Canada boasts a diverse history shaped by waves of immigrants from Europe. The Canadian Government viewed Scandinavia as a fertile source of immigrants, deeming Scandinavians to be robust individuals capable of successfully clearing and farming in the wilderness. In 1872, an agent was dispatched by the Canadian Government to Scandinavia to encourage farmers to emigrate. This agent aided a Danish entrepreneur, Sorensen S. Heller, in recruiting individuals and families for settlement in New Brunswick.
Known as Captain Heller, it’s unclear whether his title was derived from naval or military service. After a visit to North America in 1869, Captain Heller entered an agreement with the Province of New Brunswick, committing to bring 500 Danish settlers in exchange for a $10 bounty per person. He successfully enlisted around 30 people for this venture.
In 1872, Heller and the settlers journeyed across the Atlantic, beginning their voyage on a steamship from Copenhagen, then transferring ships in Halifax to reach Saint John. From there, they embarked on a paddlewheel steamer up the Saint John River, finally disembarking at a tributary known as the Salmon River. They then trekked over two miles into the wilderness to their new home in northern New Brunswick. As per the agreement with the provincial government, each settler over 18 years of age received 100 acres of land.
The settlers agreed to clear a portion of the land and construct houses no smaller than 16 by 20 feet. Early immigrants were also promised employment on the railway, with wages no less than one dollar per day. After three years, the settlers were required to have at least 10 acres of their land under cultivation.
Initially, the settlement was named Hellerup, after the Danish businessman who spearheaded the venture. Upon his return to Copenhagen, Heller sought to attract more Danes to his New World settlement. In 1873, he returned to Hellerup with an additional 80 Danish immigrants.
However, the settlers soon realized that the idyllic image Heller had portrayed of life in New Brunswick was far from reality. The land clearing was laborious, and the promised railway jobs were non-existent. To compensate for the lack of paid employment, the New Brunswick government provided each family with a payment. Likely feeling misled by Heller, the settlers renamed their community New Denmark.
By 1873, New Denmark had a population of 111. Many of the single men from the original settlement quickly departed, as the prospect of marrying Danish women was slim, and the task of transforming dense forest into farmland was demanding. They migrated to larger communities in the United States.
The New Denmark Memorial Museum offers a deeper insight into this unique community, displaying a collection of portraits, farm machinery, small tools, china, books, and numerous artifacts belonging to the Danish settlers, as well as traditional Danish garments of the era.
Every year, the community celebrates “Founders Day” on the Sunday closest to June 19th. Visit New Denmark, the oldest Danish settlement in Canada, to discover more.
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