselves within these supposedly German spaces and as did the Lutheran children who preferred to speak English. A focus on the intersection of space, religion, and ethnicity offers new perspectives on the history of German speakers, religious diversity, and cultural pluralism in Ontario and North America.

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