Our family was one of the almost 185,000 Dutch immigrants who entered Canada between 1947 and 1970. Most of the immigrants only knew a few English words and they had little or no idea what they would find when they got here. In 1952, almost 21,000 Netherlanders, or Hollanders as some Canadians referred to us, made Canada their new home. Similar numbers came in 1953 when we immigrated.
The movement arose out of a long-occupied country whose citizens considered Canadians their liberators, out of tiny Holland’s limited capacity for growth, and out of the uneasy political situation in Europe. The Dutch were the third largest group to immigrate to Canada, after the British and Germans.
My father wanted the freedom to farm as he wanted. My mother was afraid of the uneasy political situation, particularly with the Russians and a fear of a Third World War. She would rather have stayed in Holland to be close to her family but she knew in her heart that Canada was the land of opportunities for her children.
My father had heard that many people were deadly seasick on the ships going over to Canada so he thought it wise to go by airplane. Flying was still a novelty.
I was five years old and can remember the KLM flight to Iceland where the plane had to refuel and then on to Newfoundland and finally to Montreal. I learned years later that the four-engine plane was delayed taking off in Holland because of engine problems and mechanics had to work five hours on the engine in Gander.
We have a framed photo in our living room of our family boarding the plane and we’re waving to family members standing on the tarmac in Holland. It’s just our family on the stairs with a stewardess standing by the door of the plane. The plane had one aisle and seats on either side.
In 1946, the Netherlands Emigration Foundation was created. The Canadian government viewed the Dutch as ideal immigrants. They were seen as good farmers likely to stay on the land. They were of Nordic descent and their Protestantism meant they would quickly adapt to Canadian society.
That proved correct as, unlike many other immigrant groups, the Dutch spread across the country, establishing a few notable Dutch settlements. The strongholds of Dutch culture and language were those communities founded around the Christian Reformed Church. Dutch immigrants in many towns and cities across Canada built Christian Reformed Churches and Christian schools.
The government of the Netherlands would only let people bring a small amount of money out of the country but they could take as many possessions with them as they liked. Our family had a car shipped over. If people had few possessions and had saved up some money, they bought Dutch-made furniture and things they would need in the new country. All those things went into a “kist.” A kist was a huge wooden crate for household items. It was big and a crane lifted it onto a ship.
Our kist arrived three weeks or so after we arrived in Canada and my father hired a flatbed truck to take it from the railway station. The kist was well made and it was built onto the back of our first house.
I heard one funny story many times over. Most immigrants took along a large crock or two for making sauerkraut. Dutch people love pickled herring, buttermilk and like the Germans, they like sauerkraut. My parents never made the stuff in Canada but they did bring a large, beautiful crock over.
Some immigrants took along a nice flat stone that would sit atop a crock full of sauerkraut — it was for weight purposes. The perfect stone was like a treasure to the Dutch because Holland doesn’t have many stones. They didn’t know if they’d find stones in Canada. So when one family unpacked their kist and the farmer they worked for saw the stone, he inquired about it.
For those Dutch-Canadians wondering how many Canadians are of Dutch origin, the number is over 400,000. I dug that up from a Statistics Canada Census. Ontario has the highest Dutch-Canadian population of 191,125, followed by B.C. at 72,280 and Alberta’s 65,060.
Prettige en vrolijk Kerstfeest en een Gelukkig Nieuwjaar. Tot volgende jaar 2020. (Pleasant and merry Christmas and a happy New Year. Until next year 2020).
Maynard Van der Galien is a Renfrew County crop farmer and writer who prefers his Dutch birth name Meindert, which is on his driver’s licence and all other official papers.