Com­ing to Canada

Dur­ing the post-world War II era, Canada was a shining bea­con to those seek­ing a bet­ter fu­ture

Our Canada - - News - by Jane Breuke­laar, Peter­bor­ough

This past Oc­to­ber marked 65 years since I first ar­rived in Canada from the Nether­lands, as a tod­dler, ac­com­pa­nied by my par­ents, sis­ter and three older brothers.

Af­ter the Sec­ond World War left much of the Nether­lands in poverty and dev­as­ta­tion, sev­eral fam­i­lies from our vil­lage im­mi­grated to Canada, send­ing back let­ters with glow­ing re­ports of free­dom and op­por­tu­nity. My brothers Nick and Hes­sel, aged 18 and 16, were ex­cited to join them.

My par­ents, not want­ing to break up the fam­ily, de­cided that if the boys were go­ing, we were all go­ing. Ap­pli­ca­tions were made and ac­cepted, and we were all set to go in the spring of 1951. My dad had work lined up for the sum­mer with our spon­sor, a farmer, for $75 a month and a free house. Ev­ery­thing came to a screech­ing halt, how­ever, when my sis­ter and I came down with chicken pox. We booked pas­sage on the next avail­able boat, the Volen­dam, to sail on Oc­to­ber 2, 1951. All our worldly pos­ses­sions, ex­cept what would fit into the kist (ship­ping crate), were sold and off we went.

I don‘t re­mem­ber the ocean voy­age, but my dad said the old boat shook like a rick­ety farm wagon on a rut-filled coun­try lane. We docked in Que­bec City, where Dad learned his first English words—“but­ter” and “cheese”— af­ter buy­ing some wel­come fresh food for the fam­ily. It was late the next day when a dirty, sooty train let us off in Belleville, Ont., and we were met by my par­ents’ friends, who brought us to their farm near Pic­ton, Ont.

My brothers got jobs pick­ing ap­ples, but Dad had to find work, since our Oc­to­ber ar­rival meant our spon­sor no longer needed him on the farm. He soon found a job shov­el­ling coal into bags for 60 cents an hour, and he learned more English through show and tell.

Af­ter our crate ar­rived in early Novem­ber, we moved into a small 1½-storey house at the top of a steep hill. The dump truck bring­ing our be­long­ings got stuck in the snow, so we had an early ini­ti­a­tion to Cana­dian liv­ing. Our house had no elec­tric­ity or in­door plumb­ing, but we could cut fire­wood for free. The next day, rel­a­tives with five chil­dren showed up on our doorstep and shared our tiny house for sev­eral weeks. In those days, the baker made de­liv­er­ies and Mom sur­prised him one day by buy­ing all 14 loaves of bread he had left in his truck!

Over time, Nick spread his wings and moved to Toronto, and Hes­sel learned farm­ing, which even­tu­ally led to the ac­qui­si­tion of our own fam­ily farm. My brother Bill, my sis­ter Ren­nie and I all grew up and fol­lowed our cho­sen ca­reer paths.

For our fam­ily, Canada was in­deed the “land of op­por­tu­nity,” and our par­ents never re­gret­ted their de­ci­sion to come here. Now, my hus­band and I have three grown chil­dren and four grand­chil­dren. Fit­tingly, it was an hon­our to wel­come our daugh­ter-in-law as a new Cana­dian last fall, when she be­came a cit­i­zen on Oc­to­ber 12, the an­niver­sary of our ar­rival in this beau­ti­ful coun­try.

The fam­ily aboard the Volen­dam, headed for Canada.

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