Germania Club, Pembroke — the German Heart of the Upper Ottawa Valley

The Germania Club, Pembroke, was founded in response to a very real need. Canada as a whole and the Ottawa Valley, in particular, were welcoming immigrants in large numbers during the 1950s.

Among these were many Germany-speaking people, both from Germany proper as well as from other eastern European countries where large German-speaking populations had been uprooted as a result of the Second World War. There was a desire for a place where they could converse and socialize in their native tongue as a respite from their daily struggle to learn the English language and integrate into the unfamiliar Canadian culture.

In January 1955, a meeting organized by recent German immigrants took place at the Union Hall Pembroke (Miller Street) and resulted in the decision to form a social club, which would serve the needs of German-speaking ethnic groups. This meeting was chaired by Martin Bauernschmitt, and a board of directors with Mr. Bauernschmitt as president was elected with the mandate to officially establish an organization.

The Germania Club Pembroke had been born!

The formation of the club was also welcomed by local people of German descent, who saw it as a means to maintain and further the already established German cultural heritage in the area.

In its early years, the club held its functions in rented facilities: first in the Sunset Hall (now the Red Bargain Barn), and later in the Pembroke Legion Hall, The Armoury, and Thee Place. Ever popular with club members and the population at large were the many dances sponsored by the club, i.e. New Year’s, Mardi Gras, and Oktoberfest. Club members enjoyed picnics at Lake Dore, card and chess games, target shooting, and table tennis. A library stocked with many German books was added.

Maintaining and furthering the German cultural heritage was then, and continues to be, a major goal of the club. In the past, deserving students of the German language were sponsored by the club, and language classes were held at a local public school for children of club members. For a time in the early 2000s, language classes were held at the club, giving descendants of German immigrants a possibility to rediscover their heritage through knowledge of the language. The club continues to explore possibilities for such classes.

In 1978, members expressed a desire to obtain their own club premises. With the help of hard-working, dedicated volunteers, the job of remodelling and renovating of a purchased building was soon brought to a successful conclusion. In the spring of 1979, the official opening of the Germania Club — Multicultural Centre on Pembroke Street West took place, with the generous assistance by the Ontario Ministry of Culture and Recreation’s Wintario Grant. As in previous years, the club offered many social events, i.e., Fasching (Mardi Gras) dances, Oktoberfests, and other get-togethers.

In 1993, a combination of factors, including the requirement for major improvements to the premises and the overtures of a willing buyer, resulted in the sale of the building. The club then purchased an industrial site and building at 15 Bennett Street, which has been renovated to become the present hall. The building not only houses the main hall with a large dance floor and cathedral ceiling, but also an upstairs club room, office, boardroom and library, and storage area.

In August 1997, the official opening of the new premises took place. Since then, the hall has gained a reputation as an excellent venue for weddings, banquets, and other special occasions.

The club itself continues to provide events which take recent and not-so-recent immigrants back to their roots, as well as provide native Canadians with German roots with the opportunity to experience their heritage, and to give the entire community a glimpse into the rich German contribution to Canada’s multicultural society.

Events which highlight German culture and traditions include the annual Oktoberfest, the Christkindlmarkt (Christmas market billed as “A Taste of Christmas in Germany”), and a Christmas party for members and their families which includes readings and carol singing in both the German and English language as well as traditional German goodies as refreshments.

Now, in 2009, the club has revived Karneval celebrations (commonly known as Mardi Gras in many parts of the world) with the goal of again bringing yet another aspect of German culture to the Ottawa Valley.

The club also supports other German initiatives in the community, such as the annual ecumenical German Christmas worship service at a local church, and also contributes to local charities.

While members going back to the early decades of the club’s existence are still prominent in its membership of approximately 150, some of its staunchest supporters today come from the descendants of the approximately 12,000 immigrants from German-speaking parts of Europe who were among the pioneers who opened up the Ottawa Valley for the logging industry in the 1800s and established the German presence here. Hereby virtue of choices made by their ancestors’ generations ago, they value the opportunity afforded by the club to nurture their heritage as they work alongside those who themselves made the choice to make Canada their home.

From its start as a modest social club, the Germania Club Pembroke has evolved to a well-known gathering place of the people of the Upper Ottawa Valley and looks forward to serving the community for many years to come.