For well over half a century the Belgo-Canadian Association has met on the second Saturday of each month to swap stories about life in Belgium and their new homeland, Canada. First started in 1948 by a group of Toronto war brides, the club became a meeting place for new settlers. Today, members of the association celebrate their heritage with monthly dances and cultural events.
The 250-member club makes up more than a quarter of Toronto’s Belgian community. Like the citizens of Belgium who are divided linguistically, members of the club speak the official languages of Dutch and French and a variety of Flemish (Dutch) and Walloon (French) dialects. Also a small group of Belgian Torontonians are German speaking.
One of the first Belgians in the country was Father Louis Hennepin, a Recollet missionary who accompanied French explorer Cavelier de La Salle on his explorations through Canada in 1676. Belgian soldiers, servants, artisans, and missionaries came to New France in the 17th and early 18th centuries.
Immigration to Canada began in 1880 and became more active between the two World Wars. In agricultural areas of Ontario, such as Delhi, Chatham, and Leamington, Belgian labourers worked on sugar-beet and tobacco farms. Early settlers in Toronto started small businesses and found employment as teachers and musicians; Belgian financiers invested in real estate and the paper and mining industries.
During the Second World War, the armament factories attracted workers to the city, and many Belgian youths supported the war by joining the Canadian Armed Forces. A monument at Queen’s Park, dedicated to those who fought for freedom in the two World Wars, bears the names of several Belgian towns.
Immigration continued in the 1950s and ’60s, when many professionals came to Canada. Although the Toronto Belgian community is small, its members have contributed to the city in the fields of fashion design, business and industry, the arts, and as diamond cutters and chocolatiers.
Following the war, the Belgo-Canadian Association began holding meetings in rented halls on Church Street, Isabella Street, and at Little Lou’s restaurant on Danforth Avenue. A new generation of Belgian Canadians, children of the first settlers, have continued to show an interest in their heritage. They’ve added new themes to monthly gatherings and formed the B.C.A. (Belgian-style) Archery Club in 1979, which has hosted and won two international competitions.
Other chocolate shops: Leonidas Famous Belgian Chocolates, (Tel. 416-944-8822, 200–50 Bloor St. W); Simone Marie Belgian Chocolate, (Tel. 416-968-7777, www.simonemarie.net, 126A Cumberland St).
Bier Market, (Tel. 416-862-7575, Fax 416-862-0879, 58 The Esplanade). Belgian style brasserie featuring 18 different styles of moules and an authentic style steak and fries, with over 150 different beers from 24 countries.
Rahier Patisserie, (Tel. 416-482-0917, Fax 416-882-6291, 1586 Bayview Ave). Belgian style bakery and patisserie.
Religious Centres, Schools and Other Institutions
The community is predominantly Roman Catholic. There are several Belgian bishops within the Canadian Roman Catholic Church.
Holidays and Celebrations
NATIONAL DAY, July 21, marks the day in 1831 that King Leopold I took the oath of allegiance for a new constitution. The consulate in Toronto holds a reception celebrating the birth of Belgium as an independent nation.
KING’S DAY, celebrated on November 15, Kings Day or St. Leopold’s Day, pays tribute to Belgium’s monarchy. Members of the Belgo-Canadian Association gather for a dinner and dance. On December 31, an annual New Year’s Eve dinner and dance is organized by the Belgo-Canadian Association.
See Holidays and Celebrations in Glossary.
BELGIAN CANADIAN BUSINESS ASSOCIATION, (Tel. 416-572-2345, Fax 416-572-2201, www.belgium-canada.ca, 161 Bay St., 27th floor, P.O. Box 508). President: Pierre Boutquin. Treasurer: Elly De Winne.
THE BELGO-CANADIAN ASSOCIATION, (Tel. 416-261-4603, 121 Chillery Ave). The club gathers at CEP Hall, (975 Kennedy Rd). Activities include an annual carnival dance and cultural events at Harbourfront. The association also has a folk-dance group, a bicycle club, and an archery club. President: Yvonne Kennedy.
Cafe Brussel, (Tel. 416-465-7363, 124 Danforth Ave.), specializes in light snacks and desserts popular in Belgium and France. Owner Roger Wils’ homemade desserts include frangipan (almond tarts), mousse soufflés, swans, éclairs, truffles, waffles, marzipan, streusel, and apple almond cake. Café au lait is served in a bowl, and a checkerboard ledge adorned with lacy curtains adds to the look of a Belgian café. On a rack displaying 40 brands of international beer are Belgian favourites, including Duvel (Devil), containing 8.5 percent alcohol, Chimay (Monk Beer), Mort Subite (Sudden Death), and Gueuze (a sweet dark beer).
Belgian Chocolate Shop, (Tel. 416-691-1424, 2455 Queen St. E). Eric Smets and Patricia Cohrs import callebaut chocolate from Belgium, like many other shops, to make semi-sweet and milk chocolates.