The Immigration Story of Bent, Steen and Ulla Cinnamon Grønlund (Danish immigrants)

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The immigration of the Grønlund family from Copenhagen, Denmark to Canada, as seen through the eyes of a 13 year old boy.

Written by:
Bent Grønlund, Copenhagen, Denmark

Submitted on his behalf by:

Tanya Cinnamon (Bent's neice), Calgary, Alberta

The story begines when Valdemar and Gudrun Grønlund decided to immigrate to Canada in the fall of 1953. Valdemar had previously lived in Saskatchewan where he had farmed for many years. When he decided to retire, he returned to Denmark where he originally came from. There, he met and married Gudrun Pedersen, a widow with three young children,Bent, Steen and Ulla. The culture in Demark since Valdemar had left in 1924 and he didn't like it anymore. (He felt that there were too many restrictions on his personal freedom). The taxation of his assets (which weren't great), and also the envy of the community of the fact that he had enough tolive on wtihout having to work for others, decided him to return to Canada.

Valdemar was 67 and Gudrun was 38 years old at that time.

As a Canadian citizen, Valdemar was able to travel back to Canada and seek to have his new family brought over.

Valdemar bought a farm in New Brunswick near Fredericton. As he was getting older, he wanted a smaller farm than he had previously had in Saskatchewan. When he bought the farm, he wrote a letter to mom, 'bought farm, lots of wood, come'. Nothing more.

It took about three to four months before all of the applications and permissions were complete. On February 14th at noon, Gudrun and her three children Bent Aage, Steen Aage and Ulla Jette were ready to embark on Stavangerfjord, a Norwegian passenger steamer for the long sail to Canada. There were many hugs and tears, waving of flags as well as reminders back and forth to write. North maerica was a long ways away at that time.

After we were out at sea, we went to our cabins and of course I had to explore the nearby surroundings. There wasn't much in the way of amusement except for two badminton tables, one reserved for the off duty crew, and one for the passengers. We travelled 'third class' and weren't allowed to see how the first and second class lived on board; it was limited how much there was to see, so I went back to reading the book that I had received as a farewell present from my godmother.

During the night, Stavangerfjord arrived in Morway where more passengers boarded, but we were asleep at the time.

The next day, after we were past the tip of Scotland, the ship started rolling fiercely. We were folloiwng in the aftermath of one storm after another, and most of the passengers were seasick, among them my mother and I. Even a number of the crew were seasick; our cabin maid that had sailed back and forth across the Atlantic for eighteen years was seasick for the first time. The doors to the decks were locked for fear passengers could be washed overboard. Steen and Ulla however, didn't feel any seasickness at all and went down alone to the dining room where the waiters catered to them. Steen was eight and Ulla was six years old at the time, but in the words of the waiters, 'behaved as small grownups', eating with a knife and fork as they had been taught. Mom was very proud to hear this of course, when she was well enough to come to the dining room herself. This was in contrast to a Norwegian family with a mother and two children about the same age who shovelled their food in as if they were afraid it was going to be their last meal ever. It should be said though, in Norway there were great shortages of food for many years after the war, because of the German occupation and it could very well have been a family which had been near starvation.

We were orginally divided into an early and a late group as the dining room wasn't large enough to accommodate all of the third class passengers at once. In a couple of days out to sea, there wasn't enough to fill more than a few tables in one group. The food was really in top, but possibilities passing time for third class passengers was limited to say the least.

Mom had looked forward to the customary Captains Dinner where the Captain dined with the adult passengers, but due to the large number of passengers who were seasick, it was cancelled. It was a great dissapointment to her; she had even made a new dress for the occasion.

When we finally came closer to Canada, the waves subsided somewhat and we perked up quickly. The passengers were allowed back onto the deck again, and it was great to get fresh air again. We say flying fish or dolphins (I don't remember which). It was amazing to us that had no experience of such things. Most of the passengers had never been very far from their place of birth, so I remember there were a lot of 'wows' being said, as well as 'see there, see there' from many both young and old.

We got to know a Danish-American man from Elmore, Minnesota. A strange coincidence which of course we couldn't know of at the time, was that we would later settle in Elmore, Saskatchewan. He was very helpful and supported mom as she was still weak. He brought a brandy to mom and soft drinks to us children. I didn't like the new type of soft drinks which didn't taste the same as what I had been used to, so I got an American dime, which I have kept since, as a reminder. I think he was a barber. He was a very kind man who was returning home after a visit to Denmark many years after immigrating to the United States.

