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What Goes Around, Comes Around

Peter Biesheuvel and his son Brian visited the Museum early on a Saturday morning. I told my husband that I would meet them at 9:30 a.m., show them around the exhibit and leave when they went into the 10 a.m. multimedia film screening, thus returning the car to him by 10:30 a.m. Well, Peter, Brian and I started talking at 9:30 a.m. and didn’t stop until noon! Of Peter’s many wonderful stories about his early years in Canada, my favourite was this little tale which reinforces the value of doing the right thing.

Willy aboard the S.S. Samaria, 1950. Image courtesy of Biesheuvel family.

It was 1952 and Peter was working on the Gear farm in Orten, Ontario. His girlfriend in the Netherlands, Wilhelmina (Willy), had followed him to Canada and was living in Orangeville, Ontario. They were able to see each other only because Peter had a car, an old Ford Model A. Then the Model A broke down, keeping Peter from traveling to Orangeville to see Willy. Fortunately, Peter's employer said, “Peter, let’s go and look for a car for you.” The dealer they went to had a 1939 Plymouth for $400. When Peter told the dealer that he could not afford the car, his employer immediately wrote out a cheque and paid for it. There was no discussion of repayment.

Peter nonetheless began to repay what he considered a debt. By the time he left the Gear farm to marry Willy and begin their life together, he still owed $200. His employer said nothing about the outstanding money, but again Peter did not take advantage of his kindness. Once he and Willy had saved the remaining money owed, they drove the Plymouth to his former employer's farm and paid off the balance.

Almost 12 years later Peter applied for the position of Area Manager of the Agriculture Division of the Quaker Oats Company. It was a very desirable job but Peter was only one of several excellent candidates. In a twist of fate, the Director responsible for the hiring was the brother-in-law of Mr. Gear, Peter's former employer. A quick call by the Director told him all he needed to know about Peter's character and honesty, and Peter was hired. Peter would remain with Quaker Oats for the rest of his career.

Quaker was lucky to get Peter, and so was Canada. And, after spending those hours with Peter and Brian, I imagine Willy would have thought she was pretty lucky to get him as well.

Peter and Wilhelmina (Willy) Biesheuvel, 2013. Canadian Museum of immigration at Pier 21 (DI2014.91.5).