Pennsylvania German in Ontario German Newspapers 1835-1918, by Herbert Karl Kalbfleisch (1956)

THE PROVINCE of Ontario, known earlier as Upper Canada, was not favored by any large influx of German people until after the end of the American Revolution. Indeed, most of the German settlers who came at that time as a segment of the wider loyalist migration to British territory were soon absorbed into the predominantly English pattern of the province and lost command of the German tongue. They required neither German books nor newspapers for their edification or enjoyment.

The descendants of these German loyalists, who settled primarily in the eastern counties of Ontario, on the Bay of Quinte and in the Niagara Peninsula, are still recognizable by the German surnames they bear, but beyond that there is little distinctively German about them. A somewhat later settlement, but still made before 1800, in York County, north of Toronto, had a similar history, although here an intermixture of Mennonites in the German group served to perpetuate the German language to some extent. In southwestern Ontario, particularly in the counties of Waterloo, Perth, Huron, Grey and Bruce, a somewhat different situation prevailed. There was a sufficient concentration of German people to assure the perpetuation of the language—at least for a few generations. In many of these areas the Pennsylvania German dialect is still understood, and often spoken, even by the youngest members of the group.

The pioneer Germans in Waterloo County originated almost exclusively in Pennsylvania. Their history in Canada dates approximately from the year 1800. Before long, however, they were joined by immigrants directly from the Fatherland, who were attracted to this area by reason of the German speaking settlers already there, as well as by the opportunities for artisans and craftsmen to establish themselves successfully in the many rapidly growing villages of this prosperous agricultural community. It is striking to observe how quickly the immigrants directly from Germany adjusted their spoken language to that of the Pennsylvania German settlers who had preceded them. This adjustment may have been facilitated by the fact that both groups were heavily represented by people from approximately the same original area, the German southwest.

The first German newspaper in Berlin (now Kitchener), later the county town of Waterloo County and focal point of German settlement and activity in the province of Ontario, was established in 1835. Its editor and publisher, Heinrich Wilhelm (later Henry William) Peterson, was born in the Duchy of Oldenburg, Germany, in 1793. He went to the United States with his parents as a child of two, and spent his early years in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Delaware. As he grew up he learned the printing trade, published newspapers and operated printing shops at several places with indifferent success. In 1832 he decided to migrate to Canada, where his parents had preceded him in 1819. His father, a Lutheran clergyman, served several parishes in York County. Heinrich Wilhelm, however, chose to settle in Berlin. To publish a newspaper for the Germans in Canada became his goal. Support for this venture was forthcoming from the German community; one of the most ardent supporters was Bishop Benjamin Eby of the Mennonite Church in the area. Bishop Eby, who was born in Warwick Township, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, in 1785, had settled permanently in Waterloo County in 1807, and by the time Peterson began publishing the Canada Museum und Allgemeine Zeitung, he was well known in the Waterloo community.

It is noteworthy that Peterson maintained a fairly good standard of language in his Museum, although some English words for which easily accessible German equivalents were lacking, insinuated themselves into his vocabulary. Examples such as “Trosties” (trustees), “machte eine Spietsch,” “Kamp-Mieting,” “Settlementer,” and “Häfner-Schap” (shop) fall into this category. Nevertheless, Pennsylvania German matter was almost completely lacking in the Museum, a fact which is highly significant, since in the period up to 1840 the German speaking settlers of the immediate area were still predominantly of Pennsylvania German origin.

The successors to the Museum, more than twenty-five weeklies, which flourished for various lengths of time until German newspapers were prohibited toward the end of World War I, featured Pennsylvania German material in varying quantities. The immigrants from Germany who did most of the editing and publishing, seemed to enjoy the dialect, and felt that certain effects, particularly humorous ones, could be better achieved through it than through the standard language. This feeling has persisted until the present time in the former German speaking areas of Ontario. The descendants of the German pioneers who migrated directly from the Fatherland have lost command of the standard language, but have retained many humorous and pithy expressions from the Pennsylvania German. The urge to preserve fragments of the dialect is receiving some impetus, even now, as a measure of pride is becoming attached to having Pennsylvania German blood in one’s veins.

The flourishing period of the Ontario German press, between 1850 and 1900, and the period of amalgamation, decline and eventual disappearance which followed, witnessed also an increased publication of Pennsylvania German material. Much of it was provided in the form of letters and articles written over a bizarre assortment of noms de plume, but in many instances the correspondents or authors preferred to remain entirely anonymous. Some of the dialect material was acquired from German American newspapers, along with manifold items of news, scientific and academic articles, humor, and poetry.

