A New Land, A New Gen­er­a­tion

Born as the Sec­ond World War was draw­ing to an end, a young Dutch girl and her fam­ily forged a bet­ter life in Canada

More of Our Canada - - Coming To Canada - by Tena Van Schepen, Bramp­ton

I was born in Jan­uary 1944 in the north of Hol­land, be­hind the dike. A cur­few was in ef­fect at the time, ev­ery day from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. That’s when I made my first ap­pear­ance at home. The doc­tor only ar­rived after my birth, but all was well.

My dad did not have to serve in the army, since de­liv­er­ing milk— with a dog cart pulled by a Ger­man shep­herd—was deemed es­sen­tial to the com­mu­nity. My dad of­ten traded ba­con for di­a­pers when I was a baby, but our fam­ily man­aged to get by.

When the war fi­nally ended, Dad bought an old milk truck, and in 1947, my sis­ter Hilda was born. Our grand­par­ents had passed away by then, and my par­ents de­ter­mined that it was time to em­i­grate—time to start over in a new coun­try.

Dad learned that Canada wanted peo­ple, and farm­ers there were asked to spon­sor fam­i­lies for a year. The Dutch craved land, which was in short sup­ply in Hol­land. So in Septem­ber 1947, after sell­ing the busi­ness, get­ting papers and re­ceiv­ing vaccinations, we were ready to board the Tabinta. This was the sec­ond boat to leave Hol­land for Canada after the war. It was a trooper ship from In­done­sia with three tiers of bunk beds. Men and boys over 14 were on one side, with women and chil­dren on the other. My sis­ter trav­elled in a wicker bas­ket. There were three shifts for meals. One time, all three shifts were called at once and ev­ery­one got sea­sick, in­clud­ing my mother and sis­ter, but there were many war brides on­board, who kept me oc­cu­pied for the two long weeks we were at sea.

Fi­nally, we sailed up the St. Lawrence River to Mon­treal, where we boarded a train for Toronto. We got off near Bramp­ton and were met by a lo­cal farmer—our spon­sor— Howard Laid­law.

My par­ents did not know one word of English. Howard thought we had come over with only a cou­ple of suit­cases. A few weeks later, a large crate was de­liv­ered with the rest of our goods, in­clud­ing a new baby buggy, bed­ding, a sewing ma­chine, and, of course, our wooden shoes. Dad was paid $75 a month for his labours on the farm,

with milk for the fam­ily in­cluded. I had my fourth and fifth birth­days there, be­cause we stayed for two winters. We'd never seen so much snow! At times, we could ac­tu­ally touch the tele­phone wires hung up on their poles along the road­way.

Our first church ser­vice was held by a min­is­ter from Kitch­ener, with my par­ents and two young men in at­ten­dance. When the down­town area of Bramp­ton was flooded in 1948, Howard took Dad down­town to wit­ness events. Later, a ma­jor cul­vert was con­structed so that such flood­ing would never hap­pen again.

That spring, my cousin ar­rived in Bramp­ton and later that year, his par­ents and sis­ters landed as well. So, too, did my dad’s brother—who was mar­ried to my mother’s sis­ter—and their two boys. All the new ar­rivals were spon­sored by a farmer down the road.

By fall, our church ser­vices be­came more reg­u­lar and more peo­ple came. We stayed on the Laid­laws’ farm un­til the fol­low­ing spring.

My dad had bought a car by then and, with his brother, pur­chased a farm near Kingsmill, about half­way be- tween Lon­don and Aylmer, Ont. Along with two young men who could pay board, ten peo­ple moved into that small house, which had no hy­dro or run­ning wa­ter; the well was across a small stream.

Dad and his brother worked nights in the ce­ment fac­tory in St. Thomas and farmed dur­ing the day. The land was worked first with horses and later with a trac­tor.

I went to the one­room school­house— imag­ine eight grade lev­els in one room with two en­trances, one for boys and one for girls. There was a dump along the road and ev­ery time there was a new “sup­ply,” we went through it and brought home toys and other fun stuff— our par­ents could fix any­thing! I brought home my spelling and read­ing books reg­u­larly from school, and that’s how my mother learned English.

We stayed in that small farm­house for five years, and then moved to a farm near Bel­mont, which was closer to Lon­don. The prop­erty had two houses, run­ning wa­ter and hy­dro. We thought we were in heaven!

