History of the GCAA
The Axis Group
People of German descent or a German-language background comprise about 15% of Alberta's population - making them the second-largest ethnic group in the province.
The German-Canadian Association of Alberta established in 1967 by a group of forward thinking Edmonton businessmen under the leadership of William Zeidler and with the support of former Mayor William Hawrelak. These individuals recognized the value of our cultural diversity and the need for an umbrella organization uniting the German-speaking community long before the introduction of multicultural policies by the government.
Plans included to publish a monthly news-magazine to serve as the voice of the Association and German-speaking Albertans. Thus the Alberta Echo was born – with editor Elsa Petrikowski. From 1968 to 1999, the Alberta Echo was published monthly with a circulation of over 2,500 copies.
In 1969 through the initiative of the Association, the German Language School Edelweiss was created with the aim to provide an opportunity for younger generations to learn German and to perfect their knowledge of their mother tongue. Edelweiss was also the first private German language school in Alberta to offer courses for high school credits and get accreditation to award the German Sprachdiplom.
During the past 52 years, the German-Canadian Association of Alberta has become a integral part of the multicultural mosaic of this province. The Association has grown to 28 member organizations from Medicine Hat to Grande Prairie and several private members.
Hundreds of enthusiastic volunteers have assisted with various programs and activities, from Operatta Evenings, Art Exhibitions to concerts and even a “Miss Oktoberfest” pageant.
Role of the GCAA
The German-Canadian Association of Alberta is working hard to foster multiculturalism, a most important aspect of Alberta's pluralistic society, as well as preserve our German-culture and language for our youth and future generations.
We collaborate on an annual Seniors' Appreciation Day to celebrate the older members of our community and province who have contributed Alberta’s growth and wealth.
We support many projects that drive education like the Association's Cultural-Historical Research Project ("German Culture in the Canadian Mosaic"), which thought to research the history, contributions, lifestyle and culture of our German-speaking population from 1882 to the present. Today the focus is to help language programs with ongoing support through funding.
The German Days -- a three-day cultural festival, reinstituted by the Association in 1986 – was staged annually with the goal of broadening public awareness of the history, culture and the enormous contributions of German-speaking Canadians to the development of the province.
The German-Canadian Association of Alberta has also represents the German-speaking population for 47 years at the Edmonton Heritage Festival with displays from some of our members, ethnic dance and music performances as well as offering a taste of authentic German food. As a fact an Albertan of German descent, the Honorable Horst Schmid (MLA and Minister of Culture), was instrumental in establishing the Heritage Festival in Edmonton to showcase Alberta’s multicultural society. The GCAA has been part of Heritage Festival since the beginning.
At its 15 January 2005 meeting, the GCAA voted to adopt the following objectives:
To represent the German Canadian community in Alberta
To promote German language and culture in Alberta.
To promote communication and cooperation among member organizations and individuals.
To assist and provide support, leadership and guidance to organizations and individuals who are involved in promoting German language, culture and education.
To provide a forum for the consideration and discussion of issues affecting the interests of the German-Canadian community in Alberta.
To enhance the multicultural nature of Canada through collaboration with organizations of other ethnic and/or language origin, and to participate in multicultural activities.
To recognize the achievements of Albertan's to promote the above objectives.
Past Presidents of the GCAA
W.R. Zeidler (Founding President) – 1966 to 1970
Dr. Harold A. Scharz – 1971
Robert P.Wekherlien – 1972 to 1977
Benno Knodel – 1978 to 1993
Marlies Zielke – 1994 to 1995
Rita Schuetz – 1996 to 1997 and 2003
Maria Knack – 1998 to 2002
Heinz Kleist – 2004 to 2012
Ron Link – 2013 to 2015
Annemarie Juravel – 2015 to 2017
Rita Schuetz – 2018 to 2023
Heinz Kleist – 2023 to present
History of "German Days"
With the annual celebrations of German Days in Edmonton and Calgary, the German-Canadian Association revitalized one of the most prominentt events in Western Canada's history. For eleven years - from 1928 to 1939 - German-Canadians met in the prairie provinces to celebrate their cultural heritage from the old country.
The first German Days celebration was held in Edmonton, where on the August 8 & 9, 1928 German-Canadian settlers and their descendants gathered to celebrate their culture and language. Gustav Koerman, founder of the Alberta Herold; Dr. Rehwinkel, pastor and U of A professor who promoted German language instruction in Alberta; and Bernhard Bott, the editor of the Courier in Regina were instrumental in the introduction of German Days.
This event represented the largest expression of German-Canadian activity in Western Canada, attracting between 3,000 to 8,000 people. Most of them were people who did not belong to German-speaking clubs or organizations. They welcomed this occassion to renew old ties and make new contacts in the greater community despite bad roads and long distances. In Saskatchewan, German Days started in 1930 and alternated between Regina and Saskatoon. In Winnipeg, the German Association of Manitoba was founded for the sole purpose of organizing German Days. In 1934, German Days was introduced in Toronto.
At that time, as today, the German population consisted of a diverse group with many talents which were displayed on this occasion. German Days then were not that much different from German Days today. The choirs have always enjoyed great popularity; sports activities, folk dancing and art displays were even then part of this colorful kaleidoscope. Traditionally, officials from the government and celebrities from the community were also invited to participate in this celebration. German Days continued until the outbreak of World War II.
German Days represented the largest expression of German-Canadian activity in Western Canada, attracting between 3,000 to 8,000 people each year. Many of the participants did not belong to German-speaking clubs or organizations. They welcomed this opportunity to renew old ties and make new friends in the greater community despite travel on bad roads and for long distances.
In Saskatchewan, German Days started in 1930 and alternated between Regina and Saskatoon. In Winnipeg, the German Association of Manitoba was founded for the sole purpose of organizing German Days. Shortly thereafter in 1934, German Days was introduced to Toronto.
The German population across Canada always was a diverse group with many talents and backgrounds which were displayed on this occasion. Choirs have always enjoyed great popularity; sports activities, folk dancing and art displays were part of this colorful kaleidoscope from the beginning. Traditionally, officials from the government and celebrities from the community were invited and participated in this celebration. German Days continued until the outbreak of World War II.
In 1986, the German-Canadian Association of Alberta, recognizing the need for such an event in the German community, resurrected the German Days. Since the German Days has grown to a 2-day event with participants of all ages coming together from all over the province.
Renamed as the German Culture Festival in 1996, the Volkfest is hosted at the Victoria Soccer Club, 14020 - 142 Street, Edmonton, Alberta.