Opinion

Little Germany succumbed to Clay Belt

By Tom Villemaire, Special to Postmedia Network

You would have to search long and hard to find a more definitive immigrant pioneer than August Kruger.

Kruger bought land in Germanicus shortly after arriving in Canada in 1879. It was, as you might guess, a community made up almost entirely of German immigrants, between Lake Dore and Golden Lake in Ontario’s Renfrew County.

Kruger was a high value resident; trained as a blacksmith in Germany, he was much in demand and added to his farm income by offering piece work and small jobs from his property. His wife and two sons also helped with chores, until tragedy struck — his wife died after falling into a well only two years after they arrived.

At this time, the Clay Belt in northern Ontario was all the rage. The provincial government saw it as an opportunity to attract more settlers to cheap land, and the railways saw it as a way to increase business.

Surveyors had identified the promising country only a few years before. It was once the bottom of a post-glacial lake stretching from Timmins and Kapuskasing in the north, with southern shores along Temiskaming. In all, it consisted of about 29 million acres spread across a large chunk of Ontario and western Quebec.

On the surface, pun intended, the land looked pretty good. Compared to the glacial litter that covers a lot of Ontario, this land was stone-free. And, soil-wise, great farmland.

Kruger was intrigued, and he and his family (he remarried, taking Louise Mueller as his wife) moved there about 1905, when the land became available for settlement.

Kruger was 59 years old and he brought along one of his sons (he had another five kids with Louise) up the brand-spanking new Temiskaming and Northern Ontario Railway to New Liskeard — as far as the train travelled, at this point. They then took to a boat and finally on foot, they walked to Chamberlain Township, more than 40 miles through the bush. The two built a house and blacksmith shop and then sent for the rest of the family. By 1907 they owned 820 acres, according to a report in the Deutsche Post in Pembroke.

Like many settlers, Kruger became a great salesman for Ontario. He lobbied Germans seeking opportunity and pitched wannabe homesteaders, both from Germanicus and his homeland. Soon, Krugerdorf sprung up not far from a tributary of the White River, which flows south to Lake Timiskaming.

Kruger’s blacksmith shop was kept busy addressing the needs of the new settlers as well as producing spikes for the railway — a station was built in the hamlet — and making shoes for nearby farm horses.

It was, in fact, a kick from a horse that killed Kruger in 1908. His little settlement continued to grow for a few years, with a large influx of Germans moving in from Renfrew in 1910.

While there is a cemetery in Krugerdorf, Kruger isn’t there. He’s buried in Germanicus’s Lutheran graveyard.

Like many settlements in the Clay Belt, Krugerdorf promised much, but harsh weather shortened the growing season too much with either killing frosts in the spring or early snows in the fall or even late summer.

There’s not much left of Krugerdorf today. It’s just north of the Paucaud Chamberlain Boundary Road with some buildings, including a church and the cemetery.

— Tom Villemaire is a writer based in Toronto and the Bruce Peninsula. Tom@Historylab.ca