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L'histoire d'immigration de Kenneth Robert Vandenberg (immigrant néerlandais)

Le Musée examine et accepte les dons de souvenirs et d'histoires, personnelles ou familiales, à la collection. En tant qu'institution pédagogique, ces récits nous aident à comprendre comment les individus se souviennent d'expériences vécues, comment ils les interprètent ou, encore, comment ils créent un sens à partir de celles-ci. Les histoires ne sont pas modifiées par le personnel du Musée. Le point de vue exprimé est celui de l'auteur et non celui du Musée.

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May 16 1953
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Editors Note: Name at the time of arrival was Keimpe Popke van den Berg

Although I was only four years old at the time, I can distinctly remember the kist seated on the back of a truck parked in front of our home in Britsum, Friesland. This large wooden crate was soon tightly packed with as many of our household goods as possible. Included were living room furniture such as a table, armchairs and a china cabinet; a bed; mom and dad's bicycles; mom's special set of china cabinet dishes, all carefully packed for transport; most of dad's carpentry tools; and an odd assortment of washtubs and garden tools, the latter having been disinfected so as to prevent the transfer of soil-borne diseases from the old country to the new.

Also included was a large wooen cabinet which mom and dad had purchased from Japke and Sietse Swart (dad's sister and brother--in-law) just prior to their family's emigration to Canada a couple of years earlier. Given that they had been forced by lack of kist space to leave this cabinet behind, Japke (Joan) and Sietse (Simon) were surprised upon their first visit with us in Camrose to find that the cabinet had made its way over to Canada after all. This venerable piece of furniture now belongs to my youngest sister Grace, who has a special appreciation for classic and antique articles.

Late on the afternoon of Monday, May 4, 1953, the truck with our kist left Bristum for Rotterdam and subsequent transportation across the Atlantic Ocean to Canada. Aside from a few of the items which had previously been sold to friends and neighbours, mom and dad managed to pack what remained of our belongings into seven large brown suitcases. The last of these seven suitcases had been purchased that very afternoon when it became apparent that there was simply no room left in the kist for mom's red kitchen canister set.

In a span of just a few hours, the house at 127F Stedpad had been emptied of all of our belongings. The house originally built for Pake Jelle and Beppe Trijntje Kingma (mom's parents) would no longer be our home. Asde from the starin of a final farewell to good friends and neighbours, leaving behind a home she had lived in for much of her life caused tears to flow freely from mom's eyes. She was a child of ten when she had moved into this newly built home with her mom and dad and younger sister Geeske. Late in the summer of the year in which she turned nineteen her mother had died there. Two years after that, upon her marriage, she had left the house, only to return to live there again in the summer of 1940, following the sudden death of her father. Her four youngest children had been borne in this home. She had lived here through the years of the Great Depression, through years of the Nazi occupation, and through the initial years of postwar recovery. And now, it would be her home no longer.

Leaving behind our empty house in Britsum, mom, dad, and the four youngest children in our family went to stay with Tante Geeske and Oom Klaas van der Meulen in Leeuwarden. For the time being Tine (Tina) and Jannie (Jenny) remained in Britsum with girlfriends, alleviating to some degree a rather overcrowded situation in the van der Meulen household. On Tuesday, May 5 mom and dad took my sister Cobie (Cora) and me along with them to visit with Pake and Beppe van den Berg as well as several of dad's brothers and sisters in Gelderland. We returned to Leeuwarden by train the following day. On Thursday evening Tine and Jannie came from Britsum to stay at Tante Geeske's place with the rest of the family, as we had to leave for Rotterdam early the next morning.

At 5:00 a.m. on Friday, May 8 a bus which already held some other emigrating families stopped at Tante geeske's house, and all eight members of our family went on board. We brought with us the seven brown suitcases as well as a special gift from Tante Geeske, a burnt orange-colouredpail filled wityh fruit for our journey. As the bus pulled away and drove down the Troelstra Weg, we waved our final farewell to family. Sipke, Tante Geeske's eldest son, ran along on the sidewalk following the bus, waving to us all the while, until finally, we could see him no longer. We could see him no longer, in the early morning light, perhaps because of the distance as the bus gained speed, or perhaps because of the tears which came involuntarily to our eyes.