An examination of some of the major weeklies whose files are available yields rather surprising results when compared with what must have been the distribution of clientele with respect to origin in Pennsylvania or directly from Germany. That the Berliner Journal, which ran from 1859 to 1918, should have provided a large bulk of Pennsylvania German material is not surprising. A great many of its subscribers were either from Pennsylvania, or descendants of Pennsylvania Germans. The quantity and variety of its offerings are revealed in such titles and authors as the following: “Wunnerliches,” by Wunnernahs; “Brief vum Däv;” “Eppes letz-Ueberall,” signed by Eisick Schnitzelbank; “Ich will heiern,” by Säm Beisszang; anonymously “All for nix,” “En ackommedeedinger Riegelweg,” “Net zu Bieten,” “En Ehn Cent Stohry;” then “Die Sällie hot die Gripp” and “dorich die Luft,” by Sälly Besemstiel; “Gedanke über Fenzweissle,” by Hansjörk; “Guter Roth,” by Solomon der Dumme; “Der Pit hot Wieder G’heiert,” by Säm; “Die Mad und Beisickels,” by Der Klehn Krämer; “Lokal-Nuhs,” by De Lumpa-Pete; “Johnny Kitzler über den Krieg,” by Johnny Kitzler; “Pennsylvanisch-Deutscher Brief,” by Eiseha Stoppelkopp; many letters over the name of Jonathan and John Ritsch, the latter from the New Yorker Staatszeitung; a whole series of correspondence by Pit Berastiehl, pseudonym of John P. Becker, an agent of the Berliner Journal; from 1905 until 1915 the letters of Joe Klotzkopp by the then editor of the Journal. John A. Rittinger. Of all the Pennsylvania German material in the Journal, the letters of Joe Klotzkopp were most popular. Approximately one hundred are extant from this ten-year period.

The quantity of Pennsylvania German material in relation to the total space in the Journal that was provided for matter other than news is, perhaps, not so significant as the unfailing regularity with which material in the dialect appeared. Public demand provided the incentive which dictated its inclusion and, to judge from the evidence, the voice of the public must have been very insistent. Even the carriers’ New Year’s greetings were not immune from the encroachments of the dialect, as is evident in the carriers’ poem of 1888.

However, the demand for dialect matter was not uniform over the whole German speaking area. Some newspapers, such as the Canadisches Volksblatt of New Hamburg, provided very little.

This aversion to Pennsylvania German was not shared by the weeklies of Berlin, where there was a large proportion of Pennsylvania Germans. Besides the Berliner Journal, Der Deutsche Canadier, which was published in Berlin from January, 1841, to January, 1865, also carried the dialect. While it did not publish a large amount there was always some in each issue. A greater quantity might have been expected since the Canadier was published by the sons of Bishop Benjamin Eby from its inception until 1857. On the other hand, the Deutsche Zeitung of Berlin which, during its eight years of existence between 1891 and 1899, constantly laid an almost frantic emphasis on its pure German character, soon succumbed to the desires of part of its clientele, and, perhaps in response to competition from the Berliner Journal and the Ontario Glocke of Walkerton, featured Der klehn Krämer in “Eine Sauschwanz-Kehs vor’m Schmärte Squeier” before the end of its first year of publication. Later contributors to the Pennsylvania German column in the Deutsche Zeitung were Jackson P. Hoffnakle and Piet Kickmüller, Bätschler. In 1897 a relatively lengthy missive from this gentleman appeared almost every week. In the previous year a two-column article entitled “Mei Hunting Exkurschen” over the name of Schan Schorsch Zintfade, Grocerie- und Saluhnkieper seems to have been the experiences of a local Nimrod.

The Ontario Glocke, published at Walkerton, in an area settled chiefly by Germans directly from the Fatherland, was, however, the weekly that catered most consistently to the desire for Pennsylvania German material. Articles and correspondence in the dialect appeared over the names of Pid Schnitzmacher, Missgawels Hanjerk, Hickory Jackson, Sam Quetschekern, Nochemol, Schwift Eisick, John Ritsch, D’r Hansjorg, Joe Klotzkopp and Sarah Klotzkopp, Joe’s supposed Irish wife. Of these, the letters of Joe Klotzkopp became an exceedingly popular feature of the Glocke and, after amalgamation with the Berliner Journal, in 1904, of the combined weeklies. The first Joe Klotzkopp letter appeared in the Glocke on January 22, 1890. It attracted much attention and there was an immediate demand for more. In fact, the subscribers of the Glocke looked upon Joe Klotzkopp as an indispensable adjunct to their reading. They went so far as to memorize and quote humorous passages from him, or ones containing kernels of good, homespun philosophy.

Between 1890 and 1897 approximately twenty-five Joe Klotzkopp letters, in addition to a considerable quantity of other Pennsylvania German material, were printed in the Glocke.

The quantity of dialect writing provided by the Ontario German newspapers stood in striking contrast to the active campaign they constantly waged in favor of good, standard German. The editors of the German weeklies did not deliberately desire to cater to pedestrian tastes, but the keen competition which prevailed among the fairly large number of German weeklies in an area which never contained an abundance of German speaking people frequently made a compromise necessary. It was, in short, a matter of survival. The whole province of Ontario had, according to the census of 1901, only about two hundred thousand people of German origin, and the potential subscribers to the German newspapers amounted to only a fraction of this number. Fusion and assimilation began early to exact their toll of the publications in the German settlements, particularly on the periphery. The intermixture of English words, as well as the intimate and, sometimes, trivial tone in the Pennsylvania German matter, held many wavering subscribers for a few more years.

It was evident to the publishers, however, that their newspapers dare not degenerate completely into dialect organs. For this reason hundreds of articles and many poems were dedicated to the subject of good German. The motivation was both sentimental and practical. The nostalgic longings of even second and third generations of German Canadians for the old Fatherland were aroused by the events of 1866, by German unification in 1871 following the Franco-Prussian War, and by the advances made by a united Germany, particularly in economic and scientific fields. German language study began to flourish after 1900 in the schools of the German areas in Ontario. Through this study the German newspapers felt that their future was assured. But World War I dealt these dreams a major blow, and the prohibition of German language newspapers in Canada in October, 1918 ended temporarily the story of German journalism in Ontario.

The American-German Review, 23 (1), pp. 30-32.

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