German Canadian Life

By Christopher Bretz


Mennonite Holidays

Most European German, Swiss, and French Mennonites customarily observed the following holidays, usually with a church service in the morning: Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost, "Buss- und Bettag" (Day of Repentance and Prayer). At Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost, the day following was also celebrated as a holiday, but without services.

Among the older Mennonite churches in America, Good Friday, Ascension, and Pentecost were no longer observed (except for possibly using the day for special programs unrelated to the real meaning of the day), and seldom was Christmas Day observed with church services. In Ontario there was more observance of such days, except by the Old Order Amish.

As a rule the worship centered around the event of the holiday. In the afternoon and evening relatives visited each other, often traveling long distances for this occasion.



The use of the Christmas trees in connection with the Christmas season was seriously objected to by the more conservative groups, as was formerly the case among practically all the American Mennonites, as a pagan survival which has no place among Christians.



Take, as a sample, two hausfraus chatting sociably across a market stall. "And is your mother living yet?" With mournful air the other shakes her head. "Not yet!" she answers. And that gives you just a slight idea of English as she's spoke among the Pennsylvania Dutch!

Take, now, that classical expression uttered by a youngster watching as a freight train rumbled by: "Mom, ven it comes a little red box, why then the train's all, ain't?" His actual words-I have an ear witness to prove it! Consider, too, the watchman who in days gone by went bawling through the streets at midnight.- "Twelf o'glock-all's well Makes somesing down like a drizzle!"

They sound incredible to outland ears, their weird distortions of the English tongue. But not so weird, perhaps, when you remember that your Pennsylvania Dutchman has three languages to wrestle with. He has the German of his hymnbook and his Bible, brought by his forefathers from their native lands and used till fairly recently in church and school; he has the dialect he speaks at home; and worst of all-to him-he has the language taught him in our schools today. No wonder he's thoroughly con- fused at times, and gets the order of his English words all mixed up with the order of his mother tongue!

He "goes the road up" and he "turns the gate in", and he "goes to work and does" a thing, no matter how uncomplicated it may be. "I gif you right" is how he tells you he agrees with you. "Oy, anyhow!" implies complete amazement. "Yes, it wonders me I" or "I was wonderful sick last week", or even (cross my heart!), "It wonders me wonderful I" He speaks of a "toot" instead of a paper bag, and talks about a "herschel" when he means a storm. He warns you to watch out for "blutzes", me bumpy places.

And, just as Pennsylvania Dutch itself includes some English words, so, vice versa, your bewildered linguist scatters dialect expressions through his English with a carefree hand. "It kreistles me", he'll tell you, meaning that it makes him shudder. "Now stop rutsching round!" he scolds his small boy fidgeting upon a bench. And, "Sadie, your hair's strubley", is his way of telling little daughter that her crowning glory isn't sleek and smooth. "He's such a doppel!" brands a person as awkward, a schussel is the name he gives a careless, lazy one.

Examples of this Pennsylvania Dutch idea of English could be cited until doomsday. "Ach, don't talk so dumb!"-"Go make the door shut"-"Wait until I make my dirt away" (clean up)-"Outen the light" -"It happened in the hind part of July"-"The bell don't make." 

With all these pitfalls of the English language waiting to engulf him, it's hardly to be wondered that one old farmer felt the way he did about the whole confounded business. Coming home from work one evening to be told an English speaking person wished to see him, he let out a gusty sigh. "Ach, such a dog's lifel" he remarked disgustedly. "Work hard all day I must, then in the evening I speak English yet!" 

Excerpted from The English Pennsylvania Dutch German Dictionary, Culinary Arts Press, Reading, PA, 1965, 98pp.




Work in the 19th Century

During the 19th century the factory system gradually replaced the system of people working in their own homes or in small workshops. In England the textile industry was the first to be transformed. The changes caused a great deal of suffering to poor people.

The industrial revolution created a huge demand for female and child labour. Children had always done some work but at least before the 19th century they worked in their own homes with their parents or on land nearby. Children's work was largely seasonal so they did have some time to play. When children worked in textile factories they often worked for more than 12 hours a day.

In the early 19th century parliament passed laws to curtail child labour. However they all proved to be unenforceable. The first effective law was passed in 1833. It was effective because for the first time factory inspectors were appointed to make sure the law was being obeyed. The new law banned children under 9 from working in textile factories. It said that children aged 9 to 13 must not work for more than 12 hours a day or 48 hours a week. Children aged 13 to 18 must not work for more than 69 hours a week. Furthermore nobody under 18 was allowed to work at night (from 8.30 pm to 5.30 am). Children aged 9 to 13 were to be given 2 hours education a day.