The bus picked up a few more families along the way and then we were headed for the harbour in Rotterdam where we boarded the Waterman. The Waterman was a converted troop transport ship which served to convey countelss immigrants to the New World in the postwar period. Facilities on the Waterman included a huge dining hall capable of serving all of the passengers in one sitting, a theatre, and a fully supervised children's playroom.

Amongst the sharpest memories I have about our voyage on board the Waterman are the smell of bunker fuel used to power its massive engines, and the huge grey waves I saw when dad took me out on deck. As we crossed the North Atlantic we learned first hand just how powerful and angry the ocean can become. In the middle of our voyage, the Waterman encountered a major storm. The seas were so heavy that for most of the day we were unable to make any headway at all. At one point during the night our ship fell into a massive trough. The frightening sound that followed led everyone on board to believe that the ship's hull had cracked. Fortunately it held together, and the worst of the storm was soon over. Nevertheless, as the days passed, more and more of the passengers succumbed to seasickness. The meals served on the Waterman were excellent--a feast compared to what the passengers would have eaten back home. However, seasickness prevented the majority of passengers from enjoying the food, and as a result a lot of it was simply thrown overboard.

Every morning a nurse would come by our cabin to check on the state of our well-being. She would provide an orange to those who were seasick and unable to go to the dining room for breakfast. Toward the end of our voyage everyone in our family, with the exception of dad, was seasick. Dad had noted that fewer and fewer of the passengers were showing up in the dining room. By Friday of that week only ten passengers came to the dining room for what would otherwise have been a delicious fish dinner. Aside from the oranges which the ship's nurse provided to us on a daily basis, we made short work of the pail of fruit which Tante Geeske had given to us as a farewell gift. The pail itself is still in use today in Jenny's household.

The Waterman arrived at its berth in Halifax harbour early int eh afternoon on Saturday, May 16. Upon disembarking, all of the passengers were screened by Canadian immigration officials prior to boarding special immigrant trains which would taken them to their final destination. Although our family was among the first group of passengers to leave the ship, we were held up at immigration for several hours when the agent processing our papers was unable to find one of them. Since we were travelling as a family, all of us were told to wait in an area behind the security gate while other passengers were having their papers processed. As these passengers walked past us, several stared and asked what was wrong, or, perhaps by implication, what wrong had we done?

Meanwhile the six o'clock departure time for our train drew closer and closer, and our level of anxiety and frustration continued to mount. Finally, at 5:30 p.m, after all of the other passengers had been looked after, the immigration officials turned to their attention once again to our delinquent family, which had had the audacity to attempt entry into Canada with only seven immigration forms for eight people. It was only then that they discovered, as much to their chagrin as to our relief, that two of the papers had temporarily stuck together, so that there had indeed been eight forms for eight people all the while. With only minutes to spare, we were able to board the train which was to take us across this great land as far as Edmonton.

In this special train for immigrants, the passengers sat, ate, and often slept on wooden benches. At regular intervals along the way the train would stop, allowing the crew to take on coal and water for the steam engine, as well as huge blocks of ice which, when they melted, provided drinking water for the passengers. At the same time, the passengers couldn't afford to eat in the dining car, and therefore prepared sandwiches for all of their meals along the way.

Families from the Netherlands such as our own were limited by Dutch currency controls to taking no more than one hundred Canadian dollars out of the country. Fortunately, the cost of food in 1953 was really quite modest so that mom and dad still had eighty-seven dollars left at the end of our train trip. Even at that, however, one of the thirteen dollars they paid for groceries along the way was not well spent: At a little grocery store, somewhere in Ontario, dad spotted a delicious-looking sausage which would be ideal for sandwich meat. At a cost of only one dollar, it was far more affordable than anything similar we might have been able to buy back home. As soon as he was back on the train, dad eagerly sliced into the sausage, only to discover at first taste that it was garlic-flavored. Dad absolutely hated the taste of garlic. As far as he was concerned, the entire sausage had been spoiled, so out the window it went. In later years, once they had learned the language, mom and dad were always careful to ask whether or not some prepared meat they intended to purchase contained the much-dreaded garlic. Although mom and all of us kids have since developed a liking of or at least a tolerance for garlic, dad continued to dislike it for the rest of his life.