We arrived in Halifax around six or seven in the evening on February 22, 1954 where we were guided into immigration where mom was separated from us kids. Us kids were excorted by a large woman to a room with several beds and nothing else. Not ebing able to understand a word of English, we didn't know what was going on.

I, being the oldest, knew that mom had been taken to some place where some official would decide whether we would be allowed to enter the country or if we would be sent back. We had been to a number of such meetings with Canadian Immigration in Copenhagen, where we were heath checked and asked many questions which we didn't understand the meaning of.

At one stage, one official almost put a stop to me being allowed to come over because of a genetic condition which cases my left eyelid to partly close, especially when I'm tired.

It worried mom very much whether or not the officials would allow us to enter or not. I think Steen and Ulla being younger, were mainly afraid they wouldn't see mom again, and although the woman who took us away was probably very kind, we couldn't understand what was going on.

The room we were taken to, was very hot and there was no way of turning the heat off or turning it down. The windows were barred so we couldn't open them. Finally mom came back after two hours of questioning. They hadn't been able to find an interpreter that spoke Danish, and as they thought Swedish was the same as Danish, brought in a Swede.

The problem was that mom understood neither English nor Swedish and the interpreter didn't understand Danish, so it was a long interview. Finally, mom came down to where we were and we were reunited, much to the relief of us all.

Next morning early we were guided down to a dining room where we were presented for a“strange breakfast”. It was our first introduction to cornflakes, white toast bread, and peanut butter. This is as I remember it.

After a short while another woman came and motioned us to come with her and we were put on a train. All this communication was without words and only by sign language. It was the same feeling as if we had been dumped down on another planet.

We got on the train about seven o’clock Am., with our next stop being Saint John, New Brunswick where we were seven o’clock in the evening.

The train stopped several times for long periods along the way, and passengers got off to eat, or buy food to eat on the train, but we were afraid to do the same, in case the train left without us.

Several times kind people came to us and tried to show us that the train didn’t leave for half an hour or more, but our fear was greater than our “starvation” even though or breakfast hadn’t been very filling. I tried several times to convince mom that it was safe when all the other did it, but she wouldn’t let us out of our seats.

Finally we came to Saint John where we were to change trains. We had nearly two hours between trains and there was a railway restaurant at the train station. We went in and tried to order something to eat. We asked for suppe (soup) and the personal thought we wanted supper. By coincidence the menu was soup. We needed food at that time badly. I think mom got a coffee and we got chocolate with a cake. Steen saw a lemon pie in the display which he wanted very much. When he had taken a mouthful and found out it was sour, he spit it out again and was in tears. We all tasted it and none of us liked it, but I ate it anyway. We had been brought up with the principle that you didn’t waste food. During the war years I was told, when I said that there was something I didn’t like, if I didn’t eat it, it would be sent to the small children in Holland, or sometimes it was to Norway. So you ate the food set in front of you whether you liked it or not. While eating we would see new faces at a round window going out to the kitchen, popping up every few minutes. It was like being animals in a zoo.

After eating we went for a short walk up a street outside the railway station. We needed the exercise after sitting still for twelve hours. It was a very steep walk up which was good.

The next train left Saint John about nine and about ten thirty we were in Fredericton, where we were met by dad and our neighbour Buddy. It snowed heavily and we just barely made it to our new home where there was lots of wood as dad had written, although it had to be sawed up first. There was 18 inches of wet snow that night.

It was a farm about a hundred acres with about sixty acres being trees. There was as team of horses but I don’t remember there being any machinery, but there must have been.

We lived there about six weeks, but the climate was too damp, it either rained or snowed almost every day, in the mornings I could have skated to school, and in the afternoons I walked home in mud to over my ankles.

I was sick with asthma most of the time because of the high humidity. However we had some very kind neighbours just across the little creek, which helped us in many ways. They also helped us to learn English by pointing at things and teaching us the word for it.

As a supplement we would read the Weekly Farm Herald from one end to the other, with help of the dictionary. Even all the ads were read.

About two weeks after we had arrived, and dad had sold the horses, he went west to buy a farm on the prairie again.

He had one major priority in his searching for a farm and that was, there must be a well.

