Winnipeg is a city of immigrants. Since the 1870s, the Dagmar District, bounded by Main, Sherbrook, Notre Dame and the CPR tracks, has served as a landing site for new immigrants, integrating tens of thousands of new Canadians from six continents. In the early 20th century, the Department of Immigration’s main receiving station was located nearby, east of Main on Higgins with a substation at King and Pacific.
The typical pattern of a new family moving into the Dagmar District began with finding inexpensive housing in one of the many apartmented houses or blocks, a job, a school, likely Hugh John Macdonald or Victoria-Albert, fellow compatriots and their new community. Once a level of success was attained, they moved to an enclave or a new suburb. This is still the pattern, a ripple effect from the inner city to the outskirts, growing the city with each new arrival.
Immigrants from every part of the planet created the history of the Dagmar District, named after Dagmar Street, which runs off Notre Dame. (According to best available information, Dagmar was named after “the daughter of a prominent citizen.”) Along with the Anglo-Saxons in the 1870s, the area provided new homes for a wave of Icelanders followed in the 1890s by Dutch, Polish, Ukrainian and eastern European Jews. About 1901 German tradesmen passed through the Dagmar District, followed by more Polish, Ukrainian and Hungarian immigrants driven here by wars and earthquakes. The Irish potato famine in the early 1900s created a large influx.
Chinatown was born about 1914 when 40 families settled in the area. Just after World War 1, professionals from Russia,Germany and Hungary found homes in the district followed in the early 1930s by Norwegian, Swedish, Italian and Greek tradesmen and professionals.
Metis moved into the Dagmar District in the early Thirties. They would be the last major influx until after World War II when Filipino medical professionals, Dutch, Belgian, Portuguese and Chinese inhabited the area.
After WWII, West Indians, blacks from the Canadian Maritimes and First Nations people passed through followed by a wave of Europeans from Norway, Sweden and Denmark in the early Fifties. The Fifties also welcomed Filipinos, Chinese, Hungarians, Greeks, Portuguese and, at decade’s end, Indian and Pakistani professionals.
First Nations people came in the Fifties and Sixties along with Japanese, Chileans and Angolans. Since the 1980s, the Dagmar District has welcomed Vietnamese, Ugandans, Trinidadians, Ghanans and, in the new millennium, hosts of people from the Middle East, Africa, South and Central America and Asia.
Schools play an integral part in teaching new immigrants about Canada and our laws, customs and expectations. The Dagmar District contained three schools: Somerset, now demolished, Hugh John Macdonald and Victoria-Albert Schools. The two remaining schools still educate a rich diversity of children with at least 25 languages spoken today.
In school, young minds quickly learn a new language and culture then take it home and help their parents learn it too. Schools are where the community gathers to commemorate and celebrate itself, to fully participate in the lives of its children and to learn about each other.
Though some of the houses and blocks appear a little world weary, the spirit that abides in the Dagmar District continues to nurture the fresh hopes of the newly Canadian. The shared desire for a brighter future for their families still draws people to the area and binds them when they meet, whatever their country of origin.