Most of the Danish immigrants, who are still living in Toronto, arrived in the 50s and 60s and are now of retirement age. Although they have integrated into the local communities, many still maintain Danish traditions and have shared their traditions, skills and Danish food specialties with their neighbours. In numerous ways, Danes have contributed to the cultural fabric of Toronto. One of the most famous contributors is probably the renowned Danseur Noble Erik Bruhn, who unquestionably made his mark as the National Ballet of Canada’s artistic director, and in whose name a prize was established to be awarded to outstanding senior male student dancers.
Many Danish establishments, such as restaurants, delicatessens, gift and furniture stores, were opened in the 1950s and 1960s by post-war settlers. Torontonians fondly recall The Copenhagen Room, The Little Mermaid and The Viking restaurants as well as George Jensen Jewelers and several furniture stores, among others. The Danish-Canadian Chamber of Commerce can attest to the continuing, but changing, successful Danish business community in Toronto.
The first Danes to come to Canada were early explorers, who braved the seas to reach the coast of North America. Jens Munk, searching for a Northwest Passage to China, landed his vessel at the mouth of Churchill River and named it Munk’s Bay in 1619. Other Danish sailors and fur trappers soon followed. However, the first wave of immigration occurred in the late 19th century, when Danish farmers, servants, blacksmiths, and journeymen left the United States to settle in the Maritimes, the prairies, and Northern and Southwestern Ontario.
The first Danish settlement in Canada was established in New Brunswick in 1872, when New Denmark was founded and since then has developed into a very successful potato farming area. A second settlement was established at Pottersburg (London, Ontario) in 1893 by John Ginge, who built a large pork-packing plant, attracting many Danish butchers and sausage makers to the area.
In the 1920s, Danes arrived hoping to acquire homesteads. Many later moved to the cities, where they formed communities. In Toronto, the first worship service for Danish Lutherans was held at St. Ansgar’s Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church in 1925. The community organized other groups, including the Ladies Aid Society, a Sunday school, and the Dana College Choir. In 1931, St. Ansgar purchased the Methodist rectory on Sherbourne Street and organized a library of Danish books and newspapers. Between 1951 and 1960, thousands of Danish professionals and highly skilled workers such as carpenters, bricklayers, mechanics and electricians were attracted by the city’s economic opportunities. Today, there are about 20,000 Danish-Canadians living in Toronto.
FASTELAVN, held the week before Lent, is the Danish Mardi Gras. This event takes place at the Danish Lutheran Church and at Sunset Villa.
QUEEN OF DENMARK’S BIRTHDAY (QUEEN MARGRETHE II) is celebrated on April 16 with a dinner and entertainment organized by the church congregation and the Danish Guards’ Association.
CONSTITUTION DAY, June 5, celebrates the day in 1849 when the first Danish liberal constitution became law. Every year, on the Sunday closest to this date, Sunset Villa is alive with hundreds of Danes, who meet here to commemorate this important event. The program includes an outdoor church service, speeches, a picnic, children’s games and folk dancing.
ST. HANS (JOHANNES) DAY on June 24 marks the longest day of the year and honours St. John the Baptist. The event is celebrated on the evening prior with singing and dancing and a large bonfire.
MORTENSAFTEN (SAINT MARTIN’S EVE). The legend tells the story of Saint Martin of Tours, who did not wish to become bishop. He hid in a goose nest but was found when the geese’s cackle gave him away. He became bishop and is celebrated on November 11. On the evening prior, Danes traditionally eat goose in memory of the geese that betrayed Saint Martin.
SANTA LUCIA. Even though this is a Swedish tradition, Danes celebrate December 13, Lucia Day, in the Danish Church, nursing homes and hospitals as well as many schools and day-care institutions. A group of young girls in white dresses perform a traditional ritual, which includes their entrance, carrying candles and singing the Santa Lucia song. The girls are dressed in white, and the Lucia Bride, who leads the procession, wears a wreath with candles on her head. The custom was introduced in Denmark during the German Occupation in 1944.
CHRISTMAS is celebrated on the evening of December 24. Following the afternoon church service (English or Danish), families gather for Christmas dinner, which usually includes pork roast with crackling, goose or duckling accompanied by pickled red cabbage, sugared potatoes, and vegetables. Rice porridge may precede the meal or riz a l’amande (rice with whipped cream and almonds, accompanied by cherry sauce) may follow the meal. Christmas carols and hymns are sung around a candle-lit tree and gifts are distributed by a younger member of the family.
GREAT PRAYER DAY (STORE BEDEDAG), is a special Danish festival falling on the fourth Friday after Easter Sunday. Both the previous evening and on Great Prayer Day itself, warm wheat buns (Hveder) are served. This day combines several lesser fast and prayer days. Under the law, all trade, work, etc. were forbidden on this day. The bakers therefore came up with the idea of baking some wheat buns, which could be heated up and eaten the following day.
Danish Constitutional Day, held June 5.
DANISH CANADIAN CHAMBER OF COMMERCE, (Tel. 416-923-1811, Fax 416-962-3668, 151 Bloor St. W., Suite 310). Chairman: Mr. Anders Fisker.
DANES WORLDWIDE. (Tel. 416-493-1594) Representative for Toronto and southwestern Ontario: Eva Terp.
ROYAL DANISH GUARDS’ ASSOCIATION. (Tel. 416-260-2938) The members are former guards of the Danish Royal Palace. President: Jakob Noergaard.
SCANDINAVIAN-CANADIAN CLUB OF TORONTO, (Tel. 416-782-4604, 91 Stormont Ave). The members represent the five Nordic countries, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden.
SUNSET VILLA ASSOCIATION, (Tel. (519) 824-0539, R.R. #2, 7150 Concession #1, Puslinch), operates a group of retirement residences for elderly Danes on the Sunset Villa property. President: Linda Larsen.
SUNSET MINDEPARK, (Tel. (519) 821-9296, R.R. #2, Puslinch). Founded in 1992 this beautiful memorial garden and urn cemetery is located on the Sunset Villa grounds. President: Lis Sondergaard.