My dad con­tin­ued to op­er­ate the farm, and, as part of my reg­u­lar chores, I milked three cows by hand ev­ery evening. My mother worked at the Im­pe­rial Tobacco fac­tory in the win­ter months. I can still smell those uni­forms!

I made my first money as a picker in the straw­berry patch, and bought a tran­sis­tor ra­dio. In Grades 7 and 8, I at­tended the Chris­tian School in Aylmer, which in those days was called the Dutch school.

My dad tried to grow var­i­ous crops, but there was hail, floods, frost and other tri­als to over­come. Fi­nally, he bought a thresh­ing ma­chine to har­vest soy­beans at Christ­mas­time. After a sec­ond failed at­tempt at that, he landed a main­te­nance job at the Aylmer air­port, and held an auc­tion to sell off farm ma­chin­ery and equip­ment, which got us out of debt. We then moved into the small house on the prop­erty and rented out the farm to friends, who moved into the large house. Later, the

farm was sold and we moved to Aylmer, where we bought a house and my dad kept a large gar­den.

English was still dif­fi­cult for me, so the English teacher helped me after school. My sis­ter and I cleaned her house and had lunch with her and her hus­band, who was a judge in St. Thomas. Dur­ing that time, my par­ents be­came Cana­dian cit­i­zens and I went for my driver’s li­cence the day after I turned 16. I worked as a tobacco har­vester, which was hard work and the dirt­i­est job ever, but I made good money. I bought a sewing ma­chine and be­gan to make my own clothes.

After high school, I went to Lon­don Teacher’s Col­lege. From there, I went to Bar­rie and taught Grade 3 and 4 for three years at Timothy Chris­tian School. By this time, Hilda had com­pleted her nurse’s train­ing in St. Thomas. I wanted to go out west to Bri­tish Columbia with her, but she had other plans, so I went to teach in Wood­stock, Ont. I picked up a Grade 13 English class there, took cour­ses at Western in Lon­don, Ont., and later went to Calvin Col­lege in Grand Rapids, Mich., to ob­tain my bach­e­lor’s de­gree.

Then, I heard of an open­ing at John Knox Chris­tian School, back in Bramp­ton. It was like com­ing home, be­cause my aunt, un­cle and cousins still lived there. That’s where I met my hus­band, Hugh Van Schepen, who had also come with his fam­ily from Hol­land on the same boat we had taken in Septem­ber 1947. They came over with nine chil­dren, the el­dest be­ing 14, and were spon­sored by a farmer in Owen Sound. Most of Hugh’s fam­ily still lives there. I con­tin­ued to teach while Hugh worked as a Record of Per­for­mance (ROP) tester, vis­it­ing farm­ers and keep­ing records on their cows. We bought a house near the school. I en­joyed my years at the John Knox school.

We also trav­elled over the years. Go­ing from the East Coast to the West Coast of Canada was truly spe­cial. We also made a trip back to Hol­land and vis­ited all the aunts and un­cles there, as well as the churches and ceme­ter­ies, to re­con­nect with our roots.

Re­tired for 15 years now, I was di­ag­nosed with breast cancer be­fore get­ting my first pen­sion cheque, but I have been do­ing well since. Hugh had a heart at­tack and a stroke some time ago, but with med­i­ca­tion is now do­ing well—well enough to suc­cess­fully un­dergo a hip re­place­ment last year.

I’ve kept ac­tive and in­volved in the com­mu­nity, tak­ing up needle­point and join­ing the Bramp­ton West Women’s Institute while it was still ac­tive. I also vis­ited Ar­lene Laid­law on her 90th birth­day on be­half of my par­ents. Now I vol­un­teer at Hol­land Chris­tian Home, where my mother passed away, which has two nurs­ing units and about 800 res­i­dents. Both Hugh and I en­joy our se­nior years, even though they are not al­ways “golden.” Canada has brought us some hard times, but they've only made us ap­pre­ci­ate the good times even more. God has been good! ■

Tena (back row, right) with her sis­ter Hilda and her mom and dad, Dirkje and Andy in 1957.

Above: Hugh and Tena came to Canada from Hol­land on the same boat, but only met each other as adults.

Above: Tena and Hugh on their wed­ding day. Right: The happy cou­ple with their trailer, which was “home away from home”on many hol­i­days.

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