Thanks to a word of advice from my Aunt Edith Hitman, mom and dad had brought a kettle along with them on the train. It seemed that none of the other passengers had had the foresight to do so, and therefore our family's kettle was in almost constant use on the old stove located at the back of one of the train cars. Several people used it to boil water for tea and at least one mother used it to warm bottles for her baby. Although we were strangers to one another, everybody on board shared the status of newly arrived immigrants and therefore did what they could to help others out. One day, between stations where we could buy food, our family ran out of bread and jam. A very kind elderly immigrant couple from Germany gave us some bread and raspberry jam to tide us over. To this very day raspberry jam remains my favorite, and when eating it I am often reminded of our train ride and the kindness extended to us by perfect strangers.

Over the course of our four-day trip to Alberta, we could not help but be impressed by the variety in landscape and the vast expanse of this magnificent nation. Admittedly, when passing through the seemingly endless terrain of forest, rocks, and lakes in northern Ontario, we were somewhat taken aback to find that there was still snow to be seen here and there. Spring had come late to the land that year, but as it progressed we came to appreciate even more the unsurpassed beauty of the new country we had chosen to adopt.

On Tuesday, May 19 we reached Winnipeg and were soon headed across the Prairies toward Edmonton. It was in Winnipeg that a field man, a certain Mr. Wieringa, who was serving as an agent of the Christian Reformed Church, boarded our train. As a field man, it was Mr.Wieringa's job to place Church-sponsered Dutch immigrants in various communities where Christian Reformed churches had been or were about to be planted. As he made his way among the passengers, he came across our family, only to find that we were not on his list of immigrants. Although mom and dad were members of the Christian Reformed Church in the Netherlands, our immigration had been sponsored by Aunt Edith and Uncle Allen, rather than by the Church. This did not sit at all well with Mr. Wieringa. The following conversation (which was, of course, held in Dutch) ensued:

"Where are you going? " asked Mr. Wieringa.

"Camrose, Alberta, " replied mom and dad.

"Camrose? Then you are going to a place of heathens! " Mr. Wieringa responded.

As Mr. Wieringa continued on his way through the train, mom and dad were suddenly overcome with trepidation. What kind of place was Camrose? Aunt Edith and Uncle Allen, who lived just outside of Camrose in the Sifton District, hadn't said anything about heathens dwelling in the community. Was this a place to raise a young family? Aunt Edith and Uncle Allen had given them every indication that Camrose was a very pleasant place, but now some doubts began to arise in their minds.

We arrived in Edmonton at about 8:00 a.m. on Wednesday, May 20. Tante Japke Swart and her daughter Thea were there to greet us. Soon thereafter, we transferred to another train which took us to Camrose. Waiting at the station in Camrose were Aunt Edith, Uncle Allen, and their son Stewart. Stewart was driving a truck which was readily able to hold our seven suitcases. With the exception of Tina, who was soon working as a domestic at a home in Camrose, we stayed with Aunt Edith and Uncle Allen on their farm for a couple of weeks. We moved to Camrose as soon as our kist arrived and our house, which we were to rent from Uncle Allen, was ready. This house at 4108-50th Avenue had been moved into town from a nearby farm.

Camrose itself was a fairly quiet but growing community of about 5000 people. In deference to Mr. Wieringa, it must be admitted that Camrose did not have a Christian Reformed church. It did, however, have a dozen or so other churches of the Christian faith. It was certainly not a den of iniquity, and while it may well have had its fair share of heathens, they had not, as yet, overrun the place.

As might be expected, the transition to a new country was not necessarily an easy one. The change was particularly hard for mom and dad who were, to a degree, troubled by some of the cultural differences between the old country and the new. Learning a new language was also difficult, especially for dad, who needed to use English at work, but even more so for mom, as she was somewhat isolated within our own home. The smattering of armchair English which they had picked up in the Netherlands proved to be of little help.

Within the first couple of months of our arrival in Canada, mom and dad seriously considered taking our family back to the Netherlands. They had every intention of saving enough money to buy a truck, loading our kist on the back of it, and heading for Halifax. Gradually, however, their resolve to repatriate our family weakened, and soon afterward they dismissed the idea entirely. As time passed we came to grow in this land, and, if the truth be known, the land came to grow in us. Wy binne gelokkich (we are blessed).