He bought a farm 320 acres in south of Carievale in the Elmore school district. There was snow on the ground at the time so he couldn’t see how the land was. The reason for the high priority of water was the experience he had of hauling every drop of water on the farm he had by Alida.

After dad had bought the farm, he again sent for us and we set out for the long journey west by train. It took five days.

Our good neighbours made a whole bunch of buns with lots of margarine and peanut butter on them, their experience was that all kids loved peanut butter. We had never acquired a taste for it, it was something new to us, but when it had been offered to us in their home we were too polite to say we didn’t like it.

The margarine that was used at the time was very salty and with the combination of the peanut butter, it was almost uneatable. However I ate it all, both my own ration, moms, Steen’s and Ulla’s rations as they wouldn’t eat it. I have not been able to look at peanut butter since without tasting it all over again. It was horrible, but food wasn’t allowed to go to waste in our family.

In Montreal we were to change trains with a twelve hours layover. We walked up and down one street after another and were also on Mount Royal watching the other children play and the squirrels running around. Mom kept tight lease on us, for although we felt we mastered English much better, she was still afraid of losing one of us. Especially Ulla could have easily have gone exploring and Steen would have been right behind her.

The next part of the journey to Winnipeg was a long one with not much to see except rocks and small lakes as I remember. We spent the time playing rummy and another card game called 'crazy eights'.

Mom and I slept sitting up in our seats, but Steen and Ulla were allowed by the conductors to sleep on empty seats when there was some. They also came with blankets for them. They praised both Steen and Ulla to mom for their good behaviour. It was in contrast to several other kids who ran up and down the aisles shouting and disturbing other passengers.

When we came to Winnipeg were we were to change trains, we were met by an elderly man from the Salvation Army. It was a help to new emigrants travelling west that didn’t speak English. He asked if we had need of buying food or something. We had been living the last three days on fruit and sandwiches which vendors sold on the stations. It was bought either reaching out the window of the train or standing on the step with one hand holding onto the rail in the train.

Mom was obsessed with fear of one of us being left behind. I was also very fed up with eating peanut butter buns, although I ate them all. The chance of getting some better food was welcome and he took us across the street where mom bought a loaf of bread, real butter, and strawberry jam. What a feast!

The Salvation Army man kept a sharp eye on us all; it was obvious that there had been bad examples. However whenever mom couldn’t hold onto Steen and Ulla, one on each side, I was responsible for holding onto them. I think it irritated them

A couple of hours later we left for Brandon were we changed train again. The train from Brandon was a slow one, stopping for a long time at each station unloading mainly day old chickens. It had wooden slat seats, not nearly as comfortable as the other train. We also became increasingly impatient the closer we came to what was to be our new home.

We came to Carievale about 9 o’clock pm. On the ninth of April nineteen Fifty three, tired of travelling and impatient to get the last of the journey over with, and needing to get into a real bed.

Dad had arranged to have Gordon Purvis, the man he had bought the farm from, to drive our brand new ton truck into Carievale to pick up our luggage, and another neighbour Burton Burke, had volunteered to pick mom and the three of us op and drive us home in his car. After waiting for about an hour it was decided that Burton must still be drinking in the beerparlor in Gainsborough, and all six of us crammed into the truck and were on our way home to the farm.

Gordon, who was driving, was a big man at the time, so the rest of us were crammed very tight. Being shortly after the snow had melted, there were lots of potholes on the prairie trails, which were much of the way, with the mud flying to all sides, it was exiting to us kids, but mom was terrified.

When we finally landed at the house and mom took a look at it she broke down and cried and cried.

It was unbelievable! We could sit in the kitchen and see the stars through the ceiling and the roof. The floors were so dirty that when we next day started to clean them, we would pour water on them and then use a scoop shovel to scrape years of dirt of in layers. The shingles for the roof had lain in the porch for seven years waiting to be put on. Dad had ordered Gyprock to put on the ceiling and the walls, but it hadn’t come yet. The table, chairs and the beds we were to sleep in had been ordered from Eaton’s catalogue and had just arrived that day, so they had to be assembled before we could go to sleep.

Dad was quite proud of the gas/woodstove combination that he had bought and didn’t think the rest was as bad as mom thought. With a bit of work it would be good enough and he was not afraid of work, so he didn’t see it as a big issue.

To mom that had lived all her life with electricity, toilet, most of her life with running water it was a disaster.

To us kids it was an exiting time facing us, but that is another story.

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