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Noonan Underground Railway

Anti-German sentiment ran high not only in the U.S. but also in Canada during the First World War. In some Canadian cities, full-fledged riots broke out. For example, an anti-German mob destroyed the Riverside Hotel in Calgary on February 10, 1916. Nine days later, the hotel owner’s saloon was also destroyed because he was German speaking.

At the onset of the war, Canada targeted Germans by passing the Enemy Alien Act, which was observed from 1914 to 1924. Many Germans were charged with treason and sedition, although no charges were ever proven. German Canadians were ostracized and many suffered economic ruin. Their schools were closed, their newspapers suppressed, and their clubs dissolved.

The Enemy Alien Act also stripped German Canadians of their right to vote, speak German in public, or teach their children in German.

In the same way Japanese Americans were held in prison camps during WWII, more than 2,000 German immigrants were imprisoned in Canada during World War I. Because of this, many German Canadians wanted to escape to the United States. Some of them turned to a man named Jake Lemm for help. Lemm lived in Estevan, Saskatchewan, some 30 miles straight north of Noonan, North Dakota. A bit farther east was the border crossing at Portal.

On November 11, 1915, the Noonan Miner reported, “For some time [Lemm] has been under surveillance of Canadian police, but it was only today that positive evidence was obtained, which conclusively prove his connection with the recent escape of prisoners. Austrians and Germans desiring to leave Canada have made arrangements with Lemm, who picked them up in an automobile in an isolated spot … and for a price guaranteed to deliver them in the United States. … Lemm was taken to Regina today, where he will answer to a charge which virtually amounts to the same as treason.”

On this date in 1915, the Noonan Miner reported, “The hearing of [Lemm’s] trial was followed with close interest not only by the people of the town who had known the prisoner, but also by a large gathering of foreign birth who were eager to know just what lengths the law would go in punishing such offences …”

Fortunately for Lemm, the Honorable Judge Wylie was inclined to hand down a milder sentence than instant death. To Lemm’s visible relief, Judge Wylie found him guilty, but sentenced him to just two months in jail – as a warning to “others who might be tempted to engage in a similar venture.”

Dakota Datebook by Merry Helm

Noonan Miner. 11 Nov 1915; 16 Dec 1915.
Calgary Daily Herald. 13 Feb 1916.
Chartier, Dora. The Naming of Mount Edith Cavell. Mysteries of Canada.

Trails of Tears, Part Two: Wanderings with the Exulanten. The Familie Schaitberger.
Photography archives. Glenbow Museum: where the world meets the west. Calgary Alberta.

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