Conditions in coalmines were often terrible. Children as young as 5 worked underground. In 1842 a law banned children under 10 and all females from working underground. In 1844 a law banned all children under 8 from working. Then in 1847 a Factory Act said that women and children could only work 10 hours a day in textile factories.

In 1867 the law was extended to all factories. (A factory was defined as a place where more than 50 people were employed in a manufacturing process).

In the 19th century boys were made to climb up chimneys to clean them. This barbaric practice was ended by law in 1875.

In the 1850s and 1860s skilled craftsmen formed national trade unions. In 1868 a group of them formed the TUC. However unskilled workers did not become organised until the late 1880s.



Education in the 19th Century

In the early 19th century the churches provided schools for poor children. From 1833 the government provided them with grants. There were also dame schools. They were run by women who taught a little reading, writing and arithmetic. However many dame schools were really a child minding service.

The state did not take responsibility for education until 1870. Forsters Education Act laid down that schools should be provided for all children. If there were not enough places in existing schools then board schools were built. In 1880 school was made compulsory for 5 to 10 year olds. However school was not free, except for the poorest children until 1891 when fees were abolished. From 1899 children were required to go to school until they were 12.

Girls from upper class families were taught by a governess. Boys were often sent to public schools like Eaton.

Middle class boys went to grammar schools. Middle class girls went to private schools were they were taught 'accomplishments' such as music and sewing.


19th Century Homes

Well off Victorians lived in very comfortable houses. (Although their servants lived in cramped quarters, often in the attic). For the first time furniture was mass-produced. That meant it was cheaper but unfortunately standards of design fell. To us middle class 19th century homes would seem overcrowded with furniture, ornaments and knick-knacks. However only a small minority could afford this comfortable lifestyle.

In the early 19th century housing for the poor was often dreadful. Often they lived in 'back-to-backs'. These were houses of three (or sometimes only two) rooms, one of top of the other. The houses were literally back-to-back. The back of one house joined onto the back of another and they only had windows on one side.

The bottom room was used as a living room cum kitchen. The two rooms upstairs were used as bedrooms. The worst homes were cellar dwellings. These were one-room cellars. They were damp and poorly ventilated. The poorest people slept on piles of straw because they could not afford beds.

Fortunately in the 1840s local councils passed by-laws banning cellar dwellings. They also banned any new back to backs. The old ones were gradually demolished and replaced over the following decades.

In the early 19th century skilled workers usually lived in 'through houses' i.e. ones that were not joined to the backs of other houses. Usually they had two rooms downstairs and two upstairs. The downstairs front room was kept for best. The family kept their best furniture and ornaments in this room. They spent most of the their time in the downstairs back room, which served as a kitchen and living room. As the 19th century passed more and more working class Victorians could afford this lifestyle.

The carpet sweeper was invented in 1876.

In the late 19th century workers houses greatly improved. After 1875 most towns passed building regulations which stated that e.g. new houses must be a certain distance apart, rooms must be of a certain size and have windows of a certain size.

By the 1880s most working class people lived in houses with two rooms downstairs and two or even three bedrooms. Most had a small garden.

At the end of the 19th century some houses for skilled workers were built with the latest luxury - an indoor toilet.

In the late 19th century most homes also had a scullery. In it was a 'copper', a metal container for washing clothes. The copper was filled with water and soap powder was added. To wash the clothes they were turned with a wooden tool called a dolly. Or you used a metal plunger with holes in it to push clothes up and down. Wet clothes were wrung through a mangle to dry them.

At the beginning of the 19th century people cooked over an open fire. This was very wasteful as most of the heat went up the chimney. In the 1820s an iron cooker called a range was introduced. It was a much more efficient way of cooking because most of the heat was contained within. By the mid-19th century ranges were common. Most of them had a boiler behind the coal fire where water was heated.

However even at the end of the 19th century there were still many families living in one room. Old houses were sometimes divided up into separate dwellings. Sometimes if windows were broken slum landlords could not or would not replace them. So they were 'repaired' with paper. Or rags were stuffed into holes in the glass.

Gaslight first became common in well off people's homes in the 1840s. By the late 1870s most working class homes had gaslight, at least downstairs. Bedrooms might have oil lamps. Gas fires first became common in the 1880s. Gas cookers first became common in the 1890s.

Joseph Swan invented the electric light bulb in 1878. (Thomas Edison invented an improved version in 1879). In the last 2 decades of the 19th century many British towns and cities installed electric street lights. However electric light was expensive and it took a long time to replace gas in people's homes.

In the early 19th century only rich people had bathrooms. People did take baths but only a few people had actual rooms for washing. In the 1870s and 1880s many middle class Victorians had bathrooms built. The water was heated by gas. Working class people had a tin bath and washed in front of the kitchen range.


19th Century Food

In the early 19th century most of the working class lived on a dreary diet of bread, butter, potatoes and bacon. Butcher's meat was a luxury. However things greatly improved in the late 19th century. Railways and steamships made it possible to import cheap grain from North America so bread became cheaper. Refrigeration made it possible to import cheap meat from Argentina and Australia. Consumption of sugar also increased. By the end of the 19th century most people (not all) had a reasonably varied diet.

The first fish and chip shops in Britain opened in the 1860s. By the late 19th century they were common in towns and cities.

In the late 19th century the first convenience foods in tins and jars went on sale. Although the principle of canning was invented at the end of the 18th century tinned food first became widely available in the 1880s. Furthermore in the 1870s margarine, a cheap substitute for butter, was invented.

Several new biscuits were invented in the 19th century including the Garibaldi (1861), the cream cracker (1885) and the Digestive (1892). Furthermore new sweets were invented during the 19th century including peanut brittle (1890) and liquorice allsorts (1899).

Chocolate was still a popular drink but the first chocolate bar was made in 1847. Milk chocolate was invented in 1875.


19th Century Games

In 1871 the Bank Holiday Act gave workers a few paid holidays each year. Also in the 1870s some clerks and skilled workers began to have a weeks paid annual holiday. However even at the end of the 19th century most people had no paid holidays except bank holidays.

In the early 19th century everyone had Sunday off. In the 1870s some skilled workers began to have Saturday afternoon off. In the 1890s most workers gained a half day holiday on Saturday and the weekend was born.

During the 19th century sports became organised. The London Football Association devised the rules of football in 1863. The first international match was held between England and Scotland in 1872. In 1867 John Graham Chambers drew up a list of rules for boxing. They were called the Queensberry Rules after the Marquis of Queensberry. The Amateur Athletics Association was founded in 1880.

Several new sports and games were invented during the 19th century. William Webb Ellis is supposed to have invented Rugby at Rugby school in 1823 when he picked up a football and ran with it. Although a form of tennis was played since the Middle Ages lawn tennis was invented in 1873. Snooker was invented in India in 1875. Volleyball was invented in 1895.

At the end of the 19th century bicycling became a popular sport. The safety bicycle was invented in 1885 and in 1892 John Boyd Dunlop invented pneumatic tyres (much more comfortable than solid rubber ones!) Bicycling clubs became common.

Ludo was originally an Indian game. It was introduced into Britain c. 1880.

Archery was considered a suitable sport for women. It was 'ladylike'.

Reading was also popular in the 19th century. In 1841 Edgar Allen Poe published the first detective story The Murders In The Rue Morgue. The first Sherlock Holmes story A Study in Scarlet was published in 1887 by Arthur Conan Doyle.

Many middle class Victorians enjoyed musical evenings when they gathered around a piano and sang.

Middle class Victorians were very fond of the theatre. In the late 19th century there were also music halls where a variety of acts were performed.

In the 19th century going to the seaside was very popular with those who could afford it. The first pleasure pier was built at Brighton in 1823 and soon they appeared at seaside resorts across Britain.

The steam driven printing press was invented in 1814 allowing newspapers to become more common. Stamp duty on newspapers was abolished in 1855, which made them cheaper. However newspapers did not become really common until the end of the 19th century. In 1896 the Daily Mail appeared. It was written in a deliberately sensational style to attract readers with little education.

One new hobby in the 19th century was photography. Henry Fox Talbot took the first photograph in 1835. However photography was more than just a pastime. In 1871 a writer said that one of the great comforts for the working class was having a photo of a family member who was working a long way off. They could be reminded what their loved one looked like.

The first cheap camera was invented in 1888 by George Eastman. Afterwards photography became a popular hobby.

In the late 19th century town councils laid out public parks for recreation. The first children's playground was built in a park in Manchester in 1859.

Lastly, for those who like shopping, the first department store opened in London in 1863.

In the 19th century the 'modern' Christmas evolved. Before then Christmas wasn't especially important. It was one of only many festivals celebrated during the year. However the Victorians invented the Chistmas card and the Christmas cracker. The Christmas tree was known in England before the 19th century but it was really made popular when the royal were shown in a magazine illustration with one. Father Christmas or Santa Claus became the figure we know today in the 